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Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Steve Jobs will be the star attraction when the Macworld Conference and Expo opens to the public Tuesday, but many Mac fans might be just as interested in hearing from one of the original Mac’s creators.
Andy Hertzfeld will be signing copies of his book, “Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac was Made” on the conference floor. Actually, the book’s title is a bit misleading–rather than a story, its a collection of dozens of short stories that provide a unique behind-the-scenes look at the birth of the Mac.
Hertzfeld was a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley in 1978 when he spent $1,300 for an Apple II. While digging under its hood, Hertzfeld became so obsessed and appreciative of the work that went into creating one of the first personal computers that he dropped out of school and joined Apple Computer in the summer of 1979. Another 18 months or so later and he was among the handful of people creating the Mac.
From 1981 until 1984, Hertzfeld worked alongside Mac legends like Bill Atkinson (considered the Mac’s software genius) and Burrell Smith (the hardware guru). And, of course, Steve Wozniak and Jobs, who continually reminded the Mac team that they were going to change the world with a powerful but affordable computer sporting a graphical user interface ordinary people could use.
Soon after the Mac’s release, much of the original team dispersed, and Hertzfeld was no exception, taking his leave two months after the airing of the famous Super Bowl “1984” ad. He went on to co-found three companies–Radius, General Magic and Eazel–but it was his tales of working on the Mac that continued to enthrall friends and colleagues. He first published many of the stories privately on the Web and asked his former colleagues to vet the stories for accuracy or to submit their own tales. He later opened the site to the public and has now published the stories, and many early photographs, in book form.
Hertzfeld recently spoke with CNET News.com about his work on the Mac, his reasons for documenting it and the reaction from his former co-workers. Displaying the same enthusiasm that drove him to log long days at Apple more than 20 years ago, Hertzfeld was not only quick to recount his experiences but also to also give his thoughts on a range of current topics, including the rise of open source, Microsoft’s “crushing” of innovation, the music industry’s vain fight against file-sharing and Apple’s decision to keep the iPod closed.
He also mentioned that he may start publishing more stories about Apple before and after the Mac. Have you heard the one about Jobs, Wozniak, handicapped parking spaces and the Cupertino police?
Q: How did you get involved with Apple?
A: I bought an Apple II and it fascinated me. It sucked up my life–first my free time and then my not free time. I became obsessed with the Apple II to the point where I had to go work at Apple.
How did you get on the Mac project?
I became friends with Burrell Smith, the hardware designer of the Mac. I started helping him out in various ways and then on–I can say the exact date, even though it happened 24 years ago–Feb. 25, 1981, (there was a) management shake-up in the Apple II part of Apple, where I was working, where they fired all the bosses on the same day. I was pretty upset that they fired my partner on my project and I told someone I was thinking of leaving.
They thought I was a good guy and didn’t want me to leave so they said, “Well, what can we do to get you to stay?” And I said, “Well, how about working on the Mac?” And the next day I was working on the Mac.
Was there a lot of buzz already within Apple about the development of the Mac?
It was mixed. For the whole first year I was working on it there was buzz, but it was not necessarily positive. The Macintosh was the price of an Apple II but had the features of a Lisa, so it managed to get at odds with all the big teams at Apple. And it was considered a Skunk Works project.
It wasn’t the future of the company; the future of the company was the Lisa and the Jef (Raskin) was running it. When Steve (Jobs) took over, that got a lot of attention. But even in those days Steve was thought of as a loose cannon more than, you know, the admiral or anything. Steve was never the CEO of Apple until the late ’90s. He was a VP and he became the chairman of the board in 1981, but he didn’t really have that much organizational authority.
They thought we were way overambitious, and we were also a much smaller team than the big teams. To do a major project really takes at least 50 people. We were like five people. But then as we made progress, gradually Apple became aware that this is going to be a bigger thing. By the time the Mac shipped, the entire company was pretty excited about it.
Was there a lot of politics at that time?
A lot of politics. In the book, I have a number of stories that address some of the tensions, especially with the Lisa team. I have a story in there called “And Another Thing.” That’s the name of the story where Larry Tesler, who was the manager of the Lisa applications team, asked Burrell and myself to give a demo to the Lisa team. One of the main Lisa guys, Rich Page, kind of wasn’t invited to the demo, but he stormed in and started screaming at us during the demo about how the Macintosh was going to destroy the Lisa and destroy Apple.
He was like raving–really, really emotional, almost crying–and then he kind of said his piece. Everyone was shocked and stunned, and he stepped out of the room and he slammed the door. I can still remember how the door reverberated in the stunned silence after that. Larry Tesler was very embarrassed that (Rich) did that, so he’s trying to figure out what to say. But as he’s trying to figure out what to say, Rich stormed into the room again and started ranting a second time.
Isn’t there some truth, though, to what he said–that the Mac was a threat to the Lisa? It was going to have similar features and cost a lot less but was not slated to reach the market for a couple more years, thus dampening Lisa sales.
Yeah, definitely. Certainly there’s a complex nest of issues there with the relationship between the Lisa and the Mac. But hindsight tells us that the Mac was on the right path. If we hadn’t developed the Mac, I don’t think there’d be an Apple.
Why write a book about Apple and the creation of the Mac?
There’s been many books about Apple, and typically they’re extremely self-serving. They end up promoting the person that wrote the book. (Former Apple CEO John) Scully’s book is a great example, but the quintessential example is Gil Amelio’s book, in terms of being self-serving. It was almost like an apology.
Are there any other books on the birth of the Mac?
No. Nobody else who was on the team I think has written a book.
Did you take a lot of notes during the creation of the Mac, recording the development?
Yeah, I had my notebooks. When we started doing publicity for the Mac in the fall of 1983, I wrote a little history of what had happened, just like three pages worth of notes at that time, and I hung on to those.
I first had the idea to do the Folklore project in 1996, right after General Magic. At that time, I did a prototype Web site and I wrote down the titles of a hundred stories, so it was a little fresher in my mind because that was eight years ago. But I never pursued it until 2003.
What’s been the reaction from people like Bill Atkinson and Burrell Smith? Have you had a chance to talk with Burrell since it came out?
I gave him a copy of the book, but I haven’t been able to talk to him. Burrell’s really shy these days and is hard to get ahold of. I left it on his doorstep, so I’m not sure what Burrell thinks about it. I am a little worried because Burrell is so private that, even though I’m very complimentary to him and I don’t think he’d disagree with anything, he just doesn’t want to have his face paraded in front of the world.
Bill cooperated with me enormously during the book. I’m good friends with Bill; I see him regularly…I couldn’t convince him to write a story because he just doesn’t like writing. He loves photographing–he’s more visually oriented than verbally. But I talked with him for dozens of hours about lots of the details and went over stuff with him.
How about Jef Raskin?
Jef Raskin is the single individual who disagrees with the way I’m telling the story, and he was unhappy with the book when he first found out about it, and I suspect he’s still unhappy now.
Jef does claim he invented certain key concepts when no one else thinks he did. Jef actually was not around for almost the entire time the Mac was developed. He left the day before I started (in 1981). Jef’s a tremendous individual and he deserves enormous credit for having the original vision for the Macintosh, starting the project and putting together a dynamite, small team. But then he got at odds with the team and left.
Jef had a lot of ideas about how the Macintosh should be, but they’re not in the Macintosh. If you’re interested: Jef, because he left early, by 1985 he had already designed and licensed a computer that does embody all his ideas–it’s called the Canon Cat.
Then who would you consider the father of the Macintosh?
Steve Jobs is who I would call the father of the Mac. In second place I’d put Burrell Smith and in third place I’d put Bill Atkinson.
What’s your response when people say the Mac engineers stole everything from Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center?
I just say, well, someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Maybe in the very broadest sense we were inspired by Xerox. But literally no code was taken, I mean not a single line of code.
Didn’t a lot of people join Apple from Xerox?
Just one person on the Mac team, more on the Lisa team–four or five. Many of the ones who came from PARC came after the Mac shipped. Alan Kay, who was the visionary and driving force behind Xerox PARC, came to work at Apple just about the time I was leaving, in March 1984. Once he came there, about 10 PARC people came.
What was the attraction, that Apple could get the technology into the market?
Yeah, sure. The people developing the stuff at Xerox PARC were different types of people. Some were professorial and academic, and they didn’t really care if their stuff was used by people. They just wanted to explore new ideas. They were happy there. But the people who wanted to make an impact on the world and improve the lives of their friends and stuff like that, they were very frustrated–nothing ever came out. So they saw Apple come out with something that embodied all of their ideals, but their kid brother could afford it. They were very attracted to that. They came to Apple to make a difference.
How strong was the feeling at the time that you were changing the world?
We had Steve Jobs drumming that into us constantly. You can say it, but a lot of times such a thing could be hype. In fact, most of the time, to say, “You’re going to change the world; you’re going to make a momentous difference,” well, you know…The Mac engineers were smart and a bit cynical of being manipulated by Steve. Once you get manipulated seven times, the eighth time you’re a little wary. But we believed it to a large degree.
There were moments when I thought we wouldn’t pull it off. But I used to work late at night and I remember, like in 1982, walking out late at night, say 11 p.m., looking up at the sky and thinking, “Boy, I’m right in the middle of doing something that’s going to really matter.” We loved the romance of personal computers. Many of us were Apple II fanatics, and we saw what was missing in the Apple II was the usability for ordinary people. So we thought we could combine the affordability of the Apple II with something really, really usable for ordinary people, and then (to) make it joyous and fun to boot, we’d really have something that was special.
Was it hard to shoehorn all the software ambitions into the Mac?
You bet. Rod Holt, who was the original engineering manager, has a sort of pungent phrase: fitting 10 pounds of s–t in a 9-pound bag. We were always on the verge of running out of memory. We didn’t have enough memory to do what we wanted to and so we had to be ingenious, but even so we were right on the edge.
What’s an example of something you had to sacrifice?
Various features in the Toolbox had to be pared back. We had to move some code from ROM to disk. The disks weren’t that capacious, so it ate up another 10 percent of everyone’s disk if you wanted a
bootable disk. In fact, the Macintosh that was used to demo at the Mac intro was a 512k Mac. We knew we had to just hang on there and get the platform established and we had the 512k (coming out later), which had plenty of memory.
What made the Mac successful over the Lisa?
What I like to think is (that) the Macintosh was tapped back into the original spirit and vision of Apple, where both the Lisa and the Apple III were more like Apple trying to be a grown-up company. Apple had a fantastic, amazing set of people, but they weren’t necessarily the type of people who would work at large corporations. It was a lot of rebel spirit, and Apple maturing was hiring all those more mature, seasoned managers (and) developing big projects–the Lisa had hundreds of people working on it. By the time the Lisa shipped, there were over 300 people in the Lisa division.
The Mac was more like a back-to-the-roots thing. Really the reason the Mac succeeded was the people were passionate and brilliant and motivated and devoted their lives to it. Whereas, the Lisa maybe had a little bit of that, but it was much more corporate, and a job, as opposed to a passion.
When you look at the last 20 years of PC development, are you surprised at how much has changed, or how little?
Both. On the hardware side, how much. Moore’s Law predicted it, but then to actually see it play out in such a stunning fashion. I mean now the computer I’m using every day has literally 8,000 times the memory that the original Mac had. The hardware is so capable compared to that, it’s almost like a dream. Whereas the software is where it’s disappointing. The basic software since the Macintosh has evolved at a snail’s pace and in some ways it’s even gone backwards in usability. The metaphor of the interface has hardly changed at all.
That’s right. That’s not because of a lack of possibilities. It has to do with the business dynamics of the industry–essentially Microsoft getting the monopoly and being anti-innovation and establishing an environment where innovation was crushed rather than rewarded. That’s the PC industry the last 10 years.
Was it a mistake to not license the Mac OS?
Definitely, but on the other hand it’s just one of those things that you’ll never know. It’s so much in the genetics of Apple to control, to not be an open thing. And if the Mac was open like that, it would have just been so different that you can’t ever say what really would have happened.
But I err to the side of openness. People say the Mac was closed…at some levels it was closed, like you couldn’t stick a new circuit board in it. But it was conceived to be very open from the very beginning in the software sense. It encouraged open APIs. It wasn’t open source, but we considered it to be an open system. But it wasn’t open in the sense that we could license it and build a software business…at the time Apple just didn’t see the value equation. Even at any given point along, once they did really see that it was the right
thing to do, the transition was treacherous. It would have been really, really hard for Apple. I would say a bigger mistake…would be charging the premium price for so long. That really hampered the platform and contributed to the troubles they eventually got in.
In 1984, $2,500 was a pretty steep price for the Mac.
Yeah. I have a story in (the book) called “Price Fight” about how the engineers the whole time we were developing the Mac thought it would cost $1,500, and we felt rather betrayed.
How do you feel about the iPod being closed now?
The same way. I think Apple is making a blunder not licensing FairPlay. Ultimately, when you boil it down, it comes to respect for your customer. I think Apple is showing disrespect to the customers by locking them in.
Do you think they’ll change?
Hard to say. I’ve had discussions with Steve Jobs about that exact topic. He doesn’t see it. What it will take is a really strong competitor.
No, it’s not Microsoft. Microsoft’s business model is licensing the software, and that’s what they’ve done in the Media Player range to a variety of different companies. It’s maybe the combination of Microsoft and someone making exquisite hardware with them–but it just can’t be exquisite because of that divide, it’s not the same thing. Apple’s great strength is doing the hardware and the software at the same time.
Mac fans are often described as fanatic. What is the “cult of Mac”?
The cult of Mac, I think what it is…is essentially passion. It starts with the designers and the people in the company being passionate about what they’re doing. It starts with the designers making something that they want for themselves more than anything else in the world, that’s the single secret. As soon as you’re making something you want more than anything else, you don’t have to do research about the customers. You just look inside yourself. You run the risk of being wrong about it, but at least you make something that has integrity.
Maybe even a better word is love. You fill the product with love and then people will love it.
Do you still see that passion today?
Definitely. Steve Jobs–he only has one gear.
What about in the industry in general?
Definitely, again look at open source. Those people mostly aren’t doing it for money. Eric Raymond has the phrase “scratching an itch,” which is a similar type thing. You show me a great program and I’ll show you a passionate individual somewhere behind it.
What do you think the challenges are for the PC industry?
The biggest, most important challenge is renormalizing after the nightmare of Windows. You can see the handwriting on the wall–the Wintel thing hasn’t run its course yet, but it’s run enough of its course that we’re on the downhill side and you can kind of see the end of it. So I’m hoping a much fairer, freer, more robust software industry emerges. The big challenge is where will the lock-ins and the values be? You consistently see the value move up and up the chain, from the hardware–and Microsoft commoditized the hardware–and now the operating system has been commoditized. That’s happened, it’s just a question of how it plays out. How Microsoft reacts, that’s going to be fascinating to see.
Already you can feel the hold slipping, but they can really influence it a lot. Will they embrace the new paradigm or fight it? I have no idea. But that’s going to be the story of the next, say, two years. There’s every indication that they’re going to try to use digital rights management and security to establish lock-in at a different level. Will people fall into the trap? I don’t know. Getting the free software to be the basis of the shared infrastructure, that’s the big change that will be happening. The challenge for everyone is doing it in a way that is great for the customers, developers and the companies.
Another challenge is furthering the network revolution. The ubiquitous connectivity profoundly influences how we use our computers. We’re 10 years down the road–we’re just in the middle of the transition. Essentially the hegemony of the PC is over. Now the center of every user’s world will be in a network repository projected into many different devices. How those ecologies interact and work out, that’s the story of the next five, 10 years.
Apple chose a unique position regarding open source–they took FreeBSD and layered their proprietary OS on top of it to get some of the benefits of open source. Do you think they should have chosen Linux? And what would that have meant?
I think they still could choose Linux. The key decision was NeXT choosing Unix back in 1986. They’re already Unix based–that’s good. Taking the commodity part where they’re not really adding value and open-sourcing it, that’s a great strategy–Darwin and all that.
(But) it’s not enough. Apple is a closed platform–they just opened the part they don’t care about. I’d like to see them contribute a lot more, and I think there could be tremendous business gains. I’ve talked with Steve Jobs about this too, and he doesn’t really see it. I had a talk with him about a year ago where I was telling him, “Hey, there’s this huge opportunity, things are shifting.” And he kind of said, “No, they’re not. Windows is going to be dominant for at least the next 10 years.” I said something like, “Is it going to be the rest of our lives?” He said, “Depends on how long you live.”
How would things be different for Apple if they switched to Linux from FreeBSD?
Technically that doesn’t make much of a difference at all. Commercially…The more free software on the system, the more alliances it would allow them to make with companies like IBM, and some of the other open-source systems. IBM survived the nightmare of this Microsoft hegemony, the last thing they want to do is put Steve Jobs on Bill Gates’ throne. By having the system be fundamentally open at various levels–you know you have the right to fork, so you don’t have that control and you can have competitors cooperate. We saw that in the Eazel days. We had a big announcement with Sun and HP, both supporting the same open thing–arch enemies, but they’re able to work together on the same piece of software because neither of them has proprietary rights.
Doesn’t that create a world in which the oligarchy would benefit? Sun and HP can say, “Let’s use common open platforms and none of you small guys can rise up because we’ve got the money and the people.”
No, because they’re open to innovation. Let’s say I have a brilliant idea, that if I can make it happen users will love it and it’ll make a difference. In a closed platform…I’m shut out just because I don’t have the source code; I can’t modify it. Whereas when it’s open, any kid can come in there, do their thing. Making money is a different story–it’s complicated and very dependent on the details. But I believe you can have a much healthier environment.
What do you see for the future of intellectual property on this stuff?
That’s one of the great questions, I think, for the next 10 to 20 years. Not just code but the entertainment bits, music and video. I think eventually it will work itself out like all technological changes in the past. Essentially the record companies will be happy (that) people are file sharing 10 years from now because it means people are listening to their music. Of course, what a record company is, is going to undergo a redefinition.
My values are simple, the greatest value for the greatest number. Free music flowing–it’s like a boon for mankind; it makes everyone’s lives better. I don’t think it necessarily has to undermine people’s businesses. It’s certainly better for the artists–I think you maybe get better music on a system where the artists rather than the executives are getting the lion’s share of compensation.
I’m a big BitTorrent user and chagrined that they shut down SuprNova two days ago–where the SuprNova guys decided to punt because of various legal pressures. Clearly a mistake on behalf of the music companies, because here you have this site that could help them get a handle on it. By putting it out of business
all it will do is make the stealth systems stealthier. There’s obvious things you could do to BitTorrent where you wouldn’t need the central site–that’s just going to happen sooner. Suing your customers is not a winning strategy. The contradictions are amazing. For the last 40-some years they’ve been paying radio stations to broadcast their music for free. It’s really hard for me to see the big difference between that and file sharing.
What’s the next business or process to be disrupted by technology the way the music and movie industries have been?
Politics, and we’ve seen the stirrings of that in the last election cycle. Eventually the fact that everyone can be connected to each other through this open system with all the information at their fingertips should have a profound effect on our political system, hopefully repairing it. I look at the last election result and I think, “Something’s broken.” The Net is going to impact every single business you can think of–it already has to some degree. It’s sort of at a midpoint, maybe. It’s ready for its bar mitzvah, not for its marriage.
Blogging is changing the way people communicate. Are you a blogger?
No. I think people overrate blogging. I think the overall phenomenon to me is Web pages. Blogs are just Web pages, a certain stylized form of Web page. Much of the blogging is driven by egotism.
I’m down on podcasts. I think that’s ridiculous. Suddenly you’re taking the information and making it completely inaccessible. You can’t read it, and besides a podcast is nothing. It’s streaming MP3s that’s good, but no one can take credit for inventing a new term because streaming MP3s is simple and has been around for a while. Doing it through RSS enclosures is basically bad–to automatically download big files before hearing them. The whole thing about audio is that it has small enough bandwidth that you can stream. You just can’t stream from an iPod because it doesn’t have a network connection, yet. I’m excited about getting an iPod with 802.11 so I can stream to my AirPort Express without carrying my Mac around.
Back to the Mac. What’s the coolest piece of memorabilia you have from your days of working on it?
I’d say my wire-wrap prototype. I have the third wire-wrap board. If you’ve ever seen a wire-wrap you know why I’d say it’s fascinating. It’s got thousands of wires wrapped around pins in the back. It was the third Mac prototype ever made. I had two of them and one of them I donated to the Computer Museum. Burrell has one; there’s two others.
I have this great letter from Bill Gates that’s on my Folklore site but they wouldn’t let me put it in the book…about my Switcher program. The story in the book is how I had a negotiation with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at separate times for selling them the same program. I tried to write it in such a way that really contrasted their world views. Bill Gates–to try to get me to sell him Switcher at a low price–used an extremely logical and analytical approach. Steve Jobs used an extremely intuitive approach–no reasoning behind his number at all. But just, “I’m right!”
What’s next for you?
If the book does really well, I’d like to do a sequel-prequel type thing of all the early Apple stories, mainly starring Steve Wozniak. I have a great set of stories that have never been written up in that time frame.
Give us an example of a Steve Wozniak story.
Here’s a really quick one that follows off a story that is in the book, about Steve Jobs parking in the handicapped spaces–he always parked in the handicapped spaces. One day in October 1983 I got a phone call at my desk at Apple from the Cupertino police saying something like, “You reported that car parked in the handicapped space. Well, we can’t really tow it away because the handicapped space is not properly marked.” I said, “What?”
Well, it turned out that Woz called up the Cupertino police reporting Steve Jobs’ car illegally parked in a handicapped space and told them the person reporting it was Andy Hertzfeld and gave them my phone number. So that was a prank on both me and Steve Jobs; it just didn’t quite come off, thank God. I could have just imagined Steve having to go check out his car and finding out that Andy Hertzfeld had reported it.