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Letters-General Questions Answered  


Q From e-mail:
You changed the world with your revoutionary ideas about technology...what do you see as the next major techno-revolution?

In Apple I could predict a year ahead because I could see it in the labs there. But whenever I predicted 2 years out, I was way off. Too many unexpected advances or new approaches showed up. Even what made sense to do changed many times. What's worth doing today, could change tomorrow. All the efforts that solve today's problem might be futile if people don't need those solutions next year, either because the problem is gone or because there's another type of solution. Today's Iridium phones might be an example of this.

Q From e-mail:
being a computer pioneer, are you responsable in some way, great or small, for the Y2K problem?

I hope not. I'm very precise about many things and only want them done the correct way when there is a correct way. Many engineers notice such mistakes all the time, like the State of California using 2 rear license plates instead of one rear plate (with month and year sticker icons) and one front plate. But engineers can't easily nail down everything in the future. Our Macintosh was never designed to address more than about 56 MB of RAM until we fixed it. In computers, a year is a long time, 2 years is almost too hard to predict what will happen, and 10 years is infinity. I hope that I'm better than others most of the time.

Also, all the software that has problems has managers that are more responsible than the engineers for quality and features. They are normal, non-technical people. Yet they let the 2K problems get by also. I guess there aren't very many people that take care of such matters well. But even if we extend all dates in all software to 4 digits for the year, we'll get nailed in the year 10000. And we aren't necessarily wrong. It's just amazing that so much software didn't get corrected for Y2K much longer ago.

Q From e-mail:
First I want to say thank you, not just for your contributions as an engineer but for serving as a valuable role model as well. My personal experiences with computers evolved from the C64's to Apple IIe's, Windows then UNIX (several varieties) and now I feel as though I found the perfect OS with Linux. With all the discussion of Mac vs. Windows it seems like other good options don't get the recognition they deserve. I would like to know your opinions on these alternative OSes (Linux, FreeBSD, BeOS, etc...) as well as the open source movement. Have you ever played around with any of the other systems and if so do you think it possible that you might switch to something other than a Mac?

It's only been Apple ][ and Mac for me. I used a little UNIX in the far past, and have to touch on it for some of the network equipment that I administer.

Over the years I met so many people doing things with Atari computers, particularly the Amiga, that were not easily doable with Macs or any other PC, that I was very impressed. Many of the best people ('best' meaning those that want things other than normal and that can't stop moving and all) are into Linux so I admire it. But with all my time consumed with a large family and many computers to maintain and a network too, and mail and magazines and updates and all, I won't have time for things like Linux for quite a while. I actually look forward to my children being gone.

Q From e-mail:
I have here in my office, running, the very Apple ][ mentioned above! It is rather unusual, and I've never seen another like it, or been able to find out more about it. It's all black, and the label reads, "Made exclusively for Bell & Howell by Apple Computer Inc." Tags on the back bear the following: Model No. A2S1016B Serial No. A2S3-005203 Apple Computer Inc., Cupertino, California It contains a memory expansion card, an async serial card, a Disk ][ Interface and a card bearing the Microsoft logo. I was wondering about the relationship between Bell & Howell and Apple. I've never seen any mention of it, and never seen another machine like this one. I thought Bell and Howell made that old 8mm movie projector my dad would never let us touch! :) What were they doing in the computer biz? If you are too busy to answer individual messages, then just let my thank-you stand. Your machine, your ideas, have touched the lives of more people than I believe it is impossible to imagine. That's just simply incredible.

In very early Apple ][ days, Bell & Howell saw it as a good supplement to their school product line that included projectors and such tools. As you say, theirs were made in a black case, but were otherwise identical to the other Apple ]['s. It was a pretty impressive machine. Many may never have seen one. But, Bell & Howell already had respect in the school sales arena. The had salespeople that would be trusted by buyers. So this product was easier for them to sell into many schools. They just had to size up the market and earn money for selling. Thank you, too,

Q From e-mail:
Thanks for creating the Apple Computer. I spent most of the late 1970's waiting in line to use machines like the Wang 2200, IBM 5100, and Univac 90/60. The Apple ][ made a real difference -- the lines got shorter and the programs got better! Now I had time to kill, so I got a chance to really explore the hardware and software you designed. That Apple ][ was a neat machine with all kinds of "goodies" hidden inside. Students didn't get much documentation beyond a simple "How to..." and a guide to Integer BASIC. Finding your Monitor, Mini-Assembler, and "Sweet 16" hidden inside the ROM's was a real discovery -- More fun than "Adventure" or "Star Trek." Later on I realized that the REAL value of the Apple ][ was the potential for discovery within the machine itself. As I learned more about computer hardware and software, I started to understand some of the real "Hacks" inside that box: how to generate the video signal; how the video access refreshed the DRAMs; how the disk drives worked; even "mundane" parts like the power supply and peripheral slots revealed genious after careful study.

The Apple ][ was somewhere between a parable and a joke -- when you finally understood it, you smiled in the knowledge you knew something special. The Apple ][ was the only machine that made me smile.

I'm baffled by the amount of email saying the same things you say. Also, in my travels I continually run into individuals that learned so much about the guts of the hardware and software. I had learned about hardware and software very much the same way, finding manuals and schematics and listings for minicomputers and studying them and dissecting them and eventually looking for better ways. So I very much wanted the Apple ][ to include enough documentation for people to learn this way, as had I. It was very lucky that we were so small at first that we did this. It was an 'open' approach. Now, you could never imagine even Apple being this open about what's inside the box.

A lot of other things changed in this way too. When I developed the Apple computers, TV's came with schematics. Many radios did too. Now, everything is inside a chip. There was only a short period in history that such openness could have overlapped hugely successful computers, the same short window where only a few people could develop such products. It was 1975-1977. Then the window closed.

Q From e-mail:
s is true that you were a big fan of the Newton eMate?

What's your opinion regarding the discontinuation of the Newton platform?

The eMate solved a lot of problems that I had for years teaching 5th graders with PowerBooks. It survived rough treatment and drops, the way a laptop shoud. It didn't have constant hardware and sofware failures. It was easy to do many of the things students have to do in class. It was even easier than any computer to transfer files between students and teachers, with "Send" and "Receive" buttons that worked. Sort of like the simple syncronization of the Palm Pilot that made it so accepted.

Thinking about the prior customers as part of our loyal family, we should have been more loyal to them. Apple should not have discontinued the slightly profitable line until someone was found to license the technology to, even if for free. That way, some other company or companies could support it and provide replacements for the future, even if the Newton and it's great technologies weren't right for Apple to continue with.


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