Home
Home
Education
WozScape
All the Macintosh links you need!
Woz answers your letters
Conventions, past and present.
Friends of Woz
Some businesses
Unuson
Festivals and Fun
See Woz, if he's home.
 
Letters-General Questions Answered  

 

 

Comment from E-mail:
Is it true that the very first apple prototype that you and Steve Jobs built had a microprocessor, but no monitor, no memory and no keyboard?
Woz:
I built the first Apple prototype myself, before there was suggestion to start a company. I gave out schematics and code listings of it at the Homebrew Computer Club. Here's a little background on it. I had designed a terminal of my own in order to access the Arpanet, the forerunner of today's internet. This was in 1974.

I used the smallest, cheapest chips I could in my design. Most of the chips I got for free from our lab stock at Hewlett Packard. I kept my supervisor informed about my hobby and HP had a policy of allowing engineers to have chips to build things of their own design with a supervisor's approval. It was a very good and excellent policy for those, like myself, who wanted to design things, and therefore better themselves.

I had no money so I had to get almost everything for free. A $60 upper-case-only keyboard was the most expensive item of this terminal, and of the later Apple I. I could afford no output device in 1974 so I designed this terminal to display characters on my Sears TV. Everyone has a TV, right? The catch was that in 1974 no TV's had video input connections. I had to take my TV apart and find the proper point to substitute my own TV signal, using the schematics that were commonly included in TV manuals back then.

I saw all the computers of the world set up to deal with slow teletype machines that could only type 10 to 30 characters per second. So I used the smallest, cheapest video memory I could, recirculating shift registers containing the ASCII text characters of the entire screen. This serial video memory had to circulate an entire screen worth of characters just to write the next one. The display refreshed 60 times a second so I could only output 60 new characters per second this way. But that was still faster than teletypes.

Now, this terminal fit on one small board, handwired by myself. It connected to a couple of transformers to form +5v, -5v, +12v and -12v for the chips of various technologies.

In 1975 I decided to build a full computer, that would be able to run a programming language. In 1970 I'd told my dad that someday I'd own a 4K computer capable of running Fortran programs, which was my favorite high school pastime. We didn't have computers in our high school, but my electronics teacher arranged for me to visit a company in Sunnyvale and program a computer there once a week. Due to not having money, I couldn't consider a $370 Intel 8080 microprocessor. But MOS Technology came out with the 6502 for $20. More important, in a day when there was no store where you could actually buy a microprocessor, the new 6502 was to be introduced and sold over the counter at a show, Wescon, in San Francisco. All of this was extremely lucky for me.

So to build my first Apple computer (I'd actually built a smaller computer of my own design with no microprocessor, the "Cream Soda Computer," in 1970) by joining my terminal (input and output) with the 6502 microprocessor and some RAM. I chose dynamic RAM whereas all the other cheap hobbiests chose static RAM. My goal in any design was to minimize the board space and chip count. Well, the new 4K-bit dynamic RAMs were the first RAMs to be cheaper, per bit, than magnetic core memories. It was a change in technology as significant as the scientific calculators of Hewlett Packard (which I helped design), which totally replaced slide rules.

Well, the other hobbiests took the easy, less academic, less engineered approach of using static RAMs. All you had to do was connect the address and data pins of the microprocessor to the static RAMs. You didn't have to design much or think much, the way engineers are trained to. But you only got 1K bits on a chip. 4K bytes of static RAM took 32 chips. But 4K bytes of dynamic RAM took only 8 chips. I always go for the superior, chip reducing, technology, especially when it's actually cheaper.

Well, I had to design in some extra chips to feed some 'refresh addresses' to my dynamic RAMs, otherwise they'd forget their data. This was the engineering step that all the static RAM technicians designing microprocessor projects skipped. Of the early hobby computers introduced in 1975 and 1976, the Apple I was almost the only one sporting dynamic RAMs.

Now I rebuilt things on one board. The terminal was about half of my board and the computer was the other half. This is the prototype that Steve Jobs suggested selling PC boards for, at $40 each. Once we agreed to sacrifice some money for the fun of having a company, Steve quickly landed an order for completely built Apple I's at $500 each!

This Apple I was a PC board. To it you had to connect a TV (or a modulator to come in on channel 3 without disassembling your TV -- remember that TV's in 1975 had no video in). You also had to connect a keyboard according to the schematic. You also had to connect transformers for power. Dealers would carry the transformers and keyboard and modulator and wooden enclosure along with our Apple I board, and sell the package. It was partly a kit, but not as much as the other cheap hobby computer.

It wasn't what I'd call a 'personal' computer. It was the first to sit in front of you, about the size of a typewriter, with a keyboard. Every other cheap computer had an ugly commercial look with a plate full of switches and lights that made no sense. I had chosen to use a human keyboard from day one. I'd been the other route in 1970 with my cream soda computer, and my dreams of owning a minicomputer in years before that. But our HP calculators came with a keyboard, not a bunch of geek controls.

Well, to finally answer your question, this computer did have memory. But technically, the dealer supplied a complete kit, assembled by the dealer or yourself, with the case, keyboard, and monitor (or modulator). We didn't supply the complete box, ready to go. But we were the closest thing on the planet to a working and usable computer, and the first to have a keyboard built in as the user interface.

The Apple ][ really broke the ground that I'd call 'personal computer'. It was the first to be shipped in a form that was usable by anyone, technical or not, in any home. It had many 'personal' firsts such as color, graphics, hi-res, sound, paddles, plastic case, tons of expandability, and more. You just had to buy a modulator with it to display your signal on a TV channel. It was 10 times the computer of the Apple I but had half as many chips.

Comment from E-mail:
Basically, I think that the movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley" depicted Steve Jobs as a vindictive loony at times..did you and Steve really have a falling out like it depicted? Was he as bad as that movie portrayed him? Did Microsoft really put the move on you guys? What is the real deal?
Woz:
Reports of Steve's atrocious dealings with workers abound. But he was never like this when I was around him. Of course, I was never around him where these things took place. I was nestled in the Apple ][ lab and Steve didn't show this side of himself to me directly. Whenever I heard him in a critical mood, I tended to agree with him, sometimes strongly so. I'm a logical person and there are times that employees can't be slackers.

I'm not sure that he'd agree that all of the things you call bad are really bad. They may have been portrayed in a way that makes the bad part easier to recognize, and not with an explanation as to why these things are considered good and necessary for quality management.

Microsoft did the logical thing. But they didn't take the risk of improving the world early, and as a result we are not as well off with computers as we could have been. I'd rather have the inventing company in the lead. I do believe that there was some deception practiced by Microsoft in convincing Apple that they weren't trying to copy the Macintosh when it was really a strong goal of theirs. I guess you could call that a 'move' on us.

Comment from E-mail:
I thoroughly enjoyed browsing your website today! A friend of mine emailed me about your web-cam, and I thought I'd burn a little time giving it a look. I was surprised to discover how much great content you had put into your website. I am a web developer, and it's rare to find any personal websites that have the rewarding interactivity that your site has. I'm curious to know something. I didn't notice any kind of "credits" page or anything, so do you manage the site yourself, or do you have some folks helping you with updates, etc?
Woz:
Long long ago I created my own site. Then, as web technology developed, friends were always jumping in to help out (I'm short of time always). But the page fell way behind in appearance over the many years. More recently a friend, Al Luckow, offered to spruce it up. He suggested some content from myself and I'd just answered hundreds of inquiries in the aftermath of the "Pirates of Silicon Valley" movie so I printed them for Al. He manually typed them in (we do better now) and that part of the page had a start. I tried to answer questions in some detail so as to have more complete stories and opinions on the site.

Of course, WozCam, originally spurred and set up by my friend Dan Sokol remains a popular part of the site. I have the version of the software to include audio but haven't had the time in the last few months to install it. My life priorities are a mess and I often work on email and nothing else all day long. I rarely have time to just browse for enjoyment. That won't last forever because I can't take it for that long.

Comment from E-mail:
I'm curious about your decision to use Motorola products in preference to Intel or any of the other competitors in the market back in 1976. Did you feel the technology was superior, or was there some personal stuff.
Woz:
The technology was far superior to Intel. We didn't have any negative feelings toward Intel. We had many friends there and Mike Markkula, our 3rd and equal partner, came well respected from Intel. In fact, before we even sold an Apple ][, Mike got me into an Intel STAFF meeting to show them what I had - all in a friendly way. The Apple ][ had a superior microprocessor than the Intel ones at the time. The 68000 was far and away superior to any Intel one when it came out, which is when we chose it. We were considering bit slice processors also.

 

 


Back

to General Letters Contents Page

Home | WozCam | Education | WozScape | Unuson | MacLinks | Friends | Business | Conventions | Festivals

©Unuson Corp. 2002 | Los Gatos, California | v3.0 | Last Updated: July 18, 2001   
Design by Al Luckow

Made With macintosh