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?
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
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?
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.