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Letters-General Questions Answered  

 

Q From e-mail: Hello, I would like to say thanks for the computer revolution, I just saw the TNT movie and was curious what your views were? I have tons of question but realise you are a busy person so I'll keep things short. Thanks

WOZ:I liked the movie a lot. There aren't many movies like this, featuring engineers. I'd gotten very tired of very boring books about the industry, with descriptions of executive actions and restaffings and reorgs and buyouts and mergers and stock prices and all that. People really like to see the industry start not with industry moguls but with young, bright, interesting kids that have nothing and no experience. They like seeing how things play out for these particular people more than the executive types that showed up later. I wish that even more of the young, incredibly bright and different, people that joined Apple (and, therefore, Microsoft) had been portrayed too.

Q From e-mail: I read somewhere a long time ago that Radio Shack (Tandy) computers had something to do with Apple or IBM. They never mentioned it in the movie, but do you know anything about this? Also, it is very interesting how you assembled a few pieces of wood and some electronics which today is called the "PC". How did you come up with this idea with a monitor, motherboard, and keyboard? Also, where did the monitor come from? Were you just having fun, or did you know that the future was going to demand such an item? (the idea which I'm using right now to type this email!) I've gotta know! -Andy

WOZ: First, shortly after we introduced the Apple ][, Commodore came out with the Pet computer and Radio Shack came out with their TRS-80. The other two were not expandable or as fully featured (color, graphics, hi-res, sound, paddles, home TV, RAM capacity, expansion slots). They couldn't go above 8K of RAM or add peripherals except via a serial port. Just as importantly, they didn't come with the extensive materials that Apple gave to people to see how to use the computer, how to develop peripherals, how to write software.

When the first spreadsheet was created, Visicalc, it took too much RAM for the other two computers. Also, we easily added a floppy disk and had enough RAM for an OS. So the other two companies had to go back to the drawing boards for a year and the Apple ][ was the big winner. We could offer a complete hardware + software solution for small businessmen.

I'd developed some video games for fun and for Atari. This gave me experience with monitors. I couldn't afford any output device in the world but I had a Sears color TV for free. In those days, TV's came with circuit schematics and I figured out where to tap in and built circuitry to convert my digital signals into TV visible signals (NTSC). I'd built a TV terminal of my own design, to get on the Arpanet (forerunner of the internet) for free. This had a monitor (my TV) and a keyboard (I lucked into a $60 keyboard. So it was logical to think of expanding a terminal paradigm into a computer, rather than adding a terminal to a computer. It saves tons of chips in the end, and that was always my design goal, to design things with fewer chips and more tricks than anyone else. I used so few chips that they all fit most conveniently onto one board, with room for expansion sockets. So a motherboard was the only way to go. I believed in expansion a lot. Steve Jobs wanted 2 slots but I had a very clever design that took almost no chips to address 8 slots so I said "go find another computer" and the argument was over.

I was just having fun. I did this to show off my designs. I wanted a computer that could play games well. If it could do that, it could do the other things that computers do. I also wanted to be able to write quick programs to tackle design problems at Hewlett Packard. We had one minicomputer in our lab of perhaps 50 engineers and you had to sign up for time on it. My computers were very succesful in this regard.

When Steve Jobs suggested starting a company it was to sell PC boards for $40 that cost us $20 to make. I thought that we'd lose money, figuring that we'd have to sell 50 to break even. Steve said that we might lose money but that we'd have a company for once in our lives. That was enough for me. The store that wanted 100 fully built computers for $500 each was a real surprise.

Q From e-mail: Been browsing through your "Pirates of Silicon Valley" comments web site and one question struck me. Considering how you seem to be doing a lot of question answering right now I thought it might be an apt time to ask my question too. What do you think of the iMac?

WOZ:I I have plenty of them. They are quick setup machines that can be popped in anywhere and used. They work well as random game and work machines but I even use them for web servers. Some people might disagree, but I find them great for web servers. The smaller monitor is no problem there.

Often, no other choice could make as much sense as an iMac.

By the way, I DO like colors.

Q From e-mail: I've read with great interest various books about the 'early days of computing' of which you were a big part. It seems I remember a time where you either owned or worked as an engineer in a type of electronics gadget company or consumer electronics. You have always seemingly stuck to your core beliefs, doing things for a reason, not just for the almighty dollar. Good job!

WOZ:Well, thank you for your many remarks. I'll answer this one as it's different than a lot of the topics this week.

After a year at Berkeley (following my plane crash) I put on some rock concerts near San Bernardino, California. They were immense. After that I returned to Apple. I started out to do engineering but was now starting to get caught up in a lot of media and appearances and speeches and phone calls and the like, which made it impossible. Because I believed that good engineering is the hardest thing anyone can ever do, I had my salary reduced to be below the engineers. True, this was token in 1983, but it matched my feelings.

After a year or two, I had fun dreaming up an intelligent remote control with some friends. I was earlier than most people into having lots of remote controls. Back then, only a handful of hi-fi's had remotes but mine did. Well, I got so inspired about a small, hand-held, remote control/computer device that I proposed it to Apple with written descriptions. I also detailed my technical plans on a whiteboard to some chief execs at Apple. I didn't want any appearance that I was in competition. I even maintained a minimal Apple salary after leaving to form the company, CL9, to design this device.

Apple gave me a nice note of support and well wishing and mentioning accurately my reasons for leaving. It also mentioned that the remote control device was of no interest to Apple and was not competitive.

I went to FROG Design, a company that had designed the enclosures for many Apple products. They came up with several design possibilities for my remote control. But one weekend (I heard) Steve Jobs encountered this product design there and blew up. FROG told us they could not do it for me. They even tried to collect money after this attrocious thing. I suspect that Steve had a bad impression of my departure, probably fueled by a very inaccurate article in the Wall Street Journal that made it sound that my reason for leaving Apple was because of bad feelings about Apple. This was reported even though I told the reporter the opposite, that negative feelings towards Apple had nothing to do with my leaving, that it was only positive, to create a neat little product.

The CORE Remote Control watched IR signals from other remote controls in order to duplicate them. Each button, in each of many keyboard environments, could be taught an IR code, a sequence of IR codes, or a mixture of IR codes and other keys as subroutines. I even permitted the programming keys to be invoked, forming a meta-language where one key could redefine it's program as well as the programs of other keys. My remote also had it's own clock. It didn't have to rely on the clocks in VCR's etc. You just programmed it to emit whatever codes you wanted at whatever time.

This CORE was based on a 6502 variant microprocessor, like the Apple ][. It was very fun to program and play with. Along with it I developed the Tyrún, which boosted the power of the IR beam from any other remote control. You could take any remote that needed to be aimed precisely and it would now work pointed anywhere.

I decided to leave this venture and stop designing because I now had a family with children and wanted to spend more time with them.


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