Apple II

Microsoft O.S.

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Comment from E-mail

Much is made of the history behind apple hardware and Microsoft O.S.'s. Not much is told of the operating system behind the Apple II. Was there one? Was it just Basic?

Woz

There was a disk operating system when we came out with the floppy disk around 1978 or 1979. But the Apple ][ originally had only cassette tapes for storage. It was quite slow and there was no OS function other than to read a program in, which could then read it's own data in.

The level of the original Apple ][ 'Operating System' was that each slot could be assigned a device, which could be communicated with via BASIC. Each slot had a fixed address block assigned. Within those addresses you could include a Driver program, stored in ROM on the card that went with each device. This was true plug and play, with no separate step for driver installations.

A user could switch the printout function to any slot (and the input fuction). By switching the printout to a card that controlled AC power, for example, you could then print commands to the card which it would obey. You could also print to a card that then did other things, like change BASIC languages or switch the display to a card that could handle more characters per line.

The Apple ][ colour controller

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I was reading slashdot.org today and I saw someone had posted this comment. Is this true? > "Actually, the Apple ][ color controller was an accident! They didn't know it was generating colour until one day they connected it to a colour monitor, rather than a Black&White one, and to their surpise, it was colour...so Woz had to reverse engineer his system to figure out how to control it's colour capabilities."

Woz

That is so so untrue. I dreamed up the method of using pixels on a color TV screen, based on an exact multiple of the color subcarrier frequency, while constructing a [hardware] game for Atari around 1974. I based my [monochrome] 1975 Apple I design on this frequency, intending to add color ability to it later. When I got down to adding the color, I came up with so many circuit optimizations that I designed the Apple ][ instead.

I used such a simple, patented, scheme to generate color that the circuitry doesn't show any direct evidence. It's as though you'd have the same number of chips to generate the video, even without color. But you'd have a tough time explaining a chip or two that gated the color subcarrier frequency during part of the horizontal blanking. It can't be passed off as an accident. Not to mention that you could never even 'see' color on a TV without this subcarrier reference.

Museum of Computing

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Question from E-mail

Thanks so much for talking to me during my recent phone call. Trying to contact [you] via the website is virtually impossible! As I explained, I am on the board of a new Museum of Computing which is going to be built in Lubbock, Texas. I have been asked to take charge of the Apple displays to include Apple 1, Apple ][, Apple III and Lisa and Mac. We would like to recreate the famous garage where the Apple 1 systems were assembled. We are convinced this would be very interesting to all of the visitors, especially the young ones! But there is a problem...I have no idea what the layout of the garage was! If we recreate this famous scene, we would like it to be fairly accurate. Can you help me? Here is my home address and home phone and e-mail address. Thanks in advance and waiting to hear from you!

Woz

First, the Apple I (and Apple ][) computers were entirely designed and tested and debugged in my Cupertino apartment (not the garage) and in my cubicle at Hewlett Packard in Cupertino (that 'calculator' division is now in Corvallis, Oregon). The PC boards of the Apple I were made in Santa Clara. As soon as they came off the production line (only 200 total were manufactured) components and chip sockets were inserted by workers and the board were wave soldered there. This was the major manufacturing step. We'd drive down and pick up a batch of boards and then drive them to the garage. We'd pay Patti Jobs and other friends $1 per board to insert all the chips from boxes of chips that we had. The garage had a single engineering workbench with a mylar top and a shelf. A monitor and transformers and keyboard, the other 3 pieces of an Apple I, were on it, as well as an oscilloscope of mine and maybe a soldering iron. I'd hook up a PC board and try it out. If it seemed to work, it would go in the 'good' stack. If it was bad I'd look at the microprocessor data and address pins with the oscilloscope. If I saw a missing signal it meant that a chip had a pin out of a socket. If a signal seemed like two fighting signals (halfway between high and low) it meant that two traces were shorted on the PC board. About half of the boards had such problems.

The workbench (lab table) was mounted right up to the garage door. So if you were seated at the workbench and someone opened the garage door you'd be looking straight out. We also had a small container of spare parts, like chips, in small pullout drawers. It sat on some table behind the workbench. There were no manuals or drafting tables or other design aids here. I can't tell you much more.

I don't like Mac programing

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Well i've been interested in computers since my dad first bought a 386 and at the time it was the most up to date thing available. I never knew much of the history of computers (well not the time of the movie was based). I mastered the BASIC language (seems like ages ago) and have moved on to much more advanced languages.I'm sorry i do tend to drag on. But i just want to say i don't like mac programing but i love the hardware and from what i understand your the man behind it and i just want to say that I can't express in words what i think you've done for the world and inderectly for me. So thank you for your genius. I just want to ask you if you've had an active part in the designing of the new macs. and if you ever had any idea that computers, software, and the internet would ever amount to what it is now.Thank you on behalf of me and everyone at www.archaic.net (still getting out the kinks) :)

Woz

I'm glad that you appreciate the Macintosh hardware, but you're wrong to credit me in any way for it. My hardware design talents were applied to the Apple I and Apple ][ computers and related peripherals. This occured long ago. It was the basis for Apple's start and fame. The Apple ][ kicked off the personal computer recognition, and legitimazed the market. Although I was the sole logic designer and programmer and 'inventor' in this sense, the contributions of others, primarily Steve Jobs, were critical to how this computer struck the world. Without a nicely packaged product in an attractive, acceptable plastic case that said "I'm OK in your home" this product would have died like the other hobby computers for Nerds. Apple was successful not just because of a great piece of hardware but because of the right communications and the complete product (including manuals and ads and our employees and priorities) the world got the message that it was time to change a lot of things in our lives. Steve Jobs truly deserves the visionary credit here. The Macintosh came about in later years and it was truly Steve's project. There were actual hardware and software engineers that did the equivalent of what I'd done on the Apple ][ but I was not among them. At that time I'd returned to college and sponsored some huge rock concerts. (Just to set the record straight for you)

How accurate was the movie?

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How accurate was the movie when it showed the scene where you and Jobs were at a technology convention and when the doors opened and crowed flushed in, crowding yours and job's booth, which was displaying, Apple I, i believe?

Woz

It reminded me of the West Coast Computer Faire where we introduced the Apple ][. We had the best booth space of all, right as you came in. We also had a video projector, which was quite a feat in that year. Our product was the Apple ][. I did pull a rather large prank at this show, distributing thousands of brochures for a non-existant product called the "Zaltaire." But I don't have time to elaborate here...Steve

T.H.E. Spreadsheet

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I have an original copy somewhere of something I believe Woz wrote years ago which A.P.P.L.E. distributed very briefly called T.H.E. Spreadsheet, if memory serves, for the Apple ][. It appeared and disappeared quickly from distribution, although it was very fast and a good spreadsheet.

I got the impression this was a rarity. If Woz ever needed my copy (for sentimental or library/museum purposes), I would be honored to give it to him with my compliments.

Woz

That spreadsheet was very special and there is a long story that goes with it, but I can barely keep my eyes open. I have a copy of it and keep it in a special place. After it was given to Call A.P.P.L.E. by Randy Wigginton, going on what he thought was a verbal OK from Steve Jobs, Steve and Mike Scott yanked it right away. They only allowed the few that had been delivered to be sold, and then only with a note enclosed saying that it was being provided courtesy of them. Yet they were actually the ones restricting it's availability!

Apple saved my life

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Question from E-mail

Just a note to say thanks for all you have done for Apple. Your contributions go a lot farther than you think. I grew up in a very inappropriate atmosphere... exposed to drugs and violence at a young age. My family life was the pits and I ended up on my own at the age of 15. I think one of the things that helped me keep my head on straight was the Apple computer. My elementary school principal was the first person in our town to own a computer (Apple II) and he had it in his office. One day, during a counseling session (family problems) he noticed I had an extreme interest in it and offered to let me use it for an hour a day. Little did I know that over the next few years my addiction to computers would make me see the world more clearly... make me realize I wanted more from life. Today I'm a photographer for the U.S. Air Force and use high end Macs at work all the time. I am currently working on my degree in computer science and hope to get it within a couple years. I'm happily married with four beautiful daughters that have no worries other than being children... just the way it should be. Apple is now a part of my children's lives as they use our iMac at home.

I know you are well known for your contributions as an engineer... but your contributions to Apple changed my life.

Woz

I never imagined how many extremely touching emails like this one would arrive. There should be a book of all these stories where computers basically saved people's lives and gave them direction and purpose. I'm glad that someone with your values has some children to share computers with. We feature famous people in our ads but we should be featuring people like yourself instead.

The fact that your children have an iMac at home to use lends credibility to your comment about Apple changing your life.

Woz, you changed my life.

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Comment from E-mail

Woz, you changed my life. 
I have a number of motor, cognitive, and learning disorders. 
Growing up, I wanted to be an astronomer, physicist, or automotive engineer. 
Long before I was old enough to go to college I realized I could not go into a technical field. My handwriting was so bad *I* couldn't even read it. And worse, though I became proficient with a slipstick, I seemed to be unable to find the correct place to put the decimal point. 
The truth was, I couldn't even make it through college. I enrolled in, and flunked out of SF State at 17. 
I realized I was a loser. 
I ended up traveling all over the country working as an iron worker or a trucker. 
I missed things about school. I really missed the fun of figuring out things more complex than how to avoid death, dismemberment, or truck scales. I also missed helping people. 
By the time I was 39 I landed a job as a bid estimator. I was up against my old problem again--my inadequate math and handwriting abilities (the skills were there, I just couldn't execute!). 
It was 1989. I decided I needed a computer. I had to decide which computer to buy. I had to learn how to use the thing and make it work for me within weeks. I asked an elementary school teacher friend of mine for advice. He said buy an Apple ][. 
I bought a 5 or 6 year old used ][e for $500. I learned AppleWorks. I started using Quicken. 
I realized that this computer thing changes everything. With my "new" computer, my "old problem" was geography (it was gone). 
At 40 I went back to college. 
I earned a BS in accounting (OK, chalk one up to lowered expectations here). I passed the CPA exam. 
Now, at age 49 I am a senior analyst (I figure out complex stuff!) in a public employee's retirement system (I get to help people). These are all very good things for me and my family. 
Woz, your role in my life is clear. I guarantee none of these good things would have happened if someone had not designed a cheap computer with a keyboard and a monitor in the 1970's (If you had waited until the 1980's, how could I have found a 6 year old used computer in 1989 for $500 as good as the ][e?). 
Even if I had chosen an IBM XT instead of a ][e for my first computer and had actually been able to get some results out of it within a few weeks, you would still be responsible.

Woz

This is the best such story that I've ever heard. I have seen and taught and hired (for my teaching) many learning disabled people that can do amazing things with the computers. Also, the one year that the teachers of the local 5th grade class told me the students were mentally behind and slow, was the most outstanding year for my computer instruction. I'm not just saying this, many many other teachers have seen the same thing with computers in schools.

I have to say that it was just luck that I saw a low cost computer in the keyboard-display paradigm. It was more of building a computer into a TV terminal than of including a TV Terminal in a computer, based on what I'd built just before the Apple I. To be honest, the rest of the world might have figured this out in a lot less time than you're suggesting. But my motivations were to make a usable product for the simplest user at the lowest cost, and that included you. I had to think of what I wanted for myself and keep my head vacant of what a computer was and looked like and how you made it usable. I did that and went for it in the Apple I. The Apple ][ was merely the chance to add to that concept with some great features and good engineering, at very low cost. It was still aimed at normal people, whereas computers before it were primarily targeted at business clients with lots of money.

Again, your story is so good that it makes my eyes water. I hope that many hear it.

About the IIGS

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Question from E-mail

My question to you is: Do you regret the demise of the II line in the same way that many of its enthusiasts did (and do)? Was the IIGS a promise of more great things to come, with built in command line interface, backwards compatibility, ease of use and a great OS, or simply a compromise "bridge" that was made in a half hearted attempt to appease the large number of II users? I still remember the bitter disappointment when the IIGSx (10mhz, 640x480 video - yohoo!) never came out.

Woz

Your question has more than a single answer. I don't regret the fact that the Apple ][ was demised. Even I switched for good reasons. I do regret the fact that because there was superior technology, Apple gave up on the Apple ][ support too fast and drastically. It's strong sales should have been supported and gradually switched to products like the Apple ///, the LISA, and the Macintosh. For the last 3 years that the Apple ][ was the best selling personal computer in the world, Apple had almost totally withdrawn from it.

I think that this might have been personally motivated. Everyone wants to claim credit for this marvelous invention and the most notable company formation of recent times. The best way is to invent another marvelous computer that overshadows the first. None of the people running Apple had really conceived or invented or designed the Apple ][. Naturally, they needed another good one to demonstrate their own prowess. In the case of the Apple /// and the Macintosh, those in charge didn't want to support the Apple ][ much because it was strong competition with their own products. The LISA team really didn't bring much conflict to bear, at least not that I perceived directly.

A lot of the problem in Apple bringing such satisfying products to market is that the personal computer market exploded, and products have to be rushed to market without the psychological research and product corrections to make them really nice and easy, the way it was supposed to be. I still believe in the LISA dreams of the software being so obvious to use that it was hard to make a mistake and that mistakes were clearly explained. These dreams, of a computer being so helpful to people, were carried over to the Macintosh. But time has proven that we didn't do a very good job of appeasing the users. In my opinion, Windows did much worse, but to be fair it might be because there are so many more companies and companies making products for PC's, with correspondingly more conflicts and artifacts that are impossible to handle properly. The Macintosh has the advantage of fewer options and therefore fewer conflicts. In these terms, you can see why the Apple ][ was so satisfying, it had very little that could mess you up.

The Apple II is a simple and flexible machine

in
Comment from E-mail

On a side note: I've become reacquainted recently with my IIe, and after working with PCs for several years, both hardware and software, I'm learning to appreciate some of the small but significant things that made the Apple II such a simple and flexible machine.

Woz

Some appreciate quantity (of menu commands, for example) but others, like yourself, appreciate quality. In today's computers, the sales game tends to favor quantity too often. Many miss the quality difference (of the Macintosh, for one thing) when they just read comparison charts and feature lists and think that's the important measure. Good for you.