Apple II

the NTSC issue

in
Question from E-mail

I use six-hour video tapes to record long radio programs; the problem was, without a video signal the audio tended to glitch (this is a not uncommon problem I'm told). So I needed a video source. I immediately thought of doing a simple display on the computer -- program title and an elapsed-time clock -- but hey! Macs and PCs don't do NTSC video without an expensive peripheral card! Rats!

At which point I turned to the Apple II I thought I had put away for good* and whipped up a lores graphics character generator. Problem solved.

Woz

This is a surprising and amusing story. The best ones are often the true ones.

I, myself, use a PowerBook. Recent PowerBook models, including the one I'm using right now, have NTSC out (U.S. version). Look how many marketing folks have to make presentations. Some are probably still done on TV's. Also, TV's are very popular for the teacher to present in classrooms, costing much less than computer quality monitors (which are smaller physically) and projectors.

You will always be a hero

in
Comment from E-mail

I just stumbled accross your commentary in response to a Dave Winer article published in a 1996 edition of HotWired. As a former Apple advocate, I wanted to tell you that you struck the nail squarely on the head as to why I chose the path of the PC in my career development. I grew up with Apple. My first machine was an Apple II+ with an external floppy disc (instead of tape... wow!). It was that machine that made me fall in love with computing. Reading your message recalled my sense of loss for what happened to Apple. But what really made me write this is the fact that I'm so impressed that you are doing what you've always wanted to do - teach. Of course, the article was from 1996. I hope you're still doing what you like to do. In my eyes, you will always be a hero.

Woz

Well, I wish that Apple could be as incredibly great as back then...

It's a thousand times harder. One view is that I'm taking the easy way out, teaching and all. My response to this view is that I always believed in finding the easy (or at least simple or small) way, but I had a strong internal feeling that I put into direct words long ago that I would NOT run a company and I did want to be a teacher and I did love kids. So others have the job of running the company, a job that I'm probably not capable of. I couldn't even do great engineering again as I once did. It was too hard!

I owe you my career in IT

in
Comment from E-mail

I'm just writing you this little blurb to thank you for creating Apple by making the Apple I and II. I remember getting to the 2nd high school I had to go to because I risked dropping out of the first and seeing the Apple II for the first time. This was 1985. All the students were busy learning stuff and playing games, I immediately fell in love. With the Apple II but also with Apple and its products (and I'm sure part of this was your hand) had this touch of love put in them that put them apart from the rest. Anyway, to make a long story short, I owe you my career in IT and not dropping out of school. So you vision was (and still is) the best one of them all, empowering kids by creating good and simple yet sophisticated computers that will intrigue and stimulate them.

Woz

You couldn't have a better story. I especially like the, obviously true, reference to almost dropping out. Believe me, as a father of six bright kids, I've been too close to this one many times.

Lisa vs Mac

in
Question from E-mail

My father gave the ][ away a few years ago to a school where the kids used it for "Turtle Graphics". For what it's worth, you were a bit of a hero among me and my friends back then - we knew that you were the hardware guy, and Jobs the business guy. As I recall, and this may be totally wrong, the belief was that Jobs was behind the Lisa, and your "response" was the Mac.

Woz

Very wrong. Steve Jobs was behind bringing the Xerox technology to Apple and building good products with it. But he eventually fell into disfavor with the LISA group. Naturally, the Macintosh became a bit of striking back for him. That's my opinion. I liked all the people on the Mac team very much, even Steve, but my plane crash kept me from it.

What did math nerds do before computers?

in
Question from E-mail

Dear Mr. Wozniak, My father bought an Apple ][ with an AppleSoft card when I was 15 or so. It had 48k and a floppy drive. It was just amazing what you could do with 48k in those days - we had a word processor (AppleWrite, I think), VisiCalc, and plenty of games. I started programming shortly thereafter, using Apple BASIC. I later moved to Pascal on the Apple. I'm 31 now and making a good living as a Java programmer. I don't know what I'd be doing if it wasn't for the Apple. What did math nerds do before computers?

Woz

Believe it or not, such stories of people getting interested in computers at an early age and making a life out of it bring tears to my eyes. I don't need any credit, you all merely need symbols like myself. Yes, what would we math nerds have done? (except for those of us who knew electronics and lived in Santa Clara, I mean 'Silicon', Valley)

Apple BASIC

in
Question from E-mail

Recently I've heard that Apple licensed floating point BASIC from Microsoft. As I had programmed in microsoft BASIC on the IBM PC-XT as well I saw no simularities to the Applesoft BASIC on my ][e so which is the truth? Can you elaborate on how much Microsoft provided to AppleBASIC?

Woz

I wrote the original Apple Integer BASIC. I had wanted it to be the very first BASIC for the 6502 microprocessor. I might then have something to be recognized for. I decided that it had to play games and let me solve engineering problems. I first wrote out a syntax with floating point but then figured that it might be done a few weeks sooner with just integers. I had to write it in the evenings as I worked at Hewlett Packard then. So I cut back to an integer BASIC that I called "Game BASIC".

I'd never programmed in BASIC. My college had encountered Fortran, several machine languages, Algol, and a couple of special languages. But you could buy a book called "101 BASIC Games". Plus, the Gates/Allen BASIC was becoming the standard thing to get for your Altair computer, although very few people had these computers yet.

I'd never writting a computer language or taken a course in it, although I'd studied books on my own touching on the topic. I have no idea to this day if I wrote it as anyone else would. I broke the entire language down into a syntax table that was stored in memory, in modified text form. A word like "PRINT" was stored as the 5 letters. If you were allowed an unsigned expression after some word, I stored a pointer to the syntax of that type of expression, which specified what it could be made of. Each line was compared, letter by letter, through this syntax table to see if there was any valid BASIC statement.

I gave each symbol in the syntax table a particular code as on operator. The word "PRINT" might be operator number 5 and "FOR" might be operator number 13, etc. A plus sign had it's code too. A symbol like a minus sign might have two different codes depending on whether it was prefix (like -5) or infix (like 9-6). A variable or a number was an operand. I pushed the operand references onto one stack and operator codes onto another. But the operator codes each had 2 different priorities telling my BASIC whether to push them on top of the topmost operator already on the stack, or to pop that one off and generate the output program from it. Each operator had a value for it's tendency to push others off, and a value for it's resistance to being pushed off. For example, plus tends to push divide off, causing the division to happen first. Strangely all this works.

Then I had to write one short routine for each of perhaps 100 operators. These included keywords like "PRINT", mathematical operators like 'plus', parenthesis, and other grammar symbols of BASIC.

It took a couple of months to get the BASIC to this shape, with an engine that ran the whole thing. Then I would define a Syntax sentence in the syntax table, along with any routines for any new operator symbols. I would test it, get it working, and move on to the next syntax sentence for the next BASIC statement. From this point on, things were very modular and I was only writing very short programs.

Well, the BASIC was a very big success. Especially when I was able to easily add statements and corresponding routines for color graphics and game commands in the Apple ][.

We shipped some apps with our early Apple ]['s. Apps like ColorMath (a flashcard program) and Breakout (a game I'd designed the hardware version of for Atari). These apps were on casette tapes in 1976, before floppy disks. Mike Markkula, who was our third and equal partner, was running marketing for us (and much more!). He, and some young programmers, and anyone else he could find, wrote our first checkbook program. It led to two items heading our 'projects to do' list at a staff meeting. This sort of program wanted floating point numbers (or a programmer like myself who would have preferred integers) and also a floppy disk for speed. These became my top two projects.

I rushed and got one of my favorite and most famous designs ever done in 2 weeks, working every day of Christmas vacation, 1977, including Christmas and New Years day. I'd never designed a floppy disk interface nor worked with one. Nor did I have a clue what was in them. I set out this blind and started designing stuff that would efficiently read and write floppy disks with the new Shugart 5" mechanism. I wound up with 5 chips one day doing the job, along with some low level 6502 software of my own. Randy Wigginton helped me with this project. My motivation was that Mike Markkula said that if we had the floppy ready to demo at the first CES show that was to permit personal computers to be a part, in Las Vegas, in January. I'd never been to Las Vegas, only dreamed of it. Well, I made the trip and the floppy was a success for Apple.

I next started working on a new floating point BASIC. My design style is to spend quite a bit of time thinking out every angle in my head and in rough sketches, and then to start coding. The first results aren't visible right away, but at the end they come up very quickly. Steve Jobs got concerned that I wasn't making enough progress. He even accused me of slacking and coming in at 10 AM in one staff meeting, but I pointed out that I'd been laying out our floppy PC Card (of which I'm extremely proud as I relayed it with one shift register shifting in the opposite direction of my first design after I discovered that would cut the PC board crossovers from 8 to 5, something nobody would ever see but that's the drive for perfection) and that I'd been leaving at 4 AM every morning, long after even the Houston brothers, Dick and Cliff, had left.

Somehow, we wound up with a Microsoft 6502 floating point BASIC one day. I installed it (which involved a lot back then) and tested it. Since it was already near completion, and only needed some graphics commands added for our Apple, our own effort was best dropped. Mine might turn out better in some regards, but wasn't worth the risk or effort. I have no idea if this BASIC was written by Microsoft or just found by them. My biggest disappointment was going to the awful string functions like LEFT$ (VAR, 5) and MID$ (VAR2,5,3) instead of my own, which were written VAR (1:5) and VAR2 (5;8) for the first 5 characters and characters 5 through 8 of a variable.

I forget how much we paid Microsoft for this BASIC.

We were kings of our machines

in
Question from E-mail

I am writing this on a 20th Anniversary Mac (one of the "fire sale models" from the Apple Store) and it is a wonderful machine. I also have an iMac in my other farm office. But the IIe was still the most fun I ever had xomputing, and it kept the books just as good as these two machines do.

Woz

I love that 20th Anniversary Mac. I think of it as a perfect college machine, with the computer, TV, radio, CD player and more (AV even) all in one sleek machine. I don't know why, exactly, the ][e was so good to so many. I hear what you are saying all the time. I think that for a while, software was simple and we were kings of our machines. After the market was recognized as being very large, programs became immense. It became more of a contest to remember which menu something was in, than to do it yourself or make what program you had do the job you needed. It feels like the software is so good and immense now that it's often more important than we, the people, are. I didn't feel this way back in the early days. I can still feel that good now, but it's less often, like when I'm writing a program for fun.

 

I've been writing Woz-influenced code..

in
Question from E-mail

Hi, Woz. My dad got me an Apple ][ back in 1979, and I found it so clean and crisp and cool that within days I did a CALL -151, and I've been writing Woz-influenced code ever since. Thanks for Wozifying the world!

Ok, I've just got to know. Which HP calc was it that most influenced the Apple 1 and ][, the HP 9830 (1972) or the HP 9825 (1976)? The Apple ][ looks a lot like the 9825, but given your tenure at HP, I'd have to guess it was the very cool 9830 with built-in BASIC that had the most influence on you.

Woz

I'm glad to find so many people that still remembering being inspired in the CALL -151 days!

All the small HP Calculators, the HP 35, 45, 55, 65, and 67 influenced the Apple II. They did it in the sense that each key had a worthwhile function meaningful to humans. Each key merely activated it's own program. A calculator was complete. It didn't need accessories and peripherals and programs just to have a keyboard you could use.

Thank you

in
Question from E-mail

 

I would like to thank you for touching my life and the life of my children. My father bought me an Apple II when I was a kid. I remember him filling out the credit application and actually having an Apple credit card or something of that nature. Looking back I don't think he could have afforded it but he bought it for me. My 3 girls currently use a 266 iMac which is the main focus of our household. If it wasn't for Macs my 4 year old would not be as advanced as she is with computers. I'm sure your initial response will be something like "It took a lot of people to build those products" and I thank all of them. But my family thanks you for being a doer and a thinker and I hope I teach my kids to do the same with their lives.

 

Woz

This is a great story to hear. Sometimes, the Apple ][ is forgotten or deliberately left out but it inspired this whole industry in my opinion.