It was 1975-1977..

January 3, 2018

Question from E-mail

Thanks for creating the Apple Computer. I spent most of the late 1970’s waiting in line to use machines like the Wang 2200, IBM 5100, and Univac 90/60. The Apple ][ made a real difference — the lines got shorter and the programs got better! Now I had time to kill, so I got a chance to really explore the hardware and software you designed. That Apple ][ was a neat machine with all kinds of “goodies” hidden inside. Students didn’t get much documentation beyond a simple “How to…” and a guide to Integer BASIC. Finding your Monitor, Mini-Assembler, and “Sweet 16” hidden inside the ROM’s was a real discovery — More fun than “Adventure” or “Star Trek.” Later on I realized that the REAL value of the Apple ][ was the potential for discovery within the machine itself. As I learned more about computer hardware and software, I started to understand some of the real “Hacks” inside that box: how to generate the video signal; how the video access refreshed the DRAMs; how the disk drives worked; even “mundane” parts like the power supply and peripheral slots revealed genious after careful study.

The Apple ][ was somewhere between a parable and a joke — when you finally understood it, you smiled in the knowledge you knew something special. The Apple ][ was the only machine that made me smile.


I’m baffled by the amount of email saying the same things you say. Also, in my travels I continually run into individuals that learned so much about the guts of the hardware and software. I had learned about hardware and software very much the same way, finding manuals and schematics and listings for minicomputers and studying them and dissecting them and eventually looking for better ways. So I very much wanted the Apple ][ to include enough documentation for people to learn this way, as had I. It was very lucky that we were so small at first that we did this. It was an ‘open’ approach. Now, you could never imagine even Apple being this open about what’s inside the box.

A lot of other things changed in this way too. When I developed the Apple computers, TV’s came with schematics. Many radios did too. Now, everything is inside a chip. There was only a short period in history that such openness could have overlapped hugely successful computers, the same short window where only a few people could develop such products. It was 1975-1977. Then the window closed.