Woz comments clarify some important Apple history

A few months ago, BBC Radio ran a program on the 1970s, with a specific episode dedicated to the founding of Apple.

From the episode writeup:

Author and broadcaster Michael S. Malone tells the story of the Apple II personal computer, an invention which helped to revolutionise the way we work and play. “The stunning Apple II, with its new rainbow logo, put the scores of other, cruder personal computers in the shade, ” he says. “They looked like the past. The Apple II looked like the future, the only future, for personal computing.”

Follow the headline to listen to the episode. Then check out the comments below. These came directly from Woz (and are published here, with Woz’s permission) and clarify some of the points made in the linked BBC Radio episode.

The Atari comments are off base. Atari started without microprocessors. a game had 70 to 150 chips and thousands of wires that an engineer skilled in digital hardware and analog television technology had to spend months constructing to develop a new game idea. Those Atari games were not programs. They were not software. They didn’t have microprocessors. In fact, my Apple II was not just a computer. My love of games led me to create a computer that was also a good game machine and that meant arcade games.

The game that I developed for Atari in 4 sleepless days and nights was Breakout. Nolan Bushnell was tired of his game designers in Grass Valley coming up with games that took 120-180 chips (and correspondingly thousands of wires). Nolan knew that I came with Steve Jobs and that I designed things with much fewer parts than anyone else. I did not think it was possible for me to design an arcade game in 4 days (Jobs needed money that soon to buy into a commune in Oregon, I suppose now) but I managed to design Breakout, using 45 chips.

During that sleepless period my mind drifted and hit on one of the major keys to Apple’s success. All the Atari games then were hardware (not programs) and all were in black and white only. I thought that it would be incredible if someday arcade games were in color. It was like when TV moved from black and white to color. The method to create color for our analog TV’s back then I knew well as an engineer. It involved sine-wave signals on wires that were adjusted and mixed by precision parts and designs requiring differential calculus. Such a device might cost $5000 of today’s dollars. But the idea that popped into my head was that a digital number in a computer, consisting of 0’s and 1’s, could be put onto a wire into an analog TV, and the TV would ’think’ that was a color signal if done exactly right. You could get color on a TV for ZERO DOLLARS!

My Apple II computer was not just a computer. Who needed a computer in their home back in 1975? Nobody kept inventory and salary records at home, the things that computers did. Games were the key. With the human affordable Apple II, I took computer games to a new level. It was the first time that arcade games became color (note that our first Apple logo was in 6 colors) and it was also the first time that arcade games were software. A 9-year old could program a decent arcade game in a day, rather than having skilled engineers develop a game in a year. Another key item to the Apple II was that the programmer could put a number into memory and a color pixel on the screen would change. That made the world of software games truly accessible to users. It’s little surprise that this computer, so far ahead of anything else, would be Apple’s only successful (profit earning) product for the first 10 years of the company that we know today.

The microprocessor I chose for the Apple II was more advanced and more capable than the Intel ones I could not afford, even though this 6502 microprocessor only cost me $20 cash. Yes, this was a more capable processor than the Intel one. Steve Jobs was not around and didn’t see my develop this computer that I showed off at the Homebrew Computer Club and gave away my designs for free and helped others build. Steve Jobs did not come into town and find me in a basement with a computer and drag me to the club. Steve Jobs had never attended that club and I’d been there since the first day. No, it was I who brought Steve Jobs to the club. Don’t believe how Ashton Kushner saw Steve Jobs’s role in this. This was the computer that became the Apple I.

Steve Jobs had nothing to do with the Apple II design and did not direct it. We were able to show off my Apple II computer before we ever delivered an Apple I. The Apple I was not a Wozniak computer design. It was a quick addition of a microprocessor (brain) and the right type of memory to a product I’d already built, a home terminal to access the ARPAnet when it was only 6 computers across the U.S., and the forerunner and inspiration for what became today’s internet. The Apple I computer showed the world that the path to a personal computer was a keyboard and video display. The video display was based on the fact that I had no money but had a TV. But the Apple I was limited in capability by a terminal that was optimized (in cost and chips) for low-speed telephone connections to far-away ARPAnet computers. The Apple II was a computer and arcade machine from the core and would be the basis of a big company.

Jobs did an incredible job that was needed. I was a great engineer but had no desire for the politics of business or marketing. Keep in mind that neither of us had any savings or rich relatives. Nor did we have any business experience. And we were both in our early 20’s. As in this audio, Mike Markkula was the adult in the house and really established a new technology company. Steve Jobs wanted to be an important person so he worked with all the business people while I just wanted to have a laboratory to invent things in, day and night, and usually alone.

I felt that in starting Apple Computer (now just Apple) it was OK to receive money for my great design but that was not my motivation at all. I wanted to bring my work to the world, and that took a company. I did love HP but finally chose to leave on the basis that I could still remain an engineer for life and not have to run a company, which was too political for me. Read my book iWoz to learn more about my non-political stance. In our market share loss, the business side of the company chose to conceive of new computers and failed with all of them. Steve Jobs didn’t know the hardware or software technology of computers. His mark would be made much later with human lifestyle products like the iPod and iPhone.

I never actually left Apple. I was never disgruntled with Apple. It’s the greatest company ever. I had a plane crash in February, 1981. Five weeks later I came out of anterior grade amnesia (forward amnesia, often called short term memory loss although your short term memory works find it’s long term memories that aren’t being created and saved) and called Steve Jobs to tell him that it was my choice to take my last chance to go back to Berkeley for my last year in order to graduate. My name was famous so I enrolled under a fake name and my Berkeley diploma reads “Rocky Racoon Clark.” I did not officially leave Apple either. To this day I am the only person who has received a paycheck every week from Apple. Stories about me leaving Apple, on 2 occasions for different reasons, out of disgust are what some want to say but they are totally incorrect.

Jobs was never fired. A lot of people want to say this to parrot Jobs but it’s not true. Jobs had lost a business battle, with the company at stake due to a horrendous failure of the Macintosh computer, and he felt that even though he could be financed to the hilt he couldn’t work with those who had sided against him. Jobs left of his own accord, to have a better chance at creating a computer success elsewhere.