Steve Jobs and the Early Apple Years
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Steve Jobs and the Early Apple Years
The PC is born
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The PC is born

In 1975 the personal computer revolution started with an issue of Popular Electronics that had the Altair machine as its cover feature. The computers of the time were useless as far as anything real was concerned but they quickly became part of the alternative culture.

For example, the Peoples Computer Company was a loose collection of hippies, dropouts and technologists and for the first time the word `hacker' acquired shades of its current meaning. Steve and Woz wanted to be part of it but Steve still managed to find ways of making money out of the enthusiasm.

First he contracted Woz to build a terminal for a time share operation but it ended in disaster because Woz simply wasn't interested once the electronics design was complete. A working finished product took more time and energy than Woz would invest. Steve then got Woz to design the game `Breakout' for Atari in double quick time. In those early days arcade games weren't programmed but hardwired and Woz got it down to 36 chips. However, the design was so complex that the Atari engineers couldn't understand it and had to redesign it for production.

 

breakout

Breakout implemented with 36 basic logic elements

Apple I

Finally Woz designed the Apple I and Steve tried to sell it. It was a pretty basic kit

 

earlyapple-4

 

However, he found that what was wanted was a finished machine not just an unpopulated circuit board. He organised the production of a finished machine which he duly delivered, but still minus case or power supply. Still by the scale that Steve and Woz were thinking in it was a success. Enough to make it worth thinking of designing the Apple II.

The Apple I was being built in Steve's dad's garage and was a home spun affair. The Apple II was going to be just an extension of the same operation but in 1976 they discovered that the world was ready to move on. At the Personal Computer festival they turned up with a folding table and a prototype Apple II - in a cardboard box. The other machine makers - Commodore and Tandy - had proper stands and some were showing off polished almost consumer products. Apple needed to move out of the garage and money was the key. Commodore nearly bought the whole business but wouldn't offer what Steve required.

 

woz_jobs

The Steves

 

There is no doubt that Woz's design for the Apple II was an amazing piece of work - it was a colour machine with video RAM shared between the display electronics and the CPU. Compared to the machines of the time it was way ahead. However Steve also contributed key design elements. He decided on a moulded plastic case - smooth edges and sleek lines. He also became convinced that the machine should be silent in operation, i.e. no fan. To achieve this he found an engineer to design an advanced switch mode power supply that would run cool.

The money problem was solved when Steve managed to talk Mike Markkula into joining them. It was the start of Apples post-garage phase and the start of Steve's problems. Never conventional, he still went barefoot and didn't wash, he wasn't any one's idea of a company executive.

In 1977 4000 Apple IIs sold and the company was on the up. Steve was 21 and worth a million dollars - he wore his first suit at the West cost computer fair - but the management of the new company didn't like him one bit.

The feature that tipped the balance to make the Apple II the huge success that it became was Woz's most amazing design. At the time disk drives were expensive items but Woz managed to reduce the electronics to next to nothing making them cheap enough to make them almost standard equipment on the Apple II.

I can remember seeing the circuit diagram for the first time and not believing that anything so simple could do the job! At the start of 1978 Apple was worth $3 million and they couldn't make the Apple II fast enough. However Steve's position within Apple was getting worse by the minute. No one trusted his judgement or valued his management abilities - by conventional standards he had none. Woz had designed the Apple II and Steve Jobs just got in the way and was a weirdo.

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 16 June 2013 )
 
 

   
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