Apple's 'Twiggy Mac' comes back to life

Three decades after Apple's Macintosh was born, a prototype machine with a 5.25-inch "Twiggy" floppy-disk drive gets fired up in front of members of the original Mac development team.

Steve Wozniak surrounded by (starting from left) Larry Kenyon, Randy Wiggington, Ed Ruder, Terry Oyama, Andy Hertzfeld, Ron Nicholson, Jerry Manock, Dan Kottke and Gabreal Franklin, host of the event and former president of Mac software company Encore Systems. Dan Farber/CNET

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- It was almost 30 years ago that the Macintosh made its auspicious debut. On January 24, 1984, a 29-year-old Steve Jobs pulled the Mac out of bag on stage, slipped a 3.5-inch floppy drive into the disk drive, and with the "Chariots of Fire" theme playing, showed the cheering crowd why 1984 wouldn't be like "1984."

But less than six months before its debut, the Mac had a serious problem. The computer that Jobs hoped would change the world was using a 5.25-inch floppy-disk drive that proved to be error-prone and unreliable. The so-called "Twiggy" drive, allegedly named the famous and very thin 1960s fashion model, was also used in the Lisa, the precursor to the Mac, which had just shipped in June of 1983. But unlike the Mac, the Lisa wasn't solely reliant on the floppy drive. The $10,000 workstation computer came with a 5MB hard disk. The "Twiggy Mac" was doomed to an indefinite delay unless a solution was found.

The Twiggy Mac is now a collectors' item, like a rare coin. Dan Farber/CNET

In August of 1983, Apple set its sights on a new, micro-floppy 3.5-inch disk drive with 400KB capacity from Sony. At first Jobs wanted Apple to manufacture the drive in-house, but he eventually relented when it turned out it would take 18 months to get the device delivered. And thus the Twiggy Mac became a footnote in history and an extremely rare commodity.

A group from the original Mac team gathered Wednesday at the Computer History Museum to revisit that episode in Apple's history and to witness two ancient Twiggy Macs in action, running alpha versions of the Mac's inaugural word processor, Macwrite, and its drawing program, MacPaint. The event was put together by Dan Kottke, one of the first Apple employees, and Gabreal Franklin, former president of Mac software company Encore Systems.

The creators of the MacWrite, led by Apple employee No. 6 Randy Wigginton, were in attendance to fire up the software. "It was a work of passion," Wigginton said regarding the development of the Mac.

Macwrite team members: Randy Wigginton at the computer, flanked by Ed Ruder (left) and Don Breuner. Dan Farber/CNET

Steve Wozniak, who wasn't directly involved with developing the Mac, was a center of attention at the gathering. "I love to see old prototypes and original equipment," he said. "But the people that were there have so much more meaning and memories that it brings out."

Also in attendance were Jerry Manock and Terry Oyama, who designed the unique external case for the Mac and the mouse. Manock explained how his team tested some of the thermal properties of the Mac by placing a clear plastic case in a closet and lighting sticks of incense to see how the smoke circulated.

Mac industrial designers Jerry Manock and Terry Oyama. Dan Farber/CNET

"Steve's total dedication to having the best design in the world was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Manock said. "Originally, he said there is Sony, Mercedes and eventually Apple would be up there too. I am really happy to see that dedication carried on."

Mr. Macintosh on the ROM card Dan Farber/CNET

Oyama offered an example of the design sensibility that continues to live on at Apple. "If you feel edge of the Mac, there is a textured surface on the side that makes it easy to find the on/off switch in the rear. Steve gave us the time to make it better," he said.

The Twiggy Mac display also brought out "Mr. Macintosh," a human figure etched on the circuit boards designed by the Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon. According to Andy Hertzfeld's book, "Revolution in the Valley," Mr. Macintosh was a Steve Jobs creation that would be embedded in software as well:

"In February 1982, Jobs met with some of the team and decided there has to be a Mr. Macintosh, a mysterious little guy who lives inside each Macintosh. He pops up every once and a while, when you least expect it, and then winks at you and disappears again. We'll plant references in manuals to the legend of Mr. Macintosh...and no one will know if he is real or not.

"One out of every thousand or two thousand times that you pull down a menu, instead of the normal commands, you'll get Mr. Macintosh, leaning against the wall of the menu. He'll wave at you, and then quickly disappear. You'll try to get him to come back, but you won't be able to."

Hertzfeld, who was one of the primary authors of the Macintosh operating system and user interface, left Apple just after the launch of the Mac. He was unsure if Mr. Macintosh was ever implemented in software.

Rod Holt, who worked on the analog parts of the Macintosh, told a few tales of his early days at Apple. He had been working at Atari as a top engineer when Jobs, who was working part-time at the game maker, convinced him to help his computer startup.

Holt, who was 21 years older than Jobs, remembers going to work at Atari during the day and then heading back to the office at 9:00 pm to work with the long-haired, barefoot entrepreneur on his project. "I enjoyed solving other peoples' problems, and Steve had lots of them," Holt said. The Twiggy Mac disk drive was just one of those problems to solve along the path to shaping the future of computing.

Correction: The story was changed to reflect that Dan Kottke, who worked with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak throughout the early days of Apple, was responsible, along with Gabreal Franklin, for making the Twiggy Mac Day at the Computer History Museum happen.

 

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