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Woz highlights celebration of Apple's history

Hundreds flock to Computer History Museum to hear Steve Wozniak and other early Apple employees tell insider stories. Photos: Museum rings in Apple's 30th Video: Wozniak reminisces

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--If there's one machine that more than any other shaped the future of the computer business, it almost surely is the Apple I.

And what do you get when you bring together four of the Apple I team members--including Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak--behind that groundbreaking computer? A lovefest.

That's what was on display Saturday at the Computer History Museum here as several hundred longtime Silicon Valley veterans and youngsters showed up for a panel discussion called "Apple in the Garage" celebrating Apple's 30th anniversary.

To be sure, that anniversary was really in April, but as part of the ninth annual Vintage Computer Festival, Wozniak, Apple employee No. 6 Randy Wigginton, Apple employee No. 8 Chris Espinosa, and longtime Apple employee and original Macintosh team member Daniel Kottke got together for an afternoon of storytelling about the earliest days of Apple and its seminal computers. (To see CNET's complete coverage of Apple's 30th, including stories, video and photo galleries, click here.)

"It's amazing to me that owning your own computer was considered impossible."
--Randy Wigginton,
Apple employee No. 6

Last year, festival organizers such as Bruce Damer, founder of the DigiBarn computer museum in California's Santa Cruz mountains, celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Homebrew Computer Club. Wozniak appeared at the event as well, and to some, Saturday's event was a suitable bookend for a historical look back at the birth of personal computing.

And on Saturday, many of those in attendance were happy just to hear the four panelists tell stories about the creation of the Apple I in 1976 and of its successor, the Apple II, in 1977.

"We thought it would be a shame if we didn't have a birthday party for Apple with a cake," Damer, who conceived of, organized and moderated the panel, said at the beginning of the discussion. Indeed, he brought along a birthday cake adorned with a digital image of Apple's original logo.

But before anyone could eat the cake, the panelists took the audience down a memory lane of poignant Apple history.

Espinosa, for example, recalled how he had begun working for Apple while still in high school and that he counts himself lucky to have gotten to work alongside such technology luminaries. Espinosa still works at Apple today.

"It was really interesting being 14 and 15 years old, and having my hobby being hanging out with guys who were" changing the face of technology, Espinosa said. "I didn't really know that this wasn't the way 14-year-olds spent their high-school year."

Apple's roots
Kottke recalled how he had become friends with Steve Jobs--who was not present at Saturday's event to the dismay of some in attendance--when both were college students at Reed College in Portland, Ore. He said the two had bonded over Eastern philosophies and that Jobs had not talked about his computer work.

But upon being invited to Silicon Valley, Kottke said he visited Jobs' house--the home of the famous garage where Jobs and Wozniak started Apple--and the first thing he found was Jobs' sister watching "The Gong Show" on TV and plugging chips into Apple Is.

Wozniak said the early Apple team didn't have a telephone and that Jobs was essentially running the entire business from his bedroom.

"It was a nice, warm place to meet people," Wozniak said of the Jobs' garage.

Wigginton remembered that in those days, many of today's computer industry luminaries hung out at the Homebrew Computer Club because it was a way to have access to working computers.

"Nobody could afford their own computer," Wigginton said. "It's amazing to me that owning your own computer was considered impossible."

For his part, Espinosa joked about why he had gone to work for Apple rather than for another computer company.

"Scott Computer was too far away to work because I only had a bicycle," Espinosa said. "So Apple was much better for me because it was much closer."

He also said that when Apple was working on the Apple II, the team got its own building, though it didn't have any furniture beyond some telephones.

"When you're in a building with nothing but telephones and Steve Wozniak," Espinosa said, alluding to Wozniak's storied history building blue boxes, "you know you're going to have some fun."

But he also said the carpeting in the building was a constant source of static electricity and that when someone was walking over the carpet and touched an open Apple II case, "you fried the keyboard chip."

"So we spent an incredible amount of time," Espinosa said, "replacing keyboard chips."


Before co-founding Apple, Wozniak worked for Hewlett-Packard, and he said that in order to protect himself from claims by HP that he was profiting off work that HP owned, he got the company's legal team to run the Apple I plans by every department. They all turned the project down, he said.

And while HP was interested in the machine, Wozniak said that ultimately, the company was afraid that it wasn't polished enough to be an HP product. Later, he added that if HP had wanted it, it probably would have been a commercial failure and might have set the personal-computer business back significantly.

In the early days, Apple was putting software on cassettes, but the company didn't have automated tape duplication machines.

So someone rigged up a system in which a rack of Panasonic tape machines were linked together off an Apple II and in order to copy as many tapes at a time as possible, the team would have to simultaneously press play and record on all the tape machines and hit the return key on the Apple II to begin the process.

"Any time someone would come in and talk about something like a $25 million Bank of America credit line," Espinosa said, an Apple employee might have to "stop the meeting and go over and switch out the cassettes and put in new ones and then come back and say, 'So what were we talking about?' That's the kind of place it was."

But of course, Apple is now one of the most important technology companies in the world, and its hallmark, despite Wozniak's long-ago departure as a full-time employee, is elegant design. He hopes to lay claim to that legacy.

"I don't want credit for designing the first (personal) computer," Wozniak said. "I just want credit for designing the first good one. (And for) publicizing the fact that a computer could be attractive."