How the Mac was born, and other tales

Mac co-creator Andy Hertzfeld talks with CNET about the early days, open-source software, the iPod and Steve Jobs' parking habits. Photo: The Mac comes alive

Steve Jobs will be the star attraction when the Macworld Conference and Expo opens to the public Tuesday, but many Mac fans might be just as interested in hearing from one of the original Mac's creators.

Andy Hertzfeld will be signing copies of his book, "Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac was Made" on the conference floor. Actually, the book's title is a bit misleading--rather than a story, it's a collection of dozens of short stories that provide a unique behind-the-scenes look at the birth of the Mac.

Hertzfeld was a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley in 1978 when he spent $1,300 for an Apple II. While digging under its hood, Hertzfeld became so obsessed and appreciative of the work that went into creating one of the first personal computers that he dropped out of school and joined Apple Computer in the summer of 1979. Another 18 months or so later and he was among the handful of people creating the Mac.

From 1981 until 1984, Hertzfeld worked alongside Mac legends like Bill Atkinson (considered the Mac's software genius) and Burrell Smith (the hardware guru). And, of course, Steve Wozniak and Jobs, who continually reminded the Mac team that they were going to change the world with a powerful but affordable computer sporting a graphical user interface ordinary people could use.

Soon after the Mac's release, much of the original team dispersed, and Hertzfeld was no exception, taking his leave two months after the airing of the famous Super Bowl "1984" ad. He went on to co-found three companies--Radius, General Magic and Eazel--but it was his tales of working on the Mac that continued to enthrall friends and colleagues. He first published many of the stories privately on the Web and asked his former colleagues to vet the stories for accuracy or to submit their own tales. He later opened the site to the public and has now published the stories, and many early photographs, in book form.

Hertzfeld recently spoke with CNET about his work on the Mac, his reasons for documenting it and the reaction from his former co-workers. Displaying the same enthusiasm that drove him to log long days at Apple more than 20 years ago, Hertzfeld was not only quick to recount his experiences but also to also give his thoughts on a range of current topics, including the rise of open source, Microsoft's "crushing" of innovation, the music industry's vain fight against file-sharing and Apple's decision to keep the iPod closed.

He also mentioned that he may start publishing more stories about Apple before and after the Mac. Have you heard the one about Jobs, Wozniak, handicapped parking spaces and the Cupertino police?

Q: How did you get involved with Apple?
A: I bought an Apple II and it fascinated me. It sucked up my life--first my free time and then my not free time. I became obsessed with the Apple II to the point where I had to go work at Apple.

How did you get on the Mac project?
I became friends with Burrell Smith, the hardware designer of the Mac. I started helping him out in various ways and then on--I can say the exact date, even though it happened 24 years ago--Feb. 25, 1981, (there was a) management shake-up in the Apple II part of Apple, where I was working, where they fired all the bosses on the same day. I was pretty upset that they fired my partner on my project and I told someone I was thinking of leaving.

One of the main Lisa guys?wasn't invited to the demo but he stormed in and started screaming at us during the demo about how the Macintosh was going to destroy the Lisa and destroy Apple.
They thought I was a good guy and didn't want me to leave so they said, "Well, what can we do to get you to stay?" And I said, "Well, how about working on the Mac?" And the next day I was working on the Mac.

Was there a lot of buzz already within Apple about the development of the Mac?
It was mixed. For the whole first year I was working on it there was buzz, but it was not necessarily positive. The Macintosh was the price of an Apple II but had the features of a Lisa, so it managed to get at odds with all the big teams at Apple. And it was considered a Skunk Works project.

It wasn't the future of the company; the future of the company was the Lisa and the Apple III, and we were more like a little scruffy research project. It was certainly that way, almost insignificant, when Jef (Raskin) was running it. When Steve (Jobs) took over, that got a lot of attention. But even in those days Steve was thought of as a loose cannon more than, you know, the admiral or anything. Steve was never the CEO of Apple until the late '90s. He was a VP and he became the chairman of the board in 1981, but he didn't really have that much organizational authority.

They thought we were way overambitious, and we were also a much smaller team than the big teams. To do a major project really takes at least 50 people. We were like five people. But then as we made progress, gradually Apple became aware that this is going to be a bigger thing. By the time the Mac shipped, the entire company was pretty excited about it.

Was there a lot of politics at that time?
A lot of politics. In the book, I have a number of stories that address some of the tensions, especially with the Lisa team. I have a story in there called "And Another Thing." That's the name of the story where Larry Tesler, who was the manager of the Lisa applications team, asked Burrell and myself to give a demo to the Lisa team. One of the main Lisa guys, Rich Page, kind of wasn't invited to the demo, but he stormed in and started screaming at us during the demo about how the Macintosh was going to destroy the Lisa and destroy Apple.

If we hadn't developed the Mac, I don't think there'd be an Apple.
He was like raving--really, really emotional, almost crying--and then he kind of said his piece. Everyone was shocked and stunned, and he stepped out of the room and he slammed the door. I can still remember how the door reverberated in the stunned silence after that. Larry Tesler was very embarrassed that (Rich) did that, so he's trying to figure out what to say. But as he's trying to figure out what to say, Rich stormed into the room again and started ranting a second time.

Isn't there some truth, though, to what he said--that the Mac was a threat to the Lisa? It was going to have similar features and cost a lot less but was not slated to reach the market for a couple more years, thus dampening Lisa sales.
Yeah, definitely. Certainly there's a complex nest of issues there with the relationship between the Lisa and the Mac. But hindsight tells us that the Mac was on the right path. If we hadn't developed the Mac,

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