Recollections of the Mac's creators

Three members of the team that built the original Macintosh look back on days filled with pirate flags, Nerf balls, and Steve Jobs' Zen interviewing techniques.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
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January 24 marks the the 25th anniversary of the release of the original Macintosh, a computer that--with its whimsical design, innovative graphical user interface and all-in-one form factor--permanently changed personal computing.

Any student of the history of PCs should know that the Mac project was first championed by the late Jef Raskin and then brought to fruition by Steve Jobs. But the team that built the first Mac was, of course, much larger than those two. In fact, the team had a wide range of personalities and skill sets and seems universally to have been regarded as a singular experience in the professional lives of most who were there.

As part of our commemoration of the Mac's silver anniversary, CNET News asked a number of the team's earliest members to share some of their recollections of helping to change the world. Those memories--which are personal and may have evolved and blossomed over time--paint a revealing picture of what it took to make the Mac a reality, and who some of the people behind the project really were.

Joanna Hoffman was an early member of the Macintosh team. She recalls positioning the computer for the higher-education market in its earliest days. Courtesy of Joanna Hoffman

Joanna Hoffman
"I was taking a leave of absence from the University of Chicago, and I happened to be listening to a couple lectures at Xerox PARC when I ran across Jef Raskin, who was at the time starting the Mac project. We got into a heated discussion after the lecture about what computers should look like and how they should improve people's lives, and he asked me to come interview at Apple."

"I worked on the business plan, and on defining some of the early markets, including the higher-ed market, which was the market which carried the Mac....When we first shipped it, it wasn't really suitable for the business market, which was obviously the most lucrative. But it wasn't ideally suited for that. So while it was going through its various gyrations and modifications, the higher-ed market was very kind to it. They really liked the product and lots of students bought them, so it really helped Mac into its transition before it discovered its niche in desktop publication and other applications which required graphics."

"I think this one hasn't been really told: When we were working on the Macintosh, all of a sudden, everybody was coming up with PCs. DEC had one, so did IBM and Osborne, and I remember we were sitting with our team and Steve Jobs and (marketing consultant) Regis McKenna in Regis' office, and he was trying to get us to articulate what our competition was. Steve was looking at our team, trying to get us to come up with answers. So of course, we piped up with DEC and IBM and everyone entering the field. And Regis walked up to the whiteboard and crossed everybody out and said, 'You have only one competitor, and that is IBM'...Of course it (ended up being) us against Microsoft, but in those days, it was IBM."

These days, Hoffman is married to fellow Macintosh team member Alain Rossmann, and is spending her time consulting with a series of nonprofits, helping them to run and focus their operations more effectively.

Ed Riddle, an early Mac team member, recalls his interview with Steve Jobs: sitting on a furniture-less floor, staring into each others' eyes--the two men shared a Zen master--followed by Jobs bowing and saying it had gone well. Courtesy of Ed Riddle

Ed Riddle
"I was working just before (joining the Mac team) at a laser company called Coherent Radiation, as an engineer. I knew Rod Holt, and when he moved to Apple, when the Macintosh project started, he called me up and said I should come in. (The role) was not really specific. Originally, it was just that Rod thought I was a good guy, and that I could fit in somehow. (The team) had a really open atmosphere that way.

"We talked about things that I might do, and I thought I might work on the keyboard, because it was something nobody had gotten their hands on. So basically, I designed the keyboard, and the protocol that goes to the Mac, the little coil cord."

The team always allowed "people to express any creativity they might have. I always felt that was a quality of that group. It was really fun that way....I think it was unique. I worked at Atari for a while, and I felt that that there was some of that atmosphere there as well, that, 'Just think of something neat'...I just assumed that it was an Apple thing at the time. I thought it was a Steve Jobs kind of thing. It was a young, energetic, starlit kind of place. Everybody who worked there had a creative urgency. (And) the kind of thing Steve Jobs was trying to articulate (was) that he wanted something to be really neat."

"When I first arrived...the furniture hadn't arrived yet, except for a few benches and desks. It was pretty empty. I don't think there was even 10 or 15 involved.

"It was time for my job interview, and Steve (Jobs) wanted to be the first person to interview me. So we went into this office, and there was no furniture, so we sat on the floor. I said, we have an acquaintance, and I said that I knew his Zen master, Kobun Chino. We sat down cross-legged and made eye contact, and rather than talking, we just looked at each other for the longest time, and I don't think we actually said much of anything during the whole job interview. Mostly it was just making eye contact, and then at a certain point, he smiled, and he bowed, like a Japanese thing, and that was the end of the interview. We seemed to just connect. (Then he added), Well, you still have to run the gauntlet of the technical engineers."

Today, Riddle lives in Oregon, where he's retired and actively involved in local politics, as well as playing in a band.

Daniel Kottke was the first employee Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak hired at Apple. Later, he joined the Macintosh team as an engineer, the first full-time engineering job in his career. Courtesy of the Digibarn Computer Museum

Daniel Kottke, Apple employee number one
"I was a technician on the Apple III, and I had been asking my management for years, how do I become an engineer? Can I be an engineer now? So I was just happy that Steve (Jobs) agreed to hire me as an engineer."

"As soon as Steve funded (the Mac project) what they did was movie it out of Mark LeBrun's cubicle, and he hired Suite B3, over at Stevens Creek Blvd. (in Cupertino, Calif.), the exact same suite that Apple had started in (after Jobs and co-founder Steve Wozniak moved the fledgling company out of Jobs' garage) and the same suite as the Lisa project started in. This is like this nondescript office complex, with a bunch of Realtors.

"And there was this sign on the door: 'Danger: Contagious Algorithm Research Area.' Nowadays, you couldn't even do that. People would call the police. I am absolutely sure that Burrell (Smith, a very early Mac team member) did it, because that was his sense of humor.

"I joined in January, 1981, just about the same week as Andy Hertzfeld. I think Andy was a day or two ahead of me in officially joining the team full-time. The very first meetings I went to, Jef (Raskin) would pull all these Nerf balls out of a box, just to get in shape for serious thinking. The very early meetings, we were kind of sitting around in beanbag chairs."

"The flavor of the early Mac group, the combination of the personalities of Jef, Burrell and Joanna, and Randy Wigginton, it definitely got the flavor of the rebel alliance....It was a happy time in all of our lives. It was exciting to work on that project. It's fairly rare, we all had the sense that we knew it was going to be successful--which wasn't as arrogant as it sounds. We had such a great collection of talent, and we were funded. And we knew we had a visionary leader in Steve."

Nowadays, Kottke is working on a start-up called Blinkenlabs, as well as developing co-housing in Palo Alto, Calif.

The signatures of the original Macintosh team members, circa February 1982, nearly two years before the computer was released to the public. Courtesy of the Digibarn Computer Museum

See also: Special coverage: The Mac at 25