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The Original Macintosh:    30 of 122 
I Don't Have a Computer!
Author: Bruce Horn
Date: December 1981
Characters: Andy Hertzfeld, Bruce Horn, Steve Jobs, John Couch
Topics: Apple Spirit, Lisa, Lisa Rivalry, Buildings, Management
Summary: Bruce needs to find a computer, and fast.

When I joined the Mac group, we were still very small, working in what we called Texaco Towers--a nondescript office building behind a Texaco station at the corner of De Anza and Stevens Creek, in Cupertino, long since gone (see Texaco Towers).



The software group had offices on one side of the office building, and the hardware group was on the other side. Our offices were quite spare. One room toward the front of the building had a line printer (one of those old, big, noisy impact printers) that was driven by an Apple II. To print out your sources, you had to write them to an Apple II disk, run a program to swap the bytes or do some other manipulation, and then put it in the Apple II which would then run the line printer.

Of course, to print out sources, you had to write some code. I was ready to go, and I had been on the Mac team for several weeks but still hadn't gotten a Lisa, the development machine we used. The Lisa was still under development, and the prototypes were very difficult to obtain. I was starting to get a little frustrated and complained to Andy Hertzfeld at one point that maybe I should go work for a *real* company that could provide the appropriate tools for their software developers.

Andy mentioned this to Steve Jobs. Steve immediately said, "Well, should we fire him?" Andy replied "No, just get him a computer!"

Later that day I received a note from Steve to go to a particular office in another Apple building; there would be a Lisa on the desk, and I could take that one and use it. I went over to the other building and found the office.

The nameplate on the office door said, "John Couch." John was the head of the group developing the Lisa. I wasn't sure that this was really OK, but I had a note from Steve if anybody asked, so I walked into the office, unplugged the computer, and carted it away.

I still don't know to this day whether Steve had arranged this with John, or if John came back to the surprise of an empty desk, but I did get a lot of use out of that machine, maybe more than John ever did.

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4 Comments     
Bruce: a classic for sure. I'd love to know John's reaction. What happened to the Lisa when you were done with it?
I would love to know how John reacted too--someday I'm going to have to ask him. I had the Lisa the entire time I was in the Mac group; now and then I'd add a new disk drive or some memory, but the machine just hummed along. I don't know where it went after I left Apple; probably to another developer.
What a great story! I must add that this is a bit of Apple DNA that began way back then and is still very much alive today: Apple really hates to give a software engineer an adequate computer to do his job.
This is characteristic of the industry, I think. At Compaq obsolete & overstock computers went to the outlet store. Discards from that store went to the sales force. When the salesmen got newer computers, we engineers were allowed to pick over the discards before they went to a recycler. If you were real lucky you might hang on to a prototype for a while. Of course one could argue that Compaq's engineers were adequately served by three-generation old machines, since they were merely repackaging Intel cookbook designs ;-) (not ENTIRELY true...). At IBM, most engineer's desktops would be classed as legacy systems, too. The industry doesn't listen to its own hype about more powerful = more productive.