The Original Macintosh:    28 of 40 
The Mythical Man Year
Author: Andy Hertzfeld
Date: October 1983
Characters: Steve Jobs, Bill Atkinson
Topics: Software Design, Personality, Reality Distortion, QuickDraw
Summary: Steve estimates the effort that went into Quickdraw
Bill and Burrell on the cover
of Byte

One of our first encounters with the press was a group interview with Byte magazine in October 1983. We wanted an article to come out concurrently with the Mac intro the third week of January, and Byte had a three month lead time, so they were the first.

Byte was one of the first PC hobbyist magazines, written for a fairly technical audience of computer enthusiasts. Five or six of us were being extensively quizzed by two Byte editors, including Steve Jobs. We were talking about the Mac's graphical user interface software, and how long it took to develop.

Quickdraw, the amazing graphics package written entirely by Bill Atkinson, was at the heart of both Lisa and Macintosh. "How many man-years did it take to write QuickDraw?", the Byte magazine reporter asked Steve.

Steve turned to look at Bill. "Bill, how long did you spend writing Quickdraw?"

"Well, I worked on it on and off for four years", Bill replied.

Steve paused for a beat and then turned back to the Byte reporter. "Twenty-four man-years. We invested twenty-four man-years in QuickDraw."

Obviously, Steve figured that one Atkinson year equaled six man years, which may have been a modest estimate.

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Bill Atkinson stopped by our small booth at what I believe was the first MacWorld Expo, in Boston (late summer of 1984). Someone at the local high school had been inspired enough by the arrival of the Macintosh, that in early 1984 he raised the funds to employ a ragtag group of programmers, artists, and others, to start a company called Challenger Software, to make software for the Mac. I signed up to help work on Mac3D, which was supposed to be a 3D modeling and hidden-surface rendering tool. In hindsight, this was ridiculously ambitious for our initial effort, and to make things worse, we spent almost as much time trying to fit Mac3D into the available RAM as we did getting the features to work. I stuck mostly to implementing the UI, two other guys (Eric Twietmeyer [not sure where he is now] and Kevin Lynch [now at Macromedia]) did the 3D math algorithms (I remember the two of them poring over the Warnock algorithm in a copy of Foley and van Dam), and a couple of other guys did general programming tasks. We barely had it working by the time MacWorld rolled around, but the boss said it was good enough to demo, so off to Boston we went. When Bill Atkinson stopped by, he was very gracious and encouraging, despite the obvious limitations of what we had to demo. I recall getting a kick out of his laid back outfit, (he was wearing a Hawaiian print shirt) and I thought it was cool to demo software to him that had been written using his QuickDraw routines. After the brief demo was done, he left with the comment, "that's sexy", which was a big deal to me at the time. Shortly after that, I moved on to greener pastures, and I was able to support myself, (and later on, my family) on income derived from writing Mac software for almost twenty years. I don't think a career writing software would have been possible had I stuck with DOS and gone on to do Windows software, as I would have switched careers many years ago if I had been relegated to Windows all this time! (Nowadays I'm able to grin and bear Windows for my current employer, who recently went "all Windows, all the time", on the product I currently work on, but I hope to one day return to coding for the Mac.) Anyways, thanks Andy, for taking the time to collect all of these stories about the Macintosh. Reading this history has been strangely therapeutic.
You can find the article in question at
Hello, Just a small add: the Byte magazine edition was February 1984...