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The Original Macintosh:    68 of 122 
Saving Lives
Author: Andy Hertzfeld
Date: August 1983
Characters: Steve Jobs, Larry Kenyon
Topics: Software Design, Inspiration
Summary: Steve wants us to make the Macintosh boot faster

We always thought of the Macintosh as a fast computer, since its 68000 microprocessor was effectively 10 times faster than an Apple II, but our Achilles heel was the floppy disk. We had limited RAM, so it was often necessary to load data from the floppy, but there we were no faster than an Apple II. Once we had real applications going, it was clear the floppy disk was going to be a significant bottleneck.



One of the things that bothered Steve Jobs the most was the time that it took to boot when the Mac was first powered on. It could take a couple of minutes, or even more, to test memory, initialize the operating system, and load the Finder. One afternoon, Steve came up with an original way to motivate us to make it faster.

Larry Kenyon was the engineer working on the disk driver and file system. Steve came into his cubicle and started to exhort him. "The Macintosh boots too slowly. You've got to make it faster!"

Larry started to explain about some of the places where he thought that he could improve things, but Steve wasn't interested. He continued, "You know, I've been thinking about it. How many people are going to be using the Macintosh? A million? No, more than that. In a few years, I bet five million people will be booting up their Macintoshes at least once a day."

"Well, let's say you can shave 10 seconds off of the boot time. Multiply that by five million users and thats 50 million seconds, every single day. Over a year, that's probably dozens of lifetimes. So if you make it boot ten seconds faster, you've saved a dozen lives. That's really worth it, don't you think?"

We were pretty motivated to make the software go as fast as we could anyway, so I'm not sure if this pitch had much effect, but we thought it was pretty humorous, and we did manage to shave more than ten seconds off the boot time over the next couple of months.

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5 Comments     
This story was used in Cringely's Triumph of the Nerds.
One thing Mac folks comment on when I demo my old "128K" Mac is how fast it boots. There's a pause before the beep because there's 2 megs of RAM to test, but then smiley Mac, a swish from the Micah hard disk and the Finder is open in 2 seconds. The old Finder is small and the system is largely in ROM. As functions accreted over time, booting got slower and s-l-o-w-e-r till it takes 3 to 5 minutes for OS 9 to boot. I notice each rev of OS X boots faster than the one before. I detect Steve's influence.
I noticed too how quickly my Mac Plus' boot... super fast. It's amazing how much is in ROM! OS 9 was a beast in the end and I just couldn't stand how slow it booted. Henry is right about X - it goes quicker with every single revision (even on older Macs) and on my new 'book it's great. Keep it up guys! I still long for the simpler days sometimes, though!
A nice 'clean' install on my old Mac LCIII was fast to boot (so long as you weren't doing appletalk networking on a busy network, where the process of finding a free address was tediously slow). The problem for me was all the extra Extensions and Control Panels that I had installed that turned the boot process into a tea-making event!
My Commodore 64 boots faster than my Mac SE. Take that Apple! LOL