The Original Macintosh
Anecdotes about the development of Apple's original Macintosh, and the people who made it (66 stories)
“Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.” -- Pablo Picasso

Steve Jobs:  (66)
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Steve forbid us to work with Sony
August 1983
Andy Hertzfeld
Hardware Design,Management,Lisa

In 1980, Apple reorganized again, splitting off a new "Disk Division" headed by John Vennard, responsible for developing a hard disk code-named "Pippin" and a next generation floppy disk code-named "Twiggy". Both were intended to be used first by the Lisa project, and eventually across Apple's entire product line. At Rod Holt's request, I had written some early diagnostics for Twiggy using an Apple II, but I felt lucky that they asked Rich Williams instead of me to transfer to the disk division as their software guy, since focusing exclusively on disks seemed pretty limiting.

Woz's Apple II floppy disk design was way ahead of the rest of the industry, so Apple felt confident that it could continue to innovate to extend its lead. Twiggy was a fairly ambitious project, more than quadrupling the capacity of standard floppy disks by doubling the data rate (which required higher density media) and employing other innovative tricks like motor speed control, which slowed down the disk rotation speed on the outer tracks to cram more data on them.

The Lisa was designed to include two built-in Twiggy drives, so it made sense for the Macintosh to use Twiggy as well. Twiggy used a Woz-style disk controller, which created a problem for the Lisa designers, since that required exact timing from the microprocessor and therefore couldn't tolerate interrupts, which was perhaps OK for a simple system like the Apple II but was unacceptable for a more sophisticated system like Lisa. Instead, the Lisa hardware designers (Paul Baker, Bob Paratore and others) solved the problem by including a little Apple II, with its own memory and microprocessor (but clocked twice as fast), inside the Lisa to control the Twiggy drives.

The Lisa also supported an optional, external hard drive through a built-in parallel port. As the Twiggy designers encountered unexpected difficulties in achieving an acceptable error rate, Lisa came to rely on the hard drive instead. The Twiggy drive was also slower than expected, because of the high error rate as well as the way the variable motor speed trick increased seek times, since you had to wait for the speed change to stabilize. Besides, the Lisa operating system designers were used to working on systems that swapped memory from disk, which wasn't really feasible to pull off at floppy disk speeds. Soon, the hard disk became mandatory, upping the minimum price of a Lisa by more than a thousand dollars.

Lisa was announced to great fanfare in January 1983, but it still wasn't ready to ship. There were problems in a number of areas, but the biggest one was the low yield of the Twiggy drives, whose high error rate greatly limited production. Finally, Lisas were shipped to customers in June 1983, even though there continued to be production and reliability problems with the disk drives.

Meanwhile, the Mac team was beginning to panic. We were using a single Twiggy drive as our floppy disk, and we didn't have a hard disk to fall back on. It looked like the Twiggy drive was never going to be reliable or cost effective enough for the Macintosh, but we were stuck without an alternative. If we couldn't find a suitable replacement quickly enough, we'd have to slip the entire project indefinitely.

Fortunately, we were aware of Sony's new 3.5 inch drive that they started to ship in the spring of 1983 through Hewlett-Packard, their development partner. George Crow, the analog engineer who designed the Mac's analog board, had come from HP prior to working at Apple and was sold on the superiority of the Sony drives. He procured a drive from his friends at HP and proposed to Bob Belleville that we figure out how to interface it to the Mac as soon as possible, while we negotiate a deal with Sony.

The Sony drive looked really sweet, especially when compared to the Twiggy. It used the same data rate as Twiggy, but on smaller disks that could fit in a shirt pocket. Best of all, the media was encased in a hard plastic shell, making it much less fragile and more convenient to handle.

Steve Jobs was finally ready to acknowledge reality and give up on the Twiggy drive. When he saw the Sony drive he loved it, and immediately wanted to adapt it for the Mac. But instead of doing the obvious thing and striking a deal with Sony, Steve decided that Apple should take what we learned from Twiggy and engineer our own version of a 3.5" drive, working with our Japanese manufacturing partner Alps Electronics, who manufactured the Apple II floppy drives at a very low cost.

This seemed like suicide to George Crow and Bob Belleville. The Mac was supposed to ship in less than seven months, and it was preposterous to think that we could get a 3.5" drive into production by then, if we could do it at all, given the disk division's dismal track record. But Steve was convinced that we should do our own drive, and told Bob to cease all work on the Sony drive. He instructed Rod Holt, Bob and George to fly to Japan to meet with Alps to initiate a crash project to develop a workable 3.5 inch drive.

Bob and George grudgingly went along with the Alps program, but they were certain that the team would discover that we couldn't pull it off in the alloted time frame. They hatched an alternative plan to continue to work with Sony surreptitiously, against Steve's wishes. Larry Kenyon was given a Sony drive to interface to the Mac, but he was told to keep it hidden, especially from Steve. Bob and George also arranged meetings with Sony, to discuss the customizations that Apple desired and to hammer out the beginnings of a business deal.

This dual strategy entailed frequent meetings with both Alps and Sony, with the added burden of keeping the Sony meetings secret from Steve. It wasn't that hard to do in Japan, since Steve didn't come along, but it got a little awkward when Sony employees had to visit Cupertino. Sony sent a young engineer named Hide Kamoto to work with Larry Kenyon to spec out the modifications that we required. He was sitting in Larry's cubicle with George Crow when we suddenly heard Steve Jobs's voice as he unexpectedly strode into the software area.

George knew that Steve would wonder who Kamoto-san was if he saw him. Thinking quickly, he immediately tapped Kamoto-san on his shoulder, and spoke hurriedly, pointing at the nearby janitorial closet. "Dozo, quick, hide in this closet. Please! Now!"

Kamoto-san looked confused but he got up from his seat and hurried into the dark janitorial closet. He had to stay there for five minutes or so until Steve departed and the coast was clear.

George and Larry apologized to Kamoto-san for their unusual request. "No problem. ", he replied, "But American business practices, they are very strange. Very strange."

As predicted, a few weeks later the Alps team came back with an eighteen month estimate for getting their drive into production, and we had to abandon the project. When Bob Belleville revealed that he and George had kept the Sony alternative alive, Steve swallowed his pride and thanked them for disobeying him and doing the right thing. The Sony drives eventually worked out great, and it's hard to imagine what the Mac would have been like without them today.
The famous 1984 commercial almost got canceled
September 1983
Andy Hertzfeld
Marketing,The Launch

From the very beginning, Apple always had a flair for marketing. Mike Markkula believed that a fledgling venture needed to act like a successful company if it wanted to become one, at least in terms of external perception, and Steve Jobs always insisted on the highest possible production values, even while Apple was still in the garage. The Apple II was featured in an expensive, two page spread in the September 1977 issue of Scientific American, for example, even though Apple had less than twenty employees and minimal sales at the time.

Apple's advertising agency was Chiat-Day, founded by Jay Chiat in 1968. Jay Chiat was compulsively innovative, brash and irreverent, much like an older version of Steve Jobs, and the two hit it off great when they were introduced in 1981, just before Chiat-Day acquired Regis McKenna's advertising operations. Jay and his talented team, featuring Creative Director Lee Clow and star copywriter Steve Hayden, crafted Apple's first TV commercials, recruiting talk show host Dick Cavett as a spokesperson, and created the campaign that launched the Lisa, including a TV commercial that starred Kevin Costner while he was still unknown.

Toward the end of 1982, art director Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden came up with the idea of doing an ad campaign based on the timely tagline "Why 1984 won't be like 1984". Chiat-Day shopped it around to a number of clients, including Apple, where it was proposed to be used for a print ad in the Wall Street Journal promoting the Apple II. But Apple didn't go for it, and the idea was filed away until the spring of 1983, when they met with the Mac marketing team to start working on the launch, which was scheduled for January 1984.

Steve Jobs wanted to launch the Macintosh with an inspiring commercial that was as revolutionary as the product itself. He loved the Orwellian tagline when it was presented, and he encouraged the Chiat-Day team to pursue it. Steve Hayden and Brent Thomas put together an intriguing story board, envisioning a visually striking, highly symbolic, miniature science fiction epic featuring a young female athlete who liberates the subjugated masses from totalitarian domination by throwing her sledgehammer to smash a huge screen displaying Big Brother.

Macintosh marketing manager Mike Murray and Steve Jobs loved it, but they needed to get new CEO John Sculley's approval for such a large expenditure. Sculley was a bit apprehensive (after all, the commercial hardly mentioned the Macintosh), but he gave his OK for an unprecedented production budget of over $750,000, to make the one-minute commercial.

Chiat-Day hired the best science fiction oriented director they could find, Ridley Scott, whose previous movie, Blade Runner, possessed the visionary dystopian feel they were striving for. Ridley was based in London, so they decided to shoot it there, at Shepperton Studios. Several Apple and Chiat Day executives, including Mike Murray and Steve Jobs, travelled to London for the week of filming.

By the time the Apple folks arrived, Ridley's team had assembled a cast of almost 200. To play the oppressed, downtrodden baldheaded workers, his people recruited dozens of authentic British skinheads, paying them $125 dollars a day to participate. It was harder to cast the young heroine, since most of the models who tried out had trouble spinning with the heavy sledgehammer. Luckily, one named Anya Major was an accomplished discus thrower, and she could do it faultlessly, so she got the part.

When he arrived at the studio, Mike Murray went looking for Jay Chiat, who was supposed to already be there. He found him lurking off to one side, seemingly hiding behind some scenery. Apparently, some of the skinheads were in a nasty mood, and they were looking for trouble during breaks in the filming, so Jay thought it was prudent to make sure he stayed out of their way.

While the filming was taking place in London, I got a call from someone at Chiat-Day asking if I could write an Apple II Basic program to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on the screen, to be overlayed on the image of Big Brother. I spent an afternoon cooking something up, and I sent it off to them, although I was never sure if it was used or not.

Lee Clow and Steve Hayden presented a rough cut of the commercial to the Apple team a few weeks later, and everyone was ecstatic. The commercial was classy, suspenseful and enigmatic, and seemed certain to garner lots of attention. It was shown for the first time at Apple's 1983 annual sales conference in Honolulu in October, with Steve preceding it with a clever rap positioning Apple as the industry's last alternative to IBM (see The Times They Are A-Changin'), to a rapturous reception, almost as apocalyptic as the commercial itself. The response was so great that Apple booked two expensive slots, for sixty seconds and thirty seconds, costing over a million dollars, to show it during Super Bowl XVIII, which was just two days before the Mac introduction.

Mike Murray and Steve Jobs screened the commercial for Apple's board of directors in December, to get final approval for the huge Superbowl expenditure. To their surprise, every outside board member seemed to despise the commercial, with Mike Markkula suggesting that Apple begin a hunt for a new ad agency. One of the board members remarked that it was the worst commercial that he had ever seen. Steve and Mike were devastated.

The chilling reception from the board compelled John Sculley to ask Chiat-Day to sell back both time slots that they had purchased. But Jay Chiat was true to form, and only sold off the thirty second slot, telling Apple that he wasn't able to get rid of the longer one at so late a date. Apple considered using the slot for a more conventional commercial, but in the end decided to take a chance on the 1984 spot.

The Mac team was told that the commercial would air early in the third quarter, at the first commercial break after the second half kick-off. Burrell and I wanted to see a real audience's reaction to the commercial more than the commercial itself (since we had already seen it plenty of times), so we watched the Superbowl at a sports bar near Stanford called the Oasis, with some other Mac team friends. The game was boring, but the bar was packed, and the commercial looked great when it aired at the designated time. We thought we heard a small murmur in the bar after the commercial, but it was hard to tell if there was any significant reaction.

That evening, we were surprised to see the commercial run again on the evening news shows. Apparently, it made such a big impression on lots of viewers that, coupled with the fact that it only was supposed to run once, it became a news item itself, as well as increasing expectations for the upcoming launch. It ran dozens of times on news shows in the next couple of days, gathering Apple over five million dollars worth of free publicity.

A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat-Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made.
Steve Jobs meets Donald Knuth
September 1983
Tom Zito

Steve had managed to get Don Knuth, the legendary Stanford professor of computer science, to give a lunchtime lecture to the Mac team. Knuth is the author of at least a dozen books, including the massive and somewhat impenetrable trilogy "The Art of Computer Programming." (For an amusing look at Knuth's heady self image, and his $2.56 reward program, see [link:http//])

I was sitting in Steve's office when Lynn Takahashi, Steve's assistant, announced Knuth's arrival. Steve bounced out of his chair, bounded over to the door and extended a welcoming hand.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Professor Knuth," Steve said. "I've read all of your books."

"You're full of shit," Knuth responded.
Steve gives the troops a pep talk
September 1983
Tom Zito
Apple Spirit,Management,Recruiting

I first met Steve Jobs in 1978 when, as a reporter for The Washington Post, I had come to the Valley to cover the technology business. Steve not only charmed me into writing a profile about him (and a year later, a cover story for Newsweek), but also charmed me into an Apple II and out of a $2,500 check to pay for it -- which at the time was more than a month's salary for me. I found the thing fairly useless, other than as an expression of how great Steve was as a salesman. A decent word processing program (not to mention VisiCalc) had yet to be written, and I wound up justifying the investment by teaching myself Basic.

By 1983 I was working on a book about the birth of the personal computer industry, and Steve had granted me carte blanche to wander around Bandley 3 and stay current on the Mac's development. One day in September, in a conference room populated with about 25 members of the Mac team, Steve was lecturing on how to hire.

"A players hire A players," he said. "B players hire C players. Do you get it?"

Apparently not. Somebody in the back of the room raised his hand and asked, "so how do you hire more B players?"
Steve estimates the effort that went into Quickdraw
October 1983
Andy Hertzfeld
Software Design, Personality, Reality Distortion, QuickDraw

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 (see I Still Remember Regions). "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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