Toward the end of 1988, I wrote an essay that was published in MacWeek entitled "The Apple Spirit". It was about the creative magic that I found in the Apple II, and how we were able to transplant it into the Macintosh. The essay articulates the values behind lots of the stories collected here, so I thought it was worth including.
The Apple Spirit
November 29, 1988
The best purchase of my life occurred in January 1978 when I spent $1295 plus tax (most of my life savings at the time) on an Apple II microcomputer (serial number 1703) with 16K bytes of RAM. I was instantly delighted with it, and the deeper I dug into it, the more excited I became. Not only could I finally afford to have my own computer, but the one I got turned out to be magic; it was better than I ever thought it possibly could be!
I started spending most of my free time with my Apple, and then most of my not-so-free time, exploring the various technical aspects of the system. As I taught myself 6502 assembly language from the monitor listing that came with the machine, it became clear to me that this was no ordinary product; the coding style was crazy, whimsical and outrageous, like every other part of the design, especially the hi-res graphic screen; it was clearly the work of a passionate artist. Eventually, I became so obsessed with the Apple II that I had to go to work at the place that created it. I abandoned graduate school and started work as a systems programmer at Apple in August 1979.
Even though the Apple II was overflowing with both technical and marketing genius, the best thing about it was the spirit of its creation. It was not conceived or designed as a product in the usual sense; it was just Steve Wozniak trying to impress himself and his friends. Most of the early Apple employees were their own ideal customers. The Apple II was simultaneously a work of art and the fulfillment of a dream, shared by Apple's employees and customers. Its unique spirit was picked up and echoed back by third party developers, who sprung out of nowhere with innovative applications.
The personal computer industry began to grow and evolve very rapidly when larger companies realized the extraordinary potential of personal computers. Apple's sales took off like a skyrocket as the Apple II became accepted as an established industry standard. By the time the early 1980s rolled around, many opportunists had come to both Apple and the personal computer industry, people whose only concern was to make as much money as possible. I started to become disillusioned when Apple hired many professional managers who didn't appreciate the magic of the Apple II; many of them would have been just as happy selling refrigerators. I probably would have left Apple sometime in 1981 if I hadn't run across a tiny, sloppily wire-wrapped digital board created by Burrell Smith, a young technician who worked in the service department.
Burrell worshipped Woz's Apple II design and had forged an idiosyncratic design style that was even crazier than Woz's, using many clever tricks to coax enormous functionality out of the minimum number of chips. Somehow, Burrell's embryonic Macintosh board reeked of the same creative spirit so prevalent in the Apple II; as soon as I saw it, I knew that I had to work on the project.
Steve Jobs also became enamored with Burrell's circuit board and quickly took over the tiny design group, moving it to a remote part of the company and inspiring us with a grand vision. The Apple II had broken through an important price barrier, making a useful personal computer affordable to ordinary individuals, but it was still much to hard for most non-technical people to master. The Macintosh would harness the potential of Motorola's 68000 microprocessor to become the first personal computer that was both easy to use and affordable. We thought that we had a chance to create a product that could make computers useful to ordinary people and thereby truly change the world.
The Macintosh design team was inspired by Woz's original design and tried to recapitulate its innovative spirit. Again, we were our own ideal customers, designing something that we wanted for ourselves more than anything else. Although Apple was already a large company by then, Steve's unique position in the organization enabled him to maintain the Macintosh group as a little island where Apple's original values could flourish and grow. The Macintosh was released in January 1984 and eventually became a very successful product.
The personal computer industry has continued to grow and change since the introduction of the original Macintosh. Apple has become [in 1988] a four billion dollar enterprise, and I often fear that they have lost touch with their original values. Yet I remember having similar worries right before starting work on the Mac. I'm sure that there are little groups at Apple right now, inspired by the Macintosh in exactly the same way that we were inspired by the Apple II. The great challenge facing Apple's management is to allow those groups to follow their hearts and imaginations, uncompromised by the inevitable politics of large organizations. I hope that I will be able to buy a new Apple computer in 1991 that is not a Macintosh or an Apple II, but rather an entirely new system that once again shares the maverick spirit of its illustrious ancestors.