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Steve Wozniak Remembers the Apple II

Steve Wozniak is sometimes thought of as "the other Steve," the one who isn't currently head of Apple Inc. and a media maven.

Wozniak — or Woz — stays mostly out of the public eye, working with his local school districts and charitable institutions. He also is currently executive vice president, chief technology officer and chief visionary officer for Jazz Technologies Inc.

But Woz was the engineer who concocted elegant and minimal arrays of chips and circuits and made the Apple I and Apple II — modern testaments to simple designs behind powerful results. These two machines headed the evolution of computing from massive to personal.

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When asked if he had expected computing would be anything like it is today, Woz answered, "Barely. Barely. Did we expect the Internet? No. We knew that there would be data sent between computers, maybe some kind of posting to bulletin boards. Music? No. Videos? No. Did we expect digital cameras? No. There were a lot of things unknown that people could do — we hoped we were giving them a universal platform, a tool to implement."

Woz said that he saw the Apple II as a tool that, with the ability to program, people could use to solve any problem.

"But at the start," he said, "there were no computers in the home — we had to make the word 'computer' compatible with homes."

To do this, Woz said, Apple included some software with the Apple II in order to demonstrate how useful a computer could be in the home. Still, Woz said, these were meant to inspire.

"We thought people might write what they needed," he said.

"In the Homebrew Computer Club [a local hobbyist club in the late 1970s], we envisioned people programming," Woz said.

That, he said, was how he anticipated people using the Apple II.

"You could have any type of problem — want to keep track of your checkbook, for example? You could write a program to do it," he said.

"At Apple," Woz added, "we saw that there'd be commercial applications."

He added that Apple itself wrote some software to include with the computers, in order to show off some of its capabilities.

Still, Woz said, "the initial goal of the Apple II was to get people to solve problems. But then people wrote so many good applications" that many users didn't even think of programming, but purchased programs instead.

"It's not 100 percent different from how we thought things would go — we thought that people would want to make some of their applications but not all. The problem is that sometimes the commercial applications are so complex, so confusing, because they're not how you would have made them," Woz said.

"People stopped becoming masters of their computers, but users," he said.

Woz said that one of the problems with commercial software is that it's overloaded.

"It can be good or bad," he said, and the user has no say.

"If you use the program you make," he said, "you're the master of yourself — you use theirs, you're more of a slave to how they do things."

"We wanted the Apple II to be a teaching device," Woz said, "a course in how chips are put together to make a computer, how software is made and works. I'd grown up learning computers not from classes or books but by seeing how other people did things."

He added, "I think [the Apple II] helped a lot of people fall in love with technology."

Still, Woz said, he didn't want to condemn those who don't, or can't, program. He said he understands those who just want to, say, make music using a commercial music application rather than taking the time away from music in order to learn to programming.

When asked what is one of the most positive things he's seen come about from the Apple II's birth, Woz said, "I think of some of the kids I met who started companies while still in school — making oscilloscopes, modems and so on. It happened in the hundreds or thousands in the early days of the Apple II — all these people who, like me, were excited by technology and could do it for almost nothing with an Apple II."

Does he see anything like that today?

"I'm seeing a resurgence in do-it-yourself," Woz said, pointing to the subculture growing around MAKE magazine, a quarterly devoted to DIY projects.

"These things have no practical use, but these are the people who are going to stumble on the next big thing someday," he said.

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