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What the other Steve has to say...

Date: November 1984
Author: Danny Goodman
Published at: Creative Computing - Vol.10, No.11 /
November 1984 / P. 285

· · · Danny Goodman · An interview with Steve Wozniak · · ·

At the extravagant unveiling of Apple's IIc computer last April, the legend of Apple's humble beginnings was documented in a special historical was documented in a special historical exhibit. Vintage photographs of two young, blue-jeaned, beaded, and shaggy haired computer freaks surrounded other memorabilia, including the wood-cased Apple i computer, a foreunner of the personal computing revolution.

Among the documents on display was a sheet from a yellow pad bearing columns of strange numbers and letters. A sign in the display revealed its meaning. It was part of the compilation of the Apple computer's first ROM software, a compilation which had to be done by hand, since that two inventors had to sell even their calculators to buy parts for their prototype. The scribblings were those of Apple's then-and-now star hacker, Steve Wozniak.

Woz, as he is known to his friends, colleagues, and many thousands of Apple computer fanciers, recounts the contribution he has made to what personal computing is today, "If you look back at the first Apple II, it had about ten features that had never been done in a low cost computer. We built in many times that had never been built-in a low cost computer. We built in many things that had never been built-in before. Almost every one of those things--graphics, text, large ROMs including languages like Basic, plastic cases, speakers paddles, color--have been built into computers since then."

He is careful to distinguish his early role from that of his co-founder, Steven Jobs. "I knew what computer I wanted to use, but all I needed was a video display and a keyboard. I didn't care what it looked like beyond that. Steve had ideas about products and how we were going to sell computers to the masses someday."

Today at Apple, Woz carries the title of Fellow, a position which should allow him the luxury of pursuing virtually any area of research that he likes. For the moment, however, he finds himself devoting much of his time to Apple-related activities outside of the company. Speaking engagements at press and user group functions frequently take him far from his simple office cubicle in one of Apple's Cupertino, CA facilities.

Woz's office is no larger than that of any veteran Apple engineer. Tucked away in a corner of a maze of herman Millier-styled office dividers, his area is unremarkable. There is no door into a private sanctuary, no nameplate indicating the hallowed ground most outsiders would expect to see. Were it not for the neon sculpture of his "Woz" signature, you'd think it could be any apple employee's workspace. An apple IIe, a Macintosh, and one printer are the only signs of Apple activity here. A few color photographs are stuck prominently to his bulletin board--he and his young son, he and his wife, and a picture of Valerie Bertinelli someone took onstage during one of his Us Festivals. On those rare days when he is in his office, you are likely to find him in jeans, looking like just another Apple engineer.

You get the feeling that Steve likes to stay in the background at Apple. He relates that wehn he came back to Apple from his recent hiatus (during which he completed his formal education in computer science at the University of California--Berkeley), there was pressure put on him to jump into the Apple IIc project, which was a priority at the time. "I tried to avoid it and remain anonymous," he says.

Despite all the distractions, Woz claims that he is ready to settle down to some serious brainstorming. "i have about six pet projects in my head; some that are getting close to going into action. Most of them are software, but the ones I'll do best on are hardware."

Although Steve comes across as self-assured, and indeed knowledgeable about personal computing, he continues to learn a great deal about what is needed for the future by listening closely to the user community, frequently getting personally involved.

Woz: "In the last year, I've given computers to about a dozen friends. I helped them set up their computers, taught them, and got them to the point where they could start running useful programs."

He believes, therefore, the Apple's current direction in recent hardware introductions is just right for non-technical users who are approaching personal computing for the first time. "The IIc and Macintosh are prebuilt. You don't have to worry about plugging anything in. It's like a hi-fi. All you do is plug in a few connectors on the back. That's worth a lot. People who are not around computers and are not technical people cannot be expected to keep track of slots, cards, ways to address them, and special syntax names. They want a fully assembled machine."

The mouse pointing device, a controversial tool, looms large in Woz's beliefs about the immediate future of computer hardware. "Whenever I have the choice of using the mouse or the keyboard, I always go for the mouse. The only thing I find negative about a mouse is that it requires a bit of desk space--but not much."

While Steve may claim to be more comfortable working on hardware, it seems that software has been receiving a great deal of attention in the back of his creative mind. For the near term, software integration appears to have caught his fancy. He notes that as with hardware, "you want your software fully assembled. You don't want each program to work independently and force you to learn all the tricks of an operating system so you can pull something out of a certain disk, convert that file, and store it over on another disk, and then read it into another program. You really want to just grab the data and move it easily.

"You shouldn't have to do in your head what a computer can do. You shouldn't have to think. You should not have to remember." And that's the direction of all computers today. Macintosh is the leading example. It's the only computer my mother would use."

Further into the future of software, Woz perceives a need for new languages and operating systems that let the non-technical user define what the computer should be doing without having to become a highly skilled programmer. He bemoans that to his way of thinking, there has not been a single, really new computer language that wasn't in existence ten years before personal computers became popular.

Woz: "The end user ought to be able to program a spreadsheet very easily in a high level language just by saying, 'Divide the screen up into a bunch of cells of a certain size. Allocate a certain program to each cell.' Many of the good things we learned about Forth, Basic, and Pascal can be retained, and many of the bad things can be gotten rid of."

Looking into his crystal ball, Woz foresees personal computers regularly employing some of the technologies that are already working their way down into popular price ranges. Very low cost built-in hard disks, he says, will become commonplace. Larger scale integration will also continually produce more functionality and memory on fewer chips. He does not, however, have much faith in bubble memory technology.

He is particularly excited about the prospects of liquid crystal displays. "LCD displays can finally do graphics--that's just happening this year. There are many unique approaches being proposed by research physicists for things like color LCDs and other display technologies. That's the only technology that will make a huge change in computers in the next five years."

Woz also forecasts that in five years the typical personal computer will be "small, carryable, battery operated, including a display." Be believes that display resolution will be either similar to today's range of 500 x 200 pixels or perhaps slightly better. A color LCD display is likely. A megabyte of RAM will be standard "just because a megabyte of RAM costs as little as any other amount of RAM." A disk drive will be built in--perhaps not a hard disk yet, but he is confident that the 3-1/2" disk will replace the 5-1/4" floppy disk as the prevailing removable medium.

As for the personal computer ten years from now, Steve shakes his head, saying, "I can't guess. Unforeseen technologies. Ten years from now, it could be that the printing technology is something totally new that we don't even know yet. It could come out of the research labs at places like Bell Labs, IBM, Hewlett-Packard--maybe it will be an Apple Labs by then."

Who will be the garage-to-giant Apple Computer of tomorrow, and where will such an opportunity come from? "It happens once a decade that a market grows unexpectedly from zero to huge in a very short period of time. Professional companies like IBM knew only what a complete computer system involved. They couldn't see that it was time to start up with new people, new socialization, new magazines, new ways of thinking about newer technologies. They didn't see it was time to get in with some hobby kits and let the user set some new standards.

Woz: "I think that even the microcomputer industry has gotten that way start going off in a different direction, a different type of operating system, and they'll have their own magazines.

"And," Woz acknowledges, "we won't expect them."

According to Woz . . . Software Protection and Piracy

Woz: "I believe software protection is needed right now. Still, the economic effects of piracy are highly overrated by software producers who are doing marginal business. They talk numbers like $4 billion worth of theft. It turns out theft is more on the order of one percent of that number."

"T casual pirate collects maybe a thousand programs a year. I know a lot of them. There is no way in the world you can use more than about three or five, if you really do use them. Many causal pirates are ethical enough to buy a good copy and a good manual if they do use it. They might steal $10,000 worth of software in a year, but if they had to buy it, do you think they would come up with $10,000? Maybe $200. That's all they have in their pockets."

"Pirating--stealing--software is wrong. But then again, haven't you ever taken a shortcut through an orchard? That's 'trespassing.' Piracy is 'stealing.' Let's call it what it is. There are levels of rightness and wrongness."

"The young kid hackers who are out there having fun and trying to build a collection are not really evil people. They are not trying to rip off and decide for the rest of their lives taht they're going to get things for free. They are not really criminals." The Impact of "War Games"

"First of all, the movie was an incredibly accurate representation of the computer hacker's mentality. It was exactly the thing I was doing: always exploring and trying to do a little more than you're supposed to be able to."

"When the movie came out, there was a time of about one to two months when all over the country you were reading articles about the 414s. The two images that came out to the public were: 1) computers are unsafe for storing valuables, and 2) hackers are a threat to valuables stored on computers. Both of those myths are very unreal, and they were exaggerated by talk about how those 414 cases could have been damaging."

"Hackers cannot get access to information they are locked out of. They cannot, by being intelligent, crack the codes."

"Computers are very safe places for storing valuables, including vital information. We used to store our information in vaults, which are more susceptiable to theft than computers are. For example, grades are stored on computers. Occasionally, a hacker will get in and change his grade to an A. I have no doubt in my mind that it happens. The hacker who changed his grades on the school computer either probably knew the password because he had a friend who had a job at the school who knew the password. When grades were stored in drawers, there was always a kid in the school who had access to the grade records and changed them occasionally. Taht sort of thing isn't increased because of computers. Computers didn't cause it."

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