Mac creators talk about Jobs, OS X at MacHack

This year's MacHack conference promised an incredible keynote -- a reunion of the top engineers, programmers and minds that created the Mac -- and it delivered. For almost six hours, seven of the individuals responsible for the creation of the Mac: Daniel Kottke, Bill Atkinson, Donn Denman, Andy Hertzfeld, Jef Raskin, Caroline Rose and Randy Wigginton, talked about their experiences while developing one of the world's most influential personal computers.

MacHack Conference Chairman John Penn addressed the audience before the speakers came on stage, saying that this stellar reunion was responsible for this year's MacHack conference having the largest attendance to date. Also in the audience was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. 'Woz' was asked to participate in the reunion, but graciously declined saying that this was "their [the reunion members] night." There will be a 'Fireside Chat' with Wozniak at the conference tonight, where Woz alone will muse on his past at Apple, the future of the Mac and anything else he feels appropriate.

While scheduled to attend, Bud Tribble was unable to attend because of family obligations, and Bruce Horn was in Pheonix due to a cancelled flight.

The keynote opened with moderator Scott Knaster asking each person about his or her personal history in developing the Mac. After that, Knaster asked how the panel felt about Mac OS X, what they thought of Steve Jobs, where they saw the future of the Macintosh and computing in general. Knaster also allowed the audience to ask dozens of questions.

Mac OS X

All of the panelists agreed that Mac OS X looks beautiful, but most have misgivings about the new user interface (UI), lack of documentation and the completeness of its implementation.

The panelists agreed that Mac OS X needs further documentation, and they hope that this issue will be addressed soon.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is Mac OS X's lack of support for some basic services that are supported in Mac OS 9. For example, Atkinson said that he finds color synchronization absolutely essential in his work as a nature photographer. Mac OS X's support of this feature is not at the level that he can use it. Thus, he will remain a user of Mac OS 9.1 until this feature is fully and accurately implemented in Mac OS X. And, even then he expects to migrate slowly, taking one of his Macs to the new OS at a time.

Raskin feels a "strong moral imperative" to provide the best UI possible. A poorly designed UI can sap productivity and physically hurt users from repetitive stress injuries. Raskin is the author of "The Humane Interface," and is a leader in the field. His UI design philosophy is one of the tenets at the foundation of the early Macintosh's design.

"The internal improvements of Mac OS X are long overdue, but the UI, well, yuk," said Raskin. "Apple has ignored for years all that has been learned about developing UIs. It's unprofessional, incompetent, and it's hurting users."

Hertzfeld was less down on the UI, offering a mixed bag of what he liked and disliked about the new OS. He suggested that it is not yet a mature product, and that it will improves as it goes through changes. "It's definitely better than Windows," said Hertzfeld. Wigginton agreed, saying that the UI has "a ways to go."

Steve Jobs

Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs' fate and that of the Macintosh are forever intertwined. While many of the panelists berated Jobs for his mind games and unique management style, most agreed that it was Jobs' will, perseverance and passion that created the Macintosh and saved Apple.

Denman said early that Steve Jobs could have an abrasive management style, and that people who work with him need to be strong enough to justify their decisions when Jobs challenges them. Jobs would often take a look at something, and say it sucks. Those who took this personally had problems, but those who came back and explained why they did what they did and stuck to their guns usually won out or bettered their work. Not everyone played this game with Jobs. People who were shy and didn't interact in this give and take usually didn't last.

It slowly came out during the evening that, in the beginning, the Macintosh project was a reaction to the management of Apple during the early eighties. While the Apple II was a raging success, MBAs and other management types were slowing down development and slowly eroding Job's control. The small, independent Mac team was a backlash to this. Hertzfeld and Raskin both expressed sentiments that Jobs wants control, and he eventually got this control over the Mac team. However, Jobs' passion for excellence and drive is what eventually got the Mac to market.

Jobs' good qualities, according to some panel members, include a passion for excellence, a strong drive, a calling for something higher than money, an exceptional design sense, speed and excellent marketing ability. Balancing this are his inability to share control, his need to be the center of attention, his penchant for excess and his lack of tact.

"It is not clear how Apple can keep going with just new pretty boxes without a revolution," said Raskin. Jobs doesn't acknowledge prior literature, and his almost religious fervor can give him a bit of a blind spot in his development practices.

"Apple needs to pay more than lip service to open source development," said Hertzfeld. He believes that the small Mac community will not grow without greater commitment open source development to add more developers to the pool. "Apple is in a cul-de-sac, and I don't see him [Jobs] as the leader who can lead Apple out of it," said Hertzfeld.

"Don't ever count Apple out," said Wigginton. "But, don't expect revolutions from Apple unless their backs are to the wall. Right now, things are pretty fat, but when magazines start counting Apple out, then you'll see something."

How did you come to Apple, and what did you do?

Denman answered first, saying that he started in the Mac group in 1982 from the then relatively secure position as a member of the Apple III development team at Apple. During his tenure, some of the projects he worked on were numerous desk accessories such as the clock and notepad and the ill-fated MacBasic project. MacBasic was bought by Microsoft, which shelved Denman's work to prevent it from competing with Microsoft's Basic product.

Daniel Kottke spoke next. "When I first visited Jef [Raskin] in January 1981," began Kottke, "there was a sign on the door of the little Mac group that said 'Danger, contagious algorithm research area'." Kottke did the design for the detached keyboard on the early Mac in addition to other hardware work. "I was honored to bring all those circuit boards to life," said Kottke.

Kottke is a self-taught engineer who didn't know much about computing early on. He started out building wired up prototypes, and has a full set of all twelve of the original Mac logic boards.

Next, Rose answered. She started by explaining that she had a math degree when she came to San Francisco in the summer of love. Her first job was as a technical writer with an early computer manufacturer called Timeshare. Eventually, Rose got bored and moved on to programming -- learning assembly. She enjoyed programming and stayed for many years.

As Apple became active in Silicon Valley, they courted Rose to create documentation for their new personal computers. Additionally, Rose dated a member of the Xerox Parc research team. "We both enjoyed word games, and we played them on the Alto," said Rose. During this time, she ignored Apple.

Then she finally interviewed with Apple, but was rejected because she made too much at the time -- $30,000 a year. In June of 1982, she was interviewed by Apple again, and was brought on board to create Apple's documentation. The result of her many years at Apple is the Inside Macintosh series.

Bill Atkinson was first called to Apple by Jef Raskin. "I was studying neuroscience in Seattle then, and I said no," said Atkinson. "Later, airfare to the bay area just showed up with a note saying just come down and look around with no obligation." He met Steve Jobs, who explained to Atkinson that Silicon Valley was three years ahead, and that if Atkinson wanted to be a part of the cutting edge, he should come join Apple. Jobs then introduced him to all thirty or so people at the company, and Atkinson called his wife and asked if she wanted to move to the bay area.

Atkinson's professors lamented his decision to come to Apple. "Oh, what a great potential you had," one said to Atkinson. He helped develop some of the earliest software for the Apple II, and also worked on the Lisa project. Later, Atkinson moved to the Mac project where he developed MacPaint and HyperCard.

HyperCard foreshadowed the World Wide Web in more ways than simple clickable cards. Atkinson met Ted Nelson and listened to his Xanadu scheme for putting all knowledge within a worldwide network accessible by anyone. "I thought he was just bonkers," said Atkinson. The apple way of designing a network was to first draw the boxes and then connect them. However, other companies first drew the lines of communication, and then hung the boxes off them. Atkinson feels that he would have envisioned the web if he had seen this paradigm shift. "I was so close. It [HyperCard] would have been the first browser," said Atkinson. To cheers, Atkinson said that he believed that HyperCard should still be supported and maintained by Apple.

Randy Wigginton was interested in computers before he could drive. His neighbor, Steve Wozniak, gave him lifts to meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club. His first job at Apple paid $3 an hour. Randy worked on a wide variety of early Apple projects, and moved to the Mac team in 1981, where he eventually wrote MacWrite, among many other projects.

Hertzfeld was a graduate student at UC Berkeley when he bought his first Apple in 1978. By the fall of 1979, he was a programmer at Apple. He programmed system software and peripherals for the Apple II, and moved to the Macintosh team in February of 1981. On the Mac team, he created large parts of the Mac's system software, including the toolbox.

Jef Raskin got his start in programming before high school, around 1960. His class went on a field trip the Brookhaven Institute to see a computer. Raskin asked the programmer there how to program a computer, and -- missing his bus back to school -- stayed there until one or two in the morning. "It was then that I learned that programming is an activity that only happens at night," said Raskin.

By the late sixties, he was working on his thesis in computer science, based on the then controversial proposition that people are more important that computers and that it might be wise to trade performance for usability. After kicking around for a few years as a conductor of the San Francisco Chamber Opera and a writer for Byte and other magazines, Raskin created a company that specialized in creating technical documentation.

After his company was approached by Apple to write documentation in a deal that fell through, Woz made an offer for Raskin's company and moved all of its employees over in 1978. Raskin worked on the Apple II and Apple III, but felt that these weren't products that would have a long life. Raskin said that he told Steve Jobs that he wanted to create a computer that started with the user and would support the user. Raskin claims that Jobs said the idea was the stupidest thing he had ever heard. After working on Jobs, the Macintosh project -- called bicycle for some time -- was born.

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