Wozniak's fireside chat

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak gave his much-anticipated fireside chat last night at the annual MacHack conference in Dearborn, MI. Steve 'Woz' Wozniak talked about Apple, his children, his history at Apple and his many, many pranks. Later, Woz took questions from the audience, where among other things, he speculated on an Apple PDA.

Woz on Apple

"Apple, during the Apple II days, was just as big as Apple today," said Woz. He still receives a nominal paycheck from Apple and also gets the latest hardware. He says that he wants to be an Apple employee his whole life. However, he travels and speaks on his own nickel, and he can say anything he wants to about Apple. Woz regularly speaks to small venues like Mac user groups. Woz is still a gadget lover, and he travels to Japan to see some of the latest.

"There are two computer monopolies -- Microsoft and Apple," said Woz. He believes that the Cube is one of the best computers ever designed, and that the Titanium PowerBook is the best ever. Woz' daughter decided on a blue Dalmatian iMac over a cube.

Woz has installed Mac OS X on his new iBook, which he says is "the supreme balance" in a portable computer. He has had three bad experiences with the new OS, and his feeling are "negative overall."

"I agree with the writer who said that it is not ready for prime time," said Woz. "But, it came out more beautiful than I thought it could."

Curiously, Woz seems convinced that an Apple branded PDA is likely. "It fits well into Apple's Digital Hub," he said. He also agrees with Andy Hertzfeld about Apple moving more into the open source arena. "If your life was open, you wouldn't do the bad things you do now." Woz uses Eudora and iCab exclusively now, and says that Microsoft's software is getting too buggy.

Steve Jobs

Woz still talks to Steve Jobs, and Woz said that he has some influence at Apple. However, this influence does not go beyond access to Jobs' ear and bug reports and other issues being reported as Mac user Steve Wozniak.

Daniel Kottke told an interesting story about Jobs at the reunion. Kottke met Jobs at Reed college. "Steve was a really sweet guy, real quiet and shy," said Kottke. Jobs' parents didn't fund Jobs at Reed. According to Kottke, Jobs got a refund of his tuition, and asked the dean to allow him to audit classes at Reed and to stay in a dorm room. "He got one-and-a-half years of liberal arts college educations without paying a penny," said Kottke. At a Reed college reunion, Kottke said that there was a class of '76 T-shirt that said "221 of Steve Jobs best friends."

Woz said that he hadn't heard all of that about Steve Jobs. However, Woz got laughs from the audience by saying that, of the early Apple people, he was the only one who actually finished his degree. Woz said that the early Apple people were best friends with Jobs.

"Jobs read it in a book somewhere that there are special people in the world who do everything, and there are those who do nothing. Jobs wanted to be one of the people to do everything."

Woz said that he always wanted to see people first at Apple, and not the business first. He said that he was very upset with Scully about the layoffs of the Apple II people after he left, and that he indeed hung up on him when he called him to discuss the layoffs. Woz said that he decided in college that he never wanted to be a boss. "Apple and the Macintosh would have never happened without the people," said Woz.

He said that he was never mistreated by Jobs, and that he left Apple equitably and without any bad feelings. However, Woz also said that Jobs is motivated by control.

"Jobs wanted power, and he left Apple to get it." Jobs charged Apple $400 million for NeXT. "Jobs told me that Apple shouldn't have paid that much, but I now understand that Jobs had to represent his shareholders," said Woz. "I'm not a businessman."

The Mac Design Team

Woz talked about the Mac design team reunion from the previous evening. He began with a story about Daniel Kottke, Apple's first employee who physically assembled and tested all of the Mac prototypes. According to Woz, Kottke was one day responsible for showing "Jerry 'Moonbeam' Brown" around Apple. All of the Mac rumor sites reported that day that Apple was going to announce a new CEO. However, Kottke didn't know this, and didn't understand why people at Apple kept asking him if this was the guy. Later that day, Apple did announce a new CEO -- John Sculley.

Randy Wigginton, too young to drive to the Homebrew Computer Club, got lifts from Woz to club meetings. Woz said that he, Jobs and many others would be top Apple players were at Wigginton's high school graduation. Woz said that he too was sorry that Don Denman lost MacBasic, but he also said that Wigginton created and lost his THE Spreadsheet. THE Spreadsheet was recalled, but 100 got out. To control the situation, Woz said that they put a sticker in the boxes saying that this product was a gift from him, Wigginton, and some others at Apple, but not from the company.

"I still believe that HyperCard is the best program ever written," said Woz when he talked about Bill Atkinson. Woz also gave a great deal of credit to Jef Raskin. "We have good graphics based computers because of him. He always was for something easy," said Woz. He said that the Mac was excellent partly because Raskin insisted that the Mac would be an excellent product if it were simple enough to work for everyone. Woz said that the most excellent design frees you to do what you want to without effort. "If you are really free, you just float where you want to go."

One of the toughest questions asked of the design team on Thursday was "would you change the world again?" Most of the early Mac designers said that they could do the 90-hour weeks again, and probably wouldn't take on such ambitious projects. Also, they noted their age and their family and other responsibilities. Only Raskin -- deeply involved in a crusade to again change the way user interfaces are designed -- said that his effort, begun on the Mac, has not been finished, and that he is continuing.

Woz answered this question similarly to the rest of the early Mac design team. He said that he is over fifty years old, and that his son is about to enter Carnegie Mellon University this year. He also said again that his first goal in life is to be an engineer, and that he is now pursuing his second goal in life -- to be a teacher.

Woz' history and pranks

Woz often talks about Mac history, and he noted many of the books that have been written on Mac history. Also, Woz hinted repeatedly that he might write a book himself one day. His stories about the early days of computer electronics and his early days at Apple were charming and crowd pleasing.

Curiously, Woz is a prankster, and he devoted a large part of his keynote to a review of his triumphs. "I've always equated humor with creativity," said Woz. He buys sheets of $2 bills which he perforates and uses as currency. This has gotten him in a great deal of trouble over the years, as many unknowing cashiers have considered the bills counterfeit. Many of Woz' pranks are listed on his website.

Many at the conference were entertained by Woz' pranks. One of the pranks that got the most winces was when Woz got a wrong number on his cell phone -- a likely occurrence as Woz likes repeating digits and selects them for phone numbers. The Apple I was deliberately priced at $666.66 for this reason. Woz got the wrong number on his cell phone, and said that he found the cell phone next to this guy who was lying critically injured on the ground. The wrong number caller was of course shocked and mortified, and Woz carried the prank on.

Typically, Woz will make up to injured parties and good sports of his pranks with sweet gestures after the fact, and most of his pranks target friends and co-workers. Generally, they are charming, and Woz easygoing demeanor can diffuse tense situations.

Woz did once pull off a practical joke on Jobs, but "some people are better targets than others," said Woz.

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