Apple: The early years - as told by Steve Wozniak

Woz on how he hoped Apple might one day sell 50 computers and how HP almost invented the PC...
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

Woz on how he hoped Apple might one day sell 50 computers and how HP almost invented the PC...

Today Apple routinely shifts tens of millions of PCs and consumer gadgets but according to the company's co-founder Steve Wozniak, when he started the company with Steve Jobs in 1976, his ambitions were slightly more modest.

Steve Wozniak

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak had to ignore the legions of naysayers in the early days of ApplePhoto: Robert Scoble

Wozniak, speaking at the IP Expo conference in London today, told how during the company's early days building Apple I computers out of a garage in Los Altos, California, he had hopes that Apple might be able to sell 50 computers.

Despite his low targets when it came to sales, those early days were exciting times for him and Jobs, Wozniak said.

"Sitting in a garage designing those first little products, I was inspired by ideas of people talking about a revolution where everybody is going to have a computer in their home and going to become technology geeks like us," said Wozniak, chief scientist for storage company Fusion-io.

In the first days of Apple, Wozniak said, he and Jobs had to hold their nerve and not listen to the naysayers, particularly after the criticism that greeted the first Apple Mac upon its release in 1984.

"Sometimes there are monkeys that are beating you down and trying to stop you from getting in with a new approach that might be cheaper, simpler and get a lot more done for people," he said.

"We had a lot of those monkeys along the way at Apple, saying 'It's just not done this way', especially when we came up with the Mac."

The Mac was criticised, Wozniak said, for shipping with a graphical user interface at a time when most computers were controlled by typing in commands.

"All of the geeks writing their formulas on their computers would say, 'It is a toy', 'It can't do big jobs because it has pictures'," he said.

"There were all these deniers for about three years, and then all of a sudden they were swayed over. If you have the right formula, eventually they will come over to your side," he said, joking "now every computer in the world is a Macintosh".

Even Jobs regularly told Wozniak he was amazed at how successful Apple eventually became.

"Steve always said, 'Can you believe that our company got so incredible from just that little start?'."

If history had played out differently it could have been HP and not Apple that...

...kickstarted the PC revolution in the early 1980s, Wozniak revealed, telling how HP execs had repeatedly rejected his idea that the company should build a home computer when he worked there during the 1970s.

"I wanted them to build this new computer, but HP turned me down five times on the first home computer," he said.

But Wozniak credited HP with giving him the support in those early days to work on his initial computer designs.

"I was very lucky because I worked at HP. HP has the HP way that comes down from the founders. Engineers could go in at night and have access to all the parts they needed and tools to work on their own designs."

The Apple co-founder called on more companies to offer similar support to employees to allow them to work on their own projects today.

"Companies pay thousands of dollars to have you go to classes at Stanford or Berkeley but it is much better educationally to let people build something of their own design for themselves. They are going to work so hard to develop their product, it will be of a benefit to the company and much better education than university. That is something I wish abounded in the world more today."

Tinkering with his computer designs in a garage in Los Altos more than 30 years ago, Wozniak never predicted the ways in which technology would advance.

"Could we look ahead and ever had foreseen that there would be a computer with enough memory or a hard disc big enough to hold one song? We did not see what the world would be like today at all. Even though Moore's Law leads to certain conclusions you never tend to see it until you are right there," he said.

At the time, he could not have conceived that people "would have these mobile devices, [equivalent to] the most incredible computer that could have existed in the world when I was in school, in such a tiny size," he said.

As for the future of Apple, Wozniak is confident the company will retain the qualities that turned it into one of the biggest consumer brands in the world without Steve Jobs at the helm.

"A company is driven by its early culture and the vision of the founders. It takes a few years to evolve any company but once people have it in their heads they know the way to go. The past is a predictor of the future."

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