Macworld Magazine, February 1989

Glory Days

by Steven Levy

 

How can you follow an act like the Macintosh? A look at the Mac team five years after.

 

“It’s a wonderful, ecstatic feeling to create something and sort of put it back in the pool of human experience and knowledge. And we have this incredible chance to do that in the next five years. And then it’ll be over. By the end of this decade it’ll he all over and computers will be everywhere. We’ll have incredibly great ones and cheap ones, and you know people will be making them better and cheaper than I do. But going out of the eighties, you know there won’t be a Mac group. Burrell will be off in Oregon playing his guitar. Andy will be writing the next great American novel. Who knows what. But we’ll be scattered all over the globe doing other amazing stuff.”

 

Steve Jobs, before the introduction of the Macintosh

 

 

It was November of 1983 when I was ushered into Bandley 3 to see the future. Bandley 3, of course, was the building that housed the Mac team, the so-called pirate lair on the Apple campus, where the “insanely great” computer called Macintosh was then being rushed into production. As part of the well-orchestrated media blitz that was to accompany the Macintosh’s introduction, I was to document the machine’s creation to Rolling Stone, a publication that rarely devoted feature stories to such technologica as computer introductions.

 

But this was different. Not so much because this computer was reputed to be so revolutionary; but because of who was making it—a sassy young company called Apple, led by a brash young culture hero called Steve Jobs. Yes, the computer turned out to be more important than any of the creation legends it launched, but that winter something else impressed me just as much as the stocky little beige box that said “Welcome to Macintosh”: the team that had brought it to fruition.

 

They were young and energetic and ingenuous, almost falling over themselves with enthusiasm. Passion burned in their eyes. As they spoke, they gesticulated toward the bread box-size computer—sometimes they stroked it affectionately, as if it were a magic charm. Clearly; they believed they were on a crusade; their goal was no less than freeing the world from the evil forces of IBM-style computing. They would achieve this goal simply by creating the world’s greatest personal computer, which in their minds was synonymous with creating a computer that they themselves would like to own.

 

You hear a lot of promises in the corporate and scientific world. But this felt different. Stepping into the vortex of Mac development, you really felt as if you were standing at the nexus of history, that future generations would wonder what it was like, that you would be able to tell your grandchildren you were there. Remarkably; this sensation did not prove temporary. In fact, as we observe the fifth anniversary of the Macintosh, even some of the bolder promises made a half-decade ago by the cocky pirates have been fulfilled. True, not all the promises. And true, there was a time when it looked like the silicon love object to which they had devoted nearly all of their waking hours (a T-shirt they wore read “90 Hours a Week and Loving It”) would crash and burn in the marketplace. But today; the advocates of the Macintosh have been vindicated. It has changed the world.

 

The Mac team members have changed as well. The success of their offspring has been bittersweet. Their leader has been shunned by the organization he founded, and has begun a venture of his own; both events have created tumult among survivors of the Mac team, which itself was effectively disbanded by the time the computer was shipped. Many of them have had to come to terms with the new regime at Apple—a majority of the key players have left—but some now look dyspeptically upon the company they once proclaimed a beacon of light in a corporate Dark Age. Almost all suffered some degree of letdown after the triumphant unveiling of the Mac in January 1984. A few sunk into serious depression for a time. It is fair to say that now, five years after the fact, none have forgotten the exhilarating months spent creating the computer For The Rest Of Us. To the contrary, it stands not only as the best time of their young lives to date, but something that they had to come to terms with in order to reconstruct their lives after Macintosh.

 

Joanna Hoffman, who signed on to the team in 1982 as an international marketer, puts it succinctly: “It’s hard to recapture that magic balance of a great product, great people, a great time—an electric buzz that went on for years. I don’t think I realized how amazing it was when I was doing it.” After it was over, she says, “nobody could go back to a job.”

 

Put in other terms, each member of the Mac team was faced with a baffling dilemma: what to do for an encore.

 

 

Steve’s Job

 

My quest to reinterview some of the Mac wizards I had spoken with five years previous took me, of course, back to Silicon Valley. Coincidentally, the area was abuzz with speculation about the imminent introduction of another computer: Steve Jobs’s NeXT machine. Jobs, preparing for the elaborate introduction of this new-generation education engine, was too consumed with his new company to chew sunflower seeds with me and talk Macintosh, but inevitably his shadow still hung over each interview I did.

 

Steve Jobs’s banishment from Apple stands as a shorthand symbol for the disposition of the Mac team. With a few exceptions, like software artisans Larry Kenyon and Jerome Coonen, and documentation-leader-turned-marketer Chris Espinosa, the Mac team doesn’t work there anymore. Jobs’s shocking exit from the company was but a climax to a process of attrition already in motion when the Mac first shipped. Jobs himself has to shoulder some culpability for this. “There was so much fervor on the team in ’83 that Steve would have had to make a real effort to get them charged up again,” explains Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft who had worked closely with Apple during the Mac development. “Steve didn’t pull them together in ’84, and they started wandering off.”

 

The irony is that many on the team were almost begging to be part of some revolutionary new project concocted from scratch. From Apple’s point of view, though, their efforts could best be spent in continued work on the Macintosh, which for all its glories had some glaring flaws. So the intrepid creators of the Finder, Bruce Horn and Steve Capps, labored to do another release. Then Horn left, dissatisfied with what he considered unfair compensation and inadequate gratitude for the labors of himself and others. Capps continued on the Finder until he left in late 1984, intending to be a free man in Paris.

 

Capps now feels that the Mac itself suffered from not having its creators around to keep improving on it. “We bailed out too soon,” he says. Capps and other Macintosh veterans now realize that some of the “religion” associated with the computer did not jibe with the needs of the marketplace. “In our efforts to change the world we were a little arrogant and unwilling to listen to reason—you have to give the customer what he needs,” says Bill Atkinson. Capps reasons that if the team had stuck around longer, they might have improved the Macintosh in a manner more elegant than that of their replacements, who came up with the Mac SE and the Mac II. (Several critics on the Mac team regard those computers as necessary evolutions, but lacking the artistic flair of the original.)

 

Actually, some of the Mac team were trying to make something very much like the SE, back in late 1984. The so-called Turbo Mac, like the SE, would have had a hard disk, would have featured a gray-scale monitor, and would have run software faster than the original. More important, the warren of cubicles dubbed Turbotown was seen as a refuge from what the Mac veterans considered the “bozo” style of engineering and marketing endemic to Apple. Ultimately, the Turbo Mac went into the land of discontinued products. For Burrell Smith—the hardware genius who had done the Mac’s digital board—that was the last straw for him and Apple Computer.

 

Andy Hertzfeld, the wizard of ROM who had done much of the Mac’s operating software, also felt that Apple was providing insufficient challenge and left the company in 1985. He loved Apple and loved its products, but thought that the company was on the wrong track. “For a month after I left, I cried myself to sleep,” he says.

 

So when the fire storm surrounding Steve Jobs’s departure broke in mid-1986, there was no Mac team to speak of. Some of the remaining key players in the Macintosh division, like top marketer Mike Murray and software chief Bob Belleville, left in the continuing turmoil. Since Jobs had a new project—one that would supposedly blow people away and change the world in the same spirit that the Mac did—NeXT stood as a possible sequel to the excitement of Macintosh. And Steve Jobs did some heavy recruiting of the Mac team. Among his starting players were the original Mac software honcho Bud Tribble and the hardware designer George Crow, who’d done the Mac’s analog board. From there, Jobs began putting heavy pressure on people like Andy Hertzfeld, Steve Capps, Bill Atkinson, and other Mac vets. Joanna Hoffman and Susan Kare, the graphic artist who had worked on Mac icons and fonts, joined up (though both have now left). But some people were too burned out on Steve Jobs; others didn’t think an education-directed computer was the way to go. Jobs was not easily denied. The archetypical, possibly apocryphal story is of one programmer whom NeXT wooed furiously. When the prospect finally turned down the offer, Jobs huffed that “we really don’t want you anyway.”

 

 

 

The Wizard of Mac

 

As far as Andy Hertzfeld was concerned, NeXT was a temptation, but not enough for him to give up his status as the last Mac crusader. Andy’s continuing energy, creativity, and devotion to the cause have propelled him into the role of the conscience of the Mac team, the keeper of the flame. The compact, gregarious wizard, now in his mid-thirties, will bluntly state that the years he spent working on the computer were the best of his life, and that the bonds he forged with his colleagues are blood ties. “I would do anything for another member of the Mac team,” he says. And for years after leaving Apple, he would do anything for the computer he helped bring to market.

 

“Up until 1987, I always kept thinking. What can I do to help the Macintosh? What can I do to make it great?” he explains. “I had a certain responsibility.” In his view, the Mac’s potential to change the world was at stake. So after working on his software for the ThunderScan, he spurned potentially lucrative projects so he could work—with no promise of compensation—on Servant, an alternative desktop program. Likewise, QuickerDraw, his program to speed up color graphics on the Mac II, was executed primarily to make the Macintosh more attractive than its competitors.

 

Eventually, Hertzfeld came to realize that his efforts might better be expended in other areas. Lately he has embarked on a project commissioned by the Frogdesign Company to help design the ultimate home entertainment system. “I have to be realistic, not tilt at windmills,” he says. More to the point, he adds, “In the fall of ’87, it became very clear the Mac didn’t need me at all.” He is of course delighted at the computer’s success, a vindication of the claims he and others made in 1984. But he finds it ironic that “a lot of people who are smug about the success the Mac is having are the same ones who hated it when it first appeared.”

 

The years have given him a more temperate vision of how important the Mac has been in the scheme of things. And he realizes that his celebrity in the Mac community is to a large extent a function of luck—being in the right place at the right time. He asks himself questions: What would the Mac have been like if he hadn’t worked on the project? What would it have been like without Steve Jobs? What would Apple be like if the Mac hadn’t appeared? And what would the world be like if there weren’t an Apple Computer? The answers he comes up with reflect a candid maturity.

 

“Well, the world wouldn’t have been that different,” he admits. “Maybe things would have happened a year later.”

 

As for Steve Jobs’s off-the-cuff observation that Andy Hertzfeld would one day pen the Great American Novel, there is still hope for that. Hertzfeld is an avid reader (Vladimir Nabokov is his current passion), and he hopes one day to sit down at the computer and crunch fiction.

 

 

 

Howard Hughes Approximately

 

Burrell Smith’s path since leaving Apple has been eventful and puzzling. The diminutive blond hardware hacker has not, as Jobs predicted, gone off to Oregon to play guitar. Instead he has continued his digital design work, and since the Mac he has been responsible for significant contributions ranging from the LaserWriter to the Radius Full Page Display Monitor. The latter product was created after Smith left Apple, apparently under bitter circumstances. When I first met Smith, before the Mac unveiling, he spoke with affection about the company that had allowed him—an obscure engineer working in the repair department—the chance to design its major new computer. Now, he reportedly will not even drive his car in the vicinity of Apple headquarters.

 

Supporting the Mac was something else, and one day in April 1986 he asked former Mac teammate Mike Boich to come over to his house to hear about the fullpage display. Boich, co-author of MacTerminal and the first Mac software evangelist, had also burned out on Apple. For a time he even left the computer field, hoping to vent his entrepreneurial urges in the real estate business. But after seeing Burrell Smith’s project, most of it spread out on Smith’s Ping-Pong table, he decided to get back into computers. Boich and Smith began Radius. Andy Hertzfeld, eager to work with Smith again and to participate in the creation of another product that would help the Macintosh, wrote the software for the display. Alain Rossman, another Apple refugee, joined the management team, and now Radius is one of the biggest Macintosh-oriented companies, employing over 100 people.

 

But Burrell Smith was not happy there, either, though he won’t tell us why. He preferred not to be interviewed for this piece. I was not surprised; I had heard that he had become reclusive. Supposedly he has stopped answering his phone. Friends have been calling him “the Howard Hughes of computers.” He recently left Radius, despite holding stock worth perhaps millions. Quite possibly he is unhappy with the inevitable layers of bureaucracy that shroud all companies of that size; associates describe Smith as harboring little patience with, “bozos” who don’t share his vision or designing talent. Originally, his first project after leaving Radius was to have been the hardware design of the home entertainment system his friend Andy Hertzfeld was working on, but despite a reported million-dollar offer, Smith decided not to do it.

 

 

 

Randy’s Story

 

In some instances, the personal fortunes of Mac team members have followed the success curve of the Macintosh itself: euphoria out of the gate, then a bleak period where success was in doubt, followed by a comeback that portended stability. Certainly this was the case with the two wizards responsible for the applications software bundled with the original Mac. Randy Wigginton and Bill Atkinson wrote, respectively, MacWrite and MacPaint. In addition, Atkinson was the author of the QuickDraw routines—originally used in Mac’s big sister, Lisa—that were at the heart of the Mac’s graphics capabilities. When I first met them five years ago, both were exhausted from the effort they had expended on the Macintosh. But both were fiercely proud of what they and their colleagues had produced.

 

Wigginton in particular was pushing the boundaries of his energies, trying to make sure that the release version of MacWrite would not blow up, thus destroying thousands of term papers, memos, and reports. He was no stranger to historic personal computer efforts—as a teenager he had helped the nascent Apple Computer ship its first product, the fabled Apple II. But that was back in the days when buggy software was shrugged off by hobbyist users. The Mac had to work right; millions of dollars were at stake. So the pressure was on Wigginton, who had independently contracted with Apple to write the Mac word processor. A solid version of MacWrite went out on time, and it was Wigginton’s triumph, as well as “my swan song as a hacker,” he says. “I lost 15 pounds during that period.”

 

But not long after the intro troubles began for Randy Wigginton. He immediately started work on a “virtual memory” version of his program, a version that would hold more than the inadequate ten-pages-at-most files of the first release. He undertook this project less for financial reasons than from a desire to help the Macintosh—under the licensing agreement, he got no more money for writing a new version. But he says he did it to help the Mac.

 

By the time he had finished, though, the Fat Mac was out (increasing the document size of MacWrite), Microsoft Word was about to be shipped, and the need for the upgrade was questionable. Also, Wigginton had discovered that during the time he and his helpers were sweating to finish the original word processor, Apple, in a show of low confidence, had secretly commissioned another group to write a second program, just in case MacWrite failed. (Apple never released this other program, which later evolved into WriteNow.)

 

Wigginton began to ask himself what his herculean efforts had brought him. “The answer,” he says, “came up short.”

 

Things only got worse in 1985, as potential buyers perceived the flaws in the Macintosh and sales flattened. It was a humbling experience.

 

“All the publicity said—and we believed—that we were on a mission from God,” says Wigginton. “But afterwards, everybody realized that they were human—and it was hard.”

 

For him, it was particularly hard. A period of “creative paralysis” ensued. Another word for it might be depression. For six months he did no programming and spent a lot of time sleeping and watching television. It was all too easy to fall into the trap of drugs.

 

He alienated almost all of his friends, and this deepened his misery. “I was convinced I had done the best work of my life,” he says of this period. “I had no desire to live.”

 

With the aid of therapy, and the support of his wife, whom he’d married in 1984, he rekindled his desire. He came to realize that “I wasn’t an OK person because of the work I did—I was an OK person because of who I am.” He came to realize that the fast-track world of a Macintosh hero was much like that of a rising Hollywood actor—with the same dangerous pitfalls. Wigginton got involved in living again, and though he avoided hard-core programming, he was able to oversee the development of a program that was to become Ashton-Tate’s Full Impact spreadsheet.

 

Now he is once again fit and energetic, and was recently hired by Ashton-Tate’s Macintosh division as a senior scientist. “My goal is to help them come out with products on the leading edge,” he says. “I’m sort of a practical visionary.” The company has made a wise choice; besides having an intuitive grasp of software design, Randy Wigginton has the experience that comes from being a participant in the early days of personal computing, as well as the maturity that comes from turning his life around. All that, and he is only 28 years old.

 

 

 

 

From Mac to HyperCard

 

Bill Atkinson’s depression did not hit until almost a year after the Mac shipped. The guru of MacPaint and QuickDraw had immediately embarked on another project with the potential to change the world even more than the Macintosh. It was to be called Magic Slate, and besides animating some of Atkinson’s most creative design ideas, it embodied some of the principles of Alan Kay’s fabled Dynabook portable computer concept, as well as some of Jef Raskin’s ideas about how a computer user should not have to worry about operating systems or applications: the user should just work, and the tools should appear as they are needed.

 

As Atkinson describes it today. Magic Slate seems like a dream computer. At 14 by 12 inches, it would be roughly the size of a tabloid newspaper—held vertically on the lap or desk—and would weigh no more than a pound or so, portable enough that no one would go anywhere without it. It would be made inexpensively enough “to figure that you would lose about six a year,” he says. The memory would be sufficiently large that you could think of the information stored within it as “a notebook 80 feet thick.” (Pages would be the units of storage here, much as note cards are in HyperCard.)

 

Searching functions would be lightning-quick and powerful. There would be no keyboard or mouse—instead the user would control the Slate with fingers and a metal stylus. You would, for instance, turn pages by simply brushing against the screen in a motion that would turn a page in a book. To input text you would use the stylus, simply jotting down what you want.

 

Atkinson says that he devised some revolutionary new techniques for character recognition—when I showed him the chicken-scrawl in my notebook and asked whether a Magic Slate could read that, he didn’t even blink before answering affirmatively.

 

The problem with the dream was that the technology—flat panels, cheap memory, and such—was out of reach. “Needless to say. Magic Slate wasn’t the kind of thing that Apple could make in a couple of years,” says Atkinson. “And back then, Apple wasn’t into longterm research.” That was it for Magic Slate, but the time wasn’t wasted: “The way to get where you want is to dream it—pretend you’re living in the world where it could happen,” he explains.

 

Still, the realization that his project wouldn’t happen was tough on Atkinson—”I wanted Magic Slate so bad I could taste it,” he says. So he experienced a double letdown—the death of his new idea and the delayed postpartum blues from the Mac.

 

“It was a period of great depression,” he recalls. “There was a time when I couldn’t bear to sit at the computer.”

 

The turning point for Bill Atkinson came one night when, unable to crunch the code he does so brilliantly, he took a late-night stroll in the hills near his home. Above him was a clear sky, the ultimate bitmap, dotted with stars too numerous for any Mac to count. It was a humbling sight for one of the stars of the Mac community. The proportions of his depression seemed absurdly puny compared to the celestial epic.

 

Far from being a daunting observation, this recharged his thinking. Wherever he stood—wherever we all stood—in the universe, it made sense to make do with what we are, with who we are. And Atkinson realized that he was not without a certain measure of ability to make this world better. He was in a position of leadership, he had an ability to think creatively, and he had the ear of John Sculley.

 

And soon he had an idea—some of the virtues of Magic Slate modified to run on a 512K Macintosh. Instead of an eight-foot-high stack of notebook pages, there w’ere note cards. It was Wildcard—now known as HyperCard—and for the next few months he worked feverishly to prepare a software prototype. He had not been unaffected by the troubles and intrigues at Apple in 1985, and he had been personally offended that Apple was planning to discontinue the practice of including MacPaint with every Macintosh. To Atkinson, hell is creating a product that does not ship. So by the time he showed the Wildcard mock-up to John Sculley Atkinson was fed up with Apple, about to leave. But Sculley was more than slightly impressed with Wildcard.

 

“What do you want?” he asked Atkinson.

 

“I want it to ship,” said Bill.

 

So the agreement was made—Apple would either ship the program with every computer or give the program back to Atkinson to sell it elsewhere. Atkinson gathered a small team of programmers and documentation wizards to aid him and, keeping in mind the best of his Macintosh experience, ran his project with the same fanatic devotion to quality that had characterized the other project. The rest is Macintosh history.

 

It also represented a liberation from the shadow of Steve Jobs. Atkinson, of course, was one of those whom Jobs attempted to recruit for NeXT, but Bill’s priority at that point was HyperCard. “It became easier for me to talk to Steve,” he says. “It had been like father and son. Or apprentice and master. When I got HyperCard, it was like, ‘Look, Dad, I succeeded—you trained me!’”

 

At 37, Bill Atkinson is recognized as the creator of one of the most popular programs of all time. Yet an equally significant advance is the distance he has gone personally in the time between Macintosh and HyperCard, to which he is currently devoting a minimum of two years support. Part of the change is his daughter, four-year-old Laura; he takes fatherhood very seriously. And part is simple maturity, which has taught him that an artist need not have an “artistic temperament.” “I used to think the world was out to get me,” he says. “And now I realize the world is neutral. You can make what you can of it.”

 

 

 

Mac the Sequel

 

That may well stand as a generalization for what the Mac team has learned in the five years after the glory days petered out. I suspect we would hear similar stories from, say, the 1984 Olympic hockey team, or from any group that has worked closely together for a common and worthy goal, and succeeded. The Mac team members enjoyed an extended period when their priorities and choices were made for them—their lives were centered around creating the computer for the rest of us. Now they are immersed in the more complicated world of making adult choices, and are faced with the challenge of making that achievement something more than nostalgia. And I think that for the most part they are doing just fine.

 

The Mac team is indeed, to use Steve Jobs’s words, “scattered all over the globe doing amazing stuff.” And perhaps most encouraging of all is a project now under way at, of all places, Apple Computer. Among the key team members are Mac veterans Larry Kenyon and Jerome Coonen—and Steve Capps, back at Apple again after returning from Paris and working on software projects like Studio Session and Sound Designer.

 

Capps says that John Sculley himself got involved in re-recruiting him for the job. The project is a secret, but it must be something special because everyone who knows anything about it calls it the most exciting thing Apple has designed since, well, the Macintosh.

 

“In some ways this is a Mac-like experience,” says Steve Capps. He is talking about reviving the idealism, the energy, the fanatic devotion to detail, and the disinclination to accept what others say isn’t technologically possible. On the other hand, he says, “We’re being careful not to repeat the not-so-pleasant aspects, like the pressure we were under.” He says that, like Macintosh, the project will be something to be proud of.

 

And just as significant, he reports that between the members of the team a familiar electricity is being generated.

 

In other words, there is life after Macintosh. It’s comforting to know that as the computer has grown up and thrived, so have its designers.

 

 

Steven Levy is a Macworld columnist and the author of The Unicorn’s Secret: Murder in the Age of Aquarius (Prentice-Hall, 1988).