The Altair, Atari, IMSAI and TRS-80 all deserve their place in history, but it was Steve Wozniak’s monument, the Apple II, that best represents the weltanschauung of the time. The system was described in Apple ads as an “appliance” computer, but if you owned one, that was sheer nonsense. The Apple II, with its eight expansion slots, was completely accessible and beckoned its owners to expand and extend it in a myriad of ways. A forty-character screen not to your taste? The 80 character card (and the caps lock key mod) handled that issue. I/O, extended graphics, accelerator, CPM and a myriad of other boards were all available for purchase, enabling you to create a system reflecting your needs and computing desires. For the truly hardcore, you could buy just the motherboard and build whatever box you wanted.
The Apple II’s open nature also meant the system attracted an abundance of programming languages, applications (including the first killer application, VisiCalc), games, utilities and so on. Apple DOS and other system code were well documented. In an homage to Wozniak not appreciated by the company at the time, numerous Apple II clones entered the market.
The system’s impact on the industry can be judged by the effect it had on IBM. Big Blue was so impressed by Wozniak’s creation that it did Apple one better by openly publishing the original IBM PC’s BIOS, making it possible for just about anyone to reverse engineer the system and build a completely compatible clone. The result of this action was to create the most important open standard hardware platform the world has ever seen. Today, almost 100% of the laptops and desktop computers (including Apple’s) are built around the descendant of the original IBM PC architecture.
While Wozniak was designing and engineering the products that made Apple an early personal computing powerhouse, Jobs’ role was to serve as Apple’s primary marketer, polishing its image to make the company desirable in the public’s eyes. Jobs was not a designer, engineer, or programmer. His contributions to the Apple II were to push for a more consumer-oriented case and to use a switching power supply, neither of which he designed. He was not a fan of the Apple II’s slots. Early on in the company’s history, he was given the opportunity to lead the product teams building the Apple III and then the Lisa and botched both assignments.
Yet, it would be unfair to claim Jobs didn’t have his own views on how to design personal computers. Jobs believed in closed systems, of creating walled gardens of unearthly technology delights, tended over by high-tech succubi who anticipated your desires before you even knew what they were. After taking control of the Macintosh program from Jeff Raskin, Steve Jobs began working on building his dream, a computer so inaccessible you needed a special screwdriver just to open the case (Apple plays this game to this day with the iPhone). It is on the eve of what is probably the most famous launch in high-tech history that Steve Jobs begins.