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Woz Wows with Humanitarianism

AUSTIN, Texas — The creator of the first Apple personal computer — the Apple I — spoke about the past, present and future of innovation during his keynote at the Freescale Technology Forum 2015 here (June 23). Says Wozniak, innovators today have the wrong motivation — to make money — whereas in his day, innovation was something he did because there were no affordable electronics to use at home for fun.

“I was working with calculators at Hewlett Packard, using RPN [reverse-Polish-notation], which meant you had to be smart already to be able to use them,” Wozniak told his audience during his keynote at FTF.

Steve Wozniak single-handledly invented the Apple-I and Apple-II personal computers, starting a revolution in PCs that still resonates today.
(Source: EE Times)

Steve Wozniak single-handledly invented the Apple-I and Apple-II personal computers, starting a revolution in PCs that still resonates today.
(Source: EE Times)

Computers in those days were either mainframes or programmed in binary with switches on the front of them. And the storage drives for input/output (I/O) data cost as much as two cars, according to Woz. So he set out to design his own I/O that used inexpensive audio cassette tapes encoded with tone from a modem and eventually floppy disks.

After meeting Steve Jobs, who was working at Atari for Nolan Bushnell, Jobs enlisted Wozniak to help him design the circuit board for the game Breakout. For the board Job's said he was paid $700, which Woz and Job's split 50/50 — $350 each. Wozniak reduced the number of chips in the Atari game by 50, using random access memory (RAM), for which Bushnell paid Jobs a bonus of $5000 the knowledge of which was withheld from Woz. But Woz holds no grudges — in fact he begged Jobs to share the wealth with key early employees after Apple took off. And when Job's refused, Woz claims to have distributed $20 million of his own money among those employees who were key to Apple's early success.

The experience at helping Jobs at Atari also payed off technologically, since it gave Woz the idea of using an inexpensive TV for output and RAM for program storage and scratch-pad memory. The other big problem Woz had was programing in binary, so he invented his own form of Basic that could run in 4-kilobytes of memory with no operating system.

“I was the first one to write Basic, because I needed a language,” said Woz. “But color was the best thing I thought of for Apple. Everybody was using black-and-white in those days, but after my break with Atari, after four days with no sleep I thought of a way to use square waves instead of sine waves to drive the TV, which gave me the ability to make color in that way. If I hadn't been so tired, I never would have thought of that.”

After that Wozniak started paying attention to his dreams, and after forgetting a potentially great idea he had had during sleep, he started writing them down in the middle of the night.

The Apple-I computer was invented by Wozniak for his own use since he wanted to experiment with computing at home when all that existed in those days were unaffordable mainframes.
(Source: Smithsonian)

The Apple-I computer was invented by Wozniak for his own use since he wanted to experiment with computing at home when all that existed in those days were unaffordable mainframes.
(Source: Smithsonian)

“Often they were nonsense the next morning, but many of my best ideas came while I was sleeping,” Woz told us.

Woz was still giving away the plans for his PCs for free, until Jobs stepped in and they partnered up.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EE Times.

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