A Personal Journey from
True Believer to Naysayer
I have a confession to make.
I was once an Apple True Believer.
I believed that company could do no wrong. I
believed the sun rose and set in Cupertino, California, wherever that was. I dreamed
about one day visiting the Bob's Big Boy on Bandley Drive where Wozniak and his pals ate
late night cheeseburgers and worked out the details of the first Apple II floppy drive.
I had a multicolored Apple decal on the back window
of my gold Datsun pickup.
One of the happiest days of my life was unpacking my
brand-new Apple II computer in October, 1978 and hooking it up to the used GE 10 inch
color TV I had bought through the Greensheet. I had been waiting an
endless month for delivery from flakey mail order outfit AAAA Computer
Hows (I was probably their first and last customer). I paid $1010,
absolutely the cheapest deal on a 16KB machine I could find. The packing foam was blue,
as I recall. The computer was so light, and under the cover, so empty, I
Once connected, the picture rolled and
warped and looked like hell but I thrilled to see computer text scroll
before my eyes.
I saw my name on the screen. I saw my
I studied the listings in the Red Book
for hours on end. The machine was a wormhole through which an alternate universe
could be glimpsed. I got hooked on Star Trek. I drove to user group meetings at a
library on Westheimer, hungry for information—six rich doctors, six professional
programmers, and City of Houston Air Pollution Control Instrument Technician II Charlie
started writing my own football game.
I spent far too much time wondering if the proper
spelling was Apple Computer Inc. or Apple Computer, Inc.
I squirreled away the makings of a future Apple Shrine.
But only a few years later, I had put all things
Apple behind me, in favor of the IBM PC—that practical, but unlovable platform.
Why? Because Apple had blown it with a series of blunders. They had become
Machines and Mistakes 1977-1989
1977: The Apple II
Not a mistake. A brilliant machine hatched from the
mind of a quirky genius who knew exactly what he wanted a personal computer to be able to
do. By keeping it all in his head, Steve Wozniak created a synergy of firmware and
hardware. No machine in its day did as much with as few ICs—sound, game controllers,
expansion slots, color, high-resolution graphics, and lots of memory. This legendary
machine made Apple. Learn more at the Virtual PC
1980: The Apple III
Apple recognized the II's limitations as a business
platform. No lower case. No coherent 80 column story. Limited CPU
speed. No hard disk. But rather than fix them, it kept making IIs the way it always
had, and brought out a new machine, the Apple III. And from 30,000 feet, the new box
looked like just the thing to keep the CP/M boxes and the
about-to-be-released IBM PC at bay. It had an 80 column display, and a
good keyboard. It had twice the memory and twice the CPU power of the
Apple II. There was a hard disk option.
But...the Apple II's OS architecture was cryptic and utterly
unlike the II's. Its II emulation didn't support the popular 80 column cards.
Worse, the machine developed a reputation for being unreliable. The III ran hot and
chips unseated themselves and for whatever reason, few were sold. Most of those that
were spent their lives in II emulation mode. With a 40 column display, and no lower
As Apple fiddled, market share burned. The IBM PC gained
1983: The Lisa
Beautiful engineering, software and otherwise; a machine
ahead of its time—but priced at $10,000, this was no personal computer.
Essentially, born dead.
1984: The Macintosh
What excitement this machine stirred, especially
among the True Believers. Apple was back. Look out, world!
On Release Day, I left my PC project for the morning
and crowded into a ComputerCraft store on Chimney Rock to watch a demo with fifty other
people. It blew me away. The mouse. The sharp black-on-white display. The
quasi-portable upright box. The auto-eject 3.5 inch floppy. The proportional
fonts. A printer that could get it all on paper. The 32 bit CPU. The
jump-in-the-deep-end commitment to graphical UI. Even the keyboard and mouse
connectors were insanely great.
No single Woz was responsible this time, but
there were fewer than a
dozen committed maniacs on the core development team. (One of whom, Finder author Bruce Horn, I would
later share an office with at Eloquent.)
But concealed in the brilliant glare of MacPaint,
MacWrite, and the Finder were serious flaws, obvious to anyone who used a Mac for more
than a day or two.
Not Enough Memory. The original
Macintosh was a sealed unit. You literally couldn't open the box without a
torx screwdriver and a "case spreader" tool available only from Apple. And inside was an ugly
secret: a paltry (by 1984 standards for a $2500 machine) 128KB of memory, and no way to
expand it. 20K of the total was used as a screen buffer. Another 30K went for
basic fonts and other system functions. An application had maybe 70K available for its own
code and data. During this same period, a comparably-priced IBM PC had 320K, of
which 290K was available to applications. MacWrite ran out of memory somewhere
around Page Five. Over on the PC, WordStar cranked out 200 page documents without breaking
a sweat. The Macintosh beat the PC on CPU power and brilliant firmware—but the PC
gave developers four times as much memory. Programmers like memory.
Not Enough Disk Space. Crippled by
limited RAM, the lone 400K floppy would at times whir almost continuously as the OS
thrashed. Sometimes the drive would come on for no apparent reason and stay on for a
minute or two. Copying floppies was a painful swap fest. There was no hard disk
option. Most IBM PCs of the day had two floppy drives, and hard disks were readily
These flaws were especially painful when you consider how
easily they could have been avoided. It would have cost Apple almost
nothing to put 256K in there, and having a hard disk option from the get-go
would not have been rocket science. It's as though they designed a
fabulous new car, and decided to give it a two gallon gas tank. It was
enough to make this True Believer switch platforms.
Three strikes and you're out.
1985-1989: Sculley, Gassée, etc.
As Apple grew, the Bean Counters, Bureaucrats, and Credit
Takers took over. John Sculley, he of the self-aggrandizing autobiography given to each
Apple employee as a Christmas gift, saw to it that no further brilliance radiated from
Cupertino. (That's not completely true; the LaserWriter was a hell of a machine.)
After a painful, deadly delay, Macintoshes eventually got
more memory and a hard disk, and even cases that could be opened and
expansion slots inside.
But high prices bled precious market share. Apple's Crown
Jewel, the Mac OS, became a tangled, hard-to-build, tricky-to-extend mess. Apple
lost much of its technological high ground in 1989 when Windows 3.0 came to market with OS
support for memory indirection and protection. No more handles to moveable
Programmers liked that.
The first portable Macintosh was light-years behind PC
laptops; the Newton made Apple a laughing stock. (The Palm Pilot demonstrated that a
well-executed Newton could have been a hit. There's nowhere to hide on this one.
It wasn't ahead of its time. It was over-hyped and under-engineered.)