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September 10, 2005

Busy Being Born

Posted in: Technology

Susan Kare's art in Bill Atkinson's MacPaint

Remember the first time you used a Macintosh? If you got goosebumps, this book is for you. Further, if names like Bill Atkinson, Steve Capps, Andy Hertzfeld, Bruce Horn, and Susan Kare ring a vague nostalgic bell, you are legally required to buy it. Why? Because Andy Hertzfeld’s “Revolution in the Valley” tells the story of the creation of Macintosh so intimately that you feel like you were there. It does this not by trying to detail the whole saga from beginning to end but rather by capturing snapshot stories from 1979-1985 that bring the reader inside the central moments.

Ever wonder what early versions of Macintosh were like? Did you know the ultra-famous 1984 superbowl ad was very nearly canned after it was completed? How about how the first icons, fonts, and sounds evolved? Or, visit the classic “signing party” where the team signed their names to be immortalized in the bottom of each Mac case. And what about those people — the people behind the names in the original Finder, MacPaint, and MacWrite about boxes (Bill, Steve, Andy, Bruce, Susan and more). You get to know each of them close-up. For instance, how hardware genius Burrell Smith’s design style was inspired by the classic videogame Defender.

The stories vary broadly — from Mac team members announcing their favorite bands at Wozniak’s huge Woodstock-West festival to week-by-week polaroids of Mac user interface as it evolved to Mac lore like the creation of the Bouncing Pepsis demo as Steve Jobs tries to recruit John Sculley. And each of these is presented alongside fantastic archival photos, scribbled-in-the-moment design notes, and screen grabs. It’s riveting stuff and a must for anyone who cares about innovation in the computer industry. Because, if anything, this book captures what it takes to do innovative work and deliver it in a mass-market product.

As wonderful as the book is, it would have been nice to see a discusison of what the Apple team learned from Xerox PARC’s work on graphical user interfaces. PARC is widely known as the source of the windows, icons, menus, pointers paradigm and some Apple folks saw that work early in the life of the Lisa (1979) in something Hertzfeld terms the “famous Xerox PARC visit.” A story that covers the influence of this meeting on Apple can be found at Hertzfeld’s website, but it would have been better to have it in the book proper as a well-deserved hat tip.

Finally, Steve. Even though Mr. Reality Distortion lurks in the background for much of the book, the reader can’t help but get a distinct impression of him by the end. From his stealing the Macintosh project from Jef Raskin (forcing him into an “extended leave of absence”) to his perfectionism in the aesthetics of the Macintosh case (and logic board!) to hearing great ideas, mocking them, and then weeks later claiming them as his own to telling a quitting Andy Hertzfeld “you don’t matter as much as you think you do.” It’s a rocky road with the Steve to say the least. But you must love and hate the guy at once. For instance, even though Steve has wronged Andy and others in many ways, Andy respects him immensely to this day, calling him the single most important factor in the creation of Macintosh. That’s because Jobs’ defining characteristic is that he makes things happen by sheer force of will — refusing to do anything less than great and creating a culture that fosters that vision. And it’s that very culture that is so well captured in Hertzfeld’s book.

Grab Revolution in the Valley, get the gist of it at folklore.org, or watch Andy himself discuss his book and more on Bob Cringely’s NerdTV. To dive deeper, check the geeky rundown of early Mac systems and software at Mac 512.

image grabbed from kare.com

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