Despite decades of competition from computer manufacturers with lower-price offerings, the Mac has been around for 30 years today.
Amazingly, we’re still discovering new things about the history of the Macintosh to this day.
As The New York Times’ Nick Bilton pointed out in a blog post today, Wired’s Steven Levy has just appended his book on the history of the Mac with a complete transcript of the interview he had with Steve Jobs as a young journalist for Rolling Stone, just before the launch of the original Mac.
The candid interview shows off the risk-taking and excitable side of Jobs. Focused not only on making a great product but instead on building a great company, he decided to “influence by example” by doing the work of a general manager on the team building the computer that eventually became the Mac.
Looking back, we know that the Mac’s approachable interface made it the first computer with a graphical user interface to really take off. But to get to the point where the “common man” would buy such a device, Jobs and the other members of the Mac team had to make big bets on their vision.
According to Jobs, he and his team took three big risks when designing the original Mac:
They redesigned the hardware three times.
Since the software was taking so long to develop anyway, the team took the time it needed to perfect the physical hardware people would be using every day:
And what you have to do is make trade-offs, of “Yes, this will take two months longer, but really, is software going be the critical path anyway?” And if we’d been done — if we hadn’t made one or two of the iterations, and had been done with the hardware months before we were — it wouldn’t have made any difference anyway. Because the software would have taken this long. So, the [alternative] would have taken this long.
They switched to a disk drive at the last moment.
The team originally planned on using the same massive drive as in the company’s “Lisa” computer, but found that Sony simply couldn’t get them ready to go in time:
Because the 3.5-inch wasn’t a reality. Just wasn’t a reality, we didn’t think. We could have made the decision maybe three or four months earlier than we did. And we didn’t do that, Bob [Belleville] and I didn’t do that, because we really wanted to support another group at Apple that was doing this disc drive. Some people think we could have made it six or nine months earlier, but we couldn’t have. Sony really wasn’t there, they really couldn’t demonstrate that they had any [drives ready to go]. Maybe three to four months earlier we should have [made the decision], in retrospect. But nobody’s perfect.
Hoping to future-proof the machine, they made the software far more sophisticated than it had to be.
Steve Jobs says on the matter:
The software architecture is really sophisticated, more so than it had to be. But we knew that we wanted to live with this machine for 10 years, and we knew that we wanted to build in [would last]… [otherwise] we wouldn’t have a chance. Part of the Mac strategy is that the machines are cheap, that they’re all the same. And we knew that if we didn’t get some [advanced] stuff in [it wouldn’t last]. Like [for example], hi-res on the Apple II got in during the last day. Woz wanted to take it out. It was 50 cents extra, and it was just one chip and we finally agreed to leave it in. We didn’t have anything to do with it. But we knew if it was there, someday we might. That was a risk. There is a lot of risks like that, we took… we knew we had to get it in now, if it was going blossom three years from now. Those kind of things.