Mass Market Microcomputer with Display

The Apple II is the first real mass-market microcomputer. It did anything it was programmed to do, and people programmed it to do all sorts of things. Spreadsheets, invented on the Apple II, drove enormous sales to the business market. The computer also featured several word processors and a sizable game library.

Jobs & Woz

Lifelong friends Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak liked to hang out together a the Homebrew Computer Club, a California club for do-it-yourself computer enthusiasts. Among other things, the group liked to hack the telephone system to make free long-distance phone calls.

With the release of the MITS Altair computer in January 1975, they realized the potential for a personal microcomputer. The Altair was a terrible machine: the only output was a series of LED lights. However, it sold well; people wanted their own personal computers.

Jobs convinced Wozniak they could build and sell their own personal computer. Wozniak preferred the idea of helping people at the club build computers as a sort of community service. No, Jobs said, this should be a business.

Wozniak worked at Hewitt Packard at the time and needed a release to make a computer. A personal computer, they laughed. Go build your toy. They set up shop in Jobs’ parents garage.

Their first computer, the Apple I, sold a few units. The second computer, the Apple II, was a smash-success that jump-started the personal computer market.

Hippies Storm the Valley

Besides making computers affordable, Apple also introduced a new type of personality into the computer business field. Jobs was an unrepentant hippie. He’d worked at Atari but had no interest in traditional computer science. A college dropout who toured India he didn’t look or act like most of the buttoned-down engineers. Unix developers Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson didn’t look the part of engineers but, with their Ivy-League degrees, they had the right background. Jobs was something entirely different.

For years, there was tension in Silicon Valley between Jobs-style software people and traditional engineers. Intel co-founder Gordon Moore was especially annoyed with the impression that anybody could show up and start a computer company. Stories about amateurs successfully hacking operating systems annoyed the Ph.D. engineers. That especially stung because a Ph.D. engineer was the programmer of the first operating system CP/M. Still, there is no denying the creative an artistic flair Jobs and his type brought to the market changed it forever in a positive direction.

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