Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Steve Jobs #5



Graphical User Interfaces

A New Baby

The Apple II took the company from Jobs's garage to the pinnacle
of a new industry. Its sales rose dramatically, from 2,500 units
in 1977 to 210,000 in 1981. But Jobs was restless. The Apple II
could not remain successful forever, and he knew that, no matter
how much he had done to package it, from power cord to case, it
would always be seen as Wozniak's masterpiece. He needed his own
machine. More than that, he wanted a product that would, in his
words, make a dent in the universe.

At first he hoped that the Apple III would play that role. It
would have more memory, the screen would display eighty
characters across rather than forty, and it would handle
uppercase and lowercase letters. Indulging his passion for
industrial design, Jobs decreed the size and shape of the
external case, and he refused to let anyone alter it, even as
committees of engineers added more components to the circuit
boards. The result was piggybacked boards with poor connectors
that frequently failed. When the Apple III began shipping in May
1980, it flopped. Randy Wigginton, one of the engineers, summed
it up: "The Apple III was kind of like a baby conceived during a
group orgy, and later everybody had this bad headache, and
there's this bastard child, and everyone says, "It's not mine.'"
By then Jobs had distanced himself from the Apple III and was
thrashing about for ways to produce something more radically
different. At first he flirted with the idea of touchscreens, but
he found himself frustrated. At one demonstration of the
technology, he arrived late, fidgeted awhile, then abruptly cut
off the engineers in the middle of their presentation with a
brusque "Thank you." They were confused. "Would you like us to
leave?" one asked. Jobs said yes, then berated his colleagues for
wasting his time.

Then he and Apple hired two engineers from Hewlett-Packard to
conceive a totally new computer. The name jobs chose for it would
t have caused even the most jaded psychiatrist to do a double
take: the Lisa. Other computers had been named after daughters of
their designers, but Lisa was a daughter Jobs had abandoned and
had not yet fully admitted was his. "Maybe he was doing it out of
guilt," said Andrea Cunningham, who worked at Regis McKenna on
public relations for the project. "We had to come up with an
acronym so that we could claim it was not named after Lisa the
child." The one they reverse-engineered was "local integrated
systems architecture," and despite being meaningless it became
the official explanation for the name. Among the engineers it was
referred to as "Lisa: invented stupid acronym." Years later, when
I asked about the name, Jobs admitted simply "Obviously it was
named form my daughter "

The Lisa was conceived as a $2,000 machine based on a sixteen-
bit microprocessor, rather than the eight-bit one used in the
Apple II. Without the wizardry of Wozniak, who was still working
quietly on the Apple 11, the engineers began producing a
straightforward computer with a conventional text display, unable
to push the powerful microprocessor to do much exciting stuff.
Jobs began to grow impatient with how boring it was turning out
to be.

There was, however, one programmer who was infusing the project
with some life: Bill Atkinson. He was a doctoral student in
neuroscience who had experimented with his fair share of acid.
When he was asked to come work for Apple, he declined. But then
Apple sent him a nonrefundable plane ticket, and he decided to
use it and let Jobs try to persuade him. "We are inventing the
future," Jobs told him at the end of a three-hour pitch. "Think
about surfing on the front edge of a wave. It's really
exhilarating. Now think about dog-paddling at the tail end of
that wave. It wouldn't be anywhere near as much fun. Come down
here and make a dent in the universe." Atkinson did.
With his shaggy hair and droopy moustache that did not hide the
animation in his face, Atkinson had some of Woz's ingenuity along
with Jobs's passion for awesome products. His first job was to
develop a program to track a stock portfolio by auto-dialing the
Dow Jones service, getting quotes, then hanging up. "I had to
create it fast because there was a magazine ad for the Apple II
showing a hubby at the kitchen table looking at an Apple screen
filled with graphs of stock prices, and his wife is beaming at
him-but there wasn't such a program, so I had to create one."
Next he created for the Apple II a version of Pascal, a
high-level programming language. Jobs had resisted, thinking that
BASIC was all the Apple II needed, but he told Atkinson, "Since
you're so passionate about it, I'll give you six days to prove me
wrong." He did, and Jobs respected him ever after.
By the fall of 1979 Apple was breeding three ponies to be
potential successors to the Apple II workhorse. There was the
ill-fated Apple III. There was the Lisa project, which was
beginning to disappoint jobs. And somewhere off Jobs's radar
screen, at least for the moment, there was a small skunkworks
project for a low-cost machine that was being developed by a
colorful employee named Jef Raskin, a former professor who had
taught Bill Atkinson. Raskin's goal was to make an inexpensive
"computer for the masses" that would be like an appliancea
self-contained unit with computer, keyboard, monitor, and
software all together-and have a graphical interface. He tried to
turn his colleagues at Apple on to a cutting-edge research
center, right in Palo Alto, that was pioneering such ideas.
The Xerox Corporation's Palo Alto Research Center, known as Xerox
PARC, had been established in 1970 to create a spawning ground
for digital ideas. It was safely located, for better and for
worse, three thousand miles from the commercial pressures of
Xerox corporate headquarters in Connecticut. Among its
visionaries was the scientist Alan Kay, who had two great maxims
that Jobs embraced: "The best way to predict the future is to
invent it" and "People who are serious about software should make
their own hardware." Kay pushed the vision of a small personal
computer, dubbed the "Dynabook," that would be easy enough for
children to use. So Xerox PARC's engineers began to develop
user-friendly graphics that could replace all of the command
lines and DOS prompts that made computer screens intimidating.
The metaphor they came up with was that of a desktop. The screen
could have many documents and folders on it, and you could use a
mouse to ,, point and click on the one you wanted to use.

This graphical user interface - or GUI, pronounced "gooey" - was
facilitated by another concept pioneered at Xerox PARC:
bitmapping. Until then, most computers were character-based. You
would type a character on a keyboard, and the computer would
generate that character on the screen, usually in glowing
greenish phosphor against a dark background. Since there were a
limited number of letters, numerals, and symbols, it didn't take
a whole lot of computer code or processing power to accomplish
this. In a bitmap system, on the other hand, each and every pixel
on the screen is controlled by bits in the computer's memory. To
render something on the screen, such as a letter, the computer
has to tell each pixel to be light or dark or, in the case of
color displays, what color to be. This uses a lot of computing
power, but it permits gorgeous graphics, fonts, and gee-whiz
screen displays. Bitmapping and graphical interfaces became
features of Xerox PARC's prototype computers, such as the Alto,
and its object-oriented programming language, Smalltalk. Jef
Raskin decided that these features were the future of computing.
So he began urging jobs and other Apple colleagues to go check
out Xerox PARC.    

Raskin had one problem: Jobs regarded him as an insufferable
theorist or, to use Jobs's own more precise terminology, "a
shithead who sucks." So Raskin enlisted his friend Atkinson, who
fell on the other side of Jobs's shithead/genius division of the
world, to convince Jobs to take an interest in what was happening
at Xerox PARC. What Raskin didn't know was that Jobs was working
on a more complex deal. Xerox's venture capital division wanted
to be part of the second round of Apple financing during the
summer of 1979. Jobs made an offer: "I will let you invest a
million dollars in Apple if you will open the kimono at PARC."
Xerox accepted. It agreed to show Apple its new technology and in
return got to buy 100,000 shares at about $10 each. 1  By the
time Apple went public a year later, Xerox's $1 million worth  of
shares were worth $17.6 million. But Apple got the better end of
the bargain. Jobs and his colleagues went to see Xerox PARC's
technology in December 1979 and, when Jobs realized he hadn't
been shown enough, got an even fuller demonstration a few days
later. Larry Tesler was one of the Xerox scientists called upon
to do the briefings, and he was thrilled to show off the work
that his bosses back east had never seemed to appreciate. But the
other briefer, Adele Goldberg, was appalled that her company
seemed willing to give away its crown jewels. "It was incredibly
stupid, completely nuts, and I fought to prevent  giving jobs
much of anything," she recalled.

Goldberg got her way at the first briefing. Jobs, Raskin, and the
Lisa team leader John Couch were ushered into the main lobby,
where a Xerox Alto had been set up. "It was a very controlled
show of a few applications, primarily a word-processing one,"
Goldberg said. Jobs wasn't satisfied, and he called Xerox
headquarters demanding more.

So he was invited back a few days later, and this time he brought
a larger team that included Bill Atkinson and Bruce Horn, an
Apple programmer who had worked at Xerox PARC. They both knew
what to look for. "When I arrived at work, there was a lot of
commotion, and I was told that Jobs and a bunch of his
programmers were in the conference room," said Goldberg. One of
her engineers was trying to keep them entertained with more
displays of the word-processing program. But Jobs was growing
impatient. "Let's stop this bullshit!" he kept shouting. So the
Xerox folks huddled privately and decided to open the kimono a
bit more, but only slowly. They agreed that Tesler could show off
Smalltalk, the programming language, but he would demonstrate
only what was known as the "unclassified" version. "It will
dazzle [Jobs] and he'll never know he didn't get the confidential
disclosure," the head of the team told Goldberg.

They were wrong Atkinson and others had read some of the
papers published by Xerox PARC, so they knew they were not
getting a full description. Jobs phoned the head of the Xerox
venture capital division to complain; a call immediately came
back from corporate headquarters in Connecticut decreeing that
Jobs and his group should be shown everything. Goldberg stormed
out in a rage.

When Tesler finally showed them what was truly under the hood,
the Apple folks were astonished. Atkinson stared at the screen,
examining each pixel so closely that Tesler could feel the breath
on his neck. Jobs bounced around and waved his arms excitedly.
"He was hopping around so much I don't know how he actually saw
most of the demo, but he did, because he kept asking questions,"
Tesler recalled. "He was the exclamation point for every step I
showed." Jobs kept saying that he couldn't believe that Xerox had
not commercialized the technology. "You're sitting on a gold
mine," he shouted. "I can't believe Xerox is not taking advantage
of this."

The Small talk demonstration showed three amazing features. One
was how computers could be networked; the second was how
objectoriented programming worked. But Jobs and his team paid
little attention to these attributes because they were so amazed
by the third feature, the graphical interface that was made
possible by a bitmapped screen. "It was like a veil being lifted
from my eyes," Jobs recalled. "I could see what the future of
computing was destined to be."

When the Xerox PARC meeting ended after more than two hours, Jobs
drove Bill Atkinson back to the Apple office in Cupertino. He was
speeding, and so were his mind and mouth. "This is it!" he
shouted, emphasizing each word. "We've got to do it!" It was the
breakthrough he had been looking for: bringing computers to the
people, with the cheerful but affordable design of an Eichler
home and the ease of use of a sleek kitchen appliance.
"How long would this take to implement?" he asked.
"I'm not sure," Atkinson replied. "Maybe six months." It was a
wildly optimistic assessment, but also a motivating one.

"Great Artists Steal"

The Apple raid on Xerox PARC is sometimes described as one of the
biggest heists in the chronicles of industry. Jobs occasionally
endorsed this view, with pride. As he once said, "Picasso had a
saying--'good artists copy, great artists steal' - and we have
always been shameless about stealing great ideas."
Another assessment, also sometimes endorsed by Jobs, is that what
transpired was less a heist by Apple than a fumble by Xerox.
"They were copier-heads who had no clue about what a computer
could do," he said of Xerox's management. "They just grabbed
defeat from the greatest victory in the computer industry. Xerox
could have owned the entire computer industry."
Both assessments contain a lot of truth, but there is more to it
than that. There falls a shadow, as T. S. Eliot noted, between
the conception and the creation. In the annals of innovation, new
ideas are only part of the equation. Execution is just as

Jobs and his engineers significantly improved the graphical
interface ideas they saw at Xerox PARC, and then were able to
implement them in ways that Xerox never could accomplish. For
example, the Xerox mouse had three buttons, was complicated, cost
$300 apiece, and didn't roll around smoothly; a few days after
his second Xerox PARC visit, Jobs went to a local industrial
design firm, IDEO, and told one of its founders, Dean Hovey, that
he wanted a simple singlebutton model that cost $15, "and I want
to be able to use it on Formica and my blue jeans." Hovey

The improvements were in not just the details but the entire
concept. The mouse at Xerox PARC could not be used to drag a
window around the screen. Apple's engineers devised an interface
so you could not only drag windows and files around, you could
even drop them into folders. The Xerox system required you to
select a command in order to do anything, ranging from resizing a
window to changing the extension that located a file. The Apple
system transformed the desktop metaphor into virtual reality by
allowing you to directly touch, manipulate, drag, and relocate
things. And Apple's engineers worked in tandem with its
designers-with jobs spurring them on daily-to improve the desktop
concept by adding delightful icons and menus that pulled down
from a bar atop each window and the capability to open files and
folders with a double click.

It's not as if Xerox executives ignored what their scientists had
created at PARC. In fact they did try to capitalize on it, and in
the process they showed why good execution is as important as
good ideas. In 1981, well before the Apple Lisa or Macintosh,
they introduced the Xerox Star, a machine that featured their
graphical user interface, mouse, bitmapped display, windows, and
desktop metaphor. But it was clunky (it could take minutes to
save a large file), costly ($16,595 at retail stores), and aimed
mainly at the networked office market. It flopped; only thirty
thousand were ever
Jobs and his team went to a Xerox dealer to look at the Star as
soon as it was released. But he deemed it so worthless that he
told his colleagues they couldn't spend the money to buy one. "We
were very relieved," he recalled. "We knew they hadn't done it
right, and that we could-at a fraction of the price." A few weeks
later he called Bob Belleville, one of the hardware designers on
the Xerox Star team. "Everything you've ever done in your life is
shit," Jobs said, "so why don't you come work for me?" Belleville
did, and so did Larry Tesler.

In his excitement, Jobs began to take over the daily management
of the Lisa project, which was being run by John Couch, the
former HP engineer. Ignoring Couch, he dealt directly with
Atkinson and Tesler to insert his own ideas, especially on Lisa's
graphical interface design. "He would call me at all hours, 2
a.m. or 5 a.m.," said Tesler. "I loved it. But it upset my bosses
at the Lisa division." Jobs was told to stop making out-of-
channel calls. He held himself back for a while, but not for

One important showdown occurred when Atkinson decided that the
screen should have a white background rather than a dark one.
This would allow an attribute that both Atkinson and Jobs wanted:
WYSIWYG, pronounced "wiz-ee-wig," an acronym for "What you see is
what you get." What you saw on the screen was what you'd get
when you printed it out. "The hardware team screamed bloody
murder," Atkinson recalled. "They said it would force us to use a
phosphor that was a lot less persistent and would flicker more."
So Atkinson enlisted jobs, who came down on his side. The
hardware folks grumbled, but then went off and figured it out.
"Steve wasn't much of an engineer himself, but he was very good
at assessing people's answers. He could tell whether the
engineers were defensive or unsure of themselves."

One of Atkinson's amazing feats (which we are so accustomed to
nowadays that we rarely marvel at it) was to allow the windows on
a screen to overlap so that the "top" one clipped into the ones
"below" it. Atkinson made it possible to move these windows
around, just like shuffling papers on a desk, with those below
becoming visible or hidden as you moved the top ones. Of course,
on a computer screen there are no layers of pixels underneath the
pixels that you see, so there are no windows actually lurking
underneath the ones that appear to be on top. To create the
illusion of overlapping windows requires complex coding that
involves what are called "regions." Atkinson pushed himself to
make this trick work because he thought he had seen this
capability during his visit to Xerox PARC. In fact the folks at
PARC had never accomplished it, and they later told him they were
amazed that he had done so. "I got a feeling for the empowering
aspect of naivete," Atkinson said. "Because I didn't know it
couldn't be done, I was enabled to do it." He was working so hard
that one morning, in a daze, he drove his Corvette into a parked
truck and nearly killed himself. Jobs immediately drove to the
hospital to see him. "We were pretty worried about you," he said
when Atkinson regained consciousness. Atkinson gave him a pained
smile and replied, "Don't worry, I still remember regions."
Jobs also had a passion for smooth scrolling. Documents should
not lurch line by line as you scroll through them, but instead
should flow. "He was adamant that everything on the interface had
a good feeling to the user," Atkinson said. They also wanted a
mouse that could easily move the cursor in any direction, not
just up-down/left-right. This required using a ball rather than
the usual two wheels. One of the engineers told Atkinson that
there was no way to build such a mouse commercially. After
Atkinson complained to Jobs over dinner, he arrived at the office
the next day to discover that jobs had fired the engineer. When
his replacement met Atkinson, his first words were, "I can build
the mouse."

Atkinson and Jobs became best friends for a while, eating
together at the Good Earth most nights. But John Couch and the
other professional engineers on his Lisa team, many of them
buttoned-down HP types, resented Jobs's meddling and were
infuriated by his frequent insults. There was also a clash of
visions. Jobs wanted to build a VolksLisa, a simple and
inexpensive product for the masses. "There was a tug-of-war
between people like me, who wanted a lean machine, and those from
HP, like Couch, who were aiming for the corporate market," Jobs

Both Mike Scott and Mike Markkula were intent on bringing some
order to Apple and became increasingly concerned about Jobs's
disruptive behavior. So in September 1980, they secretly plotted
a re organization. Couch was made the undisputed manager of the
Lisa division. Jobs lost control of the computer he had named
after his daughter. He was also stripped of his role as vice
president for research and development. He was made non-executive
chairman of the board. This position allowed him to remain
Apple's public face, but it meant that he had no operating
control. That hurt. "I was upset and felt abandoned by Markkula,"
he said. "He and Scotty felt I wasn't up to running the Lisa
division. I brooded about it a lot."

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