Micro History Part 9

History of the Microcomputer Revolution

Part 9 - Home Brewing and Computers Named Apple

In early 1975 - just a couple months after the first microcomputer kit had appeared on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine - a group of electronic hobbyists in California's Silicon Valley held a meeting to start a computer club. The first micro - the Altair 8800 computer - was demonstrated at this meeting, and other meetings followed, attended by more people. They put the name of the club up for a vote, and decided on the Homebrew Computer Club.

Many of the early attendees went on to become famous names in the emerging industry. The club also become somewhat infamous because of an incident involving the pirating of one of the first computer programs - a paper tape copy of Bill Gates' first version of Basic - allegedly acquired by a club member who distributed for free to anyone who wanted it.

One of the people in attendance was a young man named Steve Wozniak, who worked for Hewlett Packard. He also did free lance design work for a game company called Atari, and had met a friend there - another Steve - Steve Jobs. Wozniak was a dreamer, designer, and builder, well liked by people and called Woz by his friends - while Jobs was a hard driven entrepreneur, a couple years older. Inspired by what he saw at the Homebrew meetings, Woz set out to build his own computer for the fun of it. He also decided to use a MOS Technology 6502 microprocessor, because it was cheap - around $ 20 - and it looked like it could do a lot of things. Woz also wrote his own version of Basic for his computer, which they named the Apple I.

He showed it at one of the Homebrew meetings, impressing the audience, but most particularly his friend Steve Jobs who immediately decided they should start their own computer company, and come out with an improved model - an Apple II. They sold some of their possessions, including a Volkswagen bus, and started building computers in their garage, although Woz continued working fulltime at HP.

Eventually they drew the attention of an ex-Intel marketing executive, who was able to see the potential and arrange for venture capital for the company, providing Woz would quit his job at HP and dedicate himself fulltime to the Apple II project. After some convincing, he agreed, and the rest - as they say a lot in the microcomputer industry - is history.

The Apple II was a unique machine in the industry, with its sleek sexy design, its Apple logo, it's open architecture - allowing anyone to design plugin cards to it, and its capability to hook up to a color tv set and give you sound, color, and graphics - things you just didn't get with the monochrome cp/m computers it competed against. My first computer was an Apple II and I wish I still had it as much as I'd like to have my Ford Model A from my high school days.

The year was now 1977, and Apple computer began a meteoric rise- elevating both Steve's to millionaire wunderkindt status. The Apple II became one of the hottest computers in the industry - everyone wanted one. Dozens of developers began writing software for the Apple II, games, home programs, even business accounting programs. The Radio Shack TRS-80 microcomputer using the Zilog Z80 microprocessor was also introduced in July, 1977 and became enormously successful.

By 1979 Apple competed strongly against 8080-based Cp/m systems which dwarfed them both in size and price. A cp/m business computer at that time could easily cost $ 10K without any software. An Apple II with 48K of ram, 1 floppy disk drive, and a green NEC monitor sold for about $2500. Where there were by now over 100 manufacturers of cp/m clones, Apple was very tightly controlled and sold through an authorized dealer network.

By 1979 the entire thrust of the industry had changed - microcomputers were no longer targeted at hobbyists and hackers - they were targeted at business users, both small business and corporations.

But what really contributed to Apple's and Radio Shack's success - and what really launched the microcomputer industry from a hobbyist market to a serious business users market- was THE KILLER APPLICATION.

Next, we'll learn about the software program that let microcomputers do what mainframe and minicomputer users couldn't.

On to Segment 10, "The Killer Application"

Back to the Table of Contents

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