Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made
By Andy Hertzfeld
(O’Reilly Media, list price $24.99, paperback)
My wife swears by her Mac. I, however, just swear at it when I am forced to use it.
I have been using anything-but-Apple computers since the early 1980s, starting with a Sinclair ZX80 and moving up through a ragged assortment of Trash-80s, Osbornes, Kaypros, PC-XTs, PC-ATs, and PCs that run Windows 7.
During a short semi-career in specialized hardware and software development, I tested programs that ran exclusively on machines running Windows. So I have that bias.
Nonetheless, Andy Hertzfeld’s book, Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made, is fascinating and entertaining reading, even for those of us who have avoided Apple computers and sometimes still bristle at the smug, superior attitudes exhibited by many Macintosh users. (Don’t tell my wife I said that.)
Hertzfeld was one of the main authors of the Macintosh system software, including the User Interface Toolbox and many of the Mac’s original desk accessories. He later joined Google and is one of the primary creators of Google +.
Originally published in 2004, Revolution in the Valley recently has been brought back into print again by O’Reilly Media as a second revised edition.
The book is drawn mainly from Hertzfeld’s adventures, misadventures, reflections and perspectives. But it is not All Hertzfeld All the Time. Refreshingly, it also includes stories written by “other key original Mac team members”—Steve Capps, Donn Denman, Bruce Horn and Susan Kare.
Their stories recount the chaotically creative and frequently high-pressured race to design and deliver “an easy-to-use, low-cost, consumer-oriented computer…featuring a revolutionary graphical user interface (GUI).”
Hertzfeld and his co-contributors focus on “the development of the original Macintosh computer, from its inception in the summer of 1979, through its triumphant introduction in January 1984, until May 31, 1985, when Steve Jobs was forced off the Macintosh team.
Revolution in the Valley is divided into five parts and follows a somewhat chronological path. However, it makes frequent and refreshing use of short anecdotes that are easy and enjoyable to read, no matter what your computer bias might be. It also has a nice assortment of photographs, drawings, screenshots and other illustrations from the development period.
Speaking (again) of smug attitudes, one amusing incident in the book involves the Macintosh team’s April 1981 encounter at a computer show with Adam Osborne, creator of the Osborne 1, “a low-cost, one-piece, portable computer complete with a suite of bundled applications.”
According to Hertzfeld: “As Macintosh elitists, we were suitably grossed out by the character-based CP/M applications, which seemed especially clumsy on the tiny, scrolling screen.” When Osborne realized he was talking to the Macintosh development team, he told them his Osborne 1 would outsell the Apple II “by a factor of 10” and added that they should “tell Steve Jobs that the Osborne 1 is going to outsell the Apple II and the Macintosh combined!”
When Steve Jobs heard what Adam Osborne had said, he called the founder of the Osborne Computer Company and left two messages. The first message was simple and basic, that Osborne was “an asshole.” Jobs’ second message was: “Tell him the Macintosh is so good that he’s probably going to buy a few for his children even though it put his company out of business.”
And the rest, of course, is computer history.
Revolution in the Valley has drawn strong praise from Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs in 1976.
“It’s chilling to recall how this cast of young and inexperienced people who cared more than anything about doing great things created what is perhaps the key technology of our lives,” he notes in the book’s foreword. “ Their own words and images take me back to those rare days when the rules of innovation were guided by internal rewards, and not by money.”
– Si Dunn