Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Steve Wozniak

Steve Wozniak (nickname Woz) (born August 11, 1950) is credited with initiating the entry of computers into private homes. Although his contribution may be seen as a compilation of a few well-known ideas that have perfectly coincided with the technological readiness for a mass-produced computer, Steve Wozniak's ingenuity and relentless creativity made him uniquely suitable to pick up the credit for starting the PC revolution.

Wozniak's early inspirations came from his father Jerry who was a Lockheed engineer, and from a fictional wonder-boy: Tom Swift. His father infected him with fascination for electronics and would often check over young Woz's creations. Tom Swift, on the other hand, was for Woz an epitome of creative freedom, scientific knowledge, and the ability to find solutions to problems. Tom Swift would also attractively illustrate the big awards that await the inventor. To this day, Wozniak returns to Tom Swift books and reads them to his own kids as a form of inspiration.

Woz's values were shaped and strengthened over years by his family, Christian philosophy, radio amateur ethics (helping people in emergency), books (Swift's utilitarian and humanitarian attitude) and others.

As a lasting Swift legacy, throughout his life, Wozniak loved all projects that required heavy thinking. He learned the basics of mathematics and electronics from his father. When Woz was 11, he built his own amateur radio station, and got a ham-radio license. At age 13, he was elected president of his high school electronics club, and won first prize at a science fair for a transistor-based calculator. Also at 13, Woz built his first computer that laid the engineering foundation of his later success.

By 1975, Woz would drop out of the University of California, Berkeley and would come up with a computer that could sweep the nation. However, he was largely working within a scope of the Homebrew Computer Club, a local group of electronics hobbyists. His project had no wider ambition. At the club he met Steve Jobs. Jobs, 5-years Woz's junior, who himself had dropped out of Reed College in 1972, was a perennial starry-eyed visionary. Jobs and Wozniak came to the conclusion that a completely assembled and inexpensive computer would be in demand. They sold some of their prized possessions (e.g. Woz's scientific calculator), raised $1300, and assembled the first prototype in Jobs' garage. Their first computer was quite unimpressive by today's standards, but in 1975 it was an engineering marvel. In simplicity of use it went years ahead of the Altair, which was introduced earlier in 1975. Altair had no display and no true storage. It received commands via a series of switches and a single program would require thousands of toggles without an error. Altair output was presented in the form of flashing lights. Altair was great for true geeks (Bill Gates and Paul Allen were among the first), but it was not usable for a wider public. It would not even come assembled. Woz's computer, on the other hand, named Apple I, was a fully assembled and functional unit that contained a $25 microprocessor on a single-circuit board with ROM. On April 1, 1976, Jobs and Wozniak formed Apple Computer Company. Wozniak quit his job at Hewlett-Packard and became the vice president in charge of research and development at Apple. Apple I was priced at $666. Jobs and Wozniak sold their first 25 computers to a local dealer.

Wozniak could now focus full-time on fixing the shortcomings of Apple I and adding new functionality. Apple I earned the company close to a million dollars. His new design was to retain the most important characteristics: simplicity and usability. Woz introduced high-resolution graphics in Apple II. His computer could now display pictures instead of just letters: "I threw in high-res. It was only two chips. I didn't know if people would use it." By 1978, he also designed an inexpensive floppy-disk drive. He and Randy Wigginton wrote a simple disk operating system. In addition to his hardware skills, Wozniak wrote most of software that ran Apple. He wrote a Basic interpreter, a Breakout game (which was also a reason to add sound to Apple), the code needed to control the disk drive, and more. On the software side, the Apple II was also made more attractive to a business user by the famous pioneering spreadsheet: Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston's VisiCalc. In 1980, the Apple company went public and made Jobs and Wozniak millionaires. At the age of 27, Jobs was the youngest Fortune 400 man in 1982 -- a rare case before the dot-com era. Incidentally, in 1978, when the company cut the price of Apple II, it helped to launch yet another meteoric software career, that of Mitch Kapor. Kapor scraped enough money to buy his own Apple. Inspired by VisiCalc and a meeting with its inventors, he went on to develop Lotus 1-2-3 and swept the spreadsheet market place for years to follow.

For years the Apple II was the main source of profit at Apple, and it assured the company's survival when its management undertook much less profitable ventures like the ill fated Apple III and the short lived Lisa. It was because of the reliable profits from the Apple II that Apple was able to develop the Mac, market it, and gradually make it evolve into a machine which is now at the center of all Apple products. In a sense then, Wozniak can be considered as the financial godfather of the Mac.

Woz became less enthusiastic about his work for Apple. He got married and returned to the university under the name "Rocky Clark" to get his degrees in 1982 in computer science as well as in electrical engineering. In 1983 he decided to return to mainstream Apple development. However, he wanted to be no more than just an engineer and a motivational factor for the Apple workforce. Woz left Apple for good on February 6, 1985, nine years after setting up the company. Jobs was also forced to leave Apple as a result of a power struggle. Wozniak and Jobs were proud to have originated an anti-corporate ethic among big players of computer market. Jobs focused on not always practical innovation with his NeXT vision, while Woz went into teaching and charitable activities in the field of education. In September 2000, Steve Wozniak was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Since leaving Apple Computers, Woz has provided all the money, as well as a good amount of on-site technical support of the local Los Gatos School district. In 2001, Woz founded Wheels Of Zeus, a company that provides wireless solutions.