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They were energized by the arrival of the January 1975 issue of Popular Mechanics, which had on its cover the first personal computer kit, the Altair. The Altair wasn’t much—just a 5 pile of parts that had to be soldered to a board that would then do little—but for hobbyists and hackers it heralded the dawn of a new era. Bill Gates and Paul Allen read the magazine and started working on a version of BASIC, an easy-to-use programming language, for the Altair. It also caught the attention of Jobs and Wozniak. And when an Altair kit arrived at the People’s Computer Company, it became the centerpiece for the first meeting of the club that French and Moore had decided to launch.


I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesmen, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company. John Akers at IBM was a smart, eloquent, fantastic salesperson, but he didn’t know anything about product. The same thing happened at Xerox. When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don’t matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off. It happened at Apple when Sculley came in, which was my fault, and it happened when Ballmer took over at Microsoft. Apple was lucky and it rebounded, but I don’t think anything will change at Microsoft as long as Ballmer is running it.


Jobs did not wear his growing responsibilities gracefully. He had always been temperamental and bratty. At Atari his behavior had caused him to be banished to the night shift, but at Apple that was not possible. “He became increasingly tyrannical and sharp in his criticism,” according to Markkula. “He would tell people, ‘That design looks like shit.’” He was particularly rough on Wozniak’s young programmers, Randy Wigginton and Chris Espinosa. “Steve would come in, take a quick look at what I had done, and tell me it was shit without having any idea what it was or why I had done it,” said Wigginton, who was just out of high school.


By far the most important example of this involved the choice of a disk drive for the Macintosh. Apple had a corporate division that built mass-storage devices, and it had developed a disk-drive system, code-named Twiggy, that could read and write onto those thin, delicate 5?-inch floppy disks that older readers (who also remember Twiggy the model) will recall. But by the time the Lisa was ready to ship in the spring of 1983, it was clear that the Twiggy was buggy. Because the Lisa also came with a hard-disk drive, this was not a complete disaster. But the Mac had no hard disk, so it faced a crisis. “The Mac team was beginning to panic,” said Hertzfeld. “We were using a single Twiggy drive, and we didn’t have a hard disk to fall back on.”


The carriage glided fast. Beaurepaire was almost in sight.

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Gates had launched Microsoft by writing a version of BASIC, a programming language, for the Altair. Jobs wanted Microsoft to write a version of BASIC for the Macintosh, because Wozniak—despite much prodding by Jobs—had never enhanced his version of the Apple II’s BASIC to handle floating-point numbers. In addition, Jobs wanted Microsoft to write application software—such as word processing and spreadsheet programs—for the Macintosh. At the time, Jobs was a king and Gates still a courtier: In 1982 Apple’s annual sales were billion, while Microsoft’s were a mere million. Gates signed on to do graphical versions of a new spreadsheet called Excel, a word-processing program called Word, and BASIC.



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