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    Talking to Woz

    By John Stafford
    December 1, 2005

    A short drive up Blossom Hill Road in Los Gatos, past a sign invoking
Zeus, father of many mythological Greek heroes, took this writer to the
unassuming office of Steve Wozniak, whom many consider the father of the
personal computer.

    Wozniak, who co-founded Apple Computer, designed the company's earliest
computers, bringing advances like a color display to consumers at a
relatively low price. His Apple II was so popular it made Apple in the 1980s
the fastest growing company in American history.

    Wearing an orange Apple polo, dark dress slacks and a stainless steel,
analog-and-digital Bell & Ross wristwatch, Wozniak greeted   me at the door.
After talking to Wozniak for five minutes, it was obvious there is weight to
his reputation: he is affable, candid and sharp. The remarks that follow are
excerpts from our discussion.

    When you set out to design the original Apple computer and the Apple II,
did you have any idea that someone would want or need a computer in their

    No, not at all. We said that everyone was going to have a computer
someday because it was affordable and it was so useful, and that was partly
correct thinking. A computer doesn't do just one thing. It does one thing
today, and another, and another, and another, and another and you write
different programs.

    We didn't realize these small computers were going to eventually become
the tool for people on their desks at business. We didn't envision the world
that way at all. It just sort of happened by accident and it was lucky that
it happened to us.

    If you could redesign one thing, either today or along the way, what
would that be?

    I would try to take us back to the early Macintosh, the failed Lisa-type
thinking of philosophies that the human is the center of the world and the
computer gets designed around that person, with very good understanding of
here is how people live their lives. There's a set of rules that we are
going to enforce and follow for our software. Everything is going to be very
consistent, very simple, and very obvious to that human. I wish we could go
back to that, because we had it and we lost it.

    Do you still think the open source software movement will create a big

    The only reason I have trouble having an opinion is I'm not really in
it. I'm pretty much tied to one operating system, the Macintosh, using it
day in day out. I just favor the whole concept of open source as being a way
that companies can be not entrapped by proprietary software. And one thing
we do find is that anytime you're using something that's proprietary, you do
wind up being pretty trapped, as much as they can trap you.

    So, along those lines, how then do you feel about digital rights
management (DRM)?

    DRM, of course, bothered me back when, you know.

    I also know so many people that either developed or spent a lot of time
creating music and have almost no money. They could only live on what the
music brings them in terms of money, and to see somebody ripping them off is
about the worst thing that can happen in the world.

    We make agreements. You make agreements and you agree in buying a CD
that you won't copy it for others. You won't give it away to others. You
kind of have to obey that.

    Now, the laws have ruled that because we're human, anything that we can
experience with our senses, like music or videos, even smells I guess, we
have a right to memorialize and keep personal scrapbooks, copies for
ourselves. If it came on the radio, you have the right to record it. If it
came on the TV, you have the right to record it, but only for your personal
use. And that's where I see DRM sometimes getting in the way of that.

    Unfortunately, the number of people that don't keep their agreements are
the ones that are spoiling it for the rest of us and enforcing that there
will have to be things like DRM to make sure that people who work as hard as
artists get paid.

    Do you think that record companies are abusing the power DRM gives them
to enforce those commitments?

    The record companies - all the publishers jumped on the Internet from
the day it was born except the music business. You couldn't download a song
on the Internet; it was around for 10 years and they still hadn't put their
music on the Internet in some form - even if you were willing to buy it and
pay. I find that disgusting.

    Unfortunately, sometimes the technology comes about that makes it a lot
cheaper to distribute what you have than before. Your product is now
cheaper; that makes your industry a little less big. And now I can have the
bits come straight to me, so I think songs and CDs should be a lot cheaper,
in the end, on the Internet. But the record companies see it as less
revenue, so they fight. It's just amazing.

    Why did it take so long until one company did it right, which was Apple?
You know, and it has a price, but the price is right. As long as the price
is right, people will tend to be honest.

    I wish there were a group that made a record and that the group could be
involved in their own economics and decide how much their record is going to
sell for on iTunes.

    Rather than have the record company set the price?

    We want ours to sell for 50 cents. We want to get it around. We're
willing to. You know, and some groups will say, hey, Brittany Spears, two
bucks for my song. Fine, but the groups are pretty much artists and they
don't get involved in the business. They don't have a very big participation
in that decision of what it will sell for. It's the way things are
structured and that's unfortunate.

    Do you think that is at all similar to the computer industry, where
engineers develop a product and someone else sets the price?

    It's very much like that, but sometimes the engineers are - yeah, no, I
think it's very similar, very similar. Sometimes the engineers are true
artists and really care what they're doing, doing a really great job.
Although, I don't know how much I can even say that because the big
companies, Microsoft, Apple and AOL, they tend to turn out the crappiest
products, you know, software-wise. The ones that have the most bugs, the
most items that are supposedly in there but don't work. The most things that
are left out because they aren't finished. The most things that are
inconsistent with the way they did their last program. I get the worst,
worst software almost always from Apple.

    You think so?

    Oh yeah. I get third-party stuff and it's almost always just better,
cleaner and more understandable. It works better and does what you'd expect
instead of, you know, buggy things or not what you expect.

    What's an example?

    I couldn't give you an example. It happens just all the time. Over and
over and over.

    Is OS X is problematic in that way?

    I don't even call it a problem; it's just something you learn to work
around. It's like, there was such a cleaner, good approach to it and they
did this stupid thing. But remember, the people who wrote the OS X weren't
the people who developed the Lisa and Macintosh. Those guys are gone.

    Do you see this problem getting worse or better over time?

    Worse. And part of it is because the software gets huge and complex and
we're always moving to the new things rather than fix old things. I think a
lot of it is because people just get complacent with what they have.

    What do you think the solution is?

    I think some day it would be nice to have colleges have programs, very
strong programs, in this sort of user interface but with a very humanist
attitude point of view, and start playing around with new approaches. Some
year, some decade, it might just come into the popular conscious to start
making things more beautiful for people.

    Is it difficult having started this phenomenon of a company any maybe
not agreeing with some of its decisions?

    Oh no, I agree with it so much. There's just a few areas that are my own
values cause me to be a perfectionist, but I do not go criticizing Apple
very much at all. I mean, no, I love every part of the Apple world. You can
look with your eyes and just see that it always has - every version of
Macintosh, including the PowerBooks - the most beautiful product quality and
they generally tend to lead the others in terms of qualities you like --
thinness, size of screen, pixels on the screen. The whole world of Apple
works together.

    Do you think we'll see OS X on non-Apple boxes in the future?

    No, I don't. Apple has been very adamant and has stuck by their guns for
a long, long time and they put everything at risk in the company many times
to basically say that we're going to be a proprietary operating system and
you're going to have to buy our hardware to run it. Apple has treated itself
more like a hardware company than a software company, even though it really
is the Macintosh operating system that makes it different.

    The Apple II was the first computer Apple produced on a large scale. The
Lisa was Apple's first computer with a graphical user interface. OS X is the
operating system included with all Apple Macintosh computers. According to
the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Digital Rights Management, or DRM, is
the term used to refer to technologies that are aimed at increasing the
kinds and/or scope of control that rights-holders can assert over their
intellectual property assets, for example music or video.

    Contact John Stafford at [EMAIL PROTECTED]

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