Steve Wozniak

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“I just believe that the way that young people’s minds develop is fascinating. If you are doing something for a grade or salary or a reward, it doesn’t have as much meaning as creating something for yourself and your own life.”


Stephen (or Stephan) GarySteveWozniak[1]:18 (born August 11, 1950),[2] known as “Woz“, is an American pioneer of the personal computer revolution of the 1970s (along with Apple Computer co-founder, Steve Jobs). Wozniak is an American inventor, electronics engineer, and computer programmer who single-handedly developed the 1976 Apple I, the computer that launched Apple. He primarily designed the 1977 Apple II, but Jobs oversaw the development of its unusual case and Rod Holt developed the unique power supply.[3]

Early life and career

Wozniak was born in San Jose, California, the son of Margaret Elaine (Kern) and Jacob Francis “Jerry” Wozniak. He is of Polish and Swiss-German ancestry on his father’s side, and of German, Irish, and English descent on his mother’s.[4][5]

The name on Wozniak’s birth certificate is “Stephan Gary Wozniak”, but Steve’s mother said that she intended it to be spelled “Stephen”, and “Steve” is what he uses.[1]:18

Wozniak has been referred to frequently by the nickname “Woz”, “The Wonderful Wizard of Woz”, or “The Woz”;[6] “WoZ” (short for “Wheels of Zeus“) is also the name of a company Wozniak founded. The city of San Jose named a street “Woz Way” in his honor. In the early 1970s, Wozniak was also known as “Berkeley Blue” in the phone phreak community.[7]

Apple Computer

Origins of Apple

Excerpt from the Apple I design manual, including Wozniak’s hand-drawn diagrams

In 1971 Wozniak’s friend Bill Fernandez introduced him to Steve Jobs. At the time Fernandez and Jobs were attending Homestead High School. Jobs and Wozniak became friends when Jobs worked for the summer at Hewlett-Packard (HP), where Wozniak too was employed, working on a mainframe computer.[8] Also in 1971 Wozniak withdrew from the University of California, Berkeley, only one year after enrolling. This was recounted by Wozniak in a 2007 interview with ABC News, of how and when he first met Steve Jobs: “We first met in 1971 during my college years, while he was in high school. A friend said, ‘you should meet Steve Jobs, because he likes electronics and he also plays pranks.’ So he introduced us.”[9]

In 1973, Jobs was working for arcade game company Atari, Inc. in Los Gatos, California.[10] He was assigned to create a circuit board for the arcade video game Breakout. According to Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell, Atari offered $100 for each chip that was eliminated in the machine. Jobs had little knowledge of circuit board design and made a deal with Wozniak to split the fee evenly between them if Wozniak could minimize the number of chips. Wozniak reduced the number of chips by 50 by using RAM for the brick representation. Too complex to be fully comprehended at the time, the fact that this prototype also had no scoring or coin mechanisms meant Woz’s prototype could not be used. Jobs was paid the full bonus regardless. Jobs told Wozniak that Atari gave them only $700 and that Wozniak’s share was thus $350.[11] Wozniak did not learn about the actual bonus until ten years later, but said that if Jobs had told him about it and had said he needed the money, Wozniak would have given it to him.

On June 29, 1975 Wozniak tested his first working prototype, displaying a few letters and running sample programs. It was the first time in history that a character displayed on a TV screen was generated by a home computer.[1] With the Apple I design, he and Jobs were largely working to impress other members of the Palo Alto-based Homebrew Computer Club, a local group of electronics hobbyists interested in computing. The Club was one of several key centers which established the home hobbyist era, essentially creating the microcomputer industry over the next few decades. Unlike other Homebrew designs, the Apple had an easy-to-achieve video capability that drew a crowd when it was unveiled.[12]

In 1976, Wozniak developed the computer that eventually made him famous. He alone designed the hardware, circuit board designs, and operating system for the Apple I.[12] Jobs had the idea to sell the Apple I as a fully assembled printed circuit board. Wozniak, at first skeptical, was later convinced by Jobs that even if they were not successful they could at least say to their grandkids they had had their own company. Together they sold some of their possessions (such as Wozniak’s HP scientific calculator and Jobs’Volkswagen van), raised $1,300, and assembled the first boards in Jobs’ bedroom and later (when there was no space left) in Jobs’ garage. Wozniak’s apartment in San Jose was filled with monitors, electronic devices, and some computer games Wozniak had developed. The Apple I sold for $666.66. (Wozniak later said he had no idea about the relation between the number and the mark of the beast, and “I came up with [it] because I like repeating digits.”) Jobs and Wozniak sold their first 50 system boards to Paul Terrell, who was starting a new computer shop, called the Byte Shop, in Mountain View, California.[1]

On April 1, 1976, Jobs and Wozniak formed Apple Computer. Wozniak resigned from his job at Hewlett-Packard and became the vice president in charge of research and development at Apple. Wozniak’s Apple I was similar to the Altair 8800, the first commercially available microcomputer, except the Apple I had no provision for internal expansion cards. With expansion cards the Altair could attach to a computer terminal and be programmed in BASIC. In contrast, the Apple I was a hobbyist machine. Wozniak’s design included a $25 microprocessor (MOS 6502) on a single circuit board with 256 bytes of ROM, 4K or 8K bytes of RAM, and a 40-character by 24-row display controller. Apple’s first computer lacked a case, power supply, keyboard, and display, all components the user had to provide.

After the success of the Apple I, Wozniak designed the Apple II, the first personal computer that had the ability to display color graphics, and BASIC programming language built-in.[1] Inspired by “the technique Atari used to simulate colors on its first arcade games“, Wozniak found a way to putting colors into the NTSC system by using a $1 chip,[13] while colors in the PAL system was achieved by “accident” when a dot occurred on a line, and to this day he has no idea how it works.[14] During the design stage, Steve Jobs argued that the Apple II should have two expansion slots, while Wozniak wanted six. After a heated argument, during which Wozniak had threatened for Jobs to ‘go get himself another computer’, they decided to go with eight slots. The Apple II became one of the first highly successful mass-produced personal computers.


This profile is partly adapted from a Wikipedia entry on Steve Wozniak, available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.