When you mention Apple Computer to a random group of, say, twenty-five people, the reactions that you’ll get will tell you all you need to know about what is arguably the world’s most famous brand of computer. Maybe half will love them, maybe half will hate them, and two will look at you and say “Huh?” (Such is the nature of statistical analysis.)
Regardless of how you feel about any of the current incarnations of the Macintosh or its insanely popular cousin the iPod, Apple has a massive amount of history and folklore that only the most diehard Mac aficionados seem to be even remotely familiar with. This is why I was delighted to hear about the release of Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made (ISBN 0-596-00719-1, $24.95 list) by Andy Hertzfeld, who was one of the original authors of the first Mac’s system software. (He has since left Apple and currently is working on a web-based system for “collective storytelling,” which can be seen at folklore.org.)
Admittedly, “corporate history” isn’t usually a particularly engaging genre to read—it can bring up coma-inducing memories of decidedly boring passages from college economics courses. This book, however, turns the genre on its head, much in the same way that the Mac’s creators turned the computer industry around. (Note the irony there. It’s deliberate.) Filled with photos, doodles and sketches, the book contains close to a hundred anecdotes and short stories, ranging in topic from the first meetings where the original Macintosh was conceptualized to Steve Jobs’ demand for polished precision.
Nothing is sacred in this book, and nothing is secret, either. The short chapters range from silly to shocking—for instance, in the earliest prototypes of the operating system, a button featured in many windows that read “Do It” was later changed to “OK” because users were misreading the button as “dolt,” and nobody wants an OS that insults them for no good reason. In another section, Steve Jobs’ fervent pursuit of perfection comes out, when he staunchly demands that the system be able to draw rounded rectangles for buttons and for other graphics purposes, even taking his team outside and pointing out dozens of real-life examples of rounded rectangles to drive his point home.
This is an entertaining and engaging book that would be at home on any computer enthusiast’s shelf, no matter what he or she thinks about Apple. (Bill Gates shows up periodically throughout the story, after all.) In the end, it’s a remarkable story about a scrappy bunch of geeks with an idea that ultimately turned into an infamous part of history that’s as strong as ever twenty years later. And how can that not make you feel good inside?