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An excellent oral history and “fly on the wall” account of the making of Apple's Macintosh computer.

Book Review: Revolution in The Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac was Made by Andy Hertzfeld

Since the recent passing of Steve Jobs, there have been numerous books rush-released to cash in on the interest in his life. Fortunately, Revolution in The Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made is not one of these. Written by one of the key members of the team responsible for the Macintosh computer, Andy Hertzfeld has assembled an excellent oral history of the process.

Andy started at Apple in 1979, when the company was feeling its first flush of success with the Apple II. The ever-nimble mind of Steve Jobs knew that the company could not coast on Apple II forever though, and already had new projects in the works. These were code-named Sara and Lisa, and were intended for use beyond the hobbyist market — into the then impenetrable world of office computing.

There was an even more secret project just starting up as well though, one which would revolutionize the computer industry. The Macintosh was conceived as a home computer “for the rest of us,” and a great number of breakthroughs were incorporated into it. The most significant of these was the Graphical User Interface (GUI). Today we call it a mouse. Previously all commands were text based, which made things incredibly complicated for the layperson. It was the single most important innovation of the early days. Can anyone imagine using a computer without a mouse?

Hertzfeld and his small team describe the various machinations they went through to get the GUI up and running. When Bill Gates saw it, he immediately set his people to work developing their own version, which he would call Windows. Jobs famously filed suit against Windows, but it was later thrown out.

As Hertzfeld reveals, both Jobs and Gates had first seen the innovation years earlier at the offices of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). In this early think-tank, the company virtually had the entire desktop computer concept as a prototype by 1978. Xerox management thought the idea would never actually catch on however, so it remained a curiosity to show off to the occasional visitor. Hungry entrepreneurs Jobs and Gates knew the future when they saw it, though.

Steve Jobs’ legendary temper tantrums are not spared, as the members of the Mac team are driven harder and harder as the deadline to ship looms. By allowing the various participants to tell the story in this oral history fashion, Hertzfeld is able to sidestep any particular psychological discussions of Jobs, and allows his partners to simply report on what happened. And a lot happened, to be certain. The whole psychic powder-keg that was Steve Jobs is on display, and the reader is given a no holds barred account of what went on.

Hertzfeld has saved a great deal of ephemera from those days, as well as photographs, which he uses to illustrate the book in an intriguing way. Some of the rituals Jobs incorporated into the culture are intriguing. For example, when the first Mac was ready to be shipped, everybody who had worked on it signed the interior of the cabinet — artists signing their work, as it were. Of course, this gesture led to loads of bad feelings, as there were many who were not asked to sign, and felt slighted.

Revolution in The Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac was Made is a fascinating read, and a great “fly on the wall” account of the creation of one of the most iconic computer products of all time.

About Greg Barbrick

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