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Woz. and Us

Steve Wozniak speaks out on rock concerts, Berkeley and new Apples.

David H. Ahl and Betsy Staples

What do a rock concert and an Apple Computer have in common? They are both brain children of Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and sponsor of the upcoming Us Festival.

We spoke with Wozniak in an effort both to cut through some of the PR hype surrounding the Festival and to get his opinion on recent developments in the personal computer industry.

The press information that announced the Us Festival back in May referred to "a union of computer technology and the traditional concept of people working together to solve common problems," an "event designed to graphically present how, by working together, our country can experience positive growth in the decade to come," and "the first meeting place where the 'computer underground' can exchange information and review major developments in computer technology... a dynamic educational experience."

What did Wozniak have in mind when he initiated plans for the Festival? "I had this neat image of Woodstock—lots of great groups in one place. I look through the newspapers every week, and I find very few concerts that I want to go to, and you never find a collection of good groups in one place. So my image was of that part of Woodstock."

He has subsequently done some research on Woodstock, including reading a book called Barefoot in Babylon, and "I never would have done this if I had read that book first."

How does he plan to avoid the disasters that befell the organizers of Woodstock? "We have some very professional people; we're not wild hippies with wild ideas who are just doing it for the sake of doing it. We want to make sure that it comes off well, that we look good, and that the community benefits from it. I hope it makes San Bernardino county look really good."

We asked who was financing the venture. "I'm financing it in a way, but I don't know yet if we'll make a profit. Right now we're going to lose money, but I think we are going to raise the ticket prices from the original $15.00 per day. I structured it so that I did not have much ownership of it. I had to keep 52% just so that I could say in the end, 'Yes, I want this group. No, I don't want that one.' And I want to make sure that I have a house for the night. Basically, it is structured so that I am lending the corporation enough money to do it, and then the corporation will pay me back.

"I would like to break even, but it's not currently forecasted to do that. I don't mind losing just once in my life."

According to the press release, "The Festival will be a celebration to underscore the need to shift away from the 'me' focus of the 70's to the 'us' decade of the 80's, creating an era in which Wozniak envisions people who will ask 'what's in it for us,' before asking 'what's in it for me.'"

"We've got some good ideas, and we would like to get people to start thinking about working together and cooperating rather than just complaining about how bad things are and not working to change them.

"People might look back in a few years and say that this was the start of something; we might be a focal point. But this is not a political event. We're not going to get on stage and try to tell people a whole bunch of ideas. We are just going to nudge them a bit in that direction—maybe in our brochures. The only politics is just to enjoy being together and smile."


Technology Fair

What about the Technology Fair? "Well, I'm changing directions on the Tech Fair. At first I thought it would be a computer user group get-together to which we would invite a lot of users from clubs and have on-site competitions—how fast can you write programs to solve certain types of problems? I thought it would be a big event—like a Hamfest.

"But all of a sudden I realized that the music had turned out so well that there was no way you could expect all of those hobbyists to sit on the other side of the lake in their tents. Now we plan to make the technology section similar to the World's Fair. We will have demos of some creative hardware and software applications graphics, art and music, and, of course, telecommunications. We hope to be receiving some things by satellite, and we plan to publicize it on The Source, bulletin boards, etc."

"My plan is to sell the first tickets to the Us Festival through The Source. I want to give the hobbyists the first chance to get the tickets. There will be a special camping area for them, as well as other private facilities. We want to give them preferential treatment."


New Products

We chatted a bit about some recently announced products, including the new 16-bit personal computers from Digital Equipment Corporation and some Japanese companies. We asked if those announcements would force Apple to introduce its new machine sooner than anticipated.

Wozniak responded, "I think with the Apple III Apple learned a big lesson about feeling forced to bring out a product early or on a certain date. I think Apple will be much more likely to wait until they can come out with a complete product."

Is the new computer in the final stages of development? "Yes, it is very far along, but sometimes it's hard to predict whether that last 10% will wind up taking 10, 20, 30, or 90% of your time. From what I hear, they are now finishing a bunch of software packages of graphics editors, word processors, and whatnot.

"As for hardware, the only problem is the floppy disk drive that we are building. It is very high density, and has been a problem for us for two years. It has been horrible."

We had heard that the new machine would use a 16-bit processor, so we asked which one. "I never call it 16-bit, because when you are writing software for it, a 32-bit machine is all you see; the architecture of the machine is 32-bit. The exact same chip will have a few extra pins for a 32-bit hardware bus transfer version. , "It's not really a 16-bit machine like the 8086 is. The 8086 has 16-bit registers, and of course, they implemented an 8-bit version of it, the 8088. But it is still the same machine."


"In that sense, although the 68000 has many 32-bit registers, it is still the same machine. You say 'load this register,' and you can load a byte, two bytes or four bytes and you are loading 32 bits. The 16-bit version of that chip just loads 16 bits of hardware at a time, but we did quite a few things to speed up even that.

"I think that it might possibly be the machine of the decade. You can do extremely fast memory moves, which help a lot in certain graphics and windowing situations or a graphics-oriented screen. I think Apple, like everyone else in the business, is heading toward a pure bitmapped screen because memory costs so little now. Why bother considering anything else?"


School Days

We next inquired about Wozniak's recent tenure as an undergraduate computer science major at Berkeley. He told us, "First of all, I go to class under a fake name. "Some people have figured it out, but I don't know whether any of the professors know. I'm in my final quarter."

We commented on the irony of the co-founder of Apple Computer studying computer science. Couldn't he teach most of the courses?

"Not really, because I'm more into finding solutions to problems. Sometimes I could teach things, but sometimes I have a lot of trouble. For example, I took a psychology statistics course and discovered that few of the psychology majors had ever used a calculator. I had the biggest advantage in the world, so I was tutoring them and writing programs in VisiCalc and Basic and on my HP calculator I was really learning it well.

"I came up with some new formulas for solving some of the problems. We had some very complicated factorial design problems that can take several hours to solve. So I came up with a great formula that was easy to solve, but I couldn't get anyone to listen to me except students.

"In my computer classes, I was just sitting back and working quietly. The first quarter I worked hard to get A's, the second quarter I worked hard enough to get B's, and this quarter I could care less."

Does he plan to go back to Apple? "I'm not sure. I'm going to take a rest first. I thought this year was going to be a rest being away from Apple, but I found myself getting to bed at 2:00 a.m. or spending all night doing assignments. I figured that if I'm going to work this hard, I'd rather be designing stuff for Apple.

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