Words On Words

The Miami Herald's Business Monday Book Club.
Click here for information.

Music Reviews and Features
Dion Dimucci

Lester Bangs in Buffalo

Lester Bangs in "Almost Famous"

The Cure In Concert

Peal Jam In Concert

History of Warner Brothers Music

Creolina's Cajun/Creole

People's Bar-B-Que and Soul Food

Penn Dutch Food Center


Originally published on Monday, January 1, 2005 in The Miami Herald

Tale of American genius gets to Apple's core.
The story behind Apple and its widely imitated Macintosh interface sheds light on the personal computer revolution and American innovation.

Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made. Andy Hertzfeld. O'Reilly. 291 pages.

It's a poorly kept secret, but we're all using Macintosh computers right now. Most of them, of course, use microprocessors made by Intel rather than Apple, and run Microsoft's Windows, not Apple's OS9 or OSX, but they're all direct descendants of the original graphic user interface and operating system created by an amazing group of computer artists in the early 1980s.

The popularity of the nascent Apple II microcomputer began the personal computer revolution, but that was just the beginning for the upstart company in Cupertino, Calif.

Author Andy Hertzfeld joined Apple as a young developer and eventually became a part of the team that was assembled to create the Macintosh, a revolutionary computer that didn't require arcane keyboard combinations or other specialized knowledge.

Its point and click commands, using a metaphoric, icon-driven method of running software applications and creating documents -- derived in part from the work of Xerox's seminal interface experiments -- is now the industry standard.

The story of the creation of the Mac is an exciting tale of creativity, innovation, ego and revolution. It's far more dramatic than one would expect, and certainly more than just a routine product development story, as evidenced in Hertzfeld's new book.

Derived from his website, www.folklore.org, which is an evolving attempt to chronicle the creation of the Mac, this book is a compilation of a number of stories from the site, but it's actually much more than that -- and a little less, too.

More, because the book is gorgeous. It's closer to a coffee table book than a computer-related volume. O'Reilly mostly publishes how-to manuals and the like, so kudos to them for recognizing that Hertzfeld's project required special handling.

In addition to his text, the accompanying photos, hand-written notes and other graphic elements are beautifully presented. Less, because the hyperlinks on the website are replaced by mere text references in this book.

Most computer hardware and software developers were and are fairly anonymous, but the advent of Apple turned founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak into household names.

Hertzfeld also limns vivid portraits of many of the colorful characters on the team, such as Burrell Smith, Bill Atkinson and Steve Capps, as well as others who may have been less flamboyant but whose contributions to computer design and usability are inestimable.

Susan Kare, for example, was unknown to me before I read this book, but she created nearly all of the Mac's icons and fonts (many with Hertzfeld's help) and later, as an independent designer, did the same for Microsoft's Windows' icons. It sounds like a mundane task, but Kare's genius simplified a vital element that could have been needlessly complicated and did so with intuitive elegance and appealing functionality.

There are ample business insights amid the memories. For example, the tough negotiating of Bill Gates resulted in Microsoft's perpetual license for the Mac interface, hence Windows' ''resemblance'' to the Macintosh operating system. And the often-irascible Jobs' early insistence upon design innovation and excellence is borne out in the company's current astounding success.

Whether you're a Mac person or a Windows user, this classic tale of American innovation is entertaining and insightful.

Like business books? Join the club.










©2004 Words on Words, All rights reserved.