Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Is Apple trying to erase the legacy of Steve Wozniak?

Is Apple trying to erase the legacy of Steve Wozniak?

The most revealing part of the press release announcing the fact that Apple has open-sourced its Swift programming language lies right at the end. And it is rather disturbing.

Just one sentence tells it all: "Apple revolutionised personal technology with the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984."

There could not be a statement that is more wrong. Yes, Apple did revolutionise personal technology in the 20th century, but it was through the introduction  of the Apple II in 1977, a machine designed and created by Steve Wozniak, the one who is increasingly airbrushed out of the history of the biggest and richest technology company in the world.

The Macintosh was a project led by the late Steve Jobs, the man who is seen these days as synonymous with Apple. Maybe that is why the PR flacks at Apple are trying to make it seem as though he was behind the PC revolution

The fact is, if it were not for Wozniak, there would be no Apple at all. He was the technical genius behind the company, while Jobs was the marketing wiz.

Not only was the Apple II a breakthrough product, it also kept the company afloat during the days in the late 1980s and 1990s when it went through a great deal of turmoil and even came to the stage when people started wondering whether it would fold.

Wozniak was injured in a plane crash in 1981 and lost his memory. After this he was never the force he had been before it happened.

But the Apple II continued to be manufactured right upto 1993. (The Apple III was a failure). Around the time that the Apple II came to market, the spreadsheet VisiCalc hit the stores and given its compelling nature, served to boost Apple sales.

Jobs was never happy with the fact that, despite his marketing role in making the Apple II a success, it was always identified as a Wozniak project. So he tried to get a project named Lisa off the ground, to make a computer with a number of features that he had seen at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Centre.

But he was pushed off this project, Jobs then assigned himself to the Macintosh project which at the time was led by the late Jef Raskin. He slowly took it over and imposed his ideas. In 1984, the Macintosh came to market at a much higher price than had been originally visualised. The next year, Jobs was fired.

All this time, the Apple II was pulling in something like US$1 billion a year. But Apple was such a chaotic mess in those days, that it abandoned this model in 1993. The company gradually began a turnaround after Jobs returned in 1997. Today a lot of the history is forgotten.

In 2006, when Apple was once again on an upward trend, Wozniak's autobiography was released. Titled iWoz, it became painfully obvious to anyone who read it that the main reason it had been written was to remind the public that he was the technical brain behind Apple.

At that time, Jobs was becoming synonymous with Apple and thus one cannot blame Wozniak for writing the book.

But today, it looks like Apple's own PR department is trying to consign him to the realm of the forgotten.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.