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Wozniak looks back

Consumer Electronics IndustryAir Transportation DisastersMusicApple Inc.Microsoft Corporation

Last of two parts

Though out of the spotlight since leaving Apple Computer Inc. in 1985, Steve Wozniak remains revered for his integral role in helping Steve Jobs establish the company in 1976. He is credited with single-handedly designing the Apple I and Apple II machines.

A native of San Jose, Calif., Wozniak was introduced to Jobs in the mid-1970s. Jobs was in high school when they met, while Wozniak dropped out of the University of California at Berkeley. He later returned to receive his degree.

Since leaving Apple, Wozniak -- known to many as, simply, "Woz" -- has dabbled in several unsuccessful ventures while devoting much time to philanthropic and educational causes. Among them were the US Festivals rock concerts he financed and organized in 1982 and 1983. They were broadcast live on MTV Music Television.

Wozniak, a relatively inexperienced pilot, was hurt in 1981 when he lost control of a single-engine plane while trying to take off. Three other passengers were seriously injured.

In January 2002, Wozniak announced the formation of a startup company, Wheels of Zeus, to design and build "new consumer electronics wireless products to help everyday people track everyday things." The company has not yet announced any products.

Wozniak, 52, was in Baltimore for the silver anniversary celebration of the Maryland Apple Corps. He received a standing ovation before beginning his remarks.

In an interview, Wozniak discussed the early days of Macintosh and his community service work.

How much did you contribute to the Mac?

A small contribution. I was on the Mac team for a short period of time because of my plane crash -- and my favorite people at Apple were there.

[My contribution was] just working with them, tossing around what ideas made sense about what belonged in a computer and how to do it at low cost. These were all the things that were in my heart. The only technical contribution I was making was working on a bit-slice processor design, but the [Motorola] 68000 came out, and the Lisa and Macintosh that day had to switch.

Windows has taken over the desktop. Looking back, if Apple had done things differently, do you think it might be the dominant platform?

I wonder if Apple would be as lousy if it were just a big mainstream product. Because there's something about being so huge -- and so many big companies with big dollars trying to market products that way. And everybody in the world with little products to choose from. I just wonder if it's harder to keep peace in that big family than in our small family.

Also, it's real easy to see that every computer in the world's a Macintosh. There was a time when Windows wasn't Windows. They had Microsoft DOS, and DOS was lines you had to type. And all the business people in the world said [mocking traditional business executives]: "This is real strong computing. This is capable business computing. The Macintosh is a toy because it has graphics and pictures."

And the funny thing is, when they switched over -- Windows 95, Windows 98 -- now they've got a Macintosh, but you don't hear the business people saying: "Oh, we were wrong. That really is the right way to go. It really doesn't have anything to do with the strength of the machine, it only had to do with what we wanted to say because we were bigoted."

Where do you believe computers will be in 10 years?

I don't feel I have that much of a different computer than I had 10 years ago. I was teaching classes, the Internet was coming in. We were doing video editing. It was expensive back then. Five years ago, I did exactly what I do now. I don't feel that how you live life is changing that greatly. OK, now instead of storing something on CDs, I store it on DVDs.

But it's not the quantum leap from 1976 to 1986?

What are we waiting for that's going to change the world right now? Something equivalent to the Macintosh operating system? It may be out there and I don't see it -- but I sure don't feel it. Also, computers had a little bit of excitement when not as many people had them.

With your sponsorship of the US Festival concerts back in the 1980s, which tried to combine music with technology, what is your opinion of the iPod, the iTunes Music Store and Apple's digital hub strategy?

The digital hub is the more careful noting of what people are doing in their lives and what place the computer has that's important.

And I think it's hard for Apple to come up with, "This is your Internet machine!" It's, like, it has no meaning. Everybody's gotten in on that. So, the digital hub is the appropriate place to be more than it is a direction. Even Microsoft has used those words.

What Apple's done though, is that they've got several of these iApps -- iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iTunes -- all working together. They synchronize between them: You can use the songs from one and the photos from another. And it's that level of integration that makes it seem like I've got one world that all works together. That's good for humans.

That's what Apple does. It's got a lot of programs where the natural, normal things you'd want to do are right there. You don't have to think as much. That's really where technology should go.

Can you talk about Wheels of Zeus?

No. No. It's a real neat idea. I'm real intrigued by it. We've got a great product. It did turn out to be about twice what we thought, in terms of expense and time to make, largely because we got into a big service angle -- instead of the product doing everything as hardware. But it's not going to come out from us.

If I were to talk about what it is, I'd be stepping on some other big company's toes. It's not time yet. Maybe July. It's looking like September to December.

You've been heavily involved in philanthropy over the years?

Oh. I gave away almost all my money. Absolutely. To very good causes. I'm so glad of it.

The US Festivals, I lost a lot for a good cause, but that wasn't given away. That was intended to be profitable. But I started the Children's Discovery Museum in San Jose, the Tech of Silicon Valley [a technology museum], the San Jose-Cleveland Ballet -- now called the Silicon Valley Ballet Co. -- and donated to downtown San Jose.

A lot of my philanthropy was in San Jose, so they named a street after me, which is cool. It's a good street: Woz Way. That's one of the things I'm proudest of in my life. I just think, "Who could ever get a street named after him?"

I also gave tons to schools, and a lot went into Soviet Union projects. And just anybody who called up and needed help -- kids, and some people who had class-action lawsuits. I would sponsor them. But worthy things.

Are you still involved in this kind of work?

Yeah, but very little, very little. I don't have that much of the money left. About nothing [laughs].

You don't seem to care.

Oh, no no. What do you care about in life? People grow up with different value systems.

And I never sought money. I didn't start Apple to make money. I never once went for it and it was just strange. It was just there. It's an encumbrance I have, and I've got to try to use it wisely. Solving worthy needs is more important.

And when you've had a life like mine -- where, if I defined what the most incredible thing that could ever happen when I was 6 years old -- it all happened in my life. I never had to search for a job. I got to invent great products, besides the Apple I and II. And start a company like Apple and all the things that have come from it.

I've had a life with so many of these great things -- the concerts I've put on. I'm so thankful for that. And all the great things I did regarding Russia-U.S. peace efforts back during perestroika.

If I were to write a list down, I couldn't even possibly remember more than a tiny bit of it. And when you think all of these wonderful things happened in a life, who could ever want more?

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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