Unsung innovators: Andy Hertzfeld, technical lead for the original Macintosh system software

Andy Hertzfeld says he's as rocked today as he was on January 24, 1984, the day Steve Jobs unveiled the original Macintosh.

"It was incredible, like watching your baby come into the world and watching the world react like it did," says Hertzfeld.

Hertzfeld was the technical lead for the Macintosh system software and was the second programmer to join the project, after Bud Tribble. Hertzfeld was responsible for the overall architecture of the system and wrote a substantial portion of the system code himself, while helping the other programmers to integrate their parts.

He did a lot of the early grunt work, too. In 1981, he designed and implemented the initial device drivers and entire I/0 system. In 1982, he implemented the so-called "User Interface Toolbox," the code including windows, menus and buttons, among other graphical items.

He ported all these items from the Apple Lisa to work on the Mac's Motorola-made 68000 processor and the Mac's smaller memory footprint. In 1983, he designed and implemented most of the original desk accessories -- for example, the scrapbook and control panel.

There is not a hint of arrogance in Hertzfeld's voice when he says, "I really feel I helped change the world for the better."

In particular, that change meant "helping make computers easy and fun for ordinary non-technical users and taking the amazing spirit" of the Apple II, "which I worshipped, and porting it to the Macintosh."

Andy Hertzfeld

Andy Hertzfeld, original Mac hardware leadIt was a project "full of ups and downs," remembers Hertzfeld, pointing out that the Mac was an unpopular project among employees in the Apple II and Apple Lisa groups at the time it started up. In the early 1980s, the Apple II was responsible for most of the money coming into Apple and, like at most companies, insiders preferred to work on the most successful product team instead of on an upstart nobody could be sure would fly in the marketplace.

For its part, the Apple Lisa -- an expensive product that also featured a Xerox PARC-inspired interface -- was selling poorly. But Steve Jobs believed in the Lisa, the first Apple computer ever to sport a GUI. And the plan was for the Mac to be the follow-on to Lisa, the "Apple II for the 1980s," Hertzfeld says.

Hertzfeld didn't always have his eye on being a computer design wizard. He'd thought he'd be a college professor, and was in fact teaching computers at U.C. Berkeley when Apple fever hit.

"I loved the Apple II and I was a hobbyist. [On the side], I'd built a little program that would allow the Apple II to show lower-case characters. One of my students, Barney Stone, saw it, and said, 'Don't give it away, sell it.' At the time, I was giving all my programs away; that was all I knew how to do then."

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