The odd case for Motter Tektura

July 21st, 2014 12:18 PM
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Filed under History;
2 comments.

When I was in high school, my computer of choice was the Apple II. I still carried a Trapper Keeper. And I probably wore Reebok shoes. I must not have had an eye for design or detail, as I never noticed until this month that all three products used the same font: Motter Tektura.

Motter Tektura

Motter Tektura. Montage courtesy Gizmodo.

Gizmodo recently reported how this font, designed by Othmar Motter (1927–2010) in 1975, defined a decade of consumer products. But I'm surprised it made its mark on Apple, given that much of what Apple has done (and still does) is proprietary. In his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, Steve Jobs said:

If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Apple's Susan Kare designed many of the company's fonts, such as Chicago, Geneva, and Monaco. While the Motter Tektura font's use predates her 1982 addition to the Apple staff, I can still imagine the Steve Jobs of the 1970s demanding that the Apple II be branded in a way completely inimitable. With both Kare and the Macintosh years off, maybe early Apple lacked the resources to be developing its own fonts, especially if they were for marketing purposes only and not to be used by the system software itself.

But knowing that this font was on both my favorite computer from my childhood, an organizational device that my classmates mocked, and a ratty pair of mud-caked footwear … is an odd association to make, even all these years later.

Remembering the Apple II

April 8th, 2013 9:28 AM
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Filed under Hacks & mods, History, Mainstream coverage;
2 comments.

A recent CNET story has popularized the unearthing of design schematics for the Disk ][ floppy drive and the contract that outsourced its operating system. This story has been a Big Deal, having been picked up by TUAW, Slashdot, A2Central.com, and others.

This story is also an opportunity to consider the scale and scope of computer history. We Apple II users have gobbled up this news, but I suspect it hasn't achieved awareness outside the small circles of retrocomputing enthusiasts and computer historians. After all, what relevancy does the Apple II have to the Apple Inc. of today, whose foundation lies not in desktop or even laptop computers, but in cell phones, tablets, and MP3 players?

It wouldn't be the first time the Apple II has failed to penetrate the public awareness. When I presented the history of the Apple II to the Denver Apple Pi users group, the audience was eager and receptive — with one exception. When one person learned the topic of my speech would be the computer that Apple made before the Macintosh, her response was, "Apple made computers before the Macintosh?" She didn't see the relevancy in this archaic machine and chose not to stay for the presentation.

Similarly, when I recruited Jason Scott as a guest speaker for my college course, he asked my students the loaded question, "How many of you would agree with me if I said Nintendo is thirty years old?" Nintendo was in fact founded in 1889 and dabbled in many industries, from playing cards to hotels to taxi services, before landing in electronic entertainment. Home video games are just a blip in the timeline of the company that set the standard.

These are just two examples of modern consumers being ignorant or uncaring of the lineage behind their everyday tech. I don't know that this oversight is necessarily evil so much as it is the product of irrelevance. Is it one we need to change? I would presume that awareness of the existence of pre-Macintosh computers has improved since the passing of Steve Jobs, but my experience is that just as many people as ever respond to my stories of the Apple II with a comment such as "That was my first Mac!"

The Apple II was sold for 16 years, 1977–1993. Sixteen years ago this year, Steve Jobs returned to Apple. That second era has achieved historical notoriety, both for the metaphoric prodigal son's return and for the reinvention of Apple Computer Inc. as a profitable company. Yet what was long the flagship product of the company's first 16 years seems to have fallen from public consciousness. Is all tech history susceptible to the vagaries of time? Or is the popularity of computer history directly proportionate the penetration of that era's computers? Since 1970s computers were not widely adopted by the mass market, is their history similarly of limited appeal? Do we need to improve the Apple II's public image — not just for the health of our retrocomputing hobby, but for the annals of time? If so, how?

I welcome your historical perspective on this matter!

ABC & inThirty talk to Woz

June 4th, 2012 12:32 PM
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Filed under Mainstream coverage, Steve Wozniak;
1 comment.

Steve Wozniak's star continues to shine brightly, with media appearances all over the world and the Internet.

In May, Woz spoke with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) of Sydney. The MP3 of the interview is short, clocking in at fewer than ten minutes. The only new piece of information I gleaned was that (if I understand correctly) the Apple-1 was designed not with a personal computer in mind, but an Internet terminal. That's unsurprisingly prescient of Woz.

More interesting yet less publicized was Woz's Leap Day interview with tech podcast inThirty, hosted by Justin Freid. Part one (iTunes) and part two (iTunes) each run about 30 minutes, for one hour total. These interviews are much meatier, conducted as they are by a tech guru and not a mainstream media anchor, even though both inThirty and ABC want to know about Woz's relationship with the late Steve Jobs.

inThirty's exchange most relevant to Apple II Bits readers was prompted by the question: "How much of the Apple II do you see in the iPhone and iPad? Is that philosophy of Apple being an engineering company still prevalent?" Woz's answer:

It's very hard to see any similarity between the Apple II that I designed and the iPhones and iPads today in terms of the product features… I built the Apple II for myself, and Steve Jobs wasn't around — he was up in Oregon, he wasn't talking to me… Here's what's similar … the Apple II, I just built them because I wanted a computer to do my work at Hewlett-Packard… I wanted to play games and have a machine for fun… that was all I ever wanted out of the thing, and as such, I was building it for myself… It's very important to know who you're building something for, so that it comes out good and consistent for that person, and the person was only one person, which was myself. I like things simple, clean — I don't want them full of stuff that nobody understands. That's a beauty to me.

Woz likes things simple and clean, yet he pushed for the Apple II to have seven expansion slots, against Steve Jobs' wishes. Is the sleek, streamline form factor and interface of today's iOS devices therefore not the antithesis of Woz's philosophy, as commonly believed, but rather its realization?

Laboratory origins of the Apple II

August 18th, 2011 4:02 PM
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Filed under History;
1 comment.

The past week has been one of milestones: the IBM PC turned 30, just days before the Web itself turned 20. Of course, both are still whippersnappers compared to the Apple II, but it's timely to consider the birthplace of that and other innovations.

Of course, Steve Wozniak was the genius behind the Apple II, but many of the ideas found in the Apple II and other computers were devised in collaborative environments. A recent story looks at six computer labs that gave birth to the digital world. The penultimate page is dedicated to the many innovations to come out of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and how they influenced Apple's products:

These inventions culminated in 1973 with the Xerox Alto, the first GUI-driven personal computer (check out the three-button mouse!) Sadly the Alto was never sold commercially, and only 2,000 units were built — but don’t worry, its legacy lived on with the 1977 Apple II, the first mouse-and-GUI-driven home computer, and the 1984 Macintosh.

Although the Apple II did indeed have a mouse, I (as some article's readers do) think the author intended to reference the Apple Lisa. Steve Weyhrich's history of the Apple II supports that reading:

Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) develops the “Alto”, a breakthrough computer which used a pointing device called a “mouse”, a bit-mapped graphic screen, and icons to represent documents. Also, it had a 2.5 megabyte removable disk cartridge and the first implementation of Ethernet. It cost $15,000 just to build it, and only 1,200 were ever produced. This computer and the Xerox Star were the inspirations within a decade for the Lisa and the Macintosh.

Readers also take exception to a statement on the preceding page that "in 1981, IBM released the Personal Computer, the first home computer made from off-the-shelf parts". Was not the Apple II that machine? At least one reader says yes:

The Apple II was all off the shelf parts 6502 processor, 4K memory (8102 DRAM?), etc. There were no custom IC's. The only "non off the shelf" were things like the power supply, keyboard, paddles, etc. The same was true for other microcomputers sold before IBM played catch up with the 5150 (including the Altair 8800). On all of the microcomputers, (including the IBM 5150) the design, circuit board, case, keyboard, expansion slots, power supply, were custom as well as the BIOS. The IBM 5150 helped to mainstream microcomputers (outside the classroom) because "No one ever got fired for recommending IBM" — a common quote from that era.

What say you, dedicated retrocomputing enthusiasts? Did the author of this gallery do his homework, or are a few of his facts a wee bit off?

The questionable role of Steve Jobs

October 14th, 2010 1:58 PM
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Filed under History, Steve Jobs;
7 comments.

When I was a teacher, I asked my 11th-grade students who founded what was then called Apple Computer Inc. "Steve Jobs!" they confidently replied. I prompted them, "Yes, he was one of two Steves. Who was the other?" I died a little bit inside at their blank stares, then showed them G4's special on the Apple II to rectify the matter. (They were, surprisingly, impressed by Wozniak's wizardry as demonstrated in that show.)

Sadly, it is not just the next generation whose reality has been distorted. Whatever Apple's origin, Steve Jobs has attained a popular culture ranking greater than his counterpart and will go down in history as having had more impact on the company. But does that belief reflect historical truth?

Doubtless much of Apple's success has been attributed to Jobs. Last month's Juiced.GS cited Carmine Gallo's book The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, which outlines seven principles Jobs has used to attain success:

  1. Do what you love. Think differently about your career.
  2. Put a dent in the universe. Think differently about your vision.
  3. Kickstart your brain. Think differently about how you think.
  4. Sell dreams, not products. Think differently about your customers.
  5. Say no to 1,000 things. Think differently about design.
  6. Create insanely great expectations. Think differently about your brand experience.
  7. Master the message. Think differently about your story.

Gallo's book is not the first to define these concepts. The Cult of Mac recently interviewed John Sculley, CEO of Apple 1983–1993. In that lengthy transcript (8,321 words!), the former sugar water salesman affirms several of the above points, including #4:

[Jobs] always looked at things from the perspective of what was the user's experience going to be? But unlike a lot of people in product marketing in those days, who would go out and do consumer testing, asking people, "What did they want?" Steve didn’t believe in that.

He said, "How can I possibly ask somebody what a graphics-based computer ought to be when they have no idea what a graphic based computer is? No one has ever seen one before." He believed that showing someone a calculator, for example, would not give them any indication as to where the computer was going to go because it was just too big a leap.

And #5:

What makes Steve's methodology different from everyone else's is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do — but the things that you decide not to do. He's a minimalist.

But are Jobs' philosophies truly what drove Apple to success? In Susan Lammers' 1986 book Programmers at Work, an interview with the late Jef Raskin, a former Apple employeee, offers a different perspective:

If Jobs would only take credit for what he really did for the industry, that would be more than enough. But he also insists on taking credit away from everyone else for what they did … He has not designed a single product. Woz designed the Apple II. Ken Rothmuller and others designed Lisa. My team and I designed the Macintosh. Wendell Sanders designed the Apple III. What did Jobs design? Nothing.

Andy Hertzfeld offers an opposing view of who can be considered the father of the Macintosh, but that computer is just one example. Mike Maginnis brings the above product line up to speed by amending it with the iPod, the design of which should be credited to companies PortalPlayer and Pixo. So what has Steve Jobs actually designed Apple Inc.? "Probably not as much as Jobs would like you to think," Maginnis suggests.

But as far as our favorite computer is concerned, there is one story that most sources agree on — one quoted in The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs and retold in Sculley's recent interview:

If you go back to the Apple II, Steve was the first one to put a computer into a plastic case, which was called ABS plastic in those days, and actually put the keyboard into the computer. It seems like a pretty simple idea today, looking back at it, but even at the time when he created the first Apple II, in 1977 — that was the beginning of the Jobs methodology. And it showed up in the Macintosh and showed up with his NeXT computer. And it showed up with the future Macs, the iMacs, the iPods and the iPhones.

Jobs may not be the design genius he's made out to be, but his marketing genius is significant. Last month made 25 years since he was ousted from Apple; compare the decade without Jobs to the years since his return in 1996, and you'll find the company has been revitalized and made significantly more profitable.

It was during Jobs' absence from the company he founded that the last Apple II, the template for all that was to come from Apple Inc., rolled off the production line. He may have been responsible for the commercial success of the computer, but he cannot be directly blamed for its death. In the end, what else matters?