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The Birth of the Mac: Rolling Stone's 1984 Feature on Steve Jobs and his Whiz Kids

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Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, one of the most important software companies in the country, has been observing the Macintosh program since 1981. "People concentrate on finding Jobs' flaws," he says, "but there's no way this group could have done any of this stuff without Jobs. They really have worked miracles." In fact, Gates thinks Jobs could slow down a bit. "He never turns it off," Gates says. "He's always pushing."

Jobs has a reason. "I don't want to sound arrogant," Jobs says, "but I know this thing is going to be the next great milestone in this industry. Every bone in my body says it's going to be great, and people are going to realize that and buy it."

Apple's goal is to establish Macintosh as the logical successor to the IBM PC and to its own Apple II. The company's internal Macintosh-marketing plan, a document loaded with military terms like "attack on launch" and "preemptive Lisa Technology," puts it on the line by saying that "failing to establish Macintosh as the third standard product could significantly decelerate Apple's growth curve." What Apple is up against is what is commonly called the "FUD principle": the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt people have about computers that makes them want to go with the tried-and-true company, IBM, even in the face of a technologically superior product like the Macintosh. Steve Jobs says that "the first hundred days are the key thing," and during that time, Apple plans an advertising blitz that will, says the marketing plan, "make the introduction of Macintosh the biggest event in the history of personal computing." Over $20 million in Macintosh television ads is budgeted for this year.

Another essential is the recruitment of outside companies to write software for Macintosh. Each computer with a new kind of operating system requires new software, and of the prime indicators of any computer's success is the quality and quantity of third-party software for it: that's what made IBM's PC so popular. Macintosh must do the same.

Mike Boich, whose Apple business card reads SOFTWARE EVANGELIST, has "seeded" nearly 100 third-party companies with Macintoshes before launch. Significantly, the software companies that have broken ground writing programs for the IBM PC are enthusiastically supporting Macintosh. Bill Gates of Microsoft says that half his company's 1984 revenues – perhaps $50 million – will come from selling Macintosh programs. The Mac, he says, "allows us to write software that is significantly easier to use. What it delivers for its cost is really great. If this machine can't make it, I don't know what can."

Still, there's the danger that the machine might not work as promised in the crucial first few months. That's what killed the Apple III. Almost every new computer has its share of bugs, but in its zeal to keep making the machine insanely great, the Mac team did not allow time for extensive user testing of the finished version, especially in the case of the Finder. Six weeks before launch, Bill Gates called the situation "ridiculous," but still thought that Apple's wizardry would save the day, as did the overworked Mac team: "It'll be ready," Bill Atkinson said definitively.

As deadline approached, though, there were some dark nights of the soul. "I'm really terrified," says Randy Wigginton, whose "MacWrite" word-processing program, along with Atkinson's "MacPaint," will be given free to those who buy Macs in the first hundred days. "If I had my way, the program wouldn't go out for six months. Sometimes at night, I wake up in a cold sweat, thinking of the thousands of people using it... If one college student, at three in the morning, loses his paper, it's my fault."

The worst possible nightmare, though, begins with everything going off without a hitch. Apple announces Macintosh at its January 24th stockholders meeting. The already completed computer-magazine cover stories appear with their inevitable accolades. The commercials run. The dealers put the Macs on display, underneath the special Macintosh posters supplied by Apple. The software packages begin to appear. Over fifty colleges start using the massive numbers of Macs they have already ordered ... And knowledge workers still persist in thinking of IBM's less sophisticated offerings when they pick a computer. That's a nightmare.

"When we started this project, IBM didn't have a machine. But we looked very carefully at their PC when they released it," says Chris Espinosa. "At first, it was embarrassing how bad their machine was. Then we were horrified [at its success]. We hope Macintosh will show people what the IBM was – a half-assed, hackneyed attempt at the old technology." If the world takes the trouble to turn on the Macintosh and looks at what it sees, there will now be two major personal computer companies in this country. And one of them will be a company with soul.

Related
Steve Jobs, Apple Founder Dead at 56
Tributes Pour In for Steve Jobs
• Rolling Stone's 1994 Interview With Steve Jobs
• Steve Jobs' Musical History
Steve Jobs: Rolling Stone's 2003 Interview
The Spirit of 1976: Steve Jobs, Jimmy Carter, the Ramones and a Climate of Hope
Steve Jobs Remembered
How Apple Commercials Have Changed Musicians' Lives

This story is from the March 1, 1984 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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