Apple Then and Now: From open to close

Posted on by Mike Evans

Author: Tony Cole

Way back on the day in the early 1970’s when Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, two young longhaired more-or-less hippies, created their Blue Box (a device intended to enable them to hack into AT&T’s network in order to make free telephone calls), and in passing, probably without realizing it, laying the foundations for the first practical PC, a major revolution took place, but quietly, obviously, as they were attempting – and succeeding – in being thieves in an electronic manner.

This was the start of Apple, as a computer maker.   A curious start when one looks at the monolithic and respectable company that it has now become.

Originally the ideals and thrust of their work, well, actually it was mostly Wozniaks work, was to create a PC that was completely accessible to its users.   As with most PC’s in the early days, users were actively encouraged to open up the box and tinker with everything inside it.  I remember those days with affection, as I was an Amiga owner in the mid 80’s and spent as much time with a soldering iron inside my computers as actually working with them.  This was completely normal in those days.   Everything was open and accessible, both hardware and software.

For Wozniak, this was more than simply a matter of practicality; it was almost a religion for him.   He believed strongly that computer users should be free to add software, written by whoever, hardware, bought or self-made or do anything they wished with their computers.   To this end, he ensured that its OS was accessible to us, and that the computers themselves came with a whole range of expansion slots, I/O sockets and enough power to drive anything we cared to bung into the PC.

Unlike Jobs, he wasn’t too concerned about how it all looked; function and freedom were his watch words. He was simply one of the first computer nerds in fact.

Openness was God

Jobs, on the other hand, whilst reasonably competent as an electronic tinkerer, was much more at home as a business man.

The Apple II is generally considered to be Wozniak’s greatest creation and also, sadly, his swan song as a driving force within Apple.   This PC was (with the Amigas and Ataris of those days) an amazing machine for those of us who took the trouble to learn how it all worked, and who enjoyed retooling the PC to meet our particular needs. In passing, I would mention that a typical OS of the time was about 750 KB!  Just enough to get the PC to start; we added everything else ourselves as we wanted.

Microsoft lurks waiting to pounce

A quiet enemy to the Apple movement had been lurking in the undergrowth all this time, the PCs that ran on MS-DOS.   Until the introduction of the first, clumsy version of Windows, the MS-DOS machines had not really been serious competition for all the PCs that had been using a Graphic Users Interface for years. 

But Bill Gates and his company very quickly by a combination of brilliant marketing and a degree of ruthlessness that had never been seen in the  - until then – relatively cozy world of computer makers, sort of took over the world of PCs.

Microsoft ensured that they had well-designed business software available for their PCs and marketed them fiercely at the business world, with the results we see today.

This more or less killed off all the other computer makers, who lacked the bloodlust of Gates, and one by one they shrank away.  Apple managed to hang on however, and this is where Jobs came into his own.

Jobs takes over

He changed the entire ethos of Apple, changed the name of the computers themselves to Macintosh (named after the McIntosh eating apple, but changed slightly to avoid copyright problems), stopped all the openness that Wozniak so strongly believed in, and turned Apple around, and created the hermetic company we all now know, and even love.

Is Honda responsible?

Personally, I believe he looked at the approach of the Japanese motorcycle makers of that time. They suddenly started producing high-quality machines that were almost impossible to maintain oneself (they argued that people didn’t want to sit by the road-side and get their brokendown motorbike to work again, as was normal with all bikes before Honda), and decided that Apple would adopt the same approach.

Jobs closes the door on Open Computing at Apple

He got rid of all the openness, made the computers almost impossible to open up, and had the OS rewritten as a closed OS, thus ensuring that it was almost impossible to tinker any more.   He also ensured that all software written for them was equally closed, and made sure that it conformed exactly to the requirements of Apple’s OS.

Basically he threw all of Wonzniak’s idealistic ideas out of the window, and reinvented Apple Computers from the ground up.

Further, Apple started to aim their machines squarely at high-end users, developing powerful software for graphical and musical users, and ensured that all software that could run on a Mac was compatible with all the other software packets that might be installed.

Enter Intel Inside

About the only concession Jobs has made to the PC world is to adopt an Intel CPU, thus enabling Windows software to run on Apple computers, but I suspect that not many Mac users make much use of this ability.

Also, he absolutely refused to contemplate allowing third-party manufacturers to make clone Mac computers.  It is an approach that ensures that his computers function as well as they generally do.  We have all experienced the hassles of cheap PC clones, haven’t we?

As a business man he also, unlike Wozniak, saw the importance in how Apple computers looked.   Rather like Bang and Olufsen, he spared no expense to ensure that all Apple products not only worked well, but looked beautiful as well.

As has been remarked elsewhere, the iPad is more or less the apotheosis of Jobs’ approach to marketing PCs and similar devices.  It is completely tuned into the Apple ideal, having an Apple specific connector to the outside world and I gather, no way it can be connected to anything other than another Apple device.

From open to closed

So Apple has moved from being an essentially open and revolutionary company to a fully paid up member of the world of commerce, and is now friends with all manner of organizations that in the early days it saw as its enemies.  Whilst this has ensured the survival of Apple as a company, it has been achieved by a total loss of all the ideals that Wozniak held dear. 


Tony Cole is editor of

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