Hertzfeld joined Apple in 1979. Before that, he had written several programmers’ guides for the Apple II and so was naturally set to work as part of the Apple II team on his arrival. He didn’t stay there, however, instead being transferred to the Macintosh project by Steve Jobs personally in 1981.
Hertzfeld can still remember Jobs’s first words to him: "I hear that you're creative. Are you really creative?" That very day Jobs decided to draft Hertzfeld into the Mac team. Hertzfeld was happy to join the fast-growing project, but wanted to finish his work on the Apple II. Jobs explained that the future of Apple was the Mac, not its 8-bit predecessor.
Hertzfeld’s contributions to the Mac are too many to list, but his work includes the Mac’s user-interface toolbox and Desk Accessories – handy little tools that included the calculator, notepad, the control panels and a sliding-number puzzle.
Even after he left Apple he didn’t stop working on the Mac. In 1985 Hertzfeld wrote Switcher, a multi-tasking addition to the Mac OS that was eventually partially incorporated into the operating system in the new MultiFinder, introduced with the fifth version of the operating system (System 4.2, Finder 6.0 – in those days Apple didn’t have unified numbering for its operating systems). Switcher allowed Macs to run several applications simultaneously, something which they hadn’t been able to do up until that point.
A Mac-user to this day, for the last few years Hertzfeld has been working on a Web-based project called Folklore. Dedicated to collective storytelling, it allows multiple users to tell their perspective on events. The first Folklore project is one that is familiar to Hertzfeld – the early development of the Mac.
The project has been a great success and Hertzfeld has turned his recollections into a much-anticipated book – Revolution in the Valley – to be published in January by O’Reilly Press and serialized in Macworld UK.
We caught up with Hertzfeld for this Macworld online exclusive.
First things first – what does the man who wrote so much of the original Mac OS think about the operating system that supplanted his work: Mac OS X?
“While I have mixed opinions of Mac OS X, I still think it provides a much better user experience for desktop users than any other alternative. I like the open-source approach to the Darwin/BSD.”
Does the rejuvenation of the Mac in recent years guarantee its survival?
“Of course not. Eventually, everything dies – it's just a question of when – but I think the Macintosh is pretty healthy right now, and in no danger of dying soon – especially if Apple continues to make the right moves.”
What about some classic Mac software from the early days? One of the most unlikely killer apps on the Mac was HyperCard. Seen by some users as little more than an address book or presentation program, HyperCard was in fact a precursor to the Web: a hyper-media authoring system which prefigured technologies such as HTML, Macromedia Director and Flash – except that it was not easily networkable. Does Hertzfeld think that Apple's failure to update Bill Atkinson's HyperCard is a missed opportunity for Apple? Should they revive it?
“Yes and some of HyperCard's innovations influenced other Apple products that live on like AppleScript, but Apple will never revive HyperCard because Steve Jobs sees it as Sculley's project, just like the Newton.”
Hertzfeld took a voluntary leave of absence from Apple in 1984, not long after the Mac was launched. He didn’t come back to the company, instead co-founding several companies including Radius and General Magic. Then, in 1999 Hertzfeld co-founded Eazel.
Eazel’s product was Nautilus, a file-manager for Linux desktops that attempted to combine Linux’s power with the Mac’s ease-of-use. Ultimately it failed, but not for technical reasons. The company simply failed to gain enough capital investment from venture capitalists – perhaps a victim of being ahead of their time.
Hertzfeld was not the only early member of the Mac team who didn’t stay at Apple. Steve Jobs was famously bounced out by the CEO he hired, John Sculley, in 1985. Jobs himself pushed some people out, including the man who founded the Mac project in 1979: Jef Raskin.
Raskin is well-known for his controversial views, notably that, “there is very little difference between using a Mac and a Windows machine”. What does Hertzfeld think about Jef Raskin's contribution to the Mac?
“I think Jef deserves a huge amount of credit for starting the Macintosh project and articulating the fundamental ideas behind it (an easy to use, low cost, high volume, consumer appliance computer). He also put together an amazing initial team to realize the ideas. But he left Apple during the early development stages and deserves little credit for the actual design and implementation of the Macintosh as shipped.”
Any strong opinions on Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak?
“They are both my heroes, but are quite different from each other. Woz is brilliant, honest, generous and kind, a great person in every way. Steve Jobs is more complicated. He can be very tough on people, and his ethics are sometimes questionable, but he is also a great person in his way.”
How does he feel about the Mac's potential as a gaming platform, both in 1984 and now?
“The Mac was never focused on being a gaming platform, but obviously it's possible to write great games for it. The main current limitation is market share – with less than 5 per cent of the market, developers don't have a strong incentive to make their games available on the Mac as soon as the PC.”
Does he have any favourite gadgets and Web sites?
“Apple Gadgets: iPod, Airport Express, Apple 30-inch cinema display. Websites: slashdot.org, news.google.com, boingboing.net and scripting.com”
What is Hertzfeld’s favourite Mac application?
“Probably iTunes, followed by iPhoto. I use [the text editor] BBEdit all the time, too.”
Does he have a favourite Linux app?
“My favorite app which runs on all three platforms these days is [file-sharing program] BitTorrent.”
Does he have any predictions for the future of computing?
“I predict that the network will continue to become much more important to our everyday usage. I expect my computing needs to be filled by a wide range of devices, embedded almost everywhere.”
Andy’s final comments betray his history as a Mac person: “I predict that even twenty years from now, if I'm alive, I will still be complaining that things are too hard to use.”