Legendary developer, hacker, but also talented storyteller, Andy Hertzfeld was a key member of the Macintosh team throughout the 80s.
Together with Bill Atkinson he created the software core around which the computer “for the rest of us” revolved. Also very important was his enthusiasm in involving other creative people (among them, Susan Kare) to the team and last but not least his tireless chronicling -even when working for other businesses- of the folklore(s) of Apple and The Macintosh.
Since the Macintosh is now 25 we got in touch with Andy, who immediately agreed to answer to our questions on his role and involvement in Apple and other projects throughout the years, for which we thank him immensely.
Stories of Apple: What are your fondest memories of the work you did on the Macintosh?
Andy Hertzfeld: My fondest memory is probably the day of the introduction, which was the culmination of three years of hard work, and the day it finally hit the streets, becoming real to the world at large. But there are plenty of other fond memories, many of which I wrote about in my book (see the story “You Guys Are in Big Trouble” for example).
SoA: Do you feel the original Mac’s legacy is still present in the current Mac lineup?
AH: Sure, I think the unique spirit of the original Macintosh lives on in the current machines. One obvious reason is Steve Jobs – his strong values imbue the original Macintosh as well as the current ones. But even in the mid-nineties, before Steve returned to Apple, the Macs of the time still had much of the playful, rebellious character of the original.
SoA: Is there any particularly funny or weird story you were part of or you witnessed at Apple?
AH: Well, that’s pretty much the same question as the first one, and I’ll just refer you to my book (or the website it came from, folklore.org, which has plenty of them.
SoA: What and how was the relationship between Apple and General Magic?
AH: It evolved over time. It started out great – Apple was our original benefactor and General Magic couldn’t have existed without Apple’s enthusiastic support – but it soured when Apple decided to compete with us by changing the direction of the Newton into something similar to what we were doing.
SoA: Since the end of the Nineties you became more and more involved with open source (Eazel and then OSAF). How come?
AH: I became enthusiastic about open source in early 1998, when the Mozilla announcement drew my attention to “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”, a seminal paper by Eric Raymond, and I realized that open source software could solve the structural problems plaguing the software industry (i.e., the Microsoft monopoly, which stifled innovation) and become the basis of a better, open, fair and free computer industry. The openness allows anyone with a good idea to improve things for everyone else – in a proprietary system most people are locked out from doing that, since they can’t access or change the underlying code.
SoA: What do you think about the closed and restrictive developer program Apple chose for the iPhone with distribution only via the App Store?
AH: Well, it’s great that Apple opened the iPhone to developers even in a restrictive fashion – the thousands of applications make the iPhone much more useful, and even though Apple is a very creative company, it can’t match the imagination of thousands of diverse developers thinking up new applications. It sort of reminds me of the beginning of the personal computer industry or the Macintosh, where there was fertile, unplowed territory to develop in everywhere you looked.
There is some justification for the restrictions, so Apple can protect its users from malicious programs, but in the long run I think the restrictions will hurt the iPhone, as they inhibit innovation at important levels of the system. I also think it’s sad that Apple prohibits applications simply because they compete with the built-in ones – they should realize that competition is good for the platform and users. Eventually, I think creativity will trump control, and Apple will relax most of the restrictions, but it will be fascinating to see how it plays out over the next few years.
SoA: What are you working on now at Google?
AH: Sorry, but I can’t talk specifically about what I’m working on at Google, although I can say that it’s a unique web application that will hopefully be released soon.
Images are (c) by O’Reilly Media, Andy Hertzfeld, Eazel and their respective trademark and copyright holders.