Bill Fernandez describes himself as an “User Interface Architect” but he is much, much more. Being one of the first employees he has contributed immensely to Apple’s growth and development in various areas and has helped in the development of the Apple I, II and of course of the Macintosh.
We contacted him and he graciously and provided us with answers to our questions, covering in the process quite a big chunk of Apple’s history and also revealing interesting tidbits about his contribution to some well-known products, for which we thank him.
Stories of Apple: At Apple you worked as a hardware engineer, software developer, interface designer, project manager. Would you tell us more in detail a bit about all of your various roles?
Bill Fernandez: Shortly after Woz and Jobs incorporated Apple as a formal company they hired me as an Electronic Technician. Initially I worked in the garage of the Jobs family home where Steve’s dad had set up some workbenches for us. Later we moved into our first office on Stevens Creek Boulevard in Cupertino, CA, and then to our first Apple building on Bandley Drive, also in Cupertino. Over that time period I did a wide variety of technical tasks to assist and augment the efforts of the engineers and managers we werer rapidly hiring. For example:
- I ran a lot of errands.
- I built a burn-in box for the Apple I circuit boards (we’d put a dozen computer boards in a box that kept them hot while running so as to force any that were likely to fail early in their lives to fail in the first couple of days so we could fix them and insure that they’d be reliable once we shipped them).
- I drew the first complete schematic of the Apple II on drafting vellum so that we could make blueprint copies for everyone that needed them.
- When we received the first printed circuit boards for the Apple II, I assembled the first one.
- I built a burn-in box for the Apple II circuit boards.
- I modified a TV set to accept direct input from an Apple II.
- I taught Jobs how to use super glue to attach a speaker to the Apple II base plate (the secret is to use an extremely thin coating of the glue).
- And lots of other things.
After about a year and a half I left Apple, then returned in October of 1981 to become about the fifteenth member of the Macintosh development team, and stayed at Apple for the next twelve years.
Happily, I was given my old employee number (number 4), and my new title was “Member of Technical Staff”. Again I was a general technical resource and jack-of-all-trades, but this time at a higher level.
My role shifted as the needs of the group evolved. I laid out the floorplan for the first dedicated Macintosh building and coordinated our move into it. I kept the engineering lab stocked with tools, parts, and equipment. I managed a technician.
When we needed someone to oversee the development of the first external disk drive I became the project manager for that product, managing all the engineering work, travelling to Japan to work with Sony, working with the plastic molding company and so forth.
Later, I was assigned the task of creating a system for testing the Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) system. It ended up being a little hardware adapter attached to an Apple IIgs computer, and a program which I wrote in assembly code to exercise an ADB system under test and to give a Macintosh-like user interface on the screen for configuring the tester and displaying the results.
After that, Apple was working on its first flatbed scanner project. I proposed a user interface design for its operating software, which lead to working with an external company on adapting one of their products to be the software that ran the scanner.
Then my friend from the early Mac days, Bill Atkinson, asked me to work on the user interface design for a special project he was working on, so I was loaned by hardware engineering to him for several months. I did most of my work at either my home or his home.
This product was shipped as HyperCard.
After that I formally requested a transfer from hardware engineering into the Human Interface Group. I spend the next several years designing user interfaces for a wide variety of software: The Mac Finder, the Apple Fax Modem, QuickTime, etc.
So to some extent my changing roles were the result of the changing needs of Apple, and in some cases they were where I had an opportunity to explore new interests.
SoA: What are your fondest memories of the work you did on the Macintosh?
BF: Working with a great team of dedicated people on a work of love for humankind (i.e. the Macintosh).
SoA: You had a important role in defining some key aspects of the Finder such as the use of triangles to expand content and of networking/filesharing of the original Mac OS. What’s your opinion of the Mac OS X Finder and its Network/Sharing control panels?
[On the MAC OS X FINDER:]
Overall I find it much easier to use the Mac Finder than the Windows desktop, but I am becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the Mac Finder. There are many annoyances that are small, but since I use them daily they are quite frustrating: It’s too difficult to edit file names. Icons don’t always stay where you put them. Directory windows forget what view (icon, list, etc.) to open into. Cleaning up or aligning icons is poorly done. It’s hard to drag icons into gridded positions. A despite all the work that’s gone into Spotlight I find it very hard to find things when I need to search for them.
I dislike the dock, and basically don’t use it. I use Drag Thing instead.
I dislike being forced to have a sidebar in every directory window. In many cases it makes working with the Finder harder rather than easier.
The world really needs a way for people to manage the web of relationships between their files, and to integrate all forms of data into a unified filing space, and the Mac has made no real progress in this area for years.
It seems with each major revision of Mac OS X the behavior and UI of networking changes: sometimes making things better, other times just making them different.
I think that the networking control panels are, on the whole, pretty good. But I’ve had many frustrations with file sharing and using shared files, so I’m unhappy with several aspects of this functionality.
SoA: Do you feel the original Macintosh’ legacy is still present in current Mac offerings?
BF: Yes, very definitely.
SoA: You worked not only on QuickTime 1.0 but also on the Windows version: was it difficult to marry the elements of the Mac User Interface with those of Windows 3.1?
BF: Not particularly. It was not appropriate at that time to try to put a program with the Macintosh UI on a Windows computer, so instead I just tried to design the best possible Windows applications I could. I just has to learn how applications were supposed to behave on Windows, then just tried to design ones that would naturally fit into the Windows environment, while also being as beautiful, functional and easy to use as possible. I think it worked out fine.
SoA: What are you working on now?
BF: I’m a consultant, specifically a Consulting User Interface Architect. Companies hire me to design user friendly, custom software; or to help them learn to do a better job of developing software; or sometimes to desig and build corporate websites.