Jack of all Apple trades – Interview with Bill Fernandez

Filed under: Hardware,People,Software

Bill Fernandez todayBill 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.

Bill Fernandez signature inside the Mac 128kAfter 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.
(more…)

Wednesday 12 January 2011, 6:00 pm
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The “Fat” Mac

On September 1984 Apple released the follow-up to the Macintosh, addressing one of the major complaints of potential buyers.

Sold for USD 3,300 (or 3200, according to some sources), the Macintosh 512K was nicknamed “Fat Mac” for its increased (four-fold) RAM memory but was otherwise identical to the original Macintosh, as one can see from the dual-purpose motherboards.

In an 1984 interview in Byte with three of the original designers of the Macintosh, Jef Raskin actually revealed that the expansion was planned since the beginning and wasn’t an afterthought.

At the question

You started with 64K bytes and it was released with 128K bytes, and there is constant talk of a half-megabyte Mac. When did a half megabyte creep into the design philosophy?

Raskin answered:

Very early on Burrell [Smith, the motherboard designer, nda] pointed out that it’s very easy to make a design, once you had the 68000 in place, where you could just take out 64K-bit chips and put in 256K-bit chips. I’ve always believed that you just simply take the largest chip that is economically feasible to use in terms of the memory, and if they’re bit-wide chips and you use 8 or 16 of them, then that should be the size of your memory. […] Burrell loves designing for it, software part portion had no trouble handling that, and it was was very clean. When the 256K-bit chips come you just plug in all those and everything runs just about the same.

And things ran just about the same, but better: the 512k greatly improved application usage and even some operations helping avoid issues such as the “Disk Swapper’s Elbow”.

It was discontinued in April 1986, replaced by the 512Ke which had bigger ROMs (128K instead of 64) and used more capacious 800KB floppy disks.

The motherboard in the picture was gently provided by Maurizio Buso

Tuesday 08 September 2009, 8:37 am
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Meet the Apple 32 SuperMicros

Filed under: Hardware

In the original press release from January 1984 one could read that the

Macintosh, along with three powerful new Lisa 2 computers, forms the basis of the Apple 32 SuperMicro family of computers. All systems in the family run Macintosh software.

and that

“We believe that Lisa Technology represents the future direction of all personal computers,” said Steven P. Jobs, Chairman of the Board of Apple. “Macintosh makes this technology available for the first time to a broad audience–at a price and size unavailable from any other manufacturer. By virtue of the large amount of software written for them, the Apple II and the IBM PC became the personal-computer industry’s first two standards. We expect Macintosh to become the third industry standard.”

This was a marketing attempt Apple made to capitalize on the distinction between the old 8 and 16 bit and the newer and more powerful 32 bit microcomputers and at the same time a way to present the Mac and the Lisa together to help a bit with the (poor) sales of its’ first computer with a GUI.

The “Apple 32 SuperMicros” monicker was actually used internally at Apple since November 1983 and than used in some of the promotional material the following year, grouping the Mac with three Lisa configurations (without an external hard drive, and with a 5 MB or 10 MB ProFile drive).

The brochure scans are taken from ballistikcoffeeboy ‘s photostream on Flickr.

Monday 26 January 2009, 8:01 am
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The people behind the Macintosh

Filed under: People

Storie di Apple - Original Mac people

“The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organization and keep it at bay. I can’t spend enough time here, unfortunately, because I have other responsibilities. But every spare moment I have, I dash back because this is the most fun place in the world.

This is the neatest group of people I’ve ever worked with. They’re all exceptionally bright, but more importantly they share a quality about the way they look at life, which is that the journey is the reward. They really want to see this product out in the world. It’s more important than their personal lives right now.

The Apple II had a magical feel about it. You couldn’t quantify it, but you could tell. The Macintosh is the second thing in my life that’s ever felt that way. Opportunities like this don’t come along very often. You know somehow that it’s the start of something great. So everyone wants it to be perfect and works really hard on it. Everyone feels a personal responsibility for the product.

The Macintosh is the future of Apple Computer. And it’s being done by a bunch of people who are incredibly talented but who in most organizations would be working three levels below the impact of the decisions they’re making in the organization. It’s one of those things that you know won’t last forever. The group might stay together maybe for one more iteration of the product, and then they’ll go their separate ways. For a very special moment, all of us have come together to make this new product. We feel this may be the best thing we’ll ever do with our lives.”

Steve Jobs in 1984 in the first issue of Macworld

Saturday 24 January 2009, 9:27 am
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Happy birthday, Macintosh!

Filed under: Hardware

MVC-148F

The motherboard pictured was gently provided by Maurizio Buso

Saturday 24 January 2009, 8:30 am
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