If Silicon Valley had a Mt. Rushmore, you could do worse than chisel the form out of the photo op that erupted Wednesday when a few of Apple’s earliest employees ( think single-digit employee numbers ) stopped by the Computer History Museum to check out the resurrection of a rare Mac prototype.
It was an impromptu gathering to honor a 30-year-old machine that never shipped, but that had quite a story of its own. The so-called Twiggy Mac, named because the floppy drive was to be thin and beautiful (hey, it was a different time), sat as a conversation piece flashing those iconic Mac icons and a typing test in MacWrite.
And around it gathered many from the team that built the computer for the rest of us (check out the old Mac ad below) and the foundation on which it was built. There was Andy Hertzfeld, Randy Wiggington, Daniel Kottke, Chris Espinoza, Rod Holt, Larry Kenyon, Guy Kawasaki and others who washed in and out of the museum; during a gather that was more a party than a demo.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who was not involved with the Mac, was there, too, to celebrate the team and connect with old friends.
“I love to see old prototypes and the original equipment,” he said. “But really, the people that were there have so much more meaning and memories that it brings out.”
The Twiggy Mac was supposed to be the star of the show Wednesday. It was brought to life by Gabreal Franklin, who worked on the Mac’s word processor, and Canadian computer collector Adam Goolevitch. (Goolevitch has his own working Twiggy Mac, but thought better of checking it through on his flight to Silicon Valley.) But the people power on display soon eclipsed the processing power on the table in the middle of the room.
“I never thought I’d meet any of these people in my life,” said Goolevitch, a data cable installer who flew in for the informal event.
It was a little like watching Henry Ford crank up a Model T, as first Wiggington and then Hertzfeld sat down at the keyboard of the 128K Mac with the 5.25-inch floppy drive.
“Wow. This is amazing,” Wiggington said. “I can’t believe this still works.”
Of course, the machine immediately crashed. But only briefly. Next it was Hertzfeld’s turn. He gave the Mac mixed reviews as he put it through its paces.
“It’s got an hour glass cursor,” he said. “I don’t remember that. Hey, I wrote that. It seems slow to me.”
Slow or not, it was incredible that the machine worked at all. Yes, there’s a story.
The Twiggy Mac version never made it into mass production. Wiggington figures maybe 30 at the most were built. It turns out the Twiggy drive was unreliable and after much back-and-forth, Steve Jobs eventually agreed to install a Sony 3.5-inch drive in his beloved Mac.
A few of the prototypes survived, which is where Goolevitch and Franklin come in.
Goolevitch and Franklin, who’s a filmmaker splitting his time between Santa Cruz and Asia, met the way so many people do these days: through a series of computer-generated coincidences and referrals. The simple story (the longer story is on the pair’s TwiggyMac site ): Each had one of a handful of Twiggy Mac prototypes that have survived since the early 1980s. Franklin had the software that Goolevitch needed to run his Twiggy and Goolevitch had some of the working parts that Franklin need to run his Twiggy Mac.
Franklin, by the way, is the one who had used his Mac as a doorstop for a stretch. He was president of Encore Systems, the MacWrite company; and he claimed a Twiggy off a surplus pile when he worked for Encore.
“‘Locating the Twiggy Mac was easy,’ Franklin is quoted saying on the TwiggyMac site. ‘As a matter of fact, at Encore Systems, I had actually used this machine literally as a stop to keep my office door from swinging closed, for some years. I knew that I had also stored the Macintosh Twiggy disks somewhere.’”
And after long hours and late nights of tinkering, tweaking, fiddling with decades old parts, a simple celebratory tweet wasn’t going to do. So, Franklin engineered the impromptu reunion of some of the original Mac team at the computer museum in Mountain View.
“I’m just happy that we had so many folks come together,” he said, between filming interviews for a documentary on Apple’s early days that he’s producing.
And those who came seemed happy to be there, too. For them, it was something of an insanely great time to remember old times and tell old stories.
(Photo by Mercury News columnist Mike Cassidy)