Woz, Hardware Philosophy and Philonumerical Triumphs



Picture courtesy of Geek Culture.

There’s a couple of data points about today’s Cult of Mac column on Wired News that didn’t make the cut because of length, so I’ll post them here.

The column concludes with an anecdote about the opposing design philosophies of Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. While Woz advocated open, commodity hardware, Jobs pursued closed, proprietary designs. And this of course, is the story of the PC industry. While Intel-compatible PC makers developed a standard, open hardware platform, Apple plowed a closed, proprietary route.

Apple has always been criticized for this, of course, but Woz eventually came to sympathize with Jobs’ approach. As he told Macworld in an interview:

“… I see two things that make Apple successful now where others aren’t. They are really a tight monopoly. They’re a hardware monopoly, and there’s no hardware monopoly on the other side. So that gives them some advantages in control and in pricing to have profits. A company isn’t going to be a good company and really develop better and better things if it can barely squeak by and doesn’t have good profits. Apple can have the profits that it needs to make these great, exciting products that are steps forward, instead of just kind of sitting in the competitive consumer throwaway product category everyone else is.”

The other thing I’d like to have included in the column is the delightful story Gary Wolf tells at the end of his insightful Wired magazine profile of Woz from 1998. The tale is the most appropriate I’ve read about the man:

“Among his other activities, Woz collects phone numbers, and his longtime goal has been to acquire a number with seven matching digits… after more months of scheming and waiting, he had it: 888-8888. This was his new cell-phone number, and his greatest philonumerical triumph.

The number proved unusable. It received more than a hundred wrong numbers a day. Given that the number is virtually impossible to misdial, this traffic was baffling. More strange still, there was never anybody talking on the other end of the line. Just silence. Or, not silence really, but dead air, sometimes with the sound of a television in the background, or somebody talking softly in English or Spanish, or bizarre gurgling noises. Woz listened intently.

Then, one day, with the phone pressed to his ear, Woz heard a woman say, at a distance, “Hey, what are you doing with that?” The receiver was snatched up and slammed down.

Suddenly, it all made sense: the hundreds of calls, the dead air, the gurgling sounds. Babies. They were picking up the receiver and pressing a button at the bottom of the handset. Again and again. It made a noise: “Beep beep beep beep beep beep beep.”

The children of America were making their first prank call.

And the person who answered the phone was Woz.”


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2 responses to “Woz, Hardware Philosophy and Philonumerical Triumphs”

  1. Peter Goodyear says:

    Looking back at teenage Woz’s history as a phone-phreaker and blue-box builder,

    (“blue box” – used for making unbilled long-distance phone calls)

    it looks as if the phone system is taking its’ revenge on Woz.