Steve Wozniak will probably always be known first as the inventor of the personal computer. I suspect he would prefer to be remembered as a nice guy and as a human being possessed of a lot of humanity.

Ever since building the Apple I in 1976, he has been insisting that he is just a normal kind of guy doing normal kinds of things, and trying to do the right thing by people and be honest. Few have believed him, and his celebrity has turned him into something of a recluse in the ultra-wealthy neighbourhood of Los Gatos, California where he lives with his third wife, Suzanne and their three children. They are joined on alternate weeks by the three children from his previous marriage to Candice (Candi). His first marriage, to Alice, ended amicably, he says, but with no children.

Woz—everybody (except his wife and others who knew him before Apple) calls him Woz—has, apparently, left Apple Computer behind him, even if many of his fans are reluctant to do the same. He is now occupied in a new business project called Wheels of Zeus. This is shortened to wOz, and the website is He also has a personal website, which addresses many of the FAQs about his life and especially his invention of the computer, the early years at Apple and his relationships with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and others.

Apple fans should note that in the biography on his home site, his time at Apple Computer is listed thus, 1979 designed early Apple Computer products. And that's all. He writes nothing else about those years in the biography.

Apart from his Apple fame, Woz has organised rock concerts, including some of the first US/USSR cross-cultural events. Through this he has become personal friends with Joan Baez and others. He has spent a great deal of time and much money to encourage local children to better understand computers, and has strongly supported the local education authorities in their efforts to provide IT education and training, through his resources and through his own personal activities.

Oh, and, he says, he loves children and dogs. Hmmm

The lead-up to Apple

First, don't believe half the stuff you saw in the made-for-TV movie, The Pirates of Silicon Valley

Born on Aug. 11, 1950, in Sunnyvale, California, Woz found he was good at science and maths. He started reading Tom Swift books and then got more interested in building circuits. He won his Ham radio licence by the 6th grade (age 11), when he was also completing serious electronics projects. He became interested in phone phreaking after reading a 'Fictional' article about Blue boxes in the October 1971 issue of Esquire magazine. By this time, his best friend was Steve Jobs and Woz called him while reading the Esquire article to discuss the ideas it raised.

In 1972 Woz joined the EECS (Electrical Engineering and Computer science) program at University of Colorado at Boulder, followed by a year at the DeAnza Community College (in Silicon Valley). He then moved on to the University of California at Berkeley, but dropped out in his senior year. He did not complete his Berkeley education until 1986, but in 1976 he took a job at Hewlett Packard, designing calculator chips.

Woz designed and built a whole series of computers from the age of around 20 onwards. Even in his 6th grade at Sunnyvale, he built a machine that played Tic Tac Toe,

There were a number of computer kits available at the time. They comprised a circuit board carrying a simple microprocessor, a very limited memory and a Hex keypad, with a simple one-line alphanumeric display. They were completely non-intuitive, and most, if I recall correctly, needed to be programmed in assembler code, or directly in Hex.

Computers aside, Woz knew enough electronics to make shapes appear on an ordinary TV screen, and he had a typewriter, so he combined these input and output devices to make a computer which could accept typewritten instructions and display text and graphics on the TV screen. He took it into his work at HP and managed to program it to solve some engineering problems, So I knew I had something good, he said.

Because he was first an engineer and second a businessman, Woz made blueprints and handed them round to anyone who asked for them. He spent hours at peoples' houses, soldering the components together to make computers.

Around this time, Allen Baum, Wozniak's colleague at HP invited Woz along to a meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club, where he met Dan Sokol. The two became friends, and in 2001, Woz accepted the Heinz Award.

Here is what Baum said of the now infamous meeting of the HCC in April 1976. He referred to Lee Felsenstein, leader of the HCC at the time

"I do remember when he brought the prototype to the Homebrew computer club, Allen recalled. "There was no cassette interface yet. He was working on BASIC thing, he was up in the back typing in BASIC in hex; the entire thing. Now Steve has many talents, one of them is he's a really fast typist-he'd make any secretary green with envy-and he's a really, really accurate typist, so before intermission he got BASIC all the way in, and he was able to demonstrate."

There was no event where The Two Steves hi-jacked a meeting of the HCC, according to Felsenstein. Instead, Woz and Steve Jobs quietly got on at the back, demonstrating their stuff.

Beyond that, Woz's contributions to Apple Computer have been widely reported, so I am not going to go into them here.

The Apple years

Apple Computer was formed, Woz did some serious, kick-ass engineering on the prototypes—both hardware and software—and then developed them a bit more, and the rest, as they say, is history. Woz was then, and remains to this day the only person ever to build both hardware and software for a computer which became a commercial success.

Just to underline why Woz is called the inventor of the personal computer, I want to take a quote from his own site:

"I wrote our first BASIC single handed, while designing the Apple I and Apple II computers and a ton of peripherals including the floppy and writing our mini-OS's and lots of support code. And don't forget that the Apple I was the first small computer ever to come with a keyboard and look like a typewriter. The Apple II was the third such one and was the first of this breed to be completely assembled, the first in a plastic case, the first with a cool switching power supply that permitted plastic, the first with a large DRAM capability, the first with color graphics, the first with hi-res, the first with sound, the first with paddles, the first with game commands in the BASIC, the first with BASIC in ROM, the second to use your free home TV (Apple I was first), and a few more important things that shaped personal computers forever. I did what Ed Roberts and Bill Gates and Paul Allen did and tons more, with no help. That's not clear yet."

To conclude, I want to add this piece as well, because it might help explain more about the origins of Apple Computer.

Steve Jobs didn't ever code. He wasn't an engineer and he didn't do any original design, but he was technical enough to alter and change and add to other designs. I did all of the Apple I and Apple II myself, including the feature choices. I did all of the BASIC myself (it's in handwriting as I couldn't afford an assembler). The only person who helped write some of the Apple II code was Allen Baum, who helped with the 'monitor' program.

Woz remained with Apple until 1980. During that year he married his first wife, Alice Robertson, although the marriage did not last, they split amicably. That was also the year Apple Computer went public, and Woz is thought to have become worth around $45 million. He bought a powerful private aircraft, a Beechcraft Bonanza, but in February 1981, it crashed soon after taking off from Scotts Valley airport. Woz said the best explanation he has been able to work out is that he did not have enough take-off speed, but he still has no memories of the event, or of his stay in hospital afterwards.

Woz survived, but could not form any new memories for five weeks, lost a tooth and suffered facial injuries. He continued to fly after the crash, explaining that since he had no memory of the crash, he had no fear of flying. Nevertheless, This near-death experience triggered a change in emphasis in his life. Having nearly died, he felt more drawn to people and their passions than to technology.

Although he returned to Apple for a short time, he soon left for an extended leave of absence, leaving Jobs in charge of the company. This was no loss, as Woz has always said he has worked hard throughout his career to avoid being in charge of companies, preferring instead to do the engineering and help the people.

Again, here is what Woz himself said about that on his own website:

I did give a LOT of stock to early employees that had none because it was the right thing to do morally. I was determined to be an engineer and a good person and never a politician and never run a company and I achieved that. I only served at the bottom of Apple's organization chart all these years.

1980s: Rock festivals

After the plane crash, Woz returned to Berkeley under a pseudonym (Rocky Raccoon Clark) to complete another year of his course. But he dropped out again, in 1982 he returned to Apple working on the Apple II electronics, but left for good in 1983. Nevertheless, Woz remains on the Apple payroll and continues to this day, to get a small paycheck from the company. He absolutely denies the rumour that he and Jobs are, were or ever have been enemies, blaming it on a Wall Street Journal reporter who distorted Wozniak's words.

From there, Woz has organised rock festivals and taught kids about computers. He gave many of his students Apple laptops. It is surprisingly hard to come by information on these areas, as they are less glamorous than the Apple years, but again, according to, the education is something of a hobby for Woz, he was inspired by his teachers in Sunnyvale who went beyond the bare minimum and helped him with projects, or helped him to really understand the classwork and extra projects.

Of the rock festivals, Woz created the organisation Unuson (Unite us in song) after an idea which occurred to him in Spring 1981. He was listening to a progressive country/western radio station (KFAT) near Santa Clara, when the idea of a 'western Woodstock' struck him. He thought it might attract the BMW Cowboys and other fans of 'hip country music'.

see for a complete explanation.

Woz married Candice (Candi) Clark Wozniak in June 1981. During the run-up to the wedding, Woz spoke with the manager of some famous artistes and mentioned the idea of the western Woodstock. Although Candi was not keen, Woz had the idea and took it forward.

He met with Dr. Peter Ellis, a well-known logistics person, while at summer school in Berkeley in 1981. Once Woz had signed a large cheque to guarantee the costs of the event, things rolled forwards quickly, and Ellis suggested a satellite link-up with the USSR as well as a tech fair and other add-ons.

By May 1982, he had signed up with the promoter Bill Graham and set the date for Labour Day 1982 and the venue was Glen Helen country park near San Bernadino.

Two nights before the event, his wife went into labour (two weeks early) and their first son, Jesse John Clark was born.

Woz says the event was a success. And according to reports it was, in all but financial terms. It lost "substantially more than" two million dollars, according to Woz, but that, it seems, is not the point. Following extremely positive feedback from the fans, the promoters and artists such as Stevie Nicks, Woz put on a second festival on Memorial Day 1983 at the same venue, which included many of the top names of the day: Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings and others.

The marriage to Candi ended amicably in 1987

1990s: Education

If the 1980s were spent more or less on rock festivals, then the 1990s were spent in education of one sort or another. Woz developed a teaching programme, he helps the local education authorities with technology—and money—to hire good people and install appropriate technology.

I've got accountants and secretaries to handle everything so I can spend as much time as I can doing what I like to do, which is to work with computers and schools and kids.

Woz is much more interested in the people than the kit. He says he no longer has the fanciest computers available. Sure, he can afford them, and many of his friends also buy the latest accelerated machines, but what Woz has is a normal kind of machine with which he can show others how to use normal kinds of machines.

For schools and homes, you really just want to buy something that's kind of there and usable, without adding everything in the world to it

From 1996, Woz became the computer support service for Los Gatos Unified School District. He supervised, or funded or specified 11 technology labs, together with equipment and connections, provided technology planning. Beyond this, he planned and wired the local networks with the schools and the Area network connecting schools with the Internet and other networks.

He offered support for teachers in basic computer usage and network topics. He prepared and taught classes for 5th graders, covering homework preparation, computer understanding, computer maintenance, and other topics. He prepared and taught advanced computer classes from 5th up to 8th grade in local schools. He has given laptops (Apple of course) to hundreds of local students and and permanent AOL accounts to students, ex-students and teachers.

He has provide servers for multiple internet access and maintains (with a team) most of the computer equipment in the schools. Woz adds that he , Provides funds for almost any computer proposal in our district, even if I'm not involved in the implementation.

2000s: Return to the marketplace

In January 2002 Woz announced a new company called Wheels of Zeus (wOz) which aims to employ 'the convergence of wireless networks, the internet and other emerging technologies to design devices and services accessible to all.' Few details have emerged of the products he is working on, but the company won $6 million in venture capital from Mobius Venture Capital, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Palo Alto Investors.

At the time, Woz said in a statement,

wOz is designing new consumer electronics wireless products that will have universal appeal among consumers and corporations alike. Recent advances in global positioning software systems and antenna technology coupled with the declining cost of processing power and two-way networking make the possibilities for new devices and services really exciting

Sources / further reading


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