281 of 301 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2006
Yesterday, I took a long look at the new book by Steve Wozniak, iWoz. Personally, I'm intrigued by the science-based creativity that led to early Apple products, and also the psychologically-savvy thinking that went into making computers user-friendly.
The book will be interesting to a specialized audience. You need to be interested in the early history of personal computers (e.g., the legendary Homebrew Computer Club). You need to get a kick out of the amusing but sometimes unflattering lore that defined Apple's history and culture. You need to want to know about Wozniak's remarkably innovative engineering as well as Apple's entrepreneurship. You have to dig the views and personality of a successful but unusual and reclusive countercultural person. It probably helps if you resonate with Wozniak's personal style, and dream about making innovative contributions somewhere, somehow.
1) When he claims to have "invented" the personal computer, he's not being too grandiose. He created some really beautiful early computers. The lore is that these contraptions were the first to have typewriter based keyboards; the first to be useable right out of the box; the first low-cost computers to have color, sound, hi-res graphics, and floppy disks. He developed software that changed industry standards. And to believe Wozniak is to believe that he was the origin of these ideas, surrounded by other creative geniuses like Jobs, Osborn, Marsh and others. Perhaps others shared in these innovations. But there's no doubt that Wozniak was one of the great "out of the box" thinkers of the Silicon Valley "revolution." In the book, Wozniak describes developing all of these things.
2) If you haven't looked at an Apple II in awhile, it might be worth doing so while you read the book. The electronic circuits and boards of these early Apple machines were works of art and genius. The components were arranged in ways that defied conventional wisdom. I found the motherboards in the Apple IIs to be simple, elegant and striking. Today, the technology is obsolete but the beauty endures. Wozniak's story is more interesting when you realize that he's primarily responsible for this great stuff.
3) The book helps elucidate Wozniak's personality and thinking style. He's the math-science-electrical guy who works privately in the back while he implements his (and others') visions of what a product can be. (If you've examined the electronics and layout of those old machines, then you have no problem believing that Wozniak was the science-math-electrical guy who was part scientist, part artist). In the book, Wozniak shares influences, anecdotes and pranks. This is not the guy who habitually seeks power, or the limelight. He's the guy who normally would toil in obscurity, surrounded by friends and thinkers who let him do his thing and appreciate his skillful vision (and nutty sense of humor). He was able to work among the corporate power brokers for a number of years, on his terms, but he's not the sort of person who will immerse himself in corporate culture for long. It may be that his `81 plane crash and brain injury signaled the end of his cutting-edge work at Apple. But it is hard to imagine someone like Wozniak shifting gears and living forever amongst the suits... even at Apple. I can believe that Steve Wozniak is a brilliant guy with a big heart and a wicked sense of humor. I can imagine how his sense of generosity, justice and creative thinking might make it hard to endure the growing pains of a company like Apple.
4) Wozniak offers his advice on what it takes to be a great engineer: Don't waver; see things in grayscale; work alone; follow your instincts. His thoughts on these matters are worth a look. Keep in mind that he's telling you about his way, which jibes with his personal style. There's no one right way.
5) Guy Kawasaki (former Apple employee) has written a review of this book. It can be found online. His take is different than mine, though he, too, offers a positive review.
6) There are plenty of other books, and even a movie, on Wozniak, Jobs and the PC revolution. There are other books that focus on Wozniak (e.g., Kendall, Lemke, Capps). Wozniak has a website that contains lots of autobiographical info. Then there's "Pirates of Silicon Valley", the movie. Personally, I'm not particularly interested in getting caught up in all the Apple/PC drama that has made its way to the media. But maybe you are...
88 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2006
Steve Wozniak (with the obvious and very able assistance of Gina Smith) has written a gem of a book in iWoz. This book is literally for everyone, techies and non techies alike, as the Revolution created by Mr. Wozniak and Steve Jobs truly changed our world. I have often thought of the two as highly different individuals brought together in a common cause with radically different skill sets. Cast The Woz as John Lennon and Steve Jobs as Paul McCartney. Lennon wanted to CREATE something special, something beautiful and something new. Wozniak clearly did this at Apple. McCartney wanted to become huge, well known and wealthy. Jobs did this for all at Apple, very much including the author as Wozniak had other motivations that occupied his very busy mind. Mr. Wozniak does write, very interestingly, about the engineer as an artist. He really thinks of it that way. Any who have heard him speak or met him, as I have been fortunate enough to do on a few occasions, know that what he wrote was, and is, the real Steve Wozniak. Ms. Smith did a marvelous job at making the book almost entirely understandable to those of us whose minds are not wired as an engineer. Yet it is the voice of Mr. Wozniak that comes through. Truly a remarkable accomplishment as Wozniak can ramble yet, in this wonderful autobiography, his thoughts are cogent and clear. Even concise.
This book is a great read for all. It shows what passion can create. Buy it, read it and give it to all your family and friends to read.
98 of 112 people found the following review helpful
I really wanted to like this book. Woz is a geek icon, after all, and the early stories of his life and inventions are the stuff of legend. They had to be better coming straight from the horse's mouth, right?
The stories themselves are interesting: redesigning commercial devices on paper to reduce the number of chips, why colour was so important to him, knocking together Breakout in a few sleepless days, making the Apple I. And there's all of Woz's pranks over the years.
But the problem is, Woz just doesn't have the gift of storytelling. All through the book, I felt like I was simply reading a transcription of stories that he's been telling in person every time he speaks for the past 20 years. (Reading the afterword, I'm pretty sure that I'm right on this regard.) Okay, so they were scrubbed for um and ah, but that's about it. It gives the book a conversational tone that makes me feel like he's skipping over all the really interesting stuff.
With the loving touch of a good editor, this could have been a much better book. It was immensely repetitive, with Woz re-telling stories multiple times. There wasn't nearly enough about the early days of Apple, nor about Woz's departure from the company. The tone of the book was entirely too self-congratulatory, with hardly a page going by where Woz didn't say how clever he is. It trails off post-Apple.
If you're interested in the history of computing, and specifically Woz's contribution to it, there are many other places to start that will give you a much better picture. Read this book only after you've read those.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2006
This is a wonderful story, extremely well told. The history of how Apple became Apple is a fairly familiar one by now but this book chronicles Steve Wozniak's personal journey from childhood up to the creation of the first PC, the founding of Apple, and beyond. In the first few chapters, you get a glimpse into Steve Wozniak's childhood fascination with technology and the people who taught him early on. Unlike many other biographies that list the dad as a primary influence, this book chronicles many humorous (and charming) stories of how Steve's father encouraged him in technology and more broadly, to think creatively and develop his own opinions. Later, you get a clear sense of how his thinking evolved as he continually pushed the edges of the technological envelope to see what was possible, all juxtaposed against the technology that was available at the time, until he and Mr. Jobs quit their day jobs to found Apple.
I worried that this book would be too tech-y for me but it absolutely wasn't. I definitely learned some things about technology along the way - there are clever sidebars throughout the book which explain the technology that is being discussed. More than a technology book, this is a personal story - it is a warm and engaging narrative about one of the great geniuses of our time who invented something that we have trouble imagining life without! What's really great about the way the book is written is that you get a clear sense of what Steve was thinking throughout his childhood - what struck him as interesting and fun and strange and beautiful - and that's what makes this book such a pleasure to read.
I would recommend this book to everyone: people interested in Apple or technology more broadly will find it interesting to fill in the holes of what they've heard about Apple so far, people who want to know where this iPod phenomenon came from will learn something, and parents who want to inspire creativity and innovation in their children will definitely benefit too!
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2006
This is an excellent book about a truly interesting and innovative man. It provides real insight into his work, his style and his personality. I had the pleasure of seeing Steve on his speaking tour and I was really impressed by how the book captures his style, tone and spirit. Steve has a real childlike quality to him which shows through alternatively as playfulness, humor, goofiness and innocence. He also has a long history with promoting education and teaching.
Some of the earlier reviews say this shows up as "childish" writing. Quite the contrary, it is this quality that has long given him his strength. His ability to take a challenge others thought impossibly complex and turn it into a simple, elegant reality. At this he was unparalleled.
Some may be upset that he is so plainspoken, but I'm glad the co-author did not try to change Steve's voice. To do so would have done the man a strong disservice, and instead we are left with a fascinating portrait and a compelling read.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2006
This book, an autobiography by Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith, is an extremely well written piece. It is, quite obviously, an autobiography, but it can also teach about how to live life to its fullest and take advantages. I think many people that would at first be interested in this book would already know who Steve Wozniak is, and what he did, but if you look beyond the cover, even others could find something in its depths.
This is a very easy read, and can be very entertaining if you want it to be. He does sometimes go into the back roads, leading to falling into boredom. Woz and Ms. Smith did a very good job on writing this so you can feel as if you're there and Woz is right there beside you.
Towards the end of the book, Woz tells you things about being a great engineer, which can also be translated to life in general. He tells you that you should never stumble over yourself. That you should see things in black and white, with every shade of gray between. And finally, one that I think is most important, that you should always trust your instincts.
I think that most people who would feel drawn to read this book are going to be techies and engineers, however, like I said before, I believe more people than just those two groups could get something out of this. This book gives you life lessons, as well as has some various funny moments. The appeal to most techies would probably be hearing of the early days of PC's and chuckling at the thought, I know I did. Life without my T1 internet or Wi-Fi would be unimaginable. The non-tech geeks could, again, learn about the history of the computer as well as hear those never-tiring anecdotes.
So, all in all this is a very interesting and easy read. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of the personal computer, Apple, the Woz, or is just interested in something to pass the time. Now, to defy one of my teachers sacred commandments... The end.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2007
This autobiography's greatest weakness is Wozniak's style, and this book's greatest strength... is Wozniak's style. Woz expresses himself in a manner that is reminiscent of any TV interview you've seen with him. Basically he writes like he talks - it's almost stream of consciousness. Early in the book I actually started to believe the book was written for children, and in the final chapter it was confirmed that part of his goal was to inspire youngsters. However he claims he only decided to go in that direction halfway through, leaving me wondering if the style is a decision independent of such a target audience. Anyway, the bottom line is that while it makes the book seem authentic and down to Earth, it sometimes also seems a little amatuerish.
As far as the content goes - well I certainly found it interesting. Maybe that's because I was already a huge fan of Mr. Wozniak's, but I think that all readers interested in invention, engineering, computers, or electronics will find an inspirational story well worth the read. Indeed, that is what you take away from iWoz - inspiration. That this very good person (good in the nice, compassionate, and friendly sort of way) is able to use his intelligence, hard work, and perseverance to positively change the world in a big way with few initial resources, is truely the message to take away.
I would like to stress though that this is not a juicy 'tell-all'. While there are a couple Steve Jobs anecdotes, and a few comments on the politics of early 80s Apple, it's nothing that those who follow these things didn't already know. Basically, Wozniak ends his personal story sometime in his mid 20s and from then on it's mostly about his work, philanthropy and US Festivals. There's not much about his three marriages, interests outside of engineering and music, or perhaps what many are curious about - his current relationship with Jobs and other important figures. Even the days at Apple in the late 70s/early 80s don't give a good feel for the company's day to day existance - Wozniak chooses instead of focus on the engineering/product side of things. Further, the last 10 years of Woz's life are practically skipped over entirely - even though this seems to be a career minded autobiography, there's no mention of Woz's last startup, Wheels of Zeus, at all!
However, it seems clear that Wozniak very deliberately tried to shape his story to be about his main message - the possibility for anyone with a good idea, perseverance, and enough know-how to change the world. And Wozniak is able to express it very effectively. However, I am going to hold out hope that Woz does someday give us another volume filled with much more detail regarding the latter part of his life.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2007
It is so nice to see the real story. It sounded just like Steve, the engineer, telling it.
I respect Steve Jobs and his achievements enormously. He has the pulse of the market, and insists on style. But his forté is getting people to do the things he wants, not doing the engineering himself. I was well aware that Steve (Woz) had designed the Apple I & II, and was irked when so many people said that Steve Jobs had designed them. Of course, as an engineer, I tend to think of designing the guts of the thing, but packaging, presentation and marketting do have an important role to play.
Steve and I worked on calculators at the same time, for HP, and shared circuits. It was interesting to hear some of the names of people I have not thought about in years.
I liked a paragraph near the end of the book where Steve expresses that the best engineers are artists. If you look at architecture, the engineering is very obviously art (except for some horribly utilitarian buildings, like the Russian apartment blocks). But it is true in electronics too, although not so readily apparent to the non-techie.
I totally agree that it is much better to do everything oneself. At Apple I would work at home in the mornings, because there were too many interruptions at Apple. Then I would work at Apple in the evening when most of the interrupters had gone home. Apple unfortunately became "big company", and huge amounts of time were wasted on project team meetings and staff meetings. Often more time was lost by many people being in a conference room for half a day than was gained but the supposedly improved communication. A loner only has to communicate with himself, and is responsible for everything.
I would have liked a little less repetition in the book, and a little more detail, but it came out as exactly what it was: a conversational series of reminiscences from the man who designed the electronics of the first mass market computer to use a domestic TV display.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2007
This book should be read for its insight into the creative process in Steve Wozniak, aka the Woz.
The reader may find some slow spots because to the average person the Woz has unusual interests in playing games,jokes, and tricks on people, and particularly certainly an extraordinary interest in computer games. But all of that Tom foolery had an important role.
It was his fascination with computer games that motivated him to invent the personal computer as we know it today, rather than any early insight or interest in the corportate commercialization of personal computers.
The fascination of this book is that it explains how his mind works and and how it led to such extraordinarily creatively engineered computer products. The Woz was interested in fun and games, electronics, and computers, rather than a desire for great personal financial success. It is wonderful and intriguing story in the Woz's own words.
I would highly recommend reading the book for anybody interested in electronics, computers, engineering, and the creative process, for both adults and children.
In summary the book is a rare insight into the mind of a almost unique creative computer genius.
The Woz also provides somewhat candid hints of the strength and weaknesses of the history of Apple Computer as a business and an engineering company, and his early partner Steve Jobs.
Perhaps not entirely candid and direct in his evaluation of Apple Computer after the Woz effectively lost control of the company.
He does not romanticize and fantasize Apple computers, the way millions of Apple fans seem to do today.
I did feel the Woz is being somewhat diplomatic about Apple and Steve Jobs. That is the Woz's style and life philosophy.
According to Steve Wozniak the Apple II achieved great commercial as the world's most purchased computer under his engineering genius because it incorporated a large number of revolutionary Wozniak inventions,including the keyboard attached to a computer, a TV style display monitor, disk drive memory for a personal computer, the ability to translate the 0s and 1s of the digital computer into a full color spectrum display on the display monitor, the ability to self boot from ROM memory, extra slots to encourage 3rd party hardware/ software innovation, and very important for the Woz himself - the capacity of the computer to play games with paddles.
All of this game playing capacity encouraged the development of serious bread and butter must have serious software for the Apple II, including word processing and spreadsheets for business and personal finance. The mainstay of the personal computer today, the internet and e mail, was not anticipated by anyone at Apple Computer in their brainstorming long term planning sessions in the early days, according to the Woz.
The Apple II was the height of Apple Computer's competitive commercial and innovative engineering success. The original Macintosh was also quite innovative in an engineering sense, but according to the Woz the Apple III never worked properly despite an enormous amount of corporate hype and huge advertising budgets. Apple III was as unsuccessful as Apple II was successful, both in a commercial and engineering sense. All of this is history.
Today Apple Computer sells beautifully designed iPods and a number of highly styled good looking eye candy personal computers. Their current iPods are another great commercial success story for Apple and Steve Jobs. All of their computer models today have in total about a 6% market penetration of the much more competitive personal computer market.This statistic can be misleading.Apple's offerings of different computer models are of course very much more limited than what is available then from all the models offered by manufacturers who license Microsoft's Windows operating system, and this limits total Apple computer sales compared to all the rest of the field.
Sales per model available from Apple are fairly respectable. At least one relatively low cost Apple laptop is among the most popular in the market today
The book does not make clear how much the Woz, the founding computer genius, is still involved with Apple Computer engineering and design, or how much of a financial stake the Woz still may have in Apple Computer. Apparently, not much on either count.
After reading this book, I couldn't help but feel how neat it would be if somehow the Steve Wozniak could somehow turn to another serious technological problem like global warming, and use his wonderfully creative mind to help solve this major crisis of the future.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 4, 2011
Woz tells the story of his whole life with such candor and believability. You get to know him based on his stories and the way tells them (From the heart). I can honestly say I have a good feeling for who he is as a person, after reading his book.
This is the guy behind Apple, he is the genius behind the Apple and the Apple II. These products were the first that set the trend for Apple's easy-to-use, customer friendly products. Without him, there is no Apple. Period.
Woz doesn't gossip much about Jobs, he does talk about their friendship and business dealings. Woz really stepped back more or less after the Apple II. He truly believed that creating personal computers was an art as much a science. Having taken a digital electronics course, I have some appreciation for what his skills were and he is an incredible man. He had some serious talent for sure. He talks about his whole life, his dealings with Apple are only a part of that. Much of his previous work certainly built up to that and you can see him build up to it. His life story is awesome, this book is a page turner and easy to read.
If you like Apple, autobiographies, little bit of counter-culture, electronics or genuine guy you will love this book.