The untold story behind Apple’s $13,000 operating system

“With its professional-looking (for 1977) injection-molded case and a design aesthetic to match Jobs’ perfectionism, the Apple II was a breakthrough product for the time. But though it was years ahead of the kit-like Apple I that it was meant to replace, the Apple II still only offered a cassette drive,” Daniel Terdiman reports for CNET. “Wozniak and Jobs weren’t blind to the need for a functional, and powerful, disk drive and a disk operating system to run the system.”

“Talk to just about anyone intimately familiar with the Apple II, and one thing you’ll hear often is that the disk controller Wozniak designed over the 1977 Christmas holidays for the computer was a proverbial game changer. The chief innovation was making the controller compact by using software while competitors relied on hardware. As Bill Fernandez, then an electronic technician at Apple, remembers it, ‘the key advantage of [Wozniak’s] design [was] that it used only six chips instead of the usual 60 to 70 — a huge reduction in size and cost,'” Terdiman reports. “Dan Bricklin, the co-creator of VisiCalc, said Woz’s controller was ‘wonderful,’ while Lee Felsenstein, the creator of the Osborne I, marveled at its ‘elegance.’ Bruce Damer, founder of the DigiBarn, called it ‘masterful.'”

Terdiman reports, “But no matter how great its disk controller was, Apple had no DOS. Or any way to build one of its own… Although he knew little about operating systems, Wozniak is confident he could have built a good one. But his co-founder couldn’t wait. ‘”Steve Jobs, who didn’t have patience for a project that took more than a week, found [Shepardson Microsystems] and…they sounded eager and knowledgeable…so we hired them.’ As then-Shepardson employee Paul Laughton remembers it, Wozniak came by one day saying Apple had a disk drive, but no DOS, and was wondering what to do. ‘I said, ‘I know about operating systems.’ And so he said, ‘Cool, let’s have you do it.” On April 10, 1978, the contract was signed. For $13,000 — $5,200 up front, and $7,800 on delivery, and no additional royalties — Shepardson Microsystems would build Apple’s first DOS.”

Tons more in the full article – recommended – here.


    1. Nope,
      They bought it from a company Called Seattle Scientific. DOS 2.0 was the first version that was worked on by Microsoft. The headline in Byte magazine at the time of the release was “The Dark Side of DOS 2.0”. Nothing has changed since.

  1. It’s nice to see MDN “giving credit” for Wozzie for a change, I am so sick and tired of ppl bad mouthing the Wozzman totally forgetting his early role in making Apple what it is today.

    1. Don’t think anyone here ever forgets the contributions Woz made to Apple’s success, it could not have been done without his genius and perfectionist personality back in the crucial start up days. But that doesn’t mean we have to agree with some of the crazy stuff that comes out of his mouth in the present time. He’s entitled to his opinion, but I don’t have to agree with it just because he was awesome back in the 1980’s. That was then and this is now.

        1. Really?
          The universal remote SW was something he worked on, RFID chips, cell phone SW (Danger) and he managed to finish his Engineering Degree and then worked as a resource teacher in his local public school district at no cost to the taxpayer.

          Those are just a few of the things he has done. BTW- in the dark days all the way until today, he speaks to MUGs and other groups and doesn’t ask for a king’s ransom. Woz is a geek who loves geeks and geekery. He is a gentle soul and values people above fame or fortune.

          Maybe you do not agree with him, but your charge is complete Bullshit.

  2. PLENTY of people LOVE to badmouth Woz. Haterz gonna hate. Nice to remind all those assholes of the truth, Woz is the man, and without him, Apple wouldn’t exist. Steve Jobs was able to implement the Woz’s genius to create Apple as we know it. Without Woz, no Apple. Stevesy would have lived a very different life without him. In fact, we ALL would be living different lives without him.

  3. Nice article – takes me back. My first personal computer was a Commodore PET, in 1978. I remember ordering Visicalc for it. The day the software arrived, I was up until 3 AM building my first electronic spreadsheets. I was in awe – I thought it was the power to change the world. As it turns out, it was.

    1. I learned to program BASIC on Woz’s magic Apple, the Commodore PET and the TRS-80 using cassette drives for storage my Freshman year of college. That was not so long ago and a long time ago at the same time.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.