Through Computer History with Woz

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Here in Silicon Valley, Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak is happily omnipresent–you might run into him in line at your local Apple Store, attending a conference, or going for the gold at a Segway Polo championship. On Thursday, I had my neatest Woz encounter to date: Along with other reporters, I got to participate in a Woz-led sneak peek of the Computer History Museum‘s new permanent exhibit, “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing.” The 1,100-item experience, which cost $19 million to create, doesn’t open to the public until January 13th–but when it does, it’s going to be a treat. (If you can’t make it to the museum in Mountain View, you’ll be able to explore an online version at the museum’s Web site.)

Woz isn’t just one of the founding fathers of personal computing. He’s also a guy who just plain loves gadgets, and he exuded excitement as he led us around and talked about the historical machines that meant the most to him. The vast majority weren’t ones he had anything to do with–in fact, he nearly walked by an Apple II without stopping to discuss it. They were 1960-era antiquities such as the Data General Nova and IBM System 36. He even spoke poetically about punch cards (“the computer,” he said, speaking of early systems, “knew only holes”). (More on TechlandApple’s Hits and Misses So Far)

All this stuff may date from an utterly different era of computing, but it’s what inspired Woz to design the landmark Apple II; if you like playing what-if games, it’s worth wondering how different the history of PCs might have turned out if Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs hadn’t met up in 1970.

I came away admiring Woz even more and excited about the exhibit–but also feeling that the coolest tech products of the future will be created by the Wozzes who are now the same age that he was back when he was sneaking into computing centers at night to program otherwise idle mainframes.

I shared more photos and Woz anecdotes from Thursday outing in a post over at Technologizer; I’m already planning to return to the museum in January when Revolution is ready for the public.

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