SAN JOSE, Calif. — Think big. That was a main message from veteran entrepreneurs Steve Wozniak and Nolan Bushnell in a freewheeling session at the inaugural Create Converge Silicon Valley (C2SV) event here, San Jose's answer to South By Southwest (SXSW).
The two recalled Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and the history of the PC and spoke on the future of education in a freewheeling session. At the start of his career, Jobs worked for Bushnell at Atari whose early games machines inspired Wozniak to design the first Apple personal computers. Seeking its first investment, Jobs offered Bushnell an early stake in Apple, but Bushnell declined.
"The deal I remember turning down was an investment of $50,000 -- I could have a third of Apple," Bushnell said.
"I never heard of that one," said Wozniak, widely known as Woz. "I was not there, but I was at Commodore with Steve when he asked for $300,000 and more -- I kept my mouth shut because I was just an engineer who designed a couple computers and it seemed like an awful lot of money," he said.
Jobs and Woz wound up building a prototype for a future Atari game machine which Bushnell rejected. "I think we paid them $5,000 for it," Bushnell said.
"We didn't sleep for four days or nights so we could deliver a working system to Atari that they didn't like," Woz recalled.
Wozniak (left) and Bushnell share a laugh at C2SV.
"Steve [Jobs] was trying to pressure me to use fewer chips -- down to 40 from 50 -- so we could make more money from the design," Woz said. "I got it down to 42, but it went back to 45 before it ran well," he said.
Although he declined to invest in Apple or use its prototype, Bushnell expressed admiration for Wozniak's work on the Apple II. "All by himself [Wozniak] did a more prescient design than we did -- the whole idea of eight expansion slots was so prescient about the future of the business," Bushnell said.
By contrast, the Atari 2600 had "major mistakes," Bushnell said. Atari decided not to have expansion slots "to save two pennies each on connectors," and it put no read/write capabilities into its game cartridges. "Can you image what would have happened if we had a read/write line on a cartridge," he asked.
Nevertheless, Woz credited the early Atari machines for inspiration. "When I first saw Pong in a bowling alley I thought, 'Oh my God, you could do a game on a TV,'" he said.
Later Woz found a way to use numbers to represent colors on a screen to create a digital color display, $1,000 less than the color screens of that time. He also experimented with digital techniques to create simple game animations, mimicking Atari's "Breakout" game.