Andy Hertzfeld

Interview with Andy Hertzfeld

Devon interviews Andy Hertzfeld, a member of the original Macintosh team at Apple. Hertzfeld is legendary, both as a programmer and as a regular guy. A group of us met him at Macworld in San Francisco and he took us aside and showed us a version of Switcher he was working on. He then gave us all disks with Switcher on them and told us to get back to him with feedback. I still have that disk.

Related: Switcher.

[via Steve Splonskowski]


switcher_aboutI was a very early Mac user, having gotten my first one (an early production 128K model) from Steve Jobs and Mike Murray at the West Coast Computer Faire in late 1984. Once I had it I did what most people do who get something new, I looked for other early adopters. At the time I was living in Eugene, Oregon and the place for Apple users to hang out was The Computer Store. So, even though I’d not gotten my Mac from them I went down there and hung out.

Over the next few months as more people in Eugene started getting Macs I thought it might be a good idea to start a Macintosh users group as I’d had great luck with the PC users group I was a member of. So, I got a list of names from The Computer Store and called them all up and we came up with a time to meet at the store. The group grew and we moved from the store into a more public meeting room and in time it evolved into a full-fledged Macintosh users group.

A group of the most die hard of us (including me, of course) decided to attend the first Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

Macworld and the companies that exhibited at it was a lot smaller and more personal in those days and as we were walking around the show floor we spotted various members of the original Mac team who had rock star status.

We spotted Andy Hertzfeld walking around the show floor with his worn out backpack on. I walked over, tapped him on the shoulder and said “hi Andy” and he said, “hi, are you guys serious Mac users? If so, I have something I want to show you.”

I said that we were and he walked over to the nearest booth which happened to be the MacBottom booth (early HD that sat under the Mac) and asked if he could use one of their machines. The guy in the booth hesitated but we all simultaneously told him that Andy was a member of the core Mac team and he calmed down.

Andy was talking a mile a minute while loading the contents of a single disk into the Mac. Then he was messing around with stuff we’d not seen before (setting up a switcher set) and then he said, “check this out.”

He hit the little arrow and the screen shifted from MacPaint to MacWrite and he hit it again and it came back to MacPaint.

He said “So, what do you think?”

We were speechless.

Unlike the others in my group, I had used Memory Shift on a PC and had a sense of what he was doing but still, the animation made it so much better.

After we told him we loved it he reached into his pack and gave each of us a disk with Switcher on it. It wasn’t shipping yet and he asked for our feedback.

I still have that disk and will always remember how wonderful it was to experience Andy’s generosity and enthusiasm for something he enjoyed making and sharing.

For more background on Switcher and Andy, see Switcher at

Andy Hertzfeld was a member of the original Macintosh design team at Apple. He wrote much of the original Macintosh ROM including the toolbox and resource manager among many other things.

I met him at an early San Francisco Macworld. A group of us were walking the floor and there he was, with his backpack. We said “hi Andy” and he came right up, introduced himself and said “I have to show you this… it’s so cool.”

He walked over to the nearest booth with a Macintosh in it (it happened to be the MacBottom booth; MacBottom was an early company that made an external hard disk that sat under the Mac). He took off his pack, reached in and pulled out a disk. He started to put the disk in the demo MacBottom Mac and one of the sales people in the booth who did not know who he was stated to walk toward us. I went over to him and said that it was okay… blah blah blah and he retreated.

Andy, talking non-stop, asking us where we were from (Eugene, Oregon at the time), proceeded to put the disk in, and somehow distracted us so we did not see the setup for what was about to happen.

Then he said “watch this.” and he tapped a key and the screen wiped left and there was MacPaint, he tapped it again and we were back in MacWrite. He had just shown us a beta of what would later be called “Switcher” his early “MultiFinder” program.

Our jaws dropped; it was totally amazing. He was delighted with the effect, so much so that he reached into his pack and gave each of us a Switcher beta disk. I have that disk to this day.

Over the following years I met him and Bill Atkinson many times and both are absolutely gems: terrific people and of course, genius designers and programmers.

Andy has just put up a hybrid blog/community center/Apple story archive and it’s a wonderful place to browse around if you know something about the history of Apple and the Mac and even if you don’t. Check it out.