Making Graphing Calculator, or "How I worked at Apple for Free"

Graphing Calculator is an app that millions of Classic Mac OS users saw in their Apple Menu, but never launched. It is likely that several hundred thousand of those millions launched the app, and either didnit know what to do with it, or played with it and never launched it again. Mac-using Math students everywhere, though, have known Graphing Calculator, and found it to be an amazing tool. For Ron Avitzur and Greg Robbins, however, Graphing Calculator was a labor of love that could only happen in the world of Apple and the Mac platform.

Messrs. Avitzur and Robbins worked for months on the project, and they did it for free. Better yet, they did it from vacant offices inside of Apple behind the backs of security and with the sympathetic, and tacit, support of other engineers.

Mr. Avitzur published the fascinating story (link courtesy of Wired News) of how this came to be at his Web site, Pacific Tech.

"I used to be a contractor for Apple, working on a secret project," wrote Mr. Avitzur. "Unfortunately, the computer we were building never saw the light of day. The project was so plagued by politics and ego that when the engineers requested technical oversight, our manager hired a psychologist instead. In August 1993, the project was canceled. A year of my work evaporated, my contract ended, and I was unemployed.

"I was frustrated by all the wasted effort, so I decided to uncancel my small part of the project. I had been paid to do a job, and I wanted to finish it. My electronic badge still opened Appleis doors, so I just kept showing up."

Their project eventually came to the attention of the team working to move the Mac platform to the PowerPC processor. According to Mr. Avitzur, this was key because the software needed testing and other Q&A, something that two engineers who werenit officially employed by Apple simply couldnit get.

"I knew nothing about the PowerPC and had no idea how to modify my software to run on it," wrote Mr. Avitzur. "One August night, after dinner, two guys showed up to announce that they would camp out in my office until the modification was done. The three of us spent the next six hours editing fifty thousand lines of code."

After blowing up a monitor the first time they tried to test it, they found that the program ran some 50 times faster than it had on the 68k chips it had originally been written for.

"We played with it for a while and agreed, iThis doesnit sucki (high praise in Apple lingo)," he said in his account.

The (free) efforts didnit stop there, and the full account is both fascinating and interesting. It also offers an insideris look at life at Apple during the chaotic period in the early 90s after John Sculley had been fired as CEO, and Apple was largely rudderless.