Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, both still in their teens, first met in 1969 because of a shared interest in electronics. In the mid 1970s Wozniak was a keen member of the Homebrew computer club and had designed several theoretical computers, but lacked the funds to build them. He was then working for Hewlett-Packard and put forward his ideas for a computer but HP were not interested.
Thus on 1st April 1976 Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer, to develop and sell a machine based around the relatively low cost MOSTEK 6502 microprocessor. Over a hundred of these Apple I boards were sold but it was clear that something better was needed to appeal to a mass market.
Apple obtained financial backing via Mike Markkula (who had retired from Intel at the age of 33) to produce the Apple II, which as with the Apple I was almost all designed by Steve Wozniak. The Apple II went on sale in 1977 and was a complete computer in a single box, with an impressive specification for the time which included colour high resolution graphics.
The Apple II was an instant success, being technically superior to its main rivals the Commodore PET 2001 and Tandy TRS 80. The Apple was also genuinely useful to business customers because the first ever computerised spreadsheet, VisiCalc, was written for it.
Apple's next new machine was the Lisa of 1983, but whilst this was highly innovative, featuring the first graphical user interface (based on a Xerox PARC design) on a mainstream computer, it cost $10,000 and was limited to a small range of built-in software, and was a commercial flop.
However Apple had at the same time been designing another computer, also with a graphical interface but with not quite cutting edge hardware and much cheaper. This machine, the Macintosh, was more reasonably priced at around $2,000 and could run any software. (The computer was named by one of its designers, Jef Raskin, after a variety of apple, the McIntosh Red, first propagated by Alan MacIntosh.)
The original Macintosh strangely did not have a hard disk drive and had only 128 kilobytes of RAM, both of which restricted the ability of software to make full use of the hardware's and operating system's potential. As a result sales of the Macintosh were initially below expectation and Steve Jobs, whose management style was seen to be at the root of many of the machine's failings, was forced out of the company in 1985.
A mark II Macintosh subsequently sold very well (though only at a few percent of the rate of IBM PC compatibles) and was the only real competitor to IBM types in business environments. The Macintosh appealed particularly to creative types and was much used in graphic design and print production.
Steve Jobs meanwhile set up NeXT Technology Inc who produced a top of the range workstation computer, which was technically advanced but like the Lisa was too expensive to sell in large numbers. They also created a sophisticated new operating system called NeXTStep.
By the mid 1990s Microsoft's WindowsTM operating system for IBM PCs, whilst not as slick as the Macintosh's user interface, was catching up and Apple's sales were falling. Apple needed something new to boost the Macintosh range and in 1996 they bought NeXT Technology for $450 million in order to gain access to NeXTStep, which became the basis of the new Mac operating system. As part of the deal Steve Jobs returned to Apple as Chief Executive.
In 1997 Microsoft bought a $150 million stake in Apple to keep the company solvent. Some believe this was to ensure that Microsoft had at least one genuine competitor in the operating systems market, since Microsoft was (and still is) under investigation for anti-competitive practices.
In 1998 Apple launched the ultra-stylish iMac desktop machine and sales began to pick up again. With the latest version of the Macintosh operating system, OS X, Apple's computers once more have a lead over ones running WindowsTM in both features and stability. Apple have also expanded into the music business with the iPod music player.