Friday, January 24, 2014

Happy Birthday, Macintosh

Thirty years ago today Apple introduced the Macintosh, and according to Anick Jesdanun, it’s still an influence in our lives.

Macintosh 01-24-14Look around. Many of the gadgets you see drew inspiration from the original Mac computer.

Computers at the time typically required people to type in commands. Once the Mac came out 30 years ago Friday, people could instead navigate with a graphical user interface. Available options were organized into menus. People clicked icons to run programs and dragged and dropped files to move them.

The Mac introduced real-world metaphors such as using a trash can to delete files. It brought us fonts and other tools once limited to professional printers. Most importantly, it made computing and publishing easy enough for everyday people to learn and use.

Apple sparked a revolution in computing with the Mac. In turn, that sparked a revolution in publishing as people began creating fancy newsletters, brochures and other publications from their desktops.

These concepts are so fundamental today that it’s hard to imagine a time when they existed only in research labs — primarily Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and his team got much of its inspiration from PARC, which they visited while designing the Mac.

The Mac has had “incredible influence on pretty much everybody’s lives all over the world since computers are now so ubiquitous.” says Brad Myers, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. “Pretty much all consumer electronics are adopting all of the same kinds of interactions.”

I remember seeing my first Mac.  It belonged to my brother, who showed it off on my sister’s kitchen table.  I was amazed with the mouse and the graphics.  After all, my first work with a computer was in 1967 with a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP 8/S which was the size of a kitchen refrigerator and ran off paper tape generated by a teletype machine.  So this little wonder was like going from a Model T to a Ferrari.  (“Little” is a relative term.  My brother’s Mac was the size of a small beer cooler.)


Apple IIc

Six months later I bought my first home computer.  It was the Apple IIc, which sold itself as the first “notebook” computer — as long as you didn’t need a monitor.  I used it until 1995, then switched to a Gateway PC with the awesome capability of a 2 gigabyte hard drive.  It cost $2,500, including monitor.  Now I’m using a Toshiba laptop with a 2 terabyte hard drive attached and it cost me $500.  (I still have the Apple IIc in its original boxes stored in the garage.  You can see it in the background of the photo in today’s Friday Catblogging below.)

There’s more computing power in my cell phone — which is just a plain phone, not a smartphone — than there was in that PDP 8/S, and I carry a 4 gig jump drive in my pocket.  I paid $10 for it.  I suppose your average iPad could land a man on the moon.

Technology is groovy.

4 barks and woofs on “Happy Birthday, Macintosh

  1. I still have my original Mac 128 (upgraded to a Plus). It runs fine, does everything it always did, which wasn’t much. I paid $2500 for it in Feb 1984 and later bought a 40 MEGABYTE hard drive for $700. This was the cheapest hard drive you could buy at the time.

    The effect of the Macs on my life (we have had ten or twelve of various ages) is incredible. I have used them for all kinds of tasks, earned some money, explored new kinds of knowledge (programming, the Web, etc) and the Apple Mac has never let me down. I have a G4 Pro which I still use for some things and I bought it in 1999. My experience with PCs and MicroSoft are not so great. The difference between brute force and elegance, sledgehammer and scalpel.

  2. I probably would have stayed with Apple had not my job required PC-compatible software, both when I was in the window and door business in Albuquerque, and now the school district here in Miami.

  3. I had classmates with Macs when I was an undergrad. I was still an Apple ][x baby: a roommate had a ][e, I got a ][c (complete with additional external floppy disk drive), and while I looked at (and drooled over) the ][gs I never got my hands on one.

    Apple’s single failing with the Macintosh was in marketing, and specifically with the designations affixed to each generation. I worked alongside a major institution’s Apple helpdesk when they transitioned from multiplatform to all-PCs, and got to hear horror stories from the techs. Senior management – senior programming managers – were simply delighted with their 486s, and so glad to turn in their old MAc ][si machines – blissfully ignorant that they’d jumped two generations of hardware and the new machines from Apple were no doubt much faster (just named something they couldn’t grasp as incrementally improved).

  4. With all due respect to the Mac, its interface was not original, no matter what its fans may say. The earliest experiments with a mouse-driven graphical interface were done at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) as part of a project to find a way to allow children to interact with computers. As recently as perhaps 15 years ago, one of their originals was on display in the Museum of American History, which is part of the Smithsonian. I remember seeing it: the startup image, a couple of pigs with curly tails, was burned into the screen of that machine (which apparently was no longer functional); obviously screen savers had not yet been invented.

    As the folks at Xerox PARC could not persuade TPTB in their company to mount a commercial venture, Apple became of course the first to manufacture and market such a machine. But credit where credit is due: Xerox PARC was first.

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