Apple's Macintosh has forced the world to change for 30 years

Posted:
in macOS edited February 2014
Thirty years ago today, Steve Jobs presented the new Macintosh personal computer to a room of Apple investors. The machine has maintained its impact upon the world ever since, despite continually morphing into new forms while detractors voiced their disapproval.

iMac

A legendary launch

While met with excited applause from Apple's shareholders, the new Macintosh in 1984 nearly flopped. It was premium priced and arrived without a huge library of software capable of taking advantage of its unique features. Additionally, the radical rethinking of personal computing that the Macintosh introduced made it difficult for many existing software developers to enthusiastically embrace the new platform.



Apple's Macintosh also initially refused to emulate existing DOS or Apple II software, a conscious decision made by Apple to force developers to create truly new programs for it, rather than just simple ports of their existing, non-graphical software. Among Apple's critics, this was simply an arrogant failure to respect the status quo.

The arrival of the Macintosh wasn't a surprise; it was actually two years behind its originally expected ship date. Apple had hoped to ship the Macintosh by 1982. The tech world had already gotten a taste of the graphical desktop from Apple's Lisa computer, but Macintosh was expected to deliver similar sophistication at a more affordable price.

Critics familiar with the status quo hated the Macintosh and its new mouse, even if it was obvious to anyone exposed to the radical new ideas conceived within Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center that graphical computing and physical motion gestures articulated with a handheld "mouse" device were going to be the future interface of the personal computer.



With the Macintosh, Apple not only needed to manage all of the business operations required to sell personal computing systems, but also needed to convince the general public why they should pay a premium to gain access to the next generation of technology, rather than being content to buy more affordable, but less sophisticated and more poorly integrated commodity products.

Software Sells Systems

Steve Jobs, who had taken over Apple's Macintosh team and pushed its developers to create an "insanely great" machine that ambitiously pushed the technology envelope, was not only micromanaging the new computer but also seeking to evangelize the development of custom, third party Mac software to ensure that new buyers could find enough native content to confidently leap to the new platform.

Wars


One of the first software companies to work closely with Apple to develop new Mac titles was Microsoft. Despite having established itself in an uncontested Robber Baron role as IBM's licensor of MS-DOS, Microsoft was struggling to sell productivity software for IBM's DOS PC, a market where Lotus 1-2-3 and Word Perfect proved to be difficult competitors.

Both Lotus and WordPerfect failed to deliver ports their PC software for the launch of Apple's Macintosh, giving Microsoft little competition for its Bravo-based word processor developed at Xerox PARC and rebranded as "Word," or the company's clone of VisiCalc rebranded as "Excel."

Office


Microsoft enjoyed such a close association with Apple on the development of the Macintosh that it enabled the software company to copy Apple's Macintosh's novel desktop with a rough approximation product for DOS PCs it named Windows 1.0.

Microsoft had promised not to steal Apple's technology and port it to IBM's PC before the release of the Mac, but that promise was contractually tied to the Mac's original ship date. Because the Mac shipped later than expected, Microsoft could technically claim that it wasn't breaking its contract when it demonstrated Windows 1.0 for DOS in 1983.

It would ultimately take Microsoft another ten years before its Windows product evolved into version deemed a worthy competitor to the Mac by the computer buying market. That arrival was also supported by a lucky, arbitrary court decision that granted Microsoft unfettered access to appropriate virtually all of Apple's technology without paying for any of it.

Macintosh's decade of decline and the NeXT step

After a slow start, Apple's Macintosh fortunes began to turn around after users discovered a valuable, unique application of the new machine: desktop publishing. After making a nearly lethal deal with Microsoft related to productivity software, Jobs coordinated the development of the laser printer, Adobe's new PostScript page description language also originating at Xerox PARC, and desktop publishing software that tied the two together (and to the Macintosh) from Aldus.

Before Jobs could see the full impact of the new desktop publishing industry building around the Macintosh, he was pushed to leave Apple in 1986 to develop what he felt was the next obvious leap in computing. Jobs' new company, NeXT Computer, used Adobe's PostScript as its native display language and built a sophisticated framework of development tools designed to ease the creation of Mac-like (or better than Mac-like) apps.

NeXT


NeXT was also based on a foundation compatible with AT&T's UNIX, but rewritten at the University of California, Berkeley. The Macintosh had been written from scratch in low level code that lacked the technical computing sophistication available on higher powered (and more expensive) workstations running a "real" operating system.

NeXT had trouble escaping Apple's atmosphere, running into lawsuits that limited the company to a niche audience. Back at Apple, the Macintosh languished with its weak operating system and limited development tools. Despite a series of efforts to pair its Macintosh user interface with Unix or Unix-like operating systems, Apple rapidly fell into irrelevance as Microsoft began to define the state of the art in personal computing.

MAE

Mac + NeXT = OS X


By 1996, Apple was rapidly losing money in addition to being eclipsed by Microsoft Windows. In the very last days of the year, the company decided to acquire Jobs' NeXT and use its technology as the basis for a new platform that promised to push the Macintosh environment ahead into the future: OS X. Critics complained that the status quo of Windows didn't need any competition, nor could ever successively be competed against.

Back at Apple after the NeXT acquisition, Jobs reinvented the company, refocused upon creating exceptional, highly integrated computing machines rather than the commodity PC-like products that pundits had always insisted Apple build.

Ive


The new Apple launched a series of novel consumer products starting with iMac. The company also presciently invested in mobile computing and mobile devices, creating a development legacy and market position that positioned it to jump upon the emerging smartphone market in its infancy.

OS X begets iOS

While everyone else in the smartphone business was fixated upon using low powered, button-oriented hardware, Apple leapt ahead of the market by scaling down the Mac's OS X, running it upon mobile hardware with unprecedented levels of computing power and storage capacity.

Buttons


Patented


Critics didn't approve of this strategy, insisting even to this day that Apple should really be focused on pumping out cheap, low end hardware, apparently oblivious to the fact that Apple has been inhaling the majority of the mobile hardware industry's profits ever since the iPhone appeared seven years ago.

Eventually dubbed iOS, the iPhone's new mobile firmware delivered the same sophisticated operating system and easy to use development tools Apple had used to win back Windows users to its Mac computers over the 2000s. This maintained Apple's overall product strategy as being consistent since the advent of the Macintosh, enhanced with the re-injection of Jobs' influence at the acquisition of NeXT.

By 2010, Apple had established its new iPhone as an even larger and more important platform than its Mac notebooks and desktop systems. That same year, the company launched iPad as an easy to use, general computing device that delivered much of the power of a general purpose PC but without the security issues or baffling complexity.

Almost immediately, the new iPad eclipsed Apple's Mac sales, appealing to a much larger audience just as the iPhone had before it in the specialized role of a smartphone. However, the iPhone and iPad both owed their success to the legacy of OS X, which in turn built upon both the Macintosh philosophy and NeXT technology.

Maps

Future of the Mac

At the same time, Apple continues to enhance and develop Mac products, informed by the pace of parallel iOS development. Apple recently released its Mac Pro, a product that not only literally thinks outside the box, but also revamps the basic architecture of the generic PC to better leverage the computing power of very powerful chips designed to accelerate graphics operations.



Apple's approach to advancing the very architecture of desktop computing by focusing on GPUs was a move presaged in its development of Open CL and a decade of work creating a user interface centered on a compositing graphics engine. Apple beat Microsoft to advance graphics on the desktop by 6 years, and Google's Android similarly failed to catch up with iOS for nearly half a decade.

Critics accuse Apple of "falling to innovate," but consistently fail to recognize important innovations that went on to disrupt the status quo and materially shift the industry, technology and even society in ways that are not exactly impossible to predict. For example, none of Apple's critics even seem to understand how important the company's GPU-centric strategy has been to Apple's success with OS X and iOS over the past decade.

Apple has also continued to advance its mobile computing prowess by eschewing ostensibly core elements of the PC to deliver systems that are comparatively smarter and more capable. Macs have take cues from iOS devices, increasingly working to shed moving parts such as magnetic disc and optical drives for solid state memory in an effort to boost battery life. Detractors question why Apple is removing any hardware they are familiar with, again failing to understand what innovation really means.

Apple has already signaled that it plans to focus on automotive computing with its "iOS in the Car" initiative. The company is also likely to enter the home automation market, potentially turning the home computer into a computing home.



Never before has Apple had more capital to invest, more technology to develop, more customers to service, more developers to influence or more brand capital to leverage in building the next great leap in computing. Apple's next ten years of developing the Mac philosophy with NeXT technology should be more exciting than its last 30.

The only thing we know for certain about Apple's future is that there will be plenty of critics upset about every change the company introduces, at least until those shifts are eventually adopted by the rest of the industry.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 81

    I also wonder ... what is the face of the Mac now? It most likely is not the Mac Pro. Sales figures suggest it is the MacBook. But the iMac, to me, defines the past and future of the Mac.

  • Reply 2 of 81
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,435member
    Apple's Macintosh has forced the world to change for 30 years
    In the defence of MS & Android, the same could be said for them.

    Thanks DED, another great article.
  • Reply 3 of 81
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    It's good to see one of these wide view/history of technology/future trends articles again on this site. They really are a strength of the author. The recent spate of hardware reviews have been ok, but to do those thoroughly you basically need to be one of these guys who can look at an x-ray of a CPU and know what each trace does (witness Anandtech's hardware reviews). But no other site can do these kind of articles like AppleInsider can. They are a good read and extremely well informed to boot.
  • Reply 4 of 81
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by StruckPaper View Post

     

    I also wonder ... what is the face of the Mac now? It most likely is not the Mac Pro. Sales figures suggest it is the MacBook. But the iMac, to me, defines the past and future of the Mac.


     

    I agree regrading the iMac. But the MacBook Air is as well the future of the Mac. It has changed notebooks and is still an unbelievably great device.

  • Reply 5 of 81
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by PhilBoogie View Post





    In the defence of MS & Android, the same could be said for them.



    Thanks DED, another great article.

    Oh sure, but without Apple to copy from and without Apple's empowerment of people to use computers more productively and with relative ease, that "change" might well have been quite a bit more "Orwellian"--and especially without Apple fighting those parasitic forces tooth and nail all the way. Look at the "mighty" MS and the fragmented Android today! The fight is far from over, pal.

  • Reply 6 of 81
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,612member

    Pretty sure the world at large is apathetic towards the Mac, great as it may be.  Hyperbolic headline.

  • Reply 7 of 81
    crowley wrote: »
    Pretty sure the world at large is apathetic towards the Mac, great as it may be.  Hyperbolic headline.
    Pretty sure you're wrong. Jaded pessimistic commenter.
  • Reply 8 of 81
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Crowley View Post

     

    Pretty sure the world at large is apathetic towards the Mac, great as it may be.  Hyperbolic headline.


    That may be true of the world at large, but in the rich world, where nearly everyone has to use a computer for one reason or another, people care very much whether their computer is easy to use or hard.

  • Reply 9 of 81
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,435member
    danielsw wrote: »
    Oh sure, but without Apple to copy from and without Apple's empowerment of people to use computers more productively and with relative ease, that "change" might well have been quite a bit more "Orwellian"

    Agree. Was simply my lame attempt at humour.
    danielsw wrote: »
    Pretty sure you're wrong. Jaded pessimistic commenter.

    He should take his signature to heart.
  • Reply 10 of 81
    chiachia Posts: 692member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Crowley View Post

    Pretty sure the world at large is apathetic towards the Mac, great as it may be.  Hyperbolic headline.

     

    Apathetic or not, it certainly has forced change.

     


    • Before the Macintosh most PC users were using Command Line Interfaces, after its launch to now, most people using the Graphic User Interface.

    • Microsoft Word and Excel were originally created for the Macintosh; Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect were already well entrenched on the IBM PC.  Macintosh inspired Bill Gates and Microsoft to create Windows.  No Macintosh, no Office, No Windows, maybe even no Microsoft?

    • Macintosh together with Pagemaker and the laserwriter printer helped to drive the concept of Desktop Publishing, revolutionising the media print industry.

    • The Macintosh, Quicktime, Final Cut Pro etc have helped to really drive multimedia on computers, doing for photos and video what Pagemaker did for the print industry.  Now editing videos and photos on the computer are as easy as editing words or pages.

    • Only one or two PCs used USB before Apple introduced the iMac.  Now USB ports are ubiquitous on PCs.

    • Apple introduced the Macbook Air to howls of derision from some in the PC industry.  Now Intel has modelled the Ultrabook specification on the Macbook Air concept and every man, his mother and their dog are falling over each other to imitating the Macbook Air and other Apple laptops.

     

    Yes, the Macintosh has definitely forced change in the world.

  • Reply 11 of 81
    rob53rob53 Posts: 1,949member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Crowley View Post

     

    Pretty sure the world at large is apathetic towards the Mac, great as it may be.  Hyperbolic headline.


    There will always be those in constant denial over the impact Apple has and will continue to have in this world. People will always be apathetic towards all sorts of things mainly because there are lots of bored people, however, Apple is a highly recognized world-wide brand name so a large majority of people know who they are. They might not like their products but that's their choice. 

     

    As for the title being hyperbolic, that couldn't be further from the truth. ChiA's comments were spot on (isn't that how it's said in the UK?). :-)

     

    disclaimer: my first home computer was a Performa 400, my first work computer was an AKI Ultrabank (find that one!)

  • Reply 12 of 81
    Great article - and spot on!
  • Reply 13 of 81
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,835member
    crowley wrote: »
    Pretty sure the world at large is apathetic towards the Mac, great as it may be.  Hyperbolic headline.

    Just talking about the hardware for a moment. Over the years if you look at what a PC laptop looks like a few months after any new MacBook I think you would have found the manufacturers copied Apple's design as closely as they could. I have to double take when looking at the very occasional PC Laptop I see at an airport these days (amongst the sea of glowing white Apple logos) as the design of every PC Laptop is almost identical to a MBP.

    I guess the question is, were the crapware makers' customers desirous of a Mac, driving the need for the copying ... or were these manufacturers just assuming their customers were? Either way I'd say your claim of apathy, in design at least, is misguided since clearly PC laptops change all the time to look as much like a Mac as they can.
  • Reply 14 of 81

    I think the new Mac Pro will in part be a proving ground for Apple's new approach to distributed computing as uniquely supported by the OS. Even with the iMac's different form factor, it also has fan-aided convective "chimney" cooling, and it probably has room for beefier GPUs in the future.Though Apple's tradition of close and in-house integration of hardware/software has long been scoffed at by the competition, it's proving more and more to be an effective end run and a key factor in Apple's success, to say nothing of its profitability and viability.

     

    The synergy of iOS+OSX is undeniable, so much so that when the media spouts is negative propaganda at the behest of the puppet masters pulling its strings, it is merely exposed more blatantly as the pitiful mere mouthpiece it's always been.

     

    The saner, productive members of the society who have the means to invest can easily see the difference and happily pay the "Apple tax" in order to reap the benefits of the Apple ecosystem which is thriving better than ever under Tim Cook's watch.

     

    Apple's future is bright indeed.

  • Reply 15 of 81
    dacloodacloo Posts: 890member

    my post got deleted without any reason. I told to me Apple changed the world since iPod and iPhone, not the Mac. Why, because the Amiga to me was the real game changer. Actually, Apple was "scared shitless" when it was released (quote).

     

    If my post was deleted because of the above, then AppleInsider has a reality distortion field when it comes to having different opinions/experiences. 

  • Reply 16 of 81
    stefstef Posts: 87member
    Nice, DED. You are the one to tell this story. Thanks!

    "While met with excited applause from Apple's shareholders, the new Macintosh in 1984 nearly flopped. It was premium priced and arrived without a huge library of software capable of taking advantage of its unique features."

    That's a fascinating recollection and worth reflection. When the iPhone was introduced, Apple (and here I want to say Steve Jobs) rhymed its history (Twain). The price was too high and there was no huge library of software. And this happened, even tho' Apple saw that it needed a river of content, tunes, to launch the iPod. I see it as a measure of how new and unknown a space the iPhone created. Nor was software understood to be content.

    Both issues, price and software, were settled within the first year. The new twist? Apple settled the software issue, not by relying on a couple partners, Microsoft and Adobe (With friends like this who needs enemies?) but by unleashing the creativity of ten of thousands of developers by deploying the App Store. Today apps are simply another form of digital content like tunes, shows, and books. And apps may even subsume the other forms.
  • Reply 17 of 81
    "those shifts are eventually adopted by the rest of the industry." is the final conclusion of everything Apple developed, produces, introduced. When I thought about my first Mac, it was the first Intel Mac, after having a great experience with music using the iPod, my world of tech changed radically. Today, everithing is easy to use, well connected, iCloud based, innovative, nice to work with and phenomenal designed.

    I do not understand, why people choose such crap as delivered by ... wait. No bashing ;-)

    Hey Apple, congratulations. Well done!
  • Reply 18 of 81
    Thirty years ago today, Steve Jobs presented the new Macintosh personal computer to a room of Apple investors. The machine has maintained its impact upon the world ever since, despite continually morphing into new forms while detractors voiced their disapproval.

    Just for historical accuracy...

    The Mac was introduced at Flint Center for the Performing Arts on the Campus of De Anza college -- a few blocks from Apple headquarters.

    The Flint Theater seats over 2,000 people in its balcony, mezzanine and orchestra sections.

    The crowd was dominated by press, computer enthusiasts, computer dealers, Apple employees... it was not "a room of Apple investors" -- I was there!


    Happy 30th Mac & happy 18th to my granddaughter!

    1000
  • Reply 19 of 81
    mr. memr. me Posts: 3,219member
    philboogie wrote: »
    In the defence of MS & Android, the same could be said for them.

    Thanks DED, another great article.
    Um-m-m-m, no. You cannot give the same credit to the copy that is given to the original. Android is a crib of iOS. Windows was a floundering failure until Microsoft gained access to Apple code for the Macintosh.
  • Reply 20 of 81
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,612member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post





    Just talking about the hardware for a moment. Over the years if you look at what a PC laptop looks like a few months after any new MacBook I think you would have found the manufacturers copied Apple's design as closely as they could. I have to double take when looking at the very occasional PC Laptop I see at an airport these days (amongst the sea of glowing white Apple logos) as the design of every PC Laptop is almost identical to a MBP.



    I guess the question is, were the crapware makers' customers desirous of a Mac, driving the need for the copying ... or were these manufacturers just assuming their customers were? Either way I'd say your claim of apathy, in design at least, is misguided since clearly PC laptops change all the time to look as much like a Mac as they can.

     

    I wouldn't dispute much of that (though as always, saying that change has a single source is normally betraying a bias).

     

    But "the world" does not equal the PC hardware industry, and Apple being influential and widely copied does not equal them "forcing" anything. 

     

    I'm not knocking Apple, they're great, and clearly a very important player in computing and technology.  But they didn't "force" the "world" to "change".  It's an OTT headline.

     

    When Steve Jobs got on stage for the iPhone did he say that the Mac had changed the world?  No, check the transcript, he said it changed the computer industry.

     

    "Apple's Macintosh, a leader in the computer industry for 30 years" - much more acceptable and a realistic headline that still does good service to Apple.

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