By Gery L. Deer
On January 24, 1984, Steve Jobs introduced the world to the first Apple Macintosh computer. Just two days earlier, the famous “1984-themed” Ridley Scott Apple commercial (watch below) ran during the Super Bowl battle between the Washington Redskins and the Los Angeles Raiders. Apple already had a few other products out there, the Apple II, the Apple III (which pretty much flopped) and the Apple LISA, designed for business use. But at more than $10,000 each, most companies didn’t see the value in the LISA and it was tanking as well. Apple was in trouble and Jobs’ latest masterpiece almost didn’t happen.
But as radio commentator Paul Harvey would have said, you already know, “the rest of the story.” The Macintosh became the tough act to follow, but follow they did and the little, beige box with the friendly, “Hello” on its screen changed the way computers are built today. Thirty years later, Steve Jobs is gone and Apple’s shine might have dulled a bit, but they certainly set the stage for the innovation of personal technology. Of course, the script is constantly being re-written.
According to the website, EveryMac.com, the original Apple Macintosh (128k) featured an 8 MHz 68000 processor, 128k (128,000 bytes) of RAM (Random Access Memory), and a 400k (400,000 bytes) disk drive, packaged up in a small, all-in-one, portable case with a 9-inch monochrome display.
To put that into modern tech perspective, the iPhone 3, released only a couple of years ago and already obsolete, boasted 8GB (gigabytes) of RAM. That’s, 8,000,000 bytes or just about 62-times the memory of the first Mac computer. Apple’s smartphones also feature processing speeds that make the original desktop computer look like a pocket calculator. Add to that video and audio quality on the iPhone superior even to most television cameras of that era and all weighing in at less than 5 ounces. It’s safe to say, technology has certainly come a long way.
The concept of the “Mac” was simple, to get people focused on using the computer rather than just trying to get it to work properly. Sporting a new graphical user interface (“borrowed” from Xerox copiers) the user no longer needed to know how to use DOS (Disk Operating System) commands just to make the Mac do something. Clicking a mouse button instead of keying in strings of code gave the computer a friendlier, approachable appeal.
Of course, it wasn’t “that” friendly, as Admiral Kirk’s intrepid engineer, Mr. Scott, discovered in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home when he picked up a Mac mouse and tried to make friends with it – “Hello, computer?” Well, Scotty, unfortunately, audio interaction was still a few years down the road.
But the first Mac did have some other great features, most of which became standard on every computer as time went on. Much of that technology is outdated now, like the 1.44 MB (megabyte) 3 ½-inch floppy disk, but were a big deal when the average hard disk was the size of a shoebox and held only 10 MB.
Another of the first Mac’s basic features was WYSIWYG printing, pronounced “wizzy-wig” and short for “What You See Is What You Get.” (See, techno-babble really isn’t always so high-tech and cryptic, sometimes it’s downright simple.) In software development, it means that the programmer can see exactly what will be produced from a series of code.
But when applied to desktop publishing, for example, WYSIWYG is a slang reference for the code that allows the user to see on the screen exactly what a document will look like once it is printed. It’s a feature pretty much expected now but back then, it was a major innovation. Many IBM-platform software programs tried to do it, but it was irregular and unpredictable. Apple got it to work.
When it was released, the largest home-market competitor to the Apple computer was not an IBM, but the Commodore 64. The little grey keyboard that used the household television for a monitor featured a 64,000 byte memory, tape and 5 ¼-inch floppy drives and countless pre-programmed software packages. Its price was less than $200 in America, and, at the time, only the Atari 2600 game console was considered competition for the family-friendly, British-made system.
Although the Commodore featured a game cartridge port and the first startup system that didn’t require the user to insert a disk before powering it on, it still needed programming and command codes. As soon as its features were understandable to a public who, to that point, didn’t even understand what “memory” was, the Apple Macintosh shot to the top of the computer sales charts.
Here was a machine that the average, middle-class family could afford and use. It wasn’t like buying a car; more like buying a television. As the Mac grew more popular, other computer companies followed suit with graphic interface systems, mouse control and continual upgrades to memory, processing speed and audio-visual quality. And then there was … Microsoft.
Bill Gates’ fledgling computer company had hit pay dirt in 1980 with MS DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System), the software that brought IBM computers to life. But, they had yet to make a real mark anywhere but with big business and Gates knew the company wouldn’t survive without a piece of the home use market. To keep up with the massive success of the Mac, Microsoft introduced the first independent version of Windows 1.0 in November of 1985.
Since that time the self-segregation between Windows and Apple users has grown into a cultural divide. Windows users are seen to be uptight, stuffed-shirt business types, while Apple breeds the look and persona of the artist, undisciplined and burning their neckties in the streets. Technical differences caused the rift for the most part, but today, there’s little one of the operating systems can do that the other cannot.
Regardless of the cultural differences, Apple set the stage for the home computer market and continues to be the “hip and cool” product line. Although the iPhone is Apple’s current flagship product, followed by the iPad tablet computer, it has fallen behind in sales over the last few years, owning just short of 40-percent of the cell market.
No one knows what will be next for Apple, but it’s clear the company’s innovative reputation has suffered since the death of its most influential founder. Still, there are plenty of innovations waiting to be made in the world of personal technology and it’s unlikely the company will lose the loyal following of users anytime soon.
Here’s the Ridley Scott-directed, Apple Macintosh Commercial that first aired during the 1984 Super Bowl.
Here is the little-known video of a young Steve Jobs introducing the 1984 Apple Macintosh.
Deer Computer Consulting, Ltd. was one of the first IT service companies to provide support for both IBM / Windows and Apple Mac computers. Call today (937) 902-4857.