Twenty-five years ago today, January 24th, 1984, Apple offered the first Macintosh for sale to the public. Released with a huge amount of fanfare using arguably the first high-budget “Super Bowl Ad” during Super Bowl XVIII on January 22nd, Apple aimed to change the computing marketplace forever. Contemporary personal and business computers used a command line driven interface to operate, and programs written for these platforms followed the same type of functionality. IBM’s PC, Commodore’s 64 and 128, even Apple’s II series all followed the same idea, and few computers on the marketplace tried to change that at the time. The big contender, Apple’s Lisa, was a market flop, mostly because it was sold at over $10,000, 5x the amount of the average business computer at the time. Macintosh offered a 32-bit processor (on a 16-bit bus, but let’s not get caught up in the technicalities), 128k of RAM, a high resolution monochrome screen, and a mouse to control one of the friendliest user interfaces at the time. $2,499 was very steep in 1984, but it took the world by storm, and became the envy of every platform.
We got our first Macintosh in the fall of 1986, a smoke and fire damaged Macintosh 512K Enhanced, complete with an Apple HD20 (20mb hard drive!), a LaserWriter Plus printer and an Abaton Scan/300 sheet-fed scanner. My grandmother’s house had burned to the ground, and her basement tenant and friend was getting into desktop publishing — this was her machine. My dad took the machine in while she was relocating, cleaned the smoke damage out of everything, and powered it on. I remember hearing the chime the first time and watching it power up, and it was completely different than the Commodore 64 I grew up with. My dad let me play with MacPaint, and I was hooked. It wasn’t until years later that I realized my dad was letting me play on a setup that was $15,000 when purchased new in 1985.
That machine lasted me until 1993 as a full time machine. I learned Pascal, HyperCard, and MacBASIC on that machine. I did the best looking school papers and projects on that machine, using the scanner to include maps and other data, and using the laser printer to provide crisp, clean printouts. I had Aldus PageMaker and Microsoft Word to create brochures, flyers, and homework. I ran a BBS off of WWIV/Mac for a couple of years. I tried to squeeze System 6 and MultiFinder in the scant, un-upgradeable 512K of RAM. I got into the first BBSs with MacTerminal, and later, ZTerm, all with my Racal Vadic 1200 baud modem, and later, my generic Hayes-compatible 2400bps modem. I really, really used that poor machine with the warped, fire damaged vents.
To this day, that machine boots, hard drive and everything. The LaserWriter Plus and Abaton scanner were sold off by the next owner long before.
The machine taught me about typography, user experience, software development, and the appreciation of a great graphical user interface. I’ve had many PCs and Macs since, and they are exponentially better than that poor little FatMac I used to have. Without Apple’s leadership with that little machine, though, the computing world would be a far different place.
I just had to share.
Happy 25th anniversary for your crazy creation, you guys. Thank you.