January 24, 1984: Apple’s Steve Jobs unveiled the Macintosh, which would revolutionize the world of personal computing. While initial sales were slower than expected and its general market share is dwarfed by Windows, there’s no doubting that the arrival of the Macintosh computer changed the way we live and work today.
Apple hasn’t always made the best decisions for its ground-breaking Macintosh. There have been as many blunders as blinders in the Mac’s rich and colourful history, and Apple has been on the brink of buyout, merger and outright death on a number of occasions.
But today, 30 years on, Apple is not only innovating not just the computer but other giant industries, such as music, mobile, software and entertainment through its iOS family of devices. More Mac 30th Birthday features.
Steve Jobs and the Macintosh are inextricably linked in the minds of most people. So it may come as somewhat of a surprise to learn that the Mac wasn’t his idea at all. In fact, he wanted to kill the project in its infancy. Lucky for Apple and millions of dedicated users everywhere, he was unsuccessful. The story of how the Mac came to be is a fascinating tale of one man’s inspiration, another’s ego, and the dedication of a small band of “pirates” that forever changed the way the world computes.
In 2014, when Apple and all the world’s Macintosh enthusiasts will be celebrating the Mac’s 30th anniversary, for one man it would have been its 25th.
True father of the Mac: Jef Raskin
That man is Jeffrey Frank “Jef” Raskin, the true father of the Macintosh. Raskin, a professor turned computer consultant, wrote the Integer BASIC manual for the Apple II in 1976.
When he joined Apple on January 3, 1978 (exactly one year after its incorporation), as employee #31, the 34-year-old Raskin was manager of the publications department. Over time he started a new product review division and an application software division.
In the spring of 1979, chairman Mike Markkula asked Raskin if he would work on a project code-named Annie, the goal of which was to produce a $500 game machine (shades of the ill-fated Bandai/Apple Pippin).
At the time, Jobs and cohorts were working on the business-oriented Lisa project, and the company felt it needed a lower-cost product than the Apple II, which was selling for well over $1,000 in a basic configuration without a disk drive or monitor.
“I told him it was a fine project, but I wasn’t terribly interested in a game machine,” remembered Raskin, who sadly passed away in 2005.
“However, there was this thing that I’d been dreaming of for some time, which I called Macintosh. The biggest thing about it was that it would be designed from a human factors perspective, which at that time was totally incomprehensible.” Markkula was intrigued and asked Raskin to elaborate on his ideas and investigate the feasibility of putting them into practice.
By late May, Raskin had sketched out the basic ideas behind a computer for the “Person in the Street,” known as the PITS, for short.
Raskin had grown increasingly frustrated at the complexity of the Apple II. Its open architecture was good in the sense that you could fill its slots with anything you wanted, but that flexibility forced the user to be a pseudo-technician and made it extremely difficult for developers to create products that worked with all configurations.
“Considerations such as these led me to conceive the basic architecture and guiding principles of the Mac,” explained Raskin.
“There were to be no peripheral slots so that customers never had to see the inside of the machine (although external ports would be provided); there was a fixed memory size so that all applications would run on all Macintoshes; the screen, keyboard, and mass-storage device (and, we hoped, a printer) were to be built-in so that the customer got a truly complete system, and so that we could control the appearance of characters and graphics.”
Physically, the computer would be contained in an all-in-one case without cables. Raskin expected people to grow so attached to their Macs that they would never want to leave home without them, so portability was a key concern.
He envisioned a weight just under 20lbs and an internal battery providing up to two hours of operation.
His wish list also included an 8-bit microprocessor with 64K of RAM, one serial port, a modem, real-time clock, printer, 4-5-inch diagonal screen with bitmapped graphics, and a 200K, 5.25-inch floppy-disk drive all built in.
BASIC and FORTH programming languages were to be contained in read-only memory (ROM), as were “self-instructional” programs that were so easy to use, manuals would be unnecessary.
Raskin described a user interface in which everything – writing, calculating, drafting, painting, etc – was accomplished in a graphical word processor-type environment with a few consistent and easily learned concepts.
“For example, the calculator abilities will apply to numbers that are entered the same way any text is entered. The traditional concept of an operating system is replaced by an extension of the idea of an on-line editor.”
While that may not sound much like the Mac as we know it today, his reasoning was that there should be no modes or levels, a concept that has endured.
Raskin even proposed an official name for his Macintosh computer: the Apple V. He figured that it could go into production by September 1981, for sale that Christmas with a price of $500. As volume increased, he expected the price to drop to $300 after 18 months.