No, you weren’t having 1980s flashbacks last week. My Twitter and Facebook streams were filled on Jan. 24 with comments about the first Macintosh models that people used and owned. And then I remembered: the Mac just turned 30!
On that date in 1984, Steve Jobs revealed the first Macintosh and changed the face of modern computing. The mouse, a desktop metaphor for working with files, content viewing in windows … Apple popularized those concepts (even if it didn’t originate them) such that now we take them for granted.
Obviously, the Mac is still with us, and is even thriving, despite a few instances when either it or Apple itself looked to blink out of existence. In the company’s quarterly earnings report released this week, Mac sales increased 6 percent over the previous quarter and 19 percent over the same quarter a year ago,
with about 5 million units sold, for $6.4 billion in revenue. And Macs have increased their market share during 30 of the last 31 quarters — nearly eight years of growth in a product category that is contracting for most other companies.
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(Don’t miss Apple’s Mac 30 presentation on the Web, which focuses not just on the machines but also people who’ve done extraordinary things with Macs:
What I find more amazing, though, is how much the original Mac still affects what we do today. The desktop metaphor, as one example, persists even though it’s no longer consistent — I’d love to mimic OS X’s Dashboard behavior in real life and organize all the papers and clutter with a three-finger swipe up on my physical desk.
More notable, Macs are computers that people want to use. The original iMac saved Apple from bankruptcy because it wasn’t trying to be another beige box in a cubicle; Apple had tried that, flailed, and failed. The iMac had personality and charm, and could get its owner set up and connected to the Internet quickly and easily. At the time, Internet access on a personal computer was a rarity.
For a good insight into how the iMac and other products came to be, I recommend Leander Kahney’s book, “Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products” (www.cultofmac.com/jonyive/).
I also can’t talk about the early Macintosh without pointing you to www.folklore.org, the compendium of information and first-person accounts of how the Macintosh came to be, created by one of the original designers, Andy Hertzfeld.
Do you remember which Macintosh models you’ve owned? As someone who writes about the Mac, I frequently refer to Ian Page’s app Mactracker (free, suggested donation; mactracker.ca), which collects all the models and specifications of every Mac and many Apple accessories.
Far from being just a peek into the past, Mactracker is a helpful tool in the present. I use it to check the memory capabilities of Macs that my extended-family members own, for example, or verify if older machines can be upgraded to the latest version of OS X.
Mactracker helps you keep track of your own Macs, storing the models, configurations and serial numbers for quick reference.
Or maybe you never got to experience the “bing” of starting up an early generation Mac. Don’t worry, the Internet is here to help. James Friend has built an emulator that runs System 7 on a simulated Mac Plus, which you can use in any modern Web browser: jamesfriend.com.au/pce-js/pce-js-apps/
The emulator includes early versions of Microsoft Word, MacPaint and even the application that pushed me onto my career path, Aldus (later Adobe) PageMaker.
For my part, the first Mac I owned was a Macintosh Classic II that, like the original Macintosh 128k, was an all-in-one portable machine. As a staff member (and subsequent editor) of my college newspaper, I often packed the Mac into a carrying case — which involved simply unplugging the power cable, keyboard and mouse, and lifting the Mac using its built-in handle — slung it over my shoulder, and biked from my dorm to the newspaper office across campus. (The PowerBook had only just been introduced, and there was no way I could afford one on my college-student budget.)
And you? I’d love to read your early Mac stories online in the comments.
Jeff Carlson writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. More Practical Mac columns at seattletimes.com/columnists.