The Mac at 30: The last laugh

I bought my first Macintosh thirty years ago this month, within days of the original Mac going on sale. It was my first personal computer purchase. I had used Apple II’s and even Atari’s where I worked, but I had never owned a computer. Until January 1984.

I had been deliberating for several months prior to January, trying to decide what computer to get. Should it be an Apple IIe, an IBM PC, or this Macintosh thing that was coming? I decided to wait and check out the Mac. I was glad I did. After playing with one at a computer store for all of about two minutes, I was sold. I bought a Mac that day.

The only mystery to me at the time was why everyone in the market for a personal computer did not instantly come to the same conclusion. Why didn’t IBM and Microsoft simply go out of business by the end of the year? For me, the comparison was as if you were back in the days of the earliest mobile phones (the ones that were about the size of a shoebox, which were coincidentally the models available around 1984) and suddenly a company came out with the equivalent of a fully functional iPhone 5S — and the reaction of most consumers was something like “Eh! That iPhone is just a toy. You can’t make real phone calls with it. I’ll stick with my Motorola DynaTAC.”

Yes, the original Mac was that much of a leap forward. Unless you were there back in 1984, it’s hard to imagine how startlingly radical it all was. Heck, I was there and it’s still hard for me to imagine. The Mac featured a graphical display navigated by a mouse; it had an intuitive Finder desktop metaphor, WYSIWYG fonts and the ability to create pictures with the likes of MacPaint. No other computer had anything close to this (except perhaps for Apple’s own Lisa computer, which cost 4X as much). The rest of the bunch were all still stuck using a command line.

The rational part of my brain understood that the original Mac had significant limitations. With only 128K of memory, a single floppy drive and virtually no application software, it clearly wasn’t ready to replace existing PCs. But the emotional part of me would have none of that. At the very least, you had to be rooting for the Mac to succeed, even if you weren’t ready to buy one. Or so I thought.

As you likely know, my expectations did not translate into reality. Many people were not rooting for the Mac. At least not at first. The Mac did not become an overnight blockbuster — despite generally rave reviews. Numerous obstacles, some quite huge, blocked Apple’s (and Mac’s) path to a successful future.

But the story has a happy ending. Apple’s vision for the Mac — and my initial reaction to it — were eventually vindicated. Within less than a decade, with Microsoft “translating” the Mac OS into its Windows software, every personal computer in existence was using a mouse and a Mac-like graphical user interface. Apple had won the war, even if they almost died in doing so.

But Apple didn’t die. Further, not one of the companies that was making personal computers back in 1984 is still in the business of doing so today. Not one of the original computer model names is still in use. Except for Apple and the Mac.

It may not be a tactful, socially correct thing to do, but I can’t resist a bit of gloating here on Apple’s behalf. To all those who laughed at the Mac back in 1984: the last laugh’s on you. The Mac has survived, continues to thrive, and stands alone. Apple itself has become the biggest company on earth!

That’s certainly something worth celebrating. So Happy Anniversary, Mac! Congratulations. Well done. It’s been a fantastic 30 years.

On personal note, as is true of many others, I owe my career to Apple. Without the tools that the Mac provided and the culture that surrounded the Mac, I would not be where I am today. Thank you, Apple.

And now…let the next thirty years of Mac begin…

[For Apple’s take on the Mac’s 30th anniversary, including a look back at highlights from the past three decades, check out Apple’s website.]

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One Response to The Mac at 30: The last laugh

  1. I may not owe my career to the Mac (which we bought in early Feb. 1984), but I sure do owe my sanity to it! I had to use on a Windoze machine at work and it was all I could do to make it to the end of the day, to go home and turn on my Mac. Now I have 4 that I use regularly (yYmy G5 iMac runs ClarisWorks. I cannot find an app that will print labels as easily as it does.), an iPad 4 and the iPhone 5.

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