30 years ago, Apple’s Macintosh changed the world forever

“As a historic moment in Silicon Valley, it’s right up there with the coin flip that christened Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and the Traitorous Eight mutiny that launched Fairchild Semiconductor and the microchip industry,” Mike Cassidy reports for The San Jose Mercury News. “Bow-tied Steve Jobs, standing on the Flint Center stage in Cupertino, Calif., on Jan. 24, 1984, reaches into a bag and pulls out a rectangular all-in-one personal computer called Macintosh.”

“‘Hello, I am Macintosh,’ the squat machine’s robotic voice says. ‘It sure is great to get out of that bag!'” Cassidy reports. “Hard to believe that it was 30 years ago. Hard to believe that there are grown men and women — working people, couples with children, bosses, company founders and the people who fund them — who have never known a world without Macintosh.”

“In fact, it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that the launch of the Mac goes well beyond a key moment in Silicon Valley history or even computer history. The launch was a watershed moment in world history,” Cassidy reports. “Steve Jobs on that stage marked the moment that the tools of the digital age were offered to all of us. It was the moment that the artist in Manhattan, the photographer in Santa Monica, the novelist in Des Moines, and the kid down the street in San Jose were offered the chance to create and communicate in ways they hadn’t yet imagined.”

“The Macintosh changed everything,” Cassidy reports. “It was a computer with a price tag that was within reach for many, and more importantly, it was a computer that almost anyone could operate without going to school to become an expert. It really was the ‘computer for the rest of us.'”

Read more in the full article here.

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48 Comments

  1. I remember it well. When it was introduced I couldn’t sit still until I had my hands on one. Called the local Apple retailer and was told I’d have to wait, that all they had were already spoken for. In the afternoon of jan 24, 1984 the salesman called me and said that one of the buyers had backed out, and do I want it. Well of course. That was the end of my command-line life and I’ve never looked back.

    1. It took me a month and a half to get that first generation Mac along with the 9 pin dot-matrix printer. $3,000 together. “Don’t need a printer, then go to the back of the line please.” I got the travel bag too, not sure where. That Mac and about 2 dozen or more Macs are retired in my basement now. Some failed and others were upgraded past. Others were gifted where people needed a computer.

      I will own no other PC. Bought 5 iPAds, and about 6 iPhones. When, Google maps looks at my house, I thing it clearly sees a Apple Halo over it.

        1. No, the printer was $500 when you bought the $2,500 Macintosh. I have know idea was the ImageWriter went for when bought separately. That is without the NJ tax.

    2. 30 years ago…

      “Called the local Apple retailer and was told I’d have to wait, that all they had, were already spoken for.”

      Some things never change. 🙂

  2. ‘Never trust an IBM Mainframe you cannot lift’! Classic Steve Jobs/Apple humor.

    By the way, is that maxim why Microsoft’s Surface Table tablet for five grand never took off?

  3. I don’t have any recollection whatsoever of the launch of the Mac but I do remember the launch of Windows XP. I was pretty excited over the launch of Windows XP. I only remember the Mac through a jagged lens of others using it. My earliest recollection of a Mac was the clamshell iBook that looked like a shellfish or toilet seat when closed. And the candy colored iMac that was prevalent in school classrooms. I asked a friend of mine who was carrying an iBook whether he did any work on it. I was carrying an Acer laptop at that time – I don’t remember the model number any more now but it was one of the slimmest laptops in the market – slimmer even than the iBook. It had an external CD-ROM drive which made it really slim, much like how the MacBook Air is configured minus the DVD slot.

    I looked through my friend’s iBook and thought that given the paucity of programs (apps) in the notebook that it was just used as a paperweight but he assured me that he got a lot of work done on it. I was of course very sceptical because in my opinion then Windows outstripped Macs in productivity and the impression lasted for quite a long time due to the dearth of programs (apps) available to the Mac. I liked Windows XP and if Microsoft hadn’t taken a hammer to XP and brought out Vista, I think many people will still have stuck with Windows today, despite the clunkiness.

    The turning point came, I remember clearly, with the launch of the iPhone. That was what opened my eyes towards owning a Mac. I saw more and more people owning iPhones and Macs around me – the halo effect in action. I have been a Mac user since Snow Leopard and have loved every iteration of OS X since then, up to and including Mavericks. I think Mavericks makes my MBP run really fast – no complaints at all. The only other point I’d make is that an SSD makes a real difference to a Mac – if you feel any sluggishness at all, install an SSD without a shadow of a doubt.

    That’s the sum of my Mac recollection.

    1. I was a late comer to the Mac and bought in with the Powerbook 170 in 1992 and never felt there was a “paucity” of available apps. I got so much done with that little guy (working as Visual Effects Supervisor in London on a major movie) with modest system CPU and storage by today’s standards. It was love at first boot. Anyway that was a common perception you couldn’t get work done on a Mac “toy” computer which was hilarious to those of us who knew better. All of the essential apps were available and then some. Word & Excel were written for the Mac first of course. Programs first on Mac later ported to Windows:

      * Microsoft Word in 1984
      * Microsoft Excel in 1984
      * Aldus PageMaker (later Adobe PageMaker), circa 1986
      * Adobe Illustrator, 1986
      * Fontographer, the first commercial scalable-font authoring software, 1986.
      * Microsoft PowerPoint, 1987 (originally called Forethought Presenter)
      * Adobe Photoshop circa 1987
      * Adobe Illustrator circa 1987
      * QuarkXpress, 1987
      * Macromedia Freehand
      * Avid, the first professional personal computer-based video editing software, 1988
      * Make Music Finale circa 1989, the publishing industry’s leading application for typesetting sheet music
      * AOL, 1990-1991. America Online and its client software application were originally Mac-only.
      * Digidesign Sound Tools and Pro Tools, starting 1989
      * Adobe Type Manager, circa 1990. The first scalable screen fonts on a computer display.
      * FileMaker Pro database software (an independent division of Apple), circa 1986
      * Apple QuickTime
      * Apple iTunes
      * Apple Safari
      * Scrivener, 2009

      So obviously the Mac was way ahead of Windows 3.1 & 95 in terms of great apps at the time of their introduction.

      1. And the first Relational Database software for the Mac was called MacLion, released in 1984. And that same year, the first game for the Mac was a Chess Game created by Steve Capps, Alice through the Looking Glass, packaged in a small book with a ribbon, that allowed you to pop out the floppy disk.

      2. Enjoyable software nostalgia roundup and another great personal computer sojourn story. Well done.

        FYI: Freehand was first launched by Aldus in the late 1980s to compete with Illustrator. It went on to win the hearts and minds of users for decades. FH dominated newspaper and magazine art departments, as well as graphics wire services including USA TODAY, until Adobe bought Macromedia in 2004 or thereabouts. THE Associated Press Graphics Network (now AP Exchange) converted soon thereafter. FH still lives on for many using older Macs running Snow Leopard …

    2. Absolutely wonderful narrative of your personal Mac sojourn.

      Don’t know how old you are, but I shelved my TRS 80 for a Mac Lisa. Because of work I have owned and used both platforms since the 1980s.

      Clearly, Appleh rules despite hiccups.

      Again, enjoyed your journey … 🙂

        1. Don’t call me sir, Shirley or late for dinner … 😉

          Enjoy your spot on insightful posts and let’s keep Apple’s feet to the fire.

          Certainly, the pro-Apple trolls and assorted cheerleaders here free as the breeze are not always up to the task of making Apple better.

  4. I started using Macs at the Ohio newspaper I worked at as a photographer in 1984 –bought my own first Mac, a Mac Plus (duh), in 1987.
    It replaced my Timex Sinclair 1000 and my Commodore 64.
    I’ve owned and used nothing but Macs ever since.

    1. He also had a great quote about Macs.
      Never ask what sort of computer a guy drives. If he’s a Mac
      user, he’ll tell you. If not, why embarrass him?
      — Tom Clancy

      1. I just saw Jack Ryan – Shadow Recruit. I know Tom Clancy is probably rolling over in his grave, Jack was using a Lumina Windows 8 phone (freaking product placement). At least his future wife had the good sense to have a iPhone, but with logo missing

  5. What I remember clearly was the first time I used one. A 128k Mac. It was at a computer fair at my school. The Mac was launched not long ago.

    We need to remember, there was only command lines. Video games were controlled either by keyboard or joystick (the Atari ones, which were, pretty much, a 5-button keyboard with a stick)

    There was no pixel-by pixel control of the cursor. So, seeing what a mouse could do (point to the exact pixel on the screen) was almost magical. First, I saw others do it. I did not understand very well how it worked, but I wanted to try it. After a long line, I got myself in front of it. I used MacPaint (I was a kid, I did not care about work software), create a brick wall and used the spray paint can (there was no airbrush back then, lol!) to fill it with graffiti. It was fun!

    But I understood, at my 13 years old, that the little box in front of me, and the mouse were going to change computing forever.

    And today (among other machines), I’m the proud owner of a fully functional 512k Macintosh. It’s fun to turn it on once in a while.

  6. I remember sitting at the front of my father’s PC, a Sord (I think). It had this blinking cursor, and I just stared at it.

    A couple of years later, I sat in front of a Mac 128. I intuitively knew how to open files, etc. I realized that computing really can be for the masses. The Mac turned me into a geek. 🙂

  7. Until 1984, my most used electronic device was the HP 41cx.

    Once I saw the first Mac, I bought one and never looked back. 2D CAD as PowerDraw (later PowerCADD) arrived and liberated me from 3 foot x 4 foot sheets of paper on multiple large drawing board with “drafting machines” (Bruning, etal.)

    Not everything could be done on a Mac, so Windows was used on a beige box PC, but starting in 2006, my Macs have run Windows native so I can run 3D solids & now on a MacBook Pro.

    Interestingly enough, the Mac and the iPhone now have HP 41 emulators, so I still use the “41CX” including programs I wrote, that can be quite complex, to do standard sorts of engineering calculations.

  8. The first Mac I saw in person was a Lisa. First person I knew had a Mac he brought home to “Test Drive” (for free!) but he did not buy it. My first Mac was an SE and I rented it out to a company. Rent paid for it but I did not get to use it much. Then bought a Mac II and color 13″ monitor used for $5600. Had that for a decade it seems with some upgrades. Nothing slowed it down even when a PC would hiccup on webpages. Been an Apple fanboy since 1977 (Apple II+).

    The best thing about a Mac was the end of the command line and typing filenames.

    1. I couldn’t afford an Apple II in 77′ so I had to settle for a Radio Shack model 1 with a cassette and 4k ram for $499. It was my Christmas present. A 4k ram upgrade was an additional $499 and required and expansion module.

        1. Don’t feel bad. I lusted over the Amiga. I could only afford a Commodore 64. I loved it as well.

          I never really had any emotional connection to the PC’s that I built. When I retired them, I couldn’t care less.

          I fell back in love with technology with the introduction of the iPod and the Mac mini and I haven’t looked back since. Instead, I look forward to every new product Apple releases.

      1. I’ll explain how I could afford an Apple II+: I was consulting and the customer bought it. When I was done working and being paid then I could afford one for myself.

        BTW, I did not buy a monitor for it as I already had a transformer-less TV converted to a monitor (I tapped into the video circuit) and eventually plugged the TV into the wall socket backwards (not three-pronged) and blew up every chip in the Apple II+. The power supply still worked and I bought new chips. All chips were socketed except one. Blew out some PCB traces, too. Got it working, though. Had to do some quick talking to get another set of ROM chips.

  9. I was at the dealer introduction for the Mac up in Bellevue between Seattle and Redmond for the Mac introduction with the Byte Shop. The room was darkened and Ron Reed, a trainer for Apple was roller skating back and forth behind the raised podium dressed in a kilt carrying the Mac in its carrying case. It was fairly surreal. Then he stepped up to the podium, plugged in the machine and we were amazed when it announced itself. A fellow salesperson and I looked at each other immediately and we both said “We Be Mac’n Now” at the exact same time.

    $2499 and salespeople could buy one for $1000.

  10. First Mac I used was in 87. Before that it was all MSDOS and that goofy looking MS Windows. Which I hated and ended up using MSDOS almost all the time. Used the Mac once and boom, never turned back again. Not even through the bad times I used a Mac and always found a way to make it work with the Windows IT Overlords running the company, who demanded NO MACS AT WORK ONLY REAL COMPUTERS AND NOT TOYS! God I hated those guys back then…bunch of clueless DOLTS!

    1. That sounds maddeningly familiar. I do know that toys have provided me with a nice living for a number of years. I daresay some of the goons have changed their tune by now and may even play with such toys themselves. That however will not persuade me to look them up and get together over a pint for old times’ sake. Somehow Jubei you and I made it out of the mines and into the light.

      1. Yes we did make it through the mines and flourished through it all. I agree, I have no desire to look up those goons who constantly berated me on my choice for using a Mac for more than two decades.

  11. The front end of that newspaper I worked at until 1997 was all Windows boxes.
    Only our graphics/ photo department was Macs – hated by our resident IT doofuses – even though (or more likely because) we took care of everything all by ourselves.
    I learned that shortly after I moved on to other endeavors (Finally full time with my own photo studio and teaching photography at the University level) they switched over to an all Macintosh shop.
    I wish I could have been there to see the IT guy’s faces.
    Happy days.

  12. I remember using the Mac 128. (without the benefit of an external floppy drive) It may sound weird and geeky, but it really was a magical time with endless possibilities.

    Remember (then widely known) names like the Mac Bottom, Monster Mac, disk swapping, Switcher (Andy Hertzfeld gets a special mention here), Desk Accessories, Special Menu, Font/DA Mover, ResEdit, Copy-to-Mac, user groups?

    Then there was the Mac(insert the name of your software or product), this was long before the i(insert the name of your software or product).

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