40 years ago, the original Macintosh started a revolution

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Apple Macintosh computer, a revolutionary machine that changed computing forever. This is what made the Macintosh 128K unique.

In the 1980s, the IBM PC was the computer that eclipsed all other PC designs. Before their introduction in 1981, serious computers were bulky, expensive machines that didn’t belong in the home. Even small businesses have resorted to adding machines and calculators for daily use. For more complex work, accounting firms and companies specializing in computer processing were used. Apple set out to change that in 1984 with the Macintosh.

The classic Apple Macintosh shows a friendly welcome on screen.

Of course, personal computers were around before 1981 and Apple was a major player, competing with Commodore, Radio Shack, and others. These are relatively low cost devices with 8-bit processors It often relies on connecting to a TV rather than a monitor to keep costs down. Programs and data were saved in audio cassettes. This was interesting for the amateur but not worth the serious work.

When the IBM PC arrived with a more reliable design and a high-speed Intel 8088 processor that could handle up to 16 bits of data at a time, it was a momentous occasion that led to rapid change. IBM was the most respected name in serious computing and instantly captured the personal computing market. Apple set out to prepare an answer with a high-end business computer, unlike anything we’ve seen before for the general public. This was not the Macintosh, however Apple Lisaone of the first computers to be equipped with a mouse.

A Lisa-1 computer on display at the BYTE Shop computer museum in Boston, Massachusetts, September 2022.
Timothy Colegrove

Apple Lisa had an arEvolutionary design but it was aimed at large companies And at just under $10,000. That’s a high cost even in 2023 and was out of reach for most companies in 1983. Fortunately, Apple didn’t stop there. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs launched a pet project that ran alongside the development of the Lisa flagship computer. Named for its relatively large memory size, the Macintosh 128K stole many of the best parts of the Lisa technology, simplifying the design and cutting costs dramatically to make a personal computer that was more accessible to a much larger audience at $2,495.

This may be the same approach that Apple will use with AR/VR headset, launching an expensive model ignites the imagination and following it up soon after with a less expensive model. If Apple Reality Pro does indeed launch this year, the more affordable Reality One model will likely follow in 2024.

View virtual reality glasses from Apple.
Showcasing the Apple AR/VR headset Ian Zilbo

Returning to the Macintosh story, Apple’s budget model challenges IBM’s 8/16-bit PC Intel 8088 chip with a Motorola 68000 processor, a 16/32-bit chip that can handle twice as much data in a single instruction. The differences were apparent on the surface, too. The Macintosh was small compared to the IBM PC and the computer’s motherboard and floppy disk drive were built into the same case as the small, but sharp, black-and-white screen, making for a small footprint on the desk. This was an important consideration at a time when desks were not designed for computers.

The most significant difference was the mouse and the graphical user interface which made the computer much easier for anyone to learn to use. Apple did not invent this concept that was developed in Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. However, the Macintosh was the computer that took this idea out of the lab and showed that this had to be the way of the future.

The combination of the Macintosh and the Apple ImageWriter or LaserWriter made WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) desktop publishing a reality and became the number one reason for choosing the Macintosh over the IBM PC. Here’s a video of Jobs introducing the Macintosh macessentials Posted on YouTube.

Lost 1984 video: Young Steve Jobs introduces the Macintosh

Microsoft stepped in with Windows, a mouse-based user interface that gave the PC similar capabilities. However, Apple had already established itself as a major choice for the printing business and it took many years for Windows to catch up in the industry. For most users, the low-cost PC was still a favorite and Windows thrived.

With the launch of Apple Silicon, the Mac is once again challenging the Windows PC, but Windows is so prevalent that the Mac may not catch up and become the most popular PC. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Apple is so keen on alternative technologies such as the iPhone and iPad. Apple has a chance to change computing again by supporting new technology that needs help moving into the mainstream.

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