January 24, 2009

Happy birthday, Mac

Today is the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the Apple Macintosh computer.

In the late 1970s, Apple was already a successful manufacturer of personal computers, thanks to the popularity of the venerable old Apple II. Co-founder Steve Jobs saw a prototype Xerox Alto computer, which used a mouse and graphical user interface (GUI) for its principal user input, instead of the typical keyboard and command line. during a 1979 tour of their PARC labs. Jobs decided that the GUI concept was the future of personal computing. In 1983, Apple released its own GUI-based computer, the Lisa. With a price tag of nearly $10,000 and stiff competition from the IBM PC, it was a commercial failure and the line was soon discontinued. But the Lisa was proof of concept for a GUI computer, and its successor, the Macintosh, revolutionized personal computing in 1984.

The first Macintosh had a whopping 128K of RAM, an 8 MHz Motorola 68000 microprocessor, a 9-inch, 512x342 black-and-white display, and a single 3½-inch floppy disk drive in an integrated case, along with a keyboard. Such luxuries as a hard disk drive or memory expansion slots came later. The original Mac's specifications naturally seem tiny by today's standards1, and in fact they were somewhat inferior to the IBM PCs already on the market at the time, which gave the Mac a bit of a reputation as a "toy."

I used a Mac for the first time only a few months later, at a science fair in the spring of 1984. At the tender age of 13, my only computer experience had been with the command-line interface of the Commodore PET and 64. Not having to type commands to make things work was an alien experience. Nonetheless, mousing out some simple pictures in MacPaint was a completely intuitive activity; I thought the desktop, icons, and pointer of the GUI were completely self-explanatory.2 So it came as no surprise that other computer and software manufacturers soon wanted to get in on the GUI game, and it was only a few years before Microsoft Windows-based PCs began to dominate the personal computer market. Even the look and feel of Linux- or UNIX-based GUIs, such as GNOME or KDE, are evolved from the Mac's look and feel, although the underlying X Window System developed separately.

My primary computer is a desktop PC running either Linux or Windows, but I do also own a Mac: a G3 iBook purchased in 2003. Here it is:

[Scott's lamented iBook]

As you can see, though, it needs a little maintenance.3 Anyone for tossed salad?


1 When I was your age footnote: By comparison, I am writing this post on a PC with a 2 GHz AMD Athlon microprocessor, 1.25 GB of RAM, a combined total of 200 GB of hard drive space, and a 22" 1680x1050 widescreen display. Put another way: roughly 250 times the processor speed, 10,000 times the memory, half a million times the storage capacity, and 10 times the screen real estate (to say nothing of full 36-bit colour). And this computer is already 6 years old.

2 We don't need no education footnote: Meanwhile, some smart-aleck teacher, watching over my shoulder, wisecracked that at last, a $3000 computer made it possible to draw like a 2-year-old.

3 If I had a hammer footnote: Believe it or not, that isn't damage. Unfortunately, my beloved Mac recently fell victim to the infamous video card defect, and removing the hard drive to rescue needed data required nearly a complete dismantling of the laptop. Someday, hopefully, I'll muster up the courage to reassemble it, then find out if I can still obtain replacement parts to get it working again.


This is the 1000th post published to the Crusty Curmudgeon. Fittingly, when I originally set this blog up in 2003, it was done on a Macintosh computer.