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:
Bow-tied Steve Jobs, standing on the Flint Center stage 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!"
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.
"Nowadays, it's obvious that computers are part of the everyday lives of virtually everybody; and the Macintosh was the turning point," says Andy Hertzfeld, a member of the original Mac team.
Steve Jobs on that stage in Cupertino 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. 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." It lived up to the hype of that memorable Super Bowl commercial directed by Ridley Scott, the one featuring a hammer-throwing woman obliterating conformity.
Conformity was indeed obliterated that day in January.
And on a smaller scale it was a moment that a band of techno-pirates -- the freethinking coders and designers working under Jobs' management -- had an inkling that their passion and joy for changing the world might actually be enough to get the job done.
"We were not doing it from a business point of view," says Bill Atkinson, who developed then-mind-boggling pieces of software for the Mac. "We were doing it from the change-the-world point of view. We wanted to make something beautiful and usable and something that people would delight in."
They had raised a pirate flag over a bland building called Bandley 3, away from the main Apple (AAPL) campus in Cupertino, and played Frisbee, Nerf ball and musical instruments to keep things interesting between the sessions of wiring boards and writing code. But amid the playfulness -- and the power struggles befitting any high-stakes project -- there was brilliance and a sense that this was their time.
"There was a slight counterculture bent to it," says Dag Spicer, senior curator at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. "I think that was a big factor, the fusion of the hippie and the engineer. Jobs was known for hiring artists and musicians. For Jobs, it was, 'You're either an artist or a drone.'"
For all that, the machine was not an instant blockbuster. "We were very proud of our baby," says Daniel Kottke, who worked crafting and re-crafting circuit boards for the Mac, "but it didn't really take off."
At $2,495 it was more expensive than many on the team wanted. There were few programs for it and tools for desktop publishing had not yet been developed. But the software came, and with the Mac's breakthrough features -- the mouse, graphic icons to click on and drag and drop, MacPaint, MacWrite and eventually the HyperCard system of creating, storing and linking digital content -- the machine grew in popularity.
And of course it was the Mac, in the form of the fanciful and bullet-shaped iMac, that will be forever linked with the resurrection of Apple during the second coming of Jobs, who returned in 1997 to the company he co-founded and led into the iPod/iPhone/iPad era.
"So, the iPhone, or the smartphone in general, has become a major part of people's lifestyles. They find it empowers them and connects them," Atkinson says. "We were trying to make the first installment of that with the Mac."
Many of the original Mac team members will gather again Jan. 25 at Flint Center, where Jobs first let the Mac out of the bag. (See www.mercurynews.com/mike-cassidy for details.) There will be panel discussions and video cameras and adoring Mac devotees.
And hopefully there will be time for quiet recollection among those who set out to change the world and who now, 30 years later, can rightfully say they did.
Contact Mike Cassidy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.
1984: Macintosh 128K
CPU speed: 8 MHz
The first, inspired by Lisa, with an all-in-one design that includes built-in monitor, 3.5 disk drive and a mouse. It was unveiled Jan. 24, 1984, at Flint Center in Cupertino.
1993: Macintosh Color Classic
CPU speed: 16 MHz
First Macintosh with a built-in color display, but last of the iconic box shape of the classic Mac.
CPU speed: 233 MHz
Back in charge at Apple, Steve Jobs begins streamlining Apple s bloated product lines. He recharges the Mac faithful with the colorful and bullet-shaped iMac, the machine that s destined to become the digital hub for iPhoto, iTunes and the rest of our iLives.
2002: iMac G4
Price: $1,299 (15-inch)
CPU speed: 700/800 MHz
The first major design overhaul of the iMac, the new computer replaces bulky CRT screens with flat-panel monitors.
Price: $1,199 (20-inch)
CPU speed: 2.4 GHz
Introduced in 2004, with a smaller footprint than previous models, it was upgraded in 2005 with a switch from IBM/Motorola s Power PC chip to Intel chips.
Price: $1,299 (21.5-inch)
CPU speed: 2.7 GHz
Apple continues to improve screen resolution and boost processor speeds in the line that launched 30 years ago with the boxy Macintosh.
Sources: Apple, Mercury News archives
Send us your mac stories
When Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh computer 30 years ago, Apple was calling it "the computer for the rest of us." For many, getting their hands on a Mac was a memorable moment, like buying a first car or first house. Send me your Mac memories, the earlier the better, at email@example.com, and I'll pull together some of the best for a future column.
Mac 30th Anniversary gathering
Early Mac team members have organized a series of panel discussions featuring key Mac designers at Flint Center, the site of the Mac's 1984 unveiling. The program begins at 7 p.m. Jan. 25. Tickets, ranging from $109.75 to $140.80, are available at www.ticketmaster.com. See www.macintosh30th.com for more information.