As someone who has been writing about technology since the early 1980s, I've had my share of right and wrong predictions, but when I look back 30 years this month -- at my review of the original Macintosh, I'm happy to say that I got it right.
"I rarely get excited over a new computer," I wrote. "But Apple's (AAPL) Macintosh, officially introduced last Tuesday, has started a fever in Silicon Valley that's hard not to catch. My symptoms started when I talked with some devotees from Apple and the various companies that produce software, hardware and literature to enhance the new computer. By the time I got my hands on the little computer and its omnipresent mouse, I was hooked. Apple has a winner."
I was lucky enough to get a personal preview of the Mac from Steve Jobs who I described in my review as "Apple's young chairman." As always, Steve was incredibly enthusiastic about this new machine, but he had a right to be. As I said at the time, "The Macintosh is as innovative today as the Apple II was in 1977. It's one of the few computers introduced in the last 18 months that makes no attempt to imitate the IBM PC."
Even though the Mac wasn't an instant commercial success, it was an inspirational device the day it shipped. And for some applications, it was well worth the $2,495.
I was working at a computer training company at the time and as soon as the $6,995 Apple LaserWriter came out in 1985, we invested nearly $10,000 in it and a Mac so that we could bring our graphics and typesetting in-house, saving us thousands a year over what we had been spending to produce our training materials. And the only software we used at first was MacWrite and MacPaint, which came with the machine.
Perhaps just as important as the savings was the control we had over our production. Instead of having to explain what we wanted to a designer, send copy to a typesetter and wait for it to come back so someone could lay it out, we produced our own materials with a lot less hassle. We also used it to create overhead slides (back before there was PowerPoint) and marketing materials. Amazingly for the time, it was even possible to copy and paste graphics from MacPaint directly into MacWrite.
While none of this may seem like a big deal to a generation that came of age in the era of Macs, Windows and digital publishing, it was life-changing to those of us accustomed to the tedious, time-consuming and expensive processes at the time. I'm not sure it's an exaggeration to say that the Mac made the biggest contribution to democratizing publishing since the Gutenberg press. To this day, I use my Mac (and my Windows PC) to create materials that used to require professional services. Just last month, I used a PC and color laser printer to save time, plus hundreds of dollars, by printing a brochure myself instead of having it done commercially. Thank you Apple for pioneering this desktop publishing revolution.
From a specification standpoint, that first Mac was anemic even compared to other machines of its day. It had only 128K of memory and a 400K floppy drive. There was no hard drive at the time, even though IBM was already offering a PC with a 10 MB drive. "K," by the way, stands for kilobyte, which is a millionth of a gigabyte. Today's 2 TB hard drives, which cost less than $100, store 2 billion times the data as the Mac's floppy drive. Even the desktop PC I had back in 1984 had a 10 megabyte hard drive, a lot more memory and a screen that was bigger than the original Mac's 14-inch black-and-white screen. But it was an amazing screen for its time because it -- along with Apple's brilliant Mac operating system and software, enabled you to use rich text and graphics and see on screen what you would get from a printer in an era when most IBM PC-users were stuck with a green monochrome screen that had a hard time displaying anything besides text.
But the real legacy of that original Mac isn't that machine, but what it inspired. Microsoft --which had already been working on Windows before the Mac was introduced -- jumped on the graphical user interface banner and -- over a period of years -- made it the standard for both personal and business computing. Apple struggled, and by 1998 was on the verge of bankruptcy, but co-founder Jobs -- the power behind the first Mac -- returned and helped transform Apple into one of the world's most important companies.
And, even Apple's other product lines like iPod, iPhone and iPad are evolutions of the Macintosh. They use touch instead of mice, but they are inspired by and reminiscent of the Mac tradition. And -- at age 30 -- the Mac remains a viable and profitable computing platform even during this "post-PC period" where traditional PCs are making way for mobile devices.
Happy Birthday Mac!
Contact Larry Magid at email@example.com. Listen for his technology chats on KCBS-AM (740) weekdays at 3:50 p.m.