Apple essentially created the personal computer market with the introduction of the Apple II and then redefined how people work with their computers when it launched the first Macintosh 25 years ago. Apple's little all-in-one computer has evolved dramatically over the past 25 years and has continually managed to introduce features that have worked their way into other aspects of our computing, business and personal lives.
One of the most dramatic changes the Mac made in the computing world was introducing a graphics-based interface to the mainstream. Prior to the Mac, users interacted with their computers by typing what are now seen as cryptic commands such as ProDOS's BRUN, PR#3 and CAT.
Along with the more user friendly graphic interface with its Desktop metaphor, the Mac brought the mouse to the masses -- an essential tool for interacting with the Mac's icon-based interface. When combined, the Mac's graphic interface and mouse showed people that computers can be approachable and usable in every day life without years of training or a pocket protector.
Print it Up
The magic triangle formed by the Mac, Adobe PostScript and Aldus PageMaker heralded a new age in the printing industry with the introduction of desktop publishing. What had previously been the domain of highly specialized typesetters and other layout professionals opened up to nearly anyone with a Mac and a few thousand dollars.
The desktop publishing revolution eventually led to other mainstay products including Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and QuarkXPress, along with countless output devices designed to take advantage of the digital quality the Mac and its applications could produce.
As computing power increased, Macs moved beyond the printed page and became audio and video editing systems, too, helping boost the computer's already strong position as the tool of choice for creative professionals.
Leader of the Pack
Windows-based PCs may outsell the Mac, but that doesn't stop PC makers from looking to Apple for what to do next. Apple has continually set the trends in the desktop computing world -- from the introduction of the graphic user interface and mouse, to built-in networking support, the elimination of the floppy disk drive, and the introduction of the USB port.
While Apple and Microsoft continually battle to make the best operating system, all computer users are ultimately the winners since the competition pushes both companies to improve their products. That competition has led to new expectations for operating system performance and stability, security, ease of use, and more. Which operating system is superior is the subject of never ending debates, but it appears clear that without Apple driving innovation with earlier versions of its operating system, and now Mac OS X, Microsoft's Windows would be far more rudimentary.
Good Times, Bad Times
Mac market share is on the rise, Apple's computers are seen as sexy must-have products, and around half of all the new computers sold in Apple's retail stores go to switchers or first time buyers. The Mac's future, however, didn't always look so bright.
After Steve Jobs was unceremoniously booted from the company he helped launch, the Mac's focus was lost. The company developed several different Mac product lines including the Centris, Quadra and Performa -- all with nondescript model numbers and a confusing list of features that made it horribly difficult to decide which machine to buy.
The Mac's marketshare dwindled, and the company gave itself a black eye when it began licensing clone makers and cannibalized its own sales instead of boosting the Mac's overall take of the market.
The future for the Mac, and Apple as a whole, eventually looked so bleak that rumors began circulating that the company was closing its doors, or that any number of other companies were in the process of executing a buyout -- including the venerable technology donut company, Dunkin' Donuts.
Back in Mac
Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, first as the interim CEO, and then later the CEO, where he axed projects and brought a renewed focus on the Mac product line. Since his return, Apple has streamlined its Mac lineup, killed the clone program, introduced the iMac, moved from Motorola to IBM to Intel processors, and scrapped and rebuilt the Mac OS.
The first Mac shipped with an 8MHz Motorola 68000 processor, 128KB of RAM, and a 400KB floppy disk drive. 25 years later, the Mac Pro ships with two 2.8GHz Intel Quad-Core Xeon processors, 2GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive for US$2,799 -- the original 128K Mac set users back $2,495.
The changes Apple set in motion 25 years ago when it introduced the Mac have had a profound impact on the computer world and end users alike. Here's to another 25 years of game changing innovation.