The Apple Macintosh

Apple Macintosh – 1984


The Apple Macintosh Project

The Apple Macintosh project started in early 1979 with Jef Raskin, an Apple employee, who envisioned an easy-to-use, low-cost computer for the average consumer. In September 1979, Raskin was authorized to start hiring for the project, and he began to look for an engineer who could put together a prototype.

Bill Atkinson, a member of Apple’s Lisa team, introduced him to Burrell Smith, a service technician who had been hired earlier that year as Apple employee #282. Over the years, Raskin assembled a large development team that designed and built the original Macintosh hardware and software.

Smith’s first Macintosh board was built to Raskin’s design specifications. It had 64KB RAM, used the Motorola 6809E microprocessor, and was capable of supporting a 256×256 pixel black-and-white bitmap display.

By December 1980, Smith had succeeded in designing a board that not only used the 68000 but bumped its speed from 5 MHz to 8 MHz. This board also had the capacity to support a 384×256 bitmap display.


First Apple Macintosh Computer

Above: First Apple Macintosh Computer


The final Mac design was self-contained and had far more programming code in ROM than most other computers. It had 128 KB of RAM, and while there were no memory slots, its RAM was expandable to 512 KB by means of soldering sixteen 256 Kb RAM chips in place of the factory-installed chips.


The Macintosh Catches Steve’s Eye

The innovative design caught the attention of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. Realising the Macintosh was more marketable than the Lisa, Steve began to focus his attention on the project. Raskin left the Macintosh project in 1981 over a personality conflict with Jobs: the final Macintosh design is said to be closer to Jobs’s ideas than Raskin’s.

After hearing of the pioneering GUI technology being developed at Xerox PARC, Jobs negotiated a visit to see the Xerox Alto computer in exchange for Apple stock options. The Lisa and Macintosh user interfaces were partially influenced by technology seen at Xerox PARC and were combined with the Macintosh group’s own ideas.


Apple Macintosh Operating System

Above: Apple Macintosh Operating System 1.0


However, Jobs’s leadership at the Macintosh project was short-lived; after an internal power struggle with new CEO John Sculley, Jobs resigned from Apple in 1985, went on to found NeXT, another computer company, and did not return until 1997. Sculley undermined what the Mac team had been trying to do with the price of the Macintosh, when he artificially inflated the Mac’s price from US$1,995 to US$2,495.

Except for the very expensive and unpopular Apple Lisa which came out in 1983, the Macintosh is considered to be the first commercially successful computer to use a GUI.


Apple CEO John Scully

Above: Apple CEO John Scully


The Macintosh was announced on January 22, 1984, with the 1984 Super Bowl commercial directed by Ridley Scott. This commercial showed a woman, played by Anya Major, who defiantly throws a sledgehammer at a Big Brother-like video screen, which represented IBM. This symbolized Apple’s bringing ‘power to the people’ by challenging the text-based computers that dominated the market at the time. The commericla also played off of George Orwell’s 1984, which was written just after World War II.

The Mac went on sale for US$2,495, two days after the ad aired. It came bundled with two useful programs designed to show off its interface: MacWrite and MacPaint. Although the Mac garnered an immediate, enthusiastic following, it was too radical for some. Because the machine was entirely designed around the GUI, existing text-mode and command-driven programs had to be redesigned and rewritten. This was a challenging undertaking that many software developers shied away from, and resulted in an initial lack of software for the new system. Many users, accustomed to the arcane world of command lines, labeled the Mac a mere “toy.”

In 1985, the combination of the Mac, Apple’s LaserWriter printer, and Mac-specific software like Boston Software’s MacPublisher and Aldus PageMaker enabled users to design, preview, and print page layouts complete with text and graphics, an activity known as desktop publishing. Desktop publishing was unique to the Macintosh, but eventually became available for PC users as well. Later, programs such as Macromedia FreeHand, QuarkXPress, and Adobe Illustrator strengthened the Mac’s position as a graphics computer and helped to expand the emerging desktop publishing market.


Macintosh Plus

The limitations of the first Mac soon became clear: it had very little memory, even compared with other personal computers in 1984 and could not be expanded easily. It lacked a hard drive and the means to attach one easily. Although by 1985 the Mac’s base memory had increased to 512 KB, Apple realised that the Mac needed improvements in these areas.

The result was the Macintosh Plus, released on January 10, 1986 for US$2,600. It offered 1MB of RAM, expandable to four, and a then-revolutionary SCSI parallel interface, allowing up to seven peripherals such as hard drives and scanners to be attached to the machine. Its floppy drive was increased to an 800 KB capacity. The Plus was an immediate success and remained in production until October 15, 1990; on sale for just over four years and ten months, it was the longest-lived Mac in Apple’s history.


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