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Happy 25th Birthday, Macintosh

macintosh-128

The original 1984 Macintosh 128K

It was 25 years ago to the day: January 24th, 1984, that the very first Macintosh personal computer first went on sale, changing the computer industry – and perhaps history as a whole – forever.  While we might fondly look back with a chuckle at its meager 8MHz CPU, 128kB of RAM and 9″ black and white screen, there’s no arguing the importance and success of the Mac.  This original Macintosh introduced the world at large to the graphical user interface: a means of operating a computer with a pointing device, aka the mouse, where by its user could access the machine’s functions and interact with it’s software by simply pointing and clicking on menus and icons on it’s display – rather than typing cryptic commands into a terminal, which was the norm of the era. The GUI was thought to be but a mere gimmick by hobbyists, geeks, and experts alike at the time. Some went as far as to consider the machine a toy that would never be useful for serious computing tasks.

While it is true the GUI existed before the Mactintosh, the Macintosh made it a success.

It’s price point of $2,495 made the technology available to the average middle class American family. While it received several overhauls to it’s innards, this original form factor, 9″ black and white screen and all, had enough staying power to remain on the market until 1993, having sold 10 million units over that time period.

It was actually two days earlier, on January 22, that the now famous “1984” ad aired during Super Bowl XVIII.  The ad itself is considered by some almost as important a milestone in the arena of marketing – something that Apple still does as well as anybody.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYecfV3ubP8

The iconic “1984” television ad


A rare 20th Anniversary edition Mac

A rare 20th Anniversary edition Mac

Fast forward to 2009 on this 25th anniversary of the Mac, and most of us can’t imagine using a computer any other way than via the graphical user interface the machine pioneered. While Microsoft Windows now holds the dominant share as far as graphical user interfaces in the computing world, it likely would have never existed without the ground having been broke by Macintosh first. Though Apple struggled through some dark years in its history between 1984 and today, that original formula from a quarter century ago of producing powerful, easy to use, all-in-one computers for average people has been the cornerstone of it’s success and has played a major role in the company’s re-emergence as a dominant player in the computer market.  Apple continues to innovate on the user interface front today with gadgets like the iPhone and iPod with their touch-screen and gesture based input technologies, which just might shape the way we interact with our machines for the next 25 years.

A little surprisingly, Apple has been mostly mum on this anniversary.  Perhaps they’re still a little bit stung by the failure of the Macintosh almost nobody remembers: The 20th Anniversary Mac.  This machine, though a forward looking nod to today’s iMac, is one clear example that not quite everything Apple has touched has turned to gold over the years. Though there’s no outward celebration from Cupertino to mark the occasion, there’s plenty of well-wishing and fond reminiscing on the blogosphere at least.

The current 20" iMac

25 years on, the current 20" iMac

Despite the poor health of CEO Steve Jobs, and despite the economic downturn, the company remains in a strong position today. The company that the Mac built has grown tremendously, and just about anyone who doesn’t reside beneath a rock are familiar with it’s full lineup: including a wildly popular line of laptops, the iPod and iTunes Store as de-facto standards as portable music players and as an Internet music marketplace, and now even its successful foray into the mobile phone market with the iPhone. Many of Apple’s customers have developed a cult-like affinity for the always attractive aesthetics and frequently innovative computers and gadgets “designed in California”.  Its 230 world-wide retail outlets are viewed almost as a destination in a technological pilgrimage for the Apple faithful. Its brand has transcended the computer business and reached the level of cultural icon.

So whether you love or hate the Mac, it’s mark on history and on the entire trajectory of computing progress is something we benefit from, and rely upon, on a daily basis.

Join me in wishing the original a happy 25th Birthday – and here’s to another 25 years of “thinking different.”