25 Ways to Celebrate the Mac’s 25th Anniversary

By  |  Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 2:09 am

25th anniversary of the MacAs my colleague Ed Oswald noted yesterday, today marks the 25th anniversary of Apple’s original Macintosh. That first Mac wasn’t an utter departure from anything else on the market (you could make the case that Apple’s 1983 Lisa was the more innovative machine, albeit an unsuccessful one). And it wasn’t perfect (with only 128K of RAM, in fact, it was downright unusable). But the first Mac was and is the most influential computer ever released, and if you insisted that its unveiling was the most important technology product announcement of all time, I wouldn’t try to argue you out of it.

So its anniversary is worth celebrating–whether or not you remember the launch, and even if you’ve never used a Mac in your life. After the jump, 25 ways you can do so right now, without even leaving your seat…

1. Obvious but obligatory: Watch Ridley Scott’s “1984” commercial, which debuted during the Super Bowl 0n January 22nd, 1984.

2. Check out Folklore.org, the wonderful history of the invention of the Mac as recorded by Mac software wizard Andy Hertzfeld and other Apple employees present at the creation.

3. Read the New York Times’ piece on the introduction of the Mac, with the wonderfully prosaic title “Apple Expands Product Line.”

4. Read BYTE magazine’s review of the first Mac, by Bruce Webster: “Criticized as an expensive gimmick and hailed as the liberator of the masses, the Mac is a potentially great system. Whether it lives up to that potential remains to be seen.”

5. And Creative Computing’s review, by the late John Anderson: “Sit it on your desk, and you will quickly notice how little room it takes up. Its footprint is barely larger than a sheaf of papers. And though the unit is rather bizarre-looking at first glance, it is also rather handsome. Its looks grow on you.”

6. Follow up with Anderson’s review of the 512K “Fat Mac,” the first Mac that wasn’t horrifically underpowered.

7. Peruse the Smithsonian’s 1995 oral history interview of Steve Jobs, one of the few instances of Apple’s cofounder speaking at any length about the company’s history, albeit in exile: “John Sculley ruined Apple and he ruined it by bringing a set of values to the top of Apple which were corrupt and corrupted some of the top people who were there, drove out some of the ones who were not corruptible, and brought in more corrupt ones and paid themselves collectively tens of millions of dollars and cared more about their own glory and wealth than they did about what built Apple in the first place–which was making great computers for people to use.”

8. Enjoy some of the gorgeous nature photography of Bill Atkinson, the man who designed much of the Mac’s original interface…multiple aspects of which are still with us in Leopard.

9. And then revisit that original interface in the form of some screen shots. Today’s Macs are fancier, but I’m still not sure if they’re fundamentally more intuitive.

10. Pay a visit to the site of Susan Kare, who designed the Mac’s original icons and fonts and is still crafting iconic images for Facebook and other clients today.

11. Learn about the Canon Cat, the offbeat 1987 computer designed by original Macintosh project leader ; it represents what the Mac might have been like if he hadn’t been ousted early on.

12. Read TIME’s article on the biggest computer battle of 1984: Apple’s Macintosh vs. IBM’s PC Jr.

13. See the signatures of the Mac team that were engraved inside the cases of early Macs–and wistfully think it would be cool if Apple brought back that tradition today.

14. Gawk at the bizarre Mac XL, which was really a reworked version of Apple’s pricey pre-Mac flop the Lisa and might have been more appropriately called the Frankenlisa.

15. Drop by the site of venerable audio manufacturer McIntosh Labs. Apple knew that “Macintosh” and that company’s name were uncomfortably similar as early as 1982, when Steve Jobs tried to get McIntosh’s blessing for the Mac: “We have become very attached to the name Macintosh. Much like one’s own child, our product has developed a very definite personality.” Apple ended up paying a licensing fee to avoid trademark hassles.

16. Read about another early Mac trademark snafu–the claim by a company called MACS Inc. that it owned the name–and be grateful that Apple didn’t cry uncle and rename its computer the Apple IV.

17. And at least as relieved that it didn’t follow the recommendation of the marketing consultants who proposed that it be called the Apple 40 or the Apple Allegro.

18. Entertain yourself with a look at the closest thing you’ll see to an unboxing of the first Mac.

19. Explore the original Mac manual, a period piece that beats the pants off any documentation shipped by Apple or anybody else today.

20. Dip into Frank Rose’s 1990 Apple history West of Eden at Google Book Search for more good stuff on the making of the Mac.

21. Consider Dayna’s MacCharlie, an early attempt to let Macs run DOS software, and ponder why so many people have spent so much effort over the years trying to turn Macs into something other than Macs.

22. Pour through the 39-page (!) ad Apple bought in a 1984 issue of Newsweek, back when the Mac took a lot of explaining. It’s sort of a printed Steve Jobs keynote demo without Steve Jobs.

23. Read the famous 1985 letter in which Bill Gates tried to convince Apple to license the Mac OS to other computer companies, and wonder how history would have been different–for Apple, for Microsoft, for the world–if Apple had followed Bill’s advice.

24. Go back in time to the 1983 “Dating Game” event at which Steve Jobs played emcee and Bill Gates and other software magnates lavished praise on the Mac.

25. Last but extremely far from least, watch Steve Jobs show off that first Mac–if YouTube is to believed, this is him doing it 25 years ago today. Everyone in the room knew it was an impressive machine–but I wonder if anyone would have guessed that its direct descendants would be around a quarter century later. (Even the most basic Mac of 2009 would knock the socks way, way, way off of 1984-era computer enthusiasts…and the Mac-in-your-pocket that is the iPhone would have seemed utterly implausible.)

Happy anniversary! Maybe all this history has me a little giddy, but at the moment I’m prepared to believe that there will be Macs in 2034–and I’d certainly love to know what they’ll be like…


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8 Comments For This Post

  1. Patrick Says:

    For many, many years I thought about #23 and how Apple would have been #1 if it had become an OS company… Oh, well.

  2. Liz Says:

    Thanks for the memories! I’ve been a Mac since the beginning!

  3. Liz Says:

    That is: Mac “Fan” since the beginning!

  4. Steven Fisher Says:

    “Downright unusable” is hyperbole at best and trolling at worst. I expect better than that.

  5. Harry McCracken Says:

    Steven Fisher: Um, it was neither hype nor trolling. Maybe the 128K Mac was usable in certain circumstances, but in my use of one, just about everything required an incredible amount of floppy-swapping.


  6. Partners in Grime Says:

    Here’s the next 25 years!

  7. Steven Fisher Says:

    Harry McCracken: It had a 400k disk, which was enough for system software, application and a few documents. There was any number of things it could be used for.

    There was also an external floppy available. (Or did that ship later?)

    I’ll grant you, it was painful to swap disks. But unusable is just going way too far.

    (I should not have accused you of intentional trolling, though. I misunderstood your intention.)

  8. CaryMG Says:

    The 1st Macintosh computer *is* unusable.

    Is a 5 pound pencil usuable?
    Is it practically usable.

    The 2nd Macintosh — CPU > 8 MHz/Media > 400KB/MPU > 512KB — should’ve benn the first.
    It still woulda been inline with the 1984 commercial — it came out in September.

    8^ ]

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