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The following article originated as 14 posters commemorating Macintosh’s 20th anniversary. (If you’re interested in the PDF files in print quality – 50×70 cm each – let me know.) You can find the original posters next to respective sections, as well as links for further reading on the subject.
(With thanks to Stuart Bell, Joshua Coventry, Bruce Damer, Owen Linzmayer and Andrew McIntosh.)
Macintosh. Twenty years later
This unique approach was noticeable in every aspect of Macintosh’s design: from graphical operating system and software, mouse, keyboard and other peripherals, through visual appearance, packaging, to manuals and advertising. Even the name – the promotional brochure proudly stated “They didn’t call it the QZ190, or the Zipchip 5000. They called it Macintosh.”
The creators have largely succeeded; even at first glance Macintosh was pleasingly different from both contemporary home computers and its soon-to-be archnemesis, command prompt-driven IBM PC. In fact, the birth of Macintosh might have been one of the biggest triumphs of user-centered design in the history of computers. It introduced many previously nonexistent or unpopular notions – a machine with a personality, a computer as an appliance, closed architecture, mouse as a main input device, human-computer interaction narrowed to user friendly icon-based interface, etc.
Of course, not all of the ideas behind it were original. Macintosh borrowed from works of legendary Xerox PARC laboratory in Palo Alto, Apple’s own ill-fated Lisa, and various other inventions of the time. Still, its creators managed to supplement these with an incredible amount of innovation and creative thinking, and make a computer that was as admired, as it was desired.
Macintosh started the whole family of computers and devices that continued the tradition of innovating, taking care of the user in the first place, and – as Apple itself put it a couple of years ago – thinking different.
Next posters will try to examine various components of Macintosh, its strengths and weaknesses with regard to original plans, and its successes and failures from the perspective of 20 years. And just as Macintosh is more than just underlying technology, its history couldn’t be complete without mentioning people, ideas and culture that brought it to life.
This short journey through time might be slightly too rose-tinted and slightly too biased, but isn’t that how journeys through time usually work? And besides, for many people just a couple of minutes were enough to fall in love with a little beige box greeting them with a simple “hello.”
Back then they were bought primarily by hobbyists, who were interested in megahertzs, pixels, expansion slots, “RS-this and RS-that,” and whatever else was “under the hood.” Sure enough, most of the reviews of the Macintosh included memory map, system architecture, beautiful diagrams of the motherboard as the one seen below, and information about “bits shifted out at 15.67˙MHz (322.68˙µs per 512-pixel line)” and “Zilog 8530 SCC providing synchronous and asynchronous data transmission using a self-clocking data format.” But, as we will see later, the Mac was about everything except that.
Still, it might be informative to state exactly what Macintosh did consist of. Starting with what’s invisible, it was based on a Motorola 68000 processor (found in Apple Lisa and later in first Amigas and Atari STs), running at roughly 8 MHz, and backed up with 128 kilobytes of memory. It had no hard disk, just one 3½ Sony drive (a novelty in the world dominated by bigger and less reliable five-inch floppy disks). Available was a connector for the second drive, and two high-speed serial ports. Looking from the outside, half of Mac’s small casing housed a 9” black-and-white monitor, with a resolution of 512×342. There was also a built-in speaker, mouse and detachable, 58-key keyboard.
Many technical solutions in the Macintosh smacked of genius. The integrated drive controller chip, the high speed ports, even the decision to use square pixels and black-and-white monitor (as opposed to green or amber). The whole machine was a tribute to simplicity (it had less chips than the text video card for IBM PC alone), which allowed to drop the price and increase reliability.
Today most of Mac’s innovations are taken for granted, and compared to modern computers, its specifications are just laughable. But even in 1984, despite deserved praise given to its design team, the Macintosh was critiqued for having just a single drive and a mere 128 kilobytes of memory. The first, and for better part of the year only model, was slow and underpowered enough not to be of much practical use.
That, however, was one of its just a few flaws.
“There must not be a plethora of configurations. It is better to offer a variety of case colors than to have variable amounts of memory. It is better to manufacture versions in Early American, Contemporary, and Louis XIV than to have any external wires beyond a power cord. And you get ten points if you can eliminate the power cord.”
“Seeing the guts is taboo. Things in sockets is taboo. Billions of keys on the keyboard is taboo. Computerese is taboo. Large manuals, or many of them is taboo. Self-instructional programs are NOT taboo.”
“If an item does not stand on a table by itself, and if it does not have its own case, or if it does not look like a complete consumer item in and of itself, then it is taboo. For example, an auxiliary printer can be sold, but a parallel interface cannot.”
During almost five years of Macintosh’s development, its creators stood firm by those convictions. The finished computer was sold in one and only one configuration, and shipped in a single case, which could be opened only by technicians. The case had a very small footprint, no internal fan, and was actually painted beige (however, by 1985 all Macintoshes reverted to the shade of grey officially known as “platinum”).
Just as probably every other aspect of the first Mac, the closer inspection of the case showed an extraordinary attention to details. (Jerrold Manock, one of the designers, once said “That’s the kind of detail that turns an ordinary product into an artifact.”)
The power switch was located at the back, to make it harder to press by accident – but was surrounded by a smoother area, to make it easier to find. The ports were recessed to prevent users from plugging in wrong peripherals. The vents were shaped so that, for example, a child sticking a metal pen could not touch the power supply. Little foots at the bottom had embossed Apple logos on them. The underside of the handle on top had ribs for better grip (weighing 8 kilograms, Macintosh was lighter than many portables, and a transport bag could be bought separately). The texture of the plastic was carefully chosen as to prevent scratches from being visible. Even its beige colour had a hidden meaning – it was thought to age better, instead of turning orange after a couple of years like with other computers.
And, true to Raskin’s words, the only peripherals sold were a second disk drive, a printer, a numeric keypad, and a modem.
However, regretfully, to this day no Louis XIV or Early American version of a Macintosh was produced.
Further reading: History of Computer Design: Macintosh
The 58-key input device seemed something taken straight from the home toy computer – the likes of Atari 800 XL, for example – than the professional office machine Macintosh aspired to be. It looked tiny compared to IBM PC/XT’s keyboard consisting of 83 keys, but at the same time positively clean and elegant.
In a controversial move, the designers decided to get rid of many of the keys that seemed indispensable on other computers. Gone were the function keys, the arrows, the numeric keypad, the Esc, Forward Delete and Control/Alt modifiers (although those were replaced by a “clover key” and a pair of Option keys). But, as to be expected, there was actually a method in this madness.
The function keys were always arbitrary, and as user-unfriendly as it gets (anybody ever working on dumb terminals will agree without hesitation). Even the most common association – F1 standing for “help” – comes just from people’s experience, and was never a natural connection.
The numeric keypad was there, but as an optional $99 device, “patterned after standard accountant’s calculator.” This also made perfect sense. As only a selected group of people actually finds the keypad useful, there is no need to clutter everybody’s desktop with a dozen of keys just gathering dust.
The most radical riddance, that of cursor keys, was acknowledged later as a “forcing device.” It made people use mouse instead of keyboard – and not so much users as developers, who were this way prevented from simply porting their existing text-only software to Macintosh. In effect, every piece of software had to be rewritten to comply with the rules and take advantage of Mac’s superior graphical user interface.
All this made the keyboard look much more like a typical typewriter, to the point of Caps Lock actually having mechanical up and down states instead of a LED diode indicator.
Did the Macintosh succeeded in setting up a new trend then?
Not quite. As soon as in 1986, Mac Plus keyboards included cursor keys and integrated keypad. The Fn keys followed soon, as well as extended keyboards with codenames like “Saratoga” and “Nimitz,” indicating their massive sizes. There were some exceptions (for example a notepad-like keyboard for Twentieth Anniversary Mac or iMac’s first compact keyboard, widely regarded as a failure), but they never lasted very long. And the contemporaries look almost the same as bloated PC keyboards, with their more than 100 buttons.
Maybe not all is lost, though. The function keys are slowly being phased out on both Macintosh and PC platforms, and after twenty years we are finally saying goodbye to such relicts of time, as Scroll Lock or Pause/Break keys. Additionally, the designers of new Mac keyboards resisted the urge of putting dozens of useless multimedia keys just for the sake of it. If only someone was brave enough to reinvent detachable keypads...
The mouse came to Macintosh project straight from Lisa, and it didn’t change much in functionality and appearance. However, the Apple Lisa mouse was substantially better than its direct predecessor designed over at Xerox PARC laboratory.
Xerox’s device was more or less a prototype, used in laboratories by skilled engineers. It had three buttons (each one as important as the other) and when it got dirty, it had to be taken apart for cleaning – literally! Hovey-Kelley Design, hired by Apple, did the hard work of turning this prototype into a mouse which could be mass-produced and was simple enough to use and clean by an average user.
Interestingly enough, Jef Raskin was opposed to the mouse at first, prefering joysticks, trackballs or tablets (and having evidence that they are more efficient pointing devices). However, he was also the person advocating having just one button on the mouse. (“So it’s extremely difficult to push the wrong button,” to quote the aforementioned brochure again.)
This was and remains one of the most controversial Mac issues and not a year comes by without some Macintosh fans asking, demanding or simply wishing for even just one more button. But Apple still sticks to the original premise, and their 21st century mice went even further, with no visible button and the whole upper body of the mouse acting as one.
However, back in 1984 it wasn’t the single button that attracted most of the attention – it was the very presence of the mouse itself. Macintosh succeeded at what Xerox Alto, Xerox Star, and Apple Lisa couldn’t – popularizing the use of the mouse (along with its revolutionary GUI) and introducing the world to a device as powerful, as it was simple, and now such natural concepts as “point and click” and “drag and drop.”
Further reading: Making the Macintosh: The Macintosh Mouse
Apple strived for the former, and achieved it. There were periodic usability studies of Macintosh out-of-box experience, when the users were observed unpacking and setting up their computers. “Never before had a computer been delivered with so much attention to detail and the customer’s needs,” reminisces Bruce Horn. “Even the packaging showed amazing creativity and passion.”
The Macintosh cardboard box was pleasantly subtle. Picasso-style logo in front and “Macintosh” set in Apple’s characteristic typeface on the side. No exclamation marks, no listing of features, no crying for attention. Inside, apart from the machine itself, were three smaller boxes. Illustrated in the same vein as the big carton, one was holding the keyboard, the other the mouse. The third, made of plastic, opened up like a lunch box (with a quite appropriate drawing of an apple on a cover), revealing manual, leaflet, software disks, guide audio cassette, and yet another elegant box with power cable. Completing the set were two stickers with Apple logo on them (a tradition held to this day), and – an icing on a cake – unpacking instructions.
“Apple actually cares about this sort of thing. Which is odd. Which is rare. Which is why they deserve gushing adulation now and then. They actually put the time and energy and labor into creating a gorgeous package most people will toss anyway, and why they include a first-time welcome experience, with subtle music, with flowing lush clean graphics, one that will never be repeated, just because,” wrote Mark Morford some twenty years later.
Because Apple still cares. On the Internet, there are many galleries documenting the process of unpacking and connecting freshly bought Macintoshes. In fact, some iMac users have been known to... hold unpacking ceremonies for friends and family. One of them wrote “the packaging made me feel I made a worthwhile investment in the company.”
Does that all seem a little bit strange? Perhaps it does, but it must be a good thing if it makes users happy...
Further reading: “Lick me, I’m a Macintosh” article reprint
Jef Raskin, the true father of Macintosh, joined Apple as its publications manager in 1977. As probably no one else, he understood the importance of technical documentation and the necessity of writing it not post factum, but as hardware and software developed. From 1979 to 1980, he has written or collected over 400 pages of essays, specifications and speculations, and put them in “The Book of Macintosh.” This collection became a helpful reference explaining the philosophy and inner workings of company’s most important creation.
After Raskin’s departure from Apple, the documentation was passed to Chris Espinosa, Apple Employee #8, who worked on the legendary Apple II manual. Espinosa carried Raskin’s torch, working with programmers, hardware designers and graphic designers for the best possible effect.
The documentation was to be as professional and as high-quality as possible, and the team definitely delivered. “It was lavish, it was very, very nice,” commented Espinosa years later. The finished Macintosh manual was spiral bound, and had 164 pages divided into three sections: tutorial, “cookbook” (recipes for doing specific tasks) and reference. The whole thing was profusely illustrated with professional photographs.
Sadly, due to Macintosh’s ease of use, the users rarely looked at it, but Apple continued the tradition of accompanying each of their products with excellent leaflets, booklets or manuals.
Further reading: Making the Macintosh: Technical Writing and the Macintosh
After decades of living in a world of mouse-driven interfaces, it might be hard to imagine what a revolution they were. “No more guessing what the computer wants. No more memorizing long commands with names only a programmer could love.” Pointing instead of typing. Doing instead of describing. Seeing instead of imagining.
Of course, the first System (later renamed to Mac OS) was extremely limited – after all, it occupied only half of 400 KB disk. Due to hardware restrictions, it was crippled even more than Lisa’s GUI released a year earlier. It lacked not only multitasking, but even simple task switching – only a couple of “desk accessories” (such as calculator and clock) could be run concurrently. The contents of the trash can were deleted with each reboot, and many operations required a lot of disk swapping. However, it managed to familiarize general public with such ideas as clicking, double-clicking, copy and paste, drag and drop, WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), direct manipulation and desktop metaphor. They are second nature to most of us today, but we owe them to Macintosh.
Looking at its virtual desktop, we will see that not that much really changed during the last twenty years. We still have a trash can, we still drag icons to copy or move documents, we still use menus, we still resize the windows the same way.
Many specialists consider this is a mistake. After all, Mac’s GUI was created when the average user had handful of files on handful of floppy disk. Nowadays everyone accesses millions of files on thousands of computers and the “every file as concrete object” vision starts to cause more and more trouble.
We have yet to see what the next revolution in human-computer interaction will be and who will ignite it. In the meanwhile, graphical user interfaces still evolve and it is very likely that the Macintosh-like interaction will continue to grace our screens for years to come.
And that’s not so big an exaggeration as you might think. Despite Apple claiming that it learned from the failure of Lisa (lack of applications was one of its culprits), it took months for the software companies to start releasing applications. The situation was so grim and the wait so lengthy, that Personal Computing magazine put a big “Macintosh Software: Is The Wait Over?” on its cover. But it was in December 1984, and for the preceding year the Macintosh users were stuck with only a handful of programs – most from Apple itself.
Actually, in January 1984, only two applications were available: MacPaint and MacWrite – and both were bundled with the computer. Shortly thereafter, a nifty spreadsheet called Multiplan was released by no one else, but... Microsoft. Bill Gates actually appeared in Macintosh ads himself, saying that “the next generation of interesting software will be made on a Macintosh, not an IBM PC.” Back then Microsoft’s little Interface Manager was still in development, and who would’ve suspected that years later it will conquer the world as Windows?
But operating system wars aside, the very choice of those three applications perfectly characterized the way of thinking behind Macintosh. It was not the software aimed at hobbyists. Or programmers. Or engineers. This was the software for regular people, who wanted to write a letter to a friend, draw a picture or calculate home budget. One magazine stated that “the Macintosh is the only machine in recent history to be offered without a programming language” – this might be natural these days, but back in 1984 was considered a very bold move.
Fortunately, soon enough more programs started appearing. Among those, two probably most important – Aldus PageMaker, which started the DTP revolution, and Adobe Photoshop, to this date the number one graphic package.
Apple itself also continued writing software, never losing the user-oriented approach. Its recent iSync, iCal or the iLife application suite were considered milestones in user-friendliness. And quite recently the history seemed to come full circle. In a strange twist of fate and a rather unprecedented move, Apple released its iTunes application to use under... Microsoft Windows.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Apple without arrogantly touting it “the best Windows app ever.”
Further reading: “Software for the Mac” sidebar to 1984’s article
1984’s Apple was not your regular company. In fact, it probably was everything but that. Whole books have been written about Apple’s unique corporate culture, which you could either love or hate, but nothing in between. (The same can probably be said about most things Apple, starting with Macintosh and ending with charismatic Steve Jobs himself.)
Even the company logo was different. A simple shape of an apple, with a bite taken out of the side, had nothing to do with computers. As a one-time President of Apple Products, Jean-Louis Gassée said, “You couldn’t dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope, and anarchy.”
The very same characteristics could be attributed to people inventing the Macintosh. And if you looked more closely at them, you would find more traits of artists working on the most important creation of their lives, than those of regular engineers (the only difference might be the famous quote: “real artists ship.”) Would anyone else than artists consider putting their signatures on the inside of the Macintosh, especially if nobody was ever to see them? And it wasn’t only the creators. One article from 1984 advised “cleaning the Macintosh’s exterior with a soft sable paintbrush, which you can buy at any art store.”
Other famous Apple saying was “it’s better to be a pirate than to join The Navy.” It was emphasized by an actual pirate flag waving in front of Macintosh Division building, and symbolized the fresh, provocative, groundbreaking way of thinking the whole company was soaking with. This approach was probably best presented in 1998’s excellent “Think different” campaign.
That way of thinking extended to Mac fans as well. (Not without Apple’s help, as it hired many people on the position of... evangelists.) Macintosh has probably the most loyal and devoted fanbase of all computers – sometimes bordering on fanatic, but usually just immensely proud of using the best computer there is.
One can’t really blame them. Even if many of the fans say that the Apple Computer of 2004 has little in common with that of 1984, it can’t be denied that the Cupertino-based company never stopped pushing the envelope. Nor treating their computers as works of art, and not simply products.
After Steve Jobs went backstage on that memorable January of 1984, he said “this is the single proudest, happiest moment of my life...” One doesn’t say something like that after premiering a product. One says it after launching a revolution.
We know these people thanks to Apple. While usually hardware designers and software engineers received little public attention during marketing campaigns, the creators of Macintosh were treated like movie stars. They appeared on posters and were interviewed by many magazines (even by the Rolling Stone itself).
Maybe it was yet another way of putting a more humane face onto Macintosh, and maybe also a form of acknowledgement to the creators for their hard work and dedication. (The members of the Macintosh team were reported to walk around Apple campus with T-shirts that read “90 HRS/WK AND LOVING IT.”)
Among these people were such recognizable names, as Bill Atkinson (programmer of QuickDraw, a revolutionary graphic engine, and MacPaint), Bruce Horn and Steve Capps (creators of Macintosh user interface), George Crow (responsible for analog board, video and power supply), Chris Espinosa (supervisor of technical documentation), Andy Hertzfeld (software engineer), Joanna Hoffman (marketing supervisor), Susan Kare (graphic designer), Larry Kenyon (driver programmer), Jerrold C. Manock (case designer) and Burrell Smith (hardware designer, creator of Mac’s digital board).
Sadly, the true creator of Macintosh, professor turned technical writer turned visionary – Jef Raskin – was absent. Raskin felt victim to one of Apple’s many “power plays” and was basically forced to leave the company in 1982, after Steve Jobs took over the Mac division.
With time, many of the abovementioned people followed, moving to other Silicon Valley companies or starting their own. It has been said that apart from Macintosh, Apple’s greatest contribution to the computer industry was its talented engineers, who carried the torch to other firms. Steve Jobs predicted it well, saying, just before Macintosh’s introduction, “Going out of the eighties, you know there won’t be a Mac group. Burrell will be off in Oregon playing his guitar. Andy will be writing the next great American novel. Who knows what. But we’ll be scattered all over the globe doing other amazing stuff.”
The 60-second clip showed an army of mindless drones, obediently listening to Big Brother’s monologue. Then a woman wearing a T-shirt with Mac logo appeared, liberating them by smashing the screen with a big sledgehammer. For most of the people, it was quite obvious that Big Brother stood for IBM and that the drones represented PC users, finally freed from the tyranny of their big and unfriendly computers.
The advertisement was aired only once, just before Macintosh’s premiere, during America’s most expensive commercial time – Super Bowl football finale. However, it generated so much stir and controversy, that many news magazines added free publicity by showing it in its entirety.
But it was just one piece of the puzle. In addition to spanning one of the most memorable TV ads ever, the Macintosh launch is also universally acknowledged as a landmark in press relations and “event marketing.” The latter means generating as much media publicity and public excitement about one event, as possible. Never before, and rarely after, it has been done as good, as in the case of the Macintosh.
Another interesting point of the campaign launched by “1984” was buying out all the advertising pages in one of the issues of Newsweek and exchanging them for a colourful, 16-page brochure introducing the Macintosh. (John Sculley commented that “it’s unclear whether Apple has an advertising insert in Newsweek or whether Newsweek has an insert in an Apple brochure.”)
However, the big campaign also had its big downside. To pay for the promotion costs, the price of the computer itself was increased from $1,995 to $2,495, further burying down the original idea of affordable computer.
When a year later Apple wanted to top itself with another Super Bowl commercial, “Lemmings,” it failed miserably – the managers did not like the comparison to mindless animals jumping off the cliff.
The whole “hit and miss” approach to marketing became Apple’s recurring theme, with some great and influential campaigns interleaved with real media disasters. However, it can’t be denied that Apple was one of the first computer companies to understand the power of marketing. And all of the Apple promotional items of the last 20 years – from printed and video ads, through the Internet website, to posters, memorabilia and public relations materials – are excellent examples of sticking to corporate identity, and building a consistent image of the company and values it stands for.
Further reading: Articles: Making the Macintosh: The Macintosh Marketing Campaign , Essay about the “1984” ad by Sarah R. Stein Video ads: Updated “1984” ad , Apple TV ads at Redlightrunner , Dozens of Apple TV ads at The Apple Collection Printed ads: Scans of original brochure , Scans of 1984’s Newsweek 40-page advertisement
During the last twenty years, Apple has also released various peripherals and non-computer products (such as iPod, Newton, writers or AirPort) – these will not be discussed here.
Macintosh XL January 1985
Macintosh Plus January 1986
Macintosh II March 1987
Macintosh SE March 1987
Macintosh IIci September 1989
Macintosh Portable September 1989
Macintosh Classic October 1990
Quadra 700 October 1991
PowerBook 100 October 1991
Macintosh LC II March 1992
PowerBook Duo 210 October 1992
Macintosh IIvx October 1992
Centris 660av July 1993
Macintosh TV October 1993
Power Macintosh 6100 March 1994
PowerBook 520 May 1994
PowerBook 5300 August 1995
Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh May 1997
iMac August 1998
PowerMac G3 January 1999
iBook July 1999
PowerMac G4 October 1999
PowerMac G4 Cube July 2000
PowerBook G4 January 2001
iBook May 2001
iMac January 2002
eMac April 2002
Xserve May 2002
PowerBook G4 17” January 2003
PowerMac G5 June 2003
Further reading: Apple History
iMac was advertised as the fastest and most user-friendly way to get connected to the Internet (“Step 1: plug in, step 2: get connected, step 3: there’s no step 3!”), but most of its power laid in its looks – iMac’s translucent, colourful, one-piece case was a welcome departure from legions of similarly looking gray machines. Similarly to its counterpart from 1984, most of the people could describe iMac using only one word, “cute.” Again the standard configuration had everything the user would ever need, and again it attracted many people without any previous computer experience – being probably the first machine they weren’t afraid of.
iMac quickly became the best-selling Macintosh, and in many regions of the world the best-selling computer ever. It helped Apple Computer to get out of financial trouble, and reestablish company’s position as the leader in computer hardware design.
The fruitful collaboration with designer Jonathan Ive extended to other products, such as similarly beautiful and colourful iBook and PowerMac. The iMac itself was revamped every half year, further editions bringing new colour schemes, convection cooling (no fan!), consumer-first onboard FireWire, and new mouse and keyboard.
However, the biggest change came in January 2002, when Apple announced completely new iMac with a “desk lamp” design. During the launch, Steve Jobs proclaimed that “the CRT is officially dead” and demonstrated the easily rotating and moving flat-panel screen, attached to the small base housing an entire computer. Once again, the innovative new design influenced and amazed, but both iMacs (as well as many other attempts) failed to increase Apple’s diminishing market share.
It might seem that even twenty years after its birth, Macintosh still bears the unfortunate label of a computer “for the rest of us.” But even if in today’s PC/Windows-driven world Macs might seem slightly overpriced, funny looking machines for typesetters and designers, we shouldn’t forget that ultimately it was this little beige box that made our everyday’s contact with computers a lot easier. And all that because “on a particularly bright day in Cupertino, California, some particularly bright engineers had a particularly bright idea: wouldn’t it make more sense to teach computers about people, instead of teaching people about computers?”
So, thank God for the bright days in California.
Further reading: iMac information on Apple’s official site
|Page added on 22nd January 2004.
Copyright © 2002-2005 Marcin Wichary
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