Happy birthday, Macintosh

Summary:The Mac is 27 years old today, January 24. It was distinguished by a number of "firsts:" notably, the first mass-market computer presenting users with a graphical user interface and a mouse for input.

The Mac is 27 years old today, January 24. It was distinguished by a number of "firsts:" notably, the first mass-market computer presenting users with a graphical user interface and a mouse for input.

Today's computer users, those who weren't users back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, can't understand the impact of Macintosh (it was just plain Macintosh then, not "the Macintosh." Yes, it had only a small 9-inch, 512-by-342-pixel, black-and-white display, but it showed fonts and images. Astounding! This raster graphics capability was something that even supercomputers of the time couldn't do. And certainly not the PC and Apple II competition.

Instead of entering commands with a text interface (command line),  users moved the mouse to interact in real time with the images and text. We could cut and paste. A miracle. We take all this for granted nowadays. According to reports, Jef Raskin, the first lead engineer of the project that became the Mac, hated the mouse. He wanted a joystick or a pen. Steve Jobs insisted on mouse, which had been used on the Lisa, Apple's $10K business machine introduced before the Mac.

The Mac used many technologies pioneered with the Lisa, such as, the QuickDraw graphics routines as well as the Motorola 68000-series processor. used on the higher-priced machine. The Mac pixel was square, while the Lisa's LisaGraph engine used rectangular pixels.

We don't think anything of dropping in another gigabyte of RAM into our machines. However, back in 1983, memory was very very expensive — the Mac came with 128 kbytes of RAM soldered on the logic board. To minimize production cost, Apple placed a piece of read-only memory (ROM) on the logic board that stored a library of code pieces, which could later be loaded when needed into memory by programs and the system.

The original Mac 128K had a list price of $2,495.

Another first on the Mac was the 3.5-inch 400K floppy drive. It was a great advance over the 200K 5.25-inch floppy used widely. Its hard-plastic case and spring-loaded cover over the read-write aperture were real advances. So what if the disks cost $10 each and that even a simple file copy might require minutes of swapping disks in and out of the single drive. In those days, we were grateful. Admittedly, we were even more grateful when the Mac Plus came out in 1986 and came standard with a hard drive. I believe that the 512e model had two floppies in the enclosure.

The original Mac was cream colored and could easily be carried around with its built-in handle. The keyboard had huge umber-colored keys that required a substantial press down to activate.

At a collectibles fair the other month, I saw a complete setup for sale, including Mac 128K, keyboard, mouse, Imagewriter printer, manuals and MacWrite/MacPaint disks. It was priced at $300.

Great memories.

Topics: Apple, Hardware


David Morgenstern has covered the Mac market and other technology segments for 20 years. In the recent past, he founded Ziff-Davis' Storage Supersite, served as news editor for Ziff Davis Internet and held several executive editorial positions at eWEEK. In the 1990s, David was editor of Ziff Davis' award-winning MacWEEK news publication a... Full Bio

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