The Mac at 25: GUI battles in business

The Mac at 25: GUI battles in business

Summary: It's near impossible for new computer users today or even a decade ago to understand what the big deal was about the Macintosh. After all, the most base cell phone in your pocket offers up a graphical user interface of menus and objects. However, 25 years ago, GUI was a firing offense in many offices.

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware

The Mac at 25: GUI battles in business

It's near impossible for new computer users today or even a decade ago to understand what the big deal was about the Macintosh. After all,  the most base cell phone in your pocket offers up a graphical user interface of menus and objects. However, 25 years ago, GUI was a firing offense in many offices.

The features and design of the original 128K Macintosh ran counter to everything that computers were supposed to be: expandable, boxy, and supporting a 5.25-inch floppy drive. This kind of machine wasn't only what IBM offered, it was what Apple had built its success upon, the Apple II.

Instead, the Mac was portable (it had a built-in handle — something that desktop computers still could use), it was closed and opening it up yourself was a violation of the warranty, and it came with a small "high-capacity" floppy drive that used expensive 400KB diskettes. And most folks forget that the Mac was the first personal computer to come out of the box with networking built-in: AppleTalk.

Then there was the interface. Instead of a DOS prompt, whether Apple DOS or Microsoft's PC-DOS, the Mac had QuickDraw, the Finder interface and MacWord and MacPaint and MacDraw programs. It was all about images and menus and manipulating a virtual desktop with a mouse.

This GUI was disruptive in several ways. Today, we conceive of the screen as the final presentation vehicle for data, while back then, it was hardcopy. What the Mac produced was compelling — typography, images and complex charts — even on black-and-white dot-matrix printers. When the LaserWriter and PostScript output hit the platform, the gap widened.

I heard executives who were exposed to the Mac ask their corporate IT directors why the big-budget big iron couldn't make a simple chart like the Mac. There was no easy answer, since the Mac was designed from the ground up to deliver graphical information and the mainframe wasn't.

At the same time, the concept of the GUI was under attack. Many IT managers and bosses considered the GUI a productivity killer. Instead of entering data, users were spending valuable time choosing how the data would be formatted. I recall that the Mac and Windows were decried as a time waster by Randy Fields, co-founder of the Mrs. Fields cookie empire.

Microsoft Excel and Word were Mac-only back then. Windows was just starting and didn't work well. And besides, no business user would want it or should run it, right?  GUI made computing "too easy," some IT staff would say.

Eventually, Windows was refined and the benefits of GUI computing were validated even in the PC community.

Still, the cultural differences between the PC and Mac communities are deep and remain to this day. Here's a recent example: At the 2006 Macworld Expo in San Francisco, Steve Jobs introduced the iWork suite, which contained the Pages word-processor application.

Several PC-centric colleagues saw the demo and wondered about the reaction of Adobe and Quark to the new competition. In their experience, the power and deeply integrated graphical capabilities found Pages must make it a professional tool. It couldn't be for you and me. Their imagination was in the box of Microsoft Word and Windows XP.

I replied that Pages wasn't any sort of competition to InDesign or QuarkXpress. Rather, Pages was simply an expression of what a word processor should and could provide in the graphics department. And that creating these kind of documents with sophisticated integrated graphics was an expectation of Mac users.

As it was back in 1984, so it is today. Some folks don't get the Mac or the all the possibilities of the "simple" GUI.

Topics: Apple, Hardware

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  • System 7 was the worst OS I've ever used

    Shudder, that thing was S...L...O...W... Well, that's not totally true. It would crash really fast, really often. The whole System 7, 8, 9 line was absolutely terrible. It wasn't until Apple gave up trying to write their own OS after realizing that their developers sucked and used BSD that Apple finally caught up to where MS was in 1993 with NT.
    • So few current MAC users remember those days

      I don't know if it selective memory, or if they are mostly new MC users, but I remember the days when the OS was called "System #" and I also remember how much of an uproar long time MAC users made when OS X came out and left behind a lot of hardware and software in the incompatible drawer. Vista gets slammed for that a lot, but Apple did it first. There's that selective memory again!

      BSD saves Apple, if you had told me this in the early 90's I would have NEVER believed you.
      • Next and Steve Jobs saved Apple

        I've been working with computer since the 1980s, I remember the progression very well. Windows was garbage
        until 1995, and with Vista it's become bloated garbage again.
        • Clueless again, like in the previous post...

          Actually Microsofts biggest innovation is MS-DOS, not Windows, but should i expect a 13 year old kid to know that?
          • Microsoft bought QDOS from Tim Paterson, then renamed it MS-DOS. [nt]

          • i thought

            MS bought a version of DOS from someone else, the name escapes me right now
          • QDOS, you posted right below it. :) [nt]

          • Seattle Computer Products

            It was called QDOS (then 86-DOS). May agree that it was a 'bug for bug'
            copy of CP/M by Digital Research.
        • You are too harsh I think

          Windows 3.11 was not that bad. The worse thing
          they had was the shell I know but it had nice
          applications such as Office, CorelDraw,
          Encyclopedias and others. It also was
          interesting to program for. Maybe not as
          interesting as other OSs (e.g., OS/2) but not
      • The difference is...

        ...Apple warned users this was going to happen... I can remember being
        annoyed, but my G3 needed upgrading anyway.
    • You don't even read the articles

      When the Mac came out there was no Windows. Doh! The Mac System OSes where light years ahead of anything else.

      You really should seek some help before you blow a gasket over Apple and the Mac.
      • Just shows how clueless mactards are, even about their own computers...

        Oh you mean Xerox Alto, the first computer with a GUI, in 1973?
        "The Alto greatly influenced the design of personal computers in the following decades, notably the Macintosh and the first Sun workstations"
        Yup, it seems like Apple "innovated" the first GUI from Xerox, and to be more specific from the Xerox Star 8010, the first commercial computer with a GUi and Mouse, in 1981, 3 YEARS before the Macintosh was released.

        Ohh yes, very advanced. Advanced = using Xerox and Adobe designed tehnologies.
        Microsoft, start your copy machines because Apple has already started theirs, from other companies, and lets not even bring up Linux from which Apple also "borrowed" a couple of innovations. Hahaha.

        Now you can go back to your basement kid, and keep dreaming.
        • Innovation isn't always

          about reinventing the wheel. Sometimes it's about making
          the wheel better and more accessible. Xerox had basically abandoned the GUI when the <i>sold it</i> to Apple.
          Linux has no influence on OS X. A variant of BSD Unix
          forms the core. That Unix core is free, and available for
          download from

          You know, the folks who love to bash Apple for not
          innovating and justify it by the fact that Apple legitimately
          acquired technology and implemented it in new and
          usable ways make me a little nuts. Toyota didn't invent
          lithium battery technology but they did innovate with it by
          bringing it to the auto industry in a form that's accessible
          and useful to the general public. FedEx didn't invent air
          shipping, but they implemented it in new ways (the hub
          concept which they also did not invent but brought forward
          for the firs time since the railroads were king) which are
          universally seen now as innovation. The United States
          didn't invent Democracy (which in it's pure form we still
          don't actually practice) but our Founding Fathers innovated
          government by applying it in ways that were unique and
          have stood the test of time.<br><br>Did Apple invent the
          GUI? No. Did they refine it, make it more useable than it
          had ever been, and bring it into reasonably common usage
          before anyone else could successfully do so? Yes.
          <b>That</b> ladies and gentlemen <b>is</b>
          innovation, like it or not.
          • Selling the GUI...?

            Best check your facts... The GUI was developed by Xerox PARC - Palo Alto Research Center. Much of the stuff they do there winds up in the PUBLIC DOMAIN - as did the GUI. Both Jobs and Gates were privy to Xerox's Star 8010 demos in the early 80's.

            The problem with the Star 8010 was that it was WAY too expensive for the average bear. $10,000 for the base system was well beyond the means of most companies.

            Apple btw, did one other thing - they hired some people who worked for PARC to work on the LISA (an EPIC FAIL) and then the MAC. In fact the networking protocol built into the Mac OS - Appletalk - is an almost verbatim clone of SmallTalk - a Xerox networking protocol of the era.
          • SmallTalk

            It's a programming language, the first to [i]use[/i] the term
            object-oriented (NOTE: I have [i]not[/i] said the first object-oriented
            language)... The networking you are referring to, developed at PARC,
            was Ethernet. The GUI was arguably first developed by Doug Engelbart's
            Augmentation of Human Intelligence project. It is widely accepted that
            the work done at PARC was based on that of Engelbart.
          • Message has been deleted.

    • Hey Zealot, I thought you didn't use Macs?

      Besides your post is nothing but garbage as usual anyway.

      Macs were actually pretty zippy. I had to work on both Windows and Macs, side by side in those days, as I do now.

      What is your basis of comparison, and in what field did you work?

      We'd all love to know.

      I'm guessing, I've probably been doing multimedia work longer than you've actually even used a computer.
      Kid Icarus-21097050858087920245213802267493
      • You thought wrong

        [i]Hey Zealot, I thought you didn't use Macs?[/i]

        You thought wrong.

        [i]What is your basis of comparison, and in what field did you work?[/i]

        I had an x86 PC at home and we used Mac Classics at the desktop publishing company that I worked at. This would have been in the early 90s. My PC at home was rock solid. The Mac with System 7 was terrible. It crashed on average 3-4 times a day.

        [i]We'd all love to know.[/i]

        Now you do.

        [i]I'm guessing, I've probably been doing multimedia work longer than you've actually even used a computer.[/i]

        Good for you! That doesn't change the fact that System 7 sucked.
        • I dunno

          I seem to remember you saying that you don't and have never used macs.

          Regardless, all my Macs were stable unless someone filled them up with extensions from every which way which was in those days Classic's Achille's heal.

          But since they were production machines they were groomed to be lean and mean. We didn't have to fight with all the glitchiness of the Windows boxes that some clients did. Especially when it came to production output, fonts, blue screens, etc.

          Each OS could be said it was crap in some respects.

          So you're basic analysis of 7 is stretched to 8 and 9 then as well?
          Kid Icarus-21097050858087920245213802267493
          • He never said he's never used Macs...

            what he has stated is that he has [b]no experience with OS

            What that means is he's never used a 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th or
            7th generation iMac, a 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th generation
            iBook/MacBook, a 2nd, 3rd 4th or 5th generation
            PowerBook/MacBook Pro, any Mac Mini, nor a 4th or 5th
            generation PowerMac/Mac Pro.

            He's never used OS X 10.0, 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 10.4, or 10.5.

            He now claims to have experience with System 7, which
            was in use from 1991 - 1997.

            I think we can codify this into [b]NonZealot's Law of
            Relevant Experience[/b]: [i][b] Any experience with a
            company's products, no matter how out-of-date or
            obsolete, gives validity to all opinions about past, current
            or future products.[/b][/i]

            By simple interpolation, we can now state that any one
            with experience with Windows 95 can freely comment on
            Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP, Vista, or Windows 7. All of your
            comments are valid, and should be treated as such.