The Macintosh – the first Apple computer to bear the name – turns 25 on 24 January. The machine debuted in 1984 and kicked off a product line that were Apple’s flagship computers for many years. The Macintosh helped popularise the combination of graphical interface and mouse that is ubiquitous today. The machine was unveiled using a hugely expensive TV advert, directed by film maker Ridley Scott and shown during the US Superbowl on 22 January 1984.
The project to create the Macintosh was started by legendary computer maker Jef Raskin and the original machine had a 9in screen in an upright beige case, 128k of RAM, internal floppy drive, and came with keyboard and single-button mouse.
Apple had previously produced computers using a graphical user interface (GUI), such as the Apple Lisa. But those machines cost far more than the original Macintosh.
Although Microsoft had launched its operating system – MS DOS – in 1981 it was not until 1985, a year after the Macintosh made its debut, that it introduced its own GUI, Microsoft Windows. However, this did not enjoy significant popularity until the advent of Windows 3.x in 1990.
The Macintosh’s relatively low price tag of £1,840 ($2,495) made it very affordable, said Mark Hattersley, editor in chief of Macworld UK. “It was a hugely popular machine,” said Mr Hattersley. “It took desktop computing away from IBM and back to Apple for a good number of years,” he said. “It brought the notion of the desktop graphical interface to the mass market.”
The “Macintosh” moniker was reportedly taken from the name of Mr Raskin’s favourite Apple – the McIntosh. However, this form of the name had to be altered to avoid legal wrangles with another company already trading under that name.
Once successors to the first Macintosh were introduced by Apple, the original machine was re-badged as the 128k version. The initial production run of the first Macintosh reputedly have the signatures of the design team burned in to the inside of the case. In the UK, science-fiction author author Douglas Adams was the first to buy one of the original Macintosh machines. Second in line was Stephen Fry. Sadly, he said, he no longer possesses the early machine. He told the BBC: “Oh I wish I still had it. I remember giving it away in 1986 to a primary school in a village in Norfolk.”
Apple has retained the Macintosh name for many of its products – in particular the shortened form re-emerged in 1998 with the launch of the iMac.
Jason Fitzpatrick, from the Centre for Computing History in Haverhill, said that it was now hard to find a working 25-year old Macintosh. Many, he said, have suffered what is known as “bit rot” in which the memory chips inside the machine decay, leading to a gradual loss of functionality. Kevin Murrell, director of the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, said it had many working Apple machines even older than the 25-year-old Mac.
Even new, he said, the Macintoshes had their quirks. The external hard drive available for later versions of the Macintosh had to be placed on the left side of the machine to avoid interference with its power supply. The lack of hard drive meant that anyone working with the machine had save everything on a floppy disk, leading to an awful lot of disk swapping.
But despite this, he said, many people had very fond memories of the time they spent with an original Macintosh.