Creative technology that changed the world: the Macintosh was the first affordable personal computer, and revolutionized the creative industry.
The Macintosh isn’t just a computer. It’s responsible for how creative professionals work with computers today, for Apple’s development over the past 20 years – and it’s single-handedly responsible for the desktop publishing revolution.
Launched with the now-famous 1984 advertisement, directed by Ridley Scott and first aired during the Superbowl in the US, the Macintosh was the first affordable computer to feature a Graphical User Interface (GUI). There were other features that were completely wonderous at the time. These innovations included a built-in B&W monitor, keyboard, and mouse for interacting with the GUI. It was also the first personal computer to include a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive.
Yet it isn’t just the GUI, mouse, or disk drive that makes the Macintosh a technology classic. The computer’s impact on the creative industry was incredible, especially when it was teamed up with two other technologies – the Apple LaserWriter, and a then little-known application called PageMaker from Aldus.
At the time of the Macintosh’s launch, Apple Computer was in trouble. It was dawning on the company that it wasn’t about to dislodge IBM from the corporate world, and that it didn’t have a market it could claim as its own.
The Macintosh, LaserWriter, and PageMaker changed all that. Here was a combination that connected with visual people, and it delivered a printing studio for less than $10,000 – a revolution at that time.
A few little-known facts make for an even more compelling story. The LaserWriter cost around $7,000 when it launched – far cheaper than the $30,000 printers previously available – and was essentially a Macintosh CPU with the screen removed and a printer unit added. They sold by the bucketload and, when Apple saw the potential of PageMaker (Apple paid for Aldus’ advertising in the early days), it knew that the new market of desktop publishing was Apple’s for the taking. ‘Graphics’ became the new buzzword, and Apple became the innovator of an industry. Without the Macintosh, designers would still be struggling with command-line interfaces and obscure instructions – the kind that were in use in the publishing industry back in 1984 with systems such as Atex.
The rest is history. The Macintosh pulled all these innovations and solutions together, and was the first machine to deliver computing for the rest of us. It’s also the first ‘creative’ computer – any designer over the age of 30 would have at one-time cut their teeth on one. The all-in-one combo display and CPU survive today in the design of Apple’s iMac.
The 1984 commercial
Directed by Ridley Scott, the Apple Macintosh is famous not just as a piece of retro technology, but as the topic of one of the most inspirational advertising spots that has ever been aired. Dubbed 1984, the advert saw line upon line of grey drones – supposedly to represent IBM users – marching in line in an Orwellian future dystopia. A lone, female runner then sprints through the crowd, before lobbing a sledge hammer into a giant screen dominated with a ‘big brother’ type iconic image.
The final message – about 1984 not being like 1984 – still sends shivers down the spine today. Generally considered the greatest advertisement of all time, the 60-second spot launched the Macintosh into the world.
CPU: Motorola MC68000
CPU Speed: 8MHz
Bus Speed: 8MHz
Data Path: 16 bit
Max RAM: 128K
Monitor: 9-inch built-in
VRAM: 1-bit 512-x-342
Storage: 3.5-inch 400K floppy
I/O: Two serial ports, mono 8-bit audio out
Dimensions: 13.6-x-9.6-x-10.9 inches
Minimum OS: 1.0
Maximum OS: 6.0.8
Introduced: January 1984
Withdrawn: October 1985