Archive for January 24, 2024

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Mac at 40

Malcolm Owen (MacRumors):

January 24 will be the Macintosh’s 40th birthday, marking four decades since Steve Jobs showed off what he believed to be the future of computing.

Dan Moren:

In that time, it’s run on four different processor architectures and two major operating systems, making it a bit of a computer of Theseus. It’s seen challengers rise and fall, and been threatened with extinction more than once, and yet for all of that has emerged in recent years revitalized and stronger than ever.

D. Griffin Jones:

The 40-year history of Macintosh computers is a roller coaster of ages golden and dark.


We produced a short video documentary you can sit back and watch if you’d rather do that than read[…]

Steven Levy:

That legacy has been long-lasting. For the first half of its existence, the Mac occupied only a slice of the market, even as it inspired so many rivals; now it’s a substantial chunk of PC sales. Even within the Apple juggernaut, $30 billion isn’t chicken feed! What’s more, when people think of PCs these days, many will envision a Macintosh. More often than not, the open laptops populating coffee shops and tech company workstations beam out glowing Apples from their covers. Apple claims that its Macbook Air is the world’s best-selling computer model. One 2019 survey reported that more than two-thirds of all college students prefer a Mac. And Apple has relentlessly improved the product, whether with the increasingly slim profile of the iMac or the 22-hour battery life of the Macbook Pro. Moreover, the Mac is still a thing. Chromebooks and Surface PCs come and go, but Apple’s creation remains the pinnacle of PC-dom. “It’s not a story of nostalgia, or history passing us by,” says Greg “Joz” Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, in a rare on-the-record interview with five Apple executives involved in its Macintosh operation. “The fact we did this for 40 years is unbelievable.”


Ternus’ comment opens up an unexpected theme to our conversation: how the connections between the Mac and Apple’s other breakout products have continually revitalized the company’s PC workhorse. As a result, the Mac has stayed relevant and influential way past the normal lifespan of a computer product.

No question, the Mac would not be as popular as it is today if it weren’t for the iPhone, nor would there be Apple Silicon and perhaps some other technologies. On the other hand, the sore spots with today’s Macs come from iOS, too: the annual release schedule that impedes software quality, the Mac App Store, supposed security and privacy at the expense of capabilities and interoperability, first-party apps that look and feel like they were designed for mobile, two cross-platform frameworks that are not geared toward creating great desktop apps, and the neglect of Mac technologies (e.g. scripting, external storage, 1x displays, x86 compatibility) that don’t apply to iOS.

Apple once saw the Mac as the center of the digital hub. It still sees it as important, but more as an accessory for iOS. Most software changes these days are about integrating with iOS or belatedly porting stuff from that platform. There does not seem to be much interest in expanding the things that only the Mac can do. Rather, Apple seemingly wanted to supplant it with iPad and now cares more about visionOS. Imagine if more of those resources had been applied to the platform we’ve loved for decades.

Upgrade (video):

Celebrating 40 years of the Mac, we’ve gathered an all-star panel of longtime Mac users to pick the best Macs, Mac software, and Mac accessories, as well as induct a few events or devices into the Mac Hall of Shame.

I’ve not listened yet because I wanted to jot down some picks, uninfluenced. I’m probably missing some good ones, but here’s what came to mind right away:

Favorite Macs: SE/30, PowerBook 170, iMac DV, iBook 2001 (Dual USB), MacBook Pro 2012 (15-inch, first Retina), MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch, M1 Pro/Max).

Favorite Software: Finder, HyperCard, Now Utilities, Conflict Catcher, DragThing, Retrospect, Nisus Writer, BBEdit, THINK Reference, RAM Doubler, Anarchie, ClarisWorks, DiskWarrior, Claris Emailer, ImageReady, Frontier, FrameMaker, iCab, Mailsmith, Script Debugger, iTunes, LaunchBar, OmniOutliner, Safari, NetNewsWire, Growl, Little Snitch, TextMate, OmniFocus, Dropbox, Time Machine, Mac OS X 10.6.8. I’ll stop there because I wanted to remember some great software over the years, not list my current Dock.

Favorite Accessories: PhoneNET, SuperView (SCSI external display support for PowerBooks), AirPort Express, ScanSnap S500M.

Hall of Shame: The Mac OS X Finder not remembering window and icon positions, the early Mac OS X bug where the installer would delete stuff if there was a space in the file path, sandboxing and TCC (the implementation and policies, not the idea), pretending that the App Store invented online software distribution, killing Aperture, MacBook Pro 2016 (butterfly keyboard, Touch Bar), Apple Mail data loss starting in Catalina.

Dan Moren:

As I mentioned on the show, my first Mac was the LC and I spend hours and hours on that thing. So much so that I guess my mom thought it worth memorializing in photo form? So here’s me in 1993, reading (I’m pretty sure) The Macintosh Bible, and surly as only a 13-year old having his picture taken can be.

Peter Cohen:

Fell in love at first sight with MacPaint and MacWrite and got my own (a Fat Mac) about a year later.

Mr. Macintosh:

41 years ago today, on January 19th, 1983, Apple announced the Lisa computer

List price: $9,995
Inflation: $31,348

John Voorhees:

Jonathan Zufi, the creator behind the coffee table book ICONIC - A Photographic Tribute To Apple Innovation has dug into his archive of Mac photography to mark the 40th anniversary of the Mac with over 1,000 photos and videos that he’s taken and collected over the years, all of which are on display on Here’s Zufi on the Mac’s milestone[…]

Dave Mark:

OG Macintosh team will gather today at the Computer History Museum to talk about the Mac at 40.

All star cast:

Bill Atkinson, Steve Capps, Andy Cunningham, Andy Hertzfeld, Bruce Horn, Susan Kare, Dan’l Lewin, Mike Murray, Chris Espinosa, Guy Kawasaki, Steven Levy, and David Pogue.

Dr. Drang:

The app I nearly chose was Macintosh Pascal, written by THINK Technologies (who went on to publish Lightspeed Pascal and Lightspeed C, which had the greatest programmer slogan ever: “Make mistakes faster”) and distributed by Apple.


So with my not-quite-choice out of the way, here’s my fave: Claris CAD.

Am I kidding? No. This was a fantastic program for the kind of drawing I was doing back in the early ’90s and am still doing today. It wasn’t drafting, per se, but it did involve the kinds of construction typically done on a drafting table: lines tangent to circles, circles tangent to lines, lines perpendicular to other lines, and so on. The cursor would snap to features of the drawing and show a preview of how the next item would be drawn. It nearly always did exactly what I wanted.

See also: TidBITS-Talk, MyFirstMac, Matthias Gansrigler, Jason Snell.


Update (2024-01-30): Jonathan Wight:

Surprised isn’t marking the 40th birthday of Macintosh at all aside from offering everyone 3% cashback with an Apple Credit Card.

Riley Testut:

For the 30th they overhauled their website in the middle of the night

Harry McCracken:

But if all the first Mac inspires is nostalgia, we’ve lost sight of how daring it was. Unlike Apple’s first blockbuster PC, the Apple II, it had a built-in display but no integrated keyboard. It also sacrificed most of the Apple II’s defining features, such as its dazzling color graphics and expansion slots.

In retrospect, it’s among the gutsiest gambits Apple ever made. Imagine the company introducing a new smartphone that has virtually nothing in common with the iPhone. You can’t—or at least it strains my imagination.

Nick Heer:

Picking my favourite Mac software is massively difficult. I dug up a seventeen year old hard drive to jog my memory, and it is a long list. From Apple, my picks are: Aperture, Exposé, the original space-themed version of Time Machine, and the ability to type special characters by using the option key. From other developers, my picks are Coda, Homebrew, NetNewsWire, Pulp, Things, and myriad joyful Twitter clients like Bluebird and Twitterrific. I could go on. If I had to pick only one to reincarnate, it would probably be Aperture.


As for a Hall of Shame thing? That would be the slow but steady encroachment of single-window applications in MacOS, especially via Catalyst and Electron. The reason I gravitated toward MacOS in the first place is the same reason I continue to use it: it fits my mental model of how an operating system ought to work. I love how I can float a bunch of application windows all around my desktop and it still feels organized and workable; when I try to do the same thing on my Windows P.C. at my day job, it is nowhere near as good. Uniwindow applications rob users of the best parts of this model.

Jim Luther:

I took time today to thank Caroline Rose for writing Inside Macintosh. Without great documentation, there would be no great software, and without great software, the Mac would not be here today.

See also:

Update (2024-03-01): Jesse Polhemus:

In true Andy [van Dam] style, after singing the praises of the Mac, he told Steve that the machine wouldn’t be useful without a hard disk or network. (The original Mac had just a single drive for a 400 KB (yup, that’s K again!) removable diskette. Part of the system software and some apps were on the diskette, so if you wanted to use an app or store documents on another disk, the current disk would be ejected so you could put the other one in. When the operating system needed more code to continue running, that disk was ejected so you could put the system disk back. This sometimes led to absurd situations similar to thrashing in virtual memory – you would pop one disk in and it would be used for 5 seconds, then ejected so you could put the other disk in for 5 seconds, and then that was ejected, ad infinitum. Andy called this “milking”, since it appeared that one was treating the Mac like a cow, albeit one lying on its side.

As one might expect, Steve preferred praise to criticism. He and Andy went back and forth, with Steve saying something to the effect of “people don’t need a network, they’ll just pass diskettes back and forth – SneakerNet is just fine”. Lo and behold, Apple soon came out with a hard disk and a network. AndyH told me that the network hardware had already been completed before Andy and Steve had their tete-a-tete, but the software wasn’t ready at launch, so Steve pooh-poohed the entire notion of networks.

In Praise of Buttons

Niko Kitsakis:

In graphical user interfaces, we have seen an increase in buttons recently that consist merely of text or icons, without a clear, visible button shape being present. This insipid, uninspired mediocrity, exemplified by Google’s “Material Design” or – even worse – IBM’s “Carbon Design System”, was popularised by Apple’s iOS 7 and its equally miserable “Flat Design” aesthetics. This lazy minimalism is often considered modern and streamlined, but we must ask: Is it also user-friendly?


A button in a graphical user interface that has no button shape will likely give you no feedback either. While it might actually have an alternative state that gets activated when you touch it (a change of colour for instance), you are probably going to obstruct that with your finger. This is another advantage of buttons that look like buttons.

Update (2024-01-30): Nick Heer:

One objective of the visual interface language introduced in MacOS Big Sur was, according to Alan Dye, to “[reduce] visual complexity to keep the focus on users’ content” which meant, for example, that “buttons and controls appear when you need them, and they recede when you don’t”.

In practice, it means interfaces become ambiguously interactive. A design system of line art glyphs floating in detail-free window chrome makes it easier to create light and dark themes, but it also turns everything into a flavourless smear of grey tones.


This is not specifically an argument in favour of decorated, glossy, detailed user interface elements — though I do like those — but it is an argument in favour of craft. Of heart and soul.


Update (2024-02-21): Niko Kitsakis:

Now let’s have a look at physical buttons in product (or industrial) design and what’s happened to those in recent years. If you are strictly a UI/UX designer in the context of design for screens, you should still read this article. In my view, the importance of the experiences of the physical world should not be underestimated when designing for screens. We use the same brain to make sense of both worlds after all.


What really happened here, I think, is that the marketing department got blinded by the idea of “touch = good” and forced the product people to build something along those lines. Probably saying things like “good enough” and “we don’t have the budget” a lot during the process. What they ended up with is much worse than what could have been achieved with a clearly labeled mechanical dial and a latching start/stop button.


Contrast this with the touch surface of the tumble dryer: It offers no advantages whatsoever but actually combines the disadvantages of both worlds: A physical appearance that is fixed (since there is no bitmapped screen but just a lamp that lights up under each button) and a touch surface which, by definition, isn’t tactile (and therefore ambiguous and unsatisfying to use). Again, you cannot copy what you don’t understand.

Git Tower 10.3


Environment settings: In addition to adding custom environment variables, environment variables from the login shell are now also automatically added when running Git commands. This should make hook scripts work without additional configuration.


Syntax highlighting: Improved memory management


Terminal integration: “Open in Terminal” now works if there is no visible Terminal window open.

I’ve been using this in beta for a while, and I think it finally fixes the various problems with syntax highlighting and high memory and CPU use.


QuickTime As a Tape Archival Format

Chris Hanson (Hacker News):

A lot of people think QuickTime is a “video format,” but that’s not really accurate. Video and audio playback are applications atop the QuickTime container format; the container format itself is a means of representing multiple typed tracks of time-based media, each of which may have their own representation in the form of samples interpreted according to their own CODECs.


Once you realize that the tracks themselves can be arbitrary, it starts to become clear how this format maps nicely to tape content: Since tapes themselves are linear, they’re fundamentally time-based.


The format can also be leveraged to support random access including writes, since the intelligence for that can be in the “CODEC” for the “tape” track media, combined with the QuickTime format’s existing support for non-destructive edits. New data can be overlaid based on its “temporal” position, which should more or less accurately simulate how a rewritten tape would actually work, while still preserving the data that was just overwritten.


Darwin Streaming Server as a whole and its QTFileLib component are written in quite straightforward “C with Classes”-style C++, and QTFileLib has an API surface representing all of the major low-level and application-level concepts of the file format.