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.

16 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

> More often than not, the open laptops populating coffee shops and tech company workstations beam out glowing Apples from their covers.

And Electron or web apps are filling their screens…

Old Unix Geek

I remember going to see a friend's first Mac... The original one, where the engineers' signatures were molded on the inside. Imagine Apple doing that today... (To quote Andy Hertzfeld: "The goal was never to beat the competition, or to make a lot of money; it was to do the greatest thing possible, or even a little greater")

At the time I was very impressed by details such as the floppy disk auto-injecting/ejecting, the 800k disks, and the high resolution black and white screen. Later, I was impressed by the NeXT workstation he got. Even later, I was very pleased with my CUDA running laptop. But since then, I've been less impressed, even though a good friend thinks the Mac Studio he recently bought is the best computer he's ever had, software issues aside.

Software-wise, I really liked 10.4 to 10.6... I liked but never really liked XCode or Instruments. I still use Notational Velocity, Journler, TexMacs, Cog, VLC and Palemoon every day... and vim! But these days more and more runs in the browser (Syncthing, gmail, Jupyter Notebook, etc) and work just as well on Windows.

And then, Apple's shenanigans leave a bad taste: dropping CUDA, breaking APIs and backwards compatibility, dropping Objective-C, Sherlocking, shit keyboards, and now requiring apps to be "signed" by Apple... and they don't just behave badly towards third parties writing software for their computers, but are also pretty ruthless towards hardware companies that have things they want. I no longer trust them and see them more as seductive and psychopathic. Very different from the hacker ethic.

PhoneNET. That's a deep cut. I'd forgotten about that but I had a local network in my college dorm between three macs with phone lines running across the halls.

In the 1990's (I wasn't alive in the 80s), my favorite Macs were definitely the pizza-box styled ones, like the PowerMac 6100. I have two of these style machines sitting behind me as I write this - a Performa 6116CD and Quadra 660AV. I'm still working on the Quadra... trying to repair/restore after a PRAM battery went boom-boom.

After that, I seem to really like PowerMacs... I have a PMG3 B&W, Graphite Digital Audio, PMG4 Cube (450 MHz), Quicksilver (dual 1.0 GHz) and MDD (dual 1.25 GHz). Most of which were acquired from either storage unit liquidations or the goodwill. I really like the clamshell iBooks, too, and have three - Blueberry, Tangerine and a Graphite one from the speedbump.

Also have a 12" PowerBook G4, and it truly is still one of the best laptops that Apple has ever done.

I recently set up an emulated System 7.1 environment so I could have some fun playing around in classic Mac OS, like I did when I was a kid. It really did bring a sense of fun and nostalgia I haven't felt in a long time! I ended up having a blast making a full game in HyperCard... though what I made couldn't actually run on an actual black and white mac at any reasonable speed! It ran great on a G4 PowerMac I had sitting in my basement though.

There was some special about these classic macs. Granted I have deeply rose tinted nostalgia goggles on, but I still stand by that.

@Ben Yep, the 12-inch PowerBook G4 is another favorite of mine. It’s like the successor to the iBook that I mentioned.

The Mac changed our lives… and the World. Then InterNet… And then the iPhone. Forever.

Crag Grannell also wrote some articles on the 40th anniversary, linked from his blog:

> I ended up having a blast making a full game in HyperCard...

Imagine if, instead of letting it die, Apple had made HyperCard web-enabled. Instead of the current rickety stack of HTML, CSS, and JS, how much better could all of this have turned out?

> neglect of Mac technologies (e.g. scripting, external storage, 1x displays, x86 compatibility)

I wrote about a workaround I've been using to negate the issues running moder macOS on non-retina 1x displays:

I'm not sure if it's me and I'm just bored of this stuff now, but it seems like there's just not much excitement in the Mac realm these days. Every OS X update seems to regress backwards more than moving forward. Most of the software that I use on my Mac isn't exciting at all. It's just not the same as it was in the 90s and early 2000s where every new Mac or OS X update seemed like something magical. The hardware is amazing, but OS X has become so "meh" and frankly kind of weird in parts, like the people working at Apple don't know what they are doing anymore. It's funny that Joz was quoted as saying that other companies change things just for the sake of change, and not necessarily because it's an improvement, and that Apple doesn't do that. But that's exactly what they've done with OS X over the past 6 years or so... changing things that worked fine, changing things that violate their own HIG, making buttons that don't look like buttons, removing useful features, etc.

My first Mac was an LC II from 1992 or so. Then somehow I convinced my mom to upgrade to a Quadra 650 ($5,700 in today's money) with a +8 MB RAM upgrade which was an extra $600. So much fun playing MYST, 7th Guest, Prince of Persia, and Spectre on that thing.

Favorite Macs would be tough for me…
Mac Classic (I know it kind of sucked in many ways, but you can boot the whole thing from its internal ROM!!!)
Quadra 605
Power Mac 6100
Power Mac 7600
Beige Power Mac G3
PowerBook 540c (or its rare 550c variant)
PowerBook 2400c
12" iBook G4

Your post resonates Ben G. I happen to have spent some time today seeing if I could find something like The Grouch (Sesame street guy living in the Trash on classic) or other trivial thing like the menu-bar eyes I could find to give my Mac some personality, alas.

> Most of the software that I use on my Mac isn't exciting at all

I remember when the first website I'd open every morning was versiontracker (and later macupdate), just to see if any cool new software had come out, and most days, it had! Sometimes it was weird stuff, sometimes it was useful stuff, sometimes it was genuinely revolutionary stuff.

Today, something similar still exists, but it's certainly no longer on the Mac. Instead, in places like F-Droid on Android, or maybe on the web. But on their own platforms, Apple has done a great job killing any kind of excitement about new software. If anything, there is constant dread about what Apple will disallow or break next.

@Plume I often day dream about what would've happened in HyperCard became the standard for the web. Imagine a world with no CSS...

If I ever get a Rick Sanchez style portal gun, I'm definitely traveling to the universe where that happened to check it out

Warren Nagourney

Claris Cad, I believe, was removed due to patent disputes with the award-winning Vellum CAD app for the Mac (and only for the Mac) during the 90s. The latter app was my second favorite app for the Mac of all time. It had a brilliant user interface making it easy to make precision drawings but was very expensive. The developers apparently left the company and the current version (Aslhar Graphite) is little different from the 20+ year old original. Fortunately, there is a "clone" of this app made by Punch Software called ViaCAD which is very affordable and was obviously made largely by the same developers.

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