Special: The Mac at 25: Looking Back…

by on January 24, 2009

The Mac at 25

The Macintosh. What is there to say except it’s been a long and interesting 25 years. Look around your house, apartment, shed, condo, dorm room, whatever. What do you own that was made in 1984? Probably not much. The funny thing is that a number of Macs from back then still function perfectly, and millions of countless other models made in the last 25 years are still chugging along somewhere, whether it be the Centris 660AV still used for some mundane video task, a MacBook used for everything and anything, a PowerBook 170 used as a basic email computer, or the heavily-modded Color Classic. No computer has had this sort of longevity—most get obsolete and then they’re thrown away, eventually ending up in a landfill.

I think what’s tough for many to realize is that on the original Mac, the entire operating system, applications, and other associated files could fit on a 400 kilobyte diskette. Now, the average Word document can easily take up more than that. As time progressed, the Mac OS did get larger, along with computer capabilities. Also amazing is that the screen resolution was only 512×384—a bit bigger than an iPhone’s display—how did people manage?

SE screenshot

To be honest, it seems primitive now, but with the smaller file sizes, less graphics-intensive nature of the programs, and less demanding needs, the original Mac and models that followed could do a lot. We’ve just become spoiled. My primary computer for a few months in 1999 was a Macintosh SE, later replaced with a Macintosh LC II, followed by a PowerBook 540c and PowerMac 7200. In 2002, I purchased a 12″ iBook, making the jump into OS X territory. Although the computer did not seem to be from the same company as my prior Macs, one thing was clear, it still had the same spirit. Sure, a Honda Accord you buy today probably is nothing like the original ones from the late 1970s, but it’s simple, practical, reliable transportation. The Mac has remained similar for the last 25 years, mixing innovation with reliability (most of the time) and ease-of-use.

Trio of Oldies

While many people are naming their favorite Mac of all time, I think that we should be thinking about every model, even the awful ones that helped almost put Apple out of business. Everyone has a first Mac that they got either new or used and some sort of story. I think that is what separates this particular story in technology from other kinds of hardware. Nobody waxes poetically about their first Compaq. An old Mac is a lot like the original Nintendo Entertainment System—not very powerful by today’s standards at all, but it’s fun to dig out and remember past experiences. That’s why people even write books on the topic.

For those of you too young to remember, or only got into Apple products after the iPod, taking a time machine (no pun intended) back to 1984 would have had you questioning some things. There was no Dock, nor iLife. iWork? Try MacWrite and MacPaint. Apple had other products for sale, too, but they were also computers, not consumer electronics that complemented the Mac.

Although the happy Mac icon is gone at startup, as is every reference of the “Picasso logo” and the Dogcow, the Mac is still the same computer it was 25 years ago in some way. It represents individuality, creativity, and innovation. If that continues, Apple will be making Macs 25 years from now, with or without Steve Jobs (which seems to be the more important story right now on some sites).

If you have an original Mac, especially one that still works, fire it up sometime today and play around with how things used to be. Share any stories below and stay tuned for our next post in the series.

This post has been filed in Articles and Special Coverage