Jan 242018

The original Apple Macintosh (branded as Mac since 1998) first went on sale on this date in 1984. The Macintosh was the company’s first mass-market personal computer that featured a graphical user interface, built-in screen, and mouse. Apple sold the Macintosh alongside its popular Apple II family of computers for almost ten years before the latter was cancelled in 1993. Early Macintosh models were expensive, hindering its competitiveness in a market already dominated by the Commodore 64 for consumers, as well as the IBM Personal Computer and its accompanying clone market for businesses. Macintosh systems did, however, find a successful market in education and desktop publishing, and kept Apple as the second-largest PC manufacturer for the next decade.

The Macintosh project was begun in 1979 by Jef Raskin, an Apple employee who envisioned an easy-to-use, low-cost computer for the average consumer. He wanted to name the computer after his favorite type of apple, the McIntosh, but the spelling was changed to “Macintosh” for legal reasons because the original was the same spelling as that used by McIntosh Laboratory, Inc., the audio equipment manufacturer. Steve Jobs requested that McIntosh Laboratory give Apple a release for the name with its changed spelling so that Apple could use it, but the request was denied, forcing Apple to buy the rights to use the name.


The original Macintosh featured a radically new graphical user interface. Users interacted with the computer using a metaphorical desktop that included icons of real life items, instead of abstract textual commands, as was the case with MS-DOS based IBM PCs and clones, plus a mouse which allowed the user to point at the icons and click on them to open the files or applications. This was a radically new concept at the time.

In 1978 Apple began to organize the Apple Lisa project, aiming to build a next-generation machine similar to an advanced Apple III or the yet-to-be-introduced IBM PC. In 1979, Steve Jobs learned of the advanced work on graphical user interfaces (GUI) taking place at Xerox PARC. He arranged for Apple engineers to be allowed to visit PARC to see the systems in action. The Apple Lisa project was immediately redirected to use a GUI, which at that time was well beyond the state of the art for microprocessor capabilities. The Xerox Alto required a custom processor that spanned several circuit boards in a case which was the size of a small refrigerator. Things had changed dramatically with the introduction of the 32-bit Motorola 68000 in 1979, which offered at least an order of magnitude better performance than existing designs and made a software GUI machine a practical possibility. The basic layout of the Lisa was largely complete by 1982, at which point Jobs’s constant suggestions for improvements led to him being kicked off the project.

At the same time that the Lisa was becoming a GUI machine in 1979, Jef Raskin started the Macintosh project. The design at that time was for a low-cost, easy-to-use machine for the average consumer. Instead of a GUI, it was supposed to use a text-based user interface that allowed several programs to be running and easily switched between, and special command keys on the keyboard that accessed standardized commands in the programs. Raskin was authorized to start hiring for the project in September 1979, and he immediately asked his long-time colleague, Brian Howard, to join him. His initial team  eventually consisted of 15 engineers and programmers with Steve Jobs leading the project. In a 2013 interview, Steve Wozniak said that he had been leading the initial design and development phase of the Macintosh project until 1981 when he experienced a traumatic airplane crash and temporarily left the company, leaving Jobs in charge. In that same interview, Wozniak said that the original Macintosh “failed” under Jobs, and that it was not until Jobs left that it became a success. He attributed the eventual success of the Macintosh to people like John Sculley “who worked to build a Macintosh market when the Apple II went away.” Sculley had been CEO of Pepsi but was lured away to Apple by Jobs with the now immortal line: “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

Jobs and Sculley

Burrell Smith built the first Macintosh board to Raskin’s design specifications: it had 64 kilobytes (kB) of RAM, used the 8-bit Motorola 6809E microprocessor, and was capable of supporting a 256×256-pixel black-and-white bitmap display. Bud Tribble, a member of the Mac team, was interested in running the Apple Lisa’s graphical programs on the Macintosh, and asked Smith whether he could incorporate the Lisa’s Motorola 68000 microprocessor into the Mac while still keeping the production cost down. By December 1980, Smith had succeeded in designing a board that not only used the 68000, but also increased its speed from the Lisa’s 5 MHz to 8 MHz. This board also had the capacity to support a 384×256-pixel display. Smith’s design used fewer RAM chips than the Lisa, which made production of the board significantly more cost-efficient. The final Mac design was self-contained and had the complete QuickDraw picture language and interpreter in 64 KB of ROM – far more than most other computers which typically had around 4 to 8 KB of ROM. It had 128 kB of RAM, in the form of sixteen 64-kilobit (kb) RAM chips soldered to the logicboard. Though there were no memory slots, its RAM was expandable to 512 kB by soldering sixteen IC sockets to accept 256 kb RAM chips in place of the factory-installed chips. The final product’s screen was a 9-inch (230 mm), 512×342 pixel monochrome display, exceeding the size of the planned screen.

Burrell’s innovative design, combining the low production cost of an Apple II with the computing power of Lisa’s Motorola 68000 CPU, began to receive Jobs’s attentions. Realizing that the Macintosh was more marketable than the Lisa, he began to focus his attention on the project. Raskin left the team in 1981 over a personality conflict with Jobs. When Jobs was forced out of the Lisa team in 1982, he devoted his entire attention to the Macintosh. Jobs’s leadership at the Macintosh project did not last. Following an internal power struggle with then-new Apple CEO John Sculley, Jobs resigned from Apple in 1985.

In 1982, Regis McKenna was brought in to shape the marketing and launch of the Macintosh. The launch of the Macintosh pioneered many different tactics that are used today in launching technology products, including the “multiple exclusive,” event marketing (credited to John Sculley, who brought the concept over from Pepsi), creating a mystique around a product and giving an inside look into a product’s creation. After the Lisa’s announcement, John Dvorak discussed rumors of a mysterious “MacIntosh” project at Apple in February 1983. The company announced the Macintosh 128K—manufactured at an Apple factory in Fremont, California—in October 1983, followed by an 18-page brochure included with various magazines in December.

The Macintosh was introduced by a $1.5 million Ridley Scott television commercial, “1984.” It most notably aired during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII on January 22, 1984, and is now often called a “watershed event” and a “masterpiece.” McKenna called the ad “more successful than the Mac itself.” “1984” used an unnamed heroine to represent the coming of the Macintosh (indicated by a Picasso-style picture of the computer on her white tank top) as a means of saving humanity from the “conformity” of IBM’s attempts to dominate the computer industry. The ad alludes to George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four with its dystopian future ruled by a televised “Big Brother.” Take a look:

Two days after “1984” aired, the Macintosh went on sale, and came bundled with two applications designed to show off its interface: MacWrite and MacPaint. It was first demonstrated by Steve Jobs in the first of his famous Mac keynote speeches, and though the Mac garnered an immediate, enthusiastic following, some labeled it a mere “toy.”

Because the operating system was designed largely around the GUI, existing text-mode and command-driven applications had to be redesigned and the programming code rewritten. This was a time-consuming task that many software developers chose not to undertake, which can be regarded as the main reason for an initial lack of software for the new system. In April 1984, Microsoft’s MultiPlan migrated over from MS-DOS, with Microsoft Word following in January 1985. In 1985, Lotus Software introduced Lotus Jazz for the Macintosh platform after the success of Lotus 1-2-3 for the IBM PC, although it was largely a flop. Apple introduced the Macintosh Office suite the same year with the “Lemmings” commercial: infamous for insulting its own potential customers.

Apple spent $2.5 million purchasing all 39 advertising pages in a special, post-election issue of Newsweek, and ran a “Test Drive a Macintosh” promotion, in which potential buyers with a credit card could take home a Macintosh for 24 hours and return it to a dealer afterwards. While 200,000 people participated, dealers disliked the promotion, the supply of computers was insufficient for demand, and many were returned in such a bad condition that they could no longer be sold. This marketing campaign caused CEO John Sculley to raise the price from $1,995 to $2,495 (about $5,900 when adjusted for inflation in 2017). The computer sold well, nonetheless, reportedly outselling the IBM PCjr which also began shipping early that year. By April 1984 the company sold 50,000 Macintoshes and hoped for 70,000 by early May and almost 250,000 by the end of the year.

Price was a major factor separating IBM PC clones and Macs at that time – and still is. I could not afford $2,495 in 1984 on my assistant professor’s salary which was around $18,000 per annum. Adjusting for inflation only tells half the story. A Mac would have cost me around 15% of my annual salary before taxes, and there is no way I could have afforded that. Genuine IBM PCs were even more expensive, but clones were much cheaper. I got an IBM clone for $1000, which still necessitated a loan, but an affordable one. 95% of my work on a computer was (and is) word processing making a GUI largely unnecessary. Also, the clone I bought had a 16-color monitor, and there were scores of applications available (including games in full color). For me it was a no brainer. I had been a programmer in the 1970s on mainframes, so the text-based interface was no problem. I was an early warrior in the Mac versus PC wars that have continued unabated down to today.

The McIntosh apple has to be on the menu for today’s anniversary. The fruit has red and green skin, a tart flavor, and tender white flesh, which ripens in late September. In the 20th century it was the most popular cultivar in Eastern Canada and New England, and is considered an all-purpose apple, suitable both for cooking and eating raw. John McIntosh discovered the original McIntosh sapling on his Dundela farm in Upper Canada in 1811. He and his wife bred it, and the family started grafting the tree and selling the fruit in 1835. In 1870, it entered commercial production, and became common in northeastern North America after 1900. Apple crisp is a dessert that is popular in both the US and Canada, using Macs. It is dead easy to make, consisting of baked chopped apples, topped with a crisp streusel crust. It is similar to apple crumble, but not the same. Apple crumble uses rolled oats in the topping. You can use fine Graham cracker crumbs in place of the flour in apple crisp.

Apple (McIntosh) Crisp


6 McIntosh apples, peeled, cored, and diced into ½” pieces
½ lemon, juiced
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbsp granulated white sugar
½ cup flour
½ cup brown sugar
½ stick/2oz butter, cubed


Preheat the oven to 400˚F/200.

In a 9 by 12-inch baking dish, combine the apples, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and white sugar.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar, and butter together using the tines of a fork and your fingers, working until the ingredients are evenly distributed, and the mix resembles coarse sand. Or (as I do), pulse the mix in a food processor.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the apples and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the apples are just tender and topping is golden brown.

Serve warm, plain, or with vanilla ice cream.

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