Washington Evening Journal

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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 23, 2017

Happy birthday, Mac

By David Hotle | Jan 24, 2012

Where was all the admiration for Steve Jobs when he was still alive? He really was a remarkable fellow. Yes, I suspect he was kind of a jerk. How many people do you know who built a multibillion-dollar company without being at least a little bit of a jerk?

For those of you who don’t know it, today we are celebrating a pretty important birthday. No, it isn’t Steve Jobs’ birthday, but you are close. According to Wikipedia 28 years ago today the first Apple MacIntosh computer went on sale to the general public. Well, the Apple II had been out for a while, but this was something revolutionary. It was the first computer in history to use a mouse and a graphic user interface instead of a command line. I can just hear the readers who grew up during the 1990s thinking, “so what?” Trust someone who used an Apple IIE in high school – this was a big deal at the time.

During the early 1980s my dad believed (rightfully so, it turns out) that computers were the coming things. For Christmas one year he got me a Radio Shack computer. If anyone knows what a TRS-80 — affectionately “Trash-80” — is, that’s what it was. It used a command line for everything. It also came with three user manuals, each about the size of a phone book, which contained programs the user could copy into the computer. It had no on-board memory, so the programs had to be copied in each time the program was needed. A 5 megabyte hard drive, which took up the same amount of space as today’s desktop computers, was sold as an after market item. Any memory it did have came in the form of what could best be described as detachable hard drives, although I believe they were the forerunners of floppy disks. Memory for these Y2K monsters was amazingly expensive. The CPU clocked at a speed of 1.77 MHz. That is what most computers of the time were like until the Mac came along.

The Mac 128K computer sold for about $2,500 and had a lightning fast 8 MHz processor and a built-in 128k hard drive. At the time, the interface, clicking on a desktop icon and having programs saved on the computer itself, was huge. Previously a set-up like this would have run at least $10,000. The computer was designed for small business use. Because of the revolutionary interface, sales of the computer took off. The rest is history.

I actually have experience using these computers. When I worked for Terry newspapers in Henry County, Ill. (1997 through 1999), the Mac 128k and Mac SE computers were used. A side note — when things first come out people consider them to be wonders of modern technology but once they are a few generations old they are no longer considered wonders. In fact, many are considered pieces of junk. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I almost threw my Mac SE out the window as I was typing faster than the CPU could keep up with. Don’t get me started on what 2400 baud modems were like. What I wouldn’t have given for a Windows 98 machine.

We have to remember everything starts somewhere. In this case, most of our modern technology wouldn’t exist without the early Mac. This is something to think about today while you are talking on your iPhone or listening to your MP3 player or surfing the Internet.

Personally I think this is also a great example of American entrepreneurship. Steve Jobs pioneered a new market. When Al Gore invented the Internet (what do you mean he really didn’t?) the machines were already there to go online. That market has continued to this day. Anyone examining modern computers will notice the operating systems are very similar — they just have 28 years of bells and whistles added. If you think about it, there is really nothing new going on with computers. Companies are just making them faster or giving them more memory.

We need to remember everything starts somewhere. With a solid foundation, it grows. In 28 years, the Mac has grown from a very boxy computer (now used mostly for fish tanks) to revolutionizing just about everything in daily life. It kind of makes me wonder what the next big innovation that will grow giant will be.


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