Even After 40 Years, the Macintosh’s Spirit is the Same

Today marks the Mac’s 40th anniversary. Joe Rossignol at MacRumors found the company’s original press release for the machine, and it’s a real gem:

Apple Computer today unveiled its much-anticipated Macintosh computer, a sophisticated, affordably priced personal computer designed for business people, professionals and students in a broad range of fields. Macintosh is available in all dealerships now. Based on the advanced, 32-bit architecture developed for Apple’s Lisa computer, Macintosh combines extraordinary computing power with exceptional ease of use–in a unit that is smaller and lighter than most transportable computers. The suggested retail price for Macintosh is $2,495, which during the introductory period also includes a word-processing program and graphics package.

Macintosh, along with three powerful new Lisa 2 computers, forms the basis of the Apple 32 SuperMicro family of computers. All systems in the family run Macintosh software.

Like Apple’s ground-breaking Lisa computer, Macintosh uses its built-in user-interface software and high-resolution display to simulate the actual desk-top working environment–complete with built-in notepads, file folders, a calculator and other office tools. Every Macintosh computer contains 64 kilobytes of read-only memory (ROM), built-in Lisa Technology and 128 kilobytes of random-access memory (RAM) that support these desk-top tools.

The press release goes on to talk about the Mac’s user interface, which wasn’t Apple’s first GUI. That achievement belonged to the Lisa:

Users tell Macintosh what to do simply by moving a “mouse”–a small pointing device–to select among functions listed in menus and represented by pictorial symbols on the screen. Users are no longer forced to memorize the numerous and confusing keyboard commands of conventional computers. The result is radical ease of use and a significant reduction in learning time. In effect, the Macintosh is a desk-top appliance offering users increased utility and creativity with simplicity.

“We believe that Lisa Technology represents the future direction of all personal computers,” said Steven P. Jobs, Chairman of the Board of Apple. “Macintosh makes this technology available for the first time to a broad audience–at a price and size unavailable from any other manufacturer. By virtue of the large amount of software written for them, the Apple II and the IBM PC became the personal-computer industry’s first two standards. We expect Macintosh to become the third industry standard.”

The Lisa would be dead within a few years of this, and while the Apple II would live on until 1993, the Mac would be the one to take on the PC, both in homes and in the workplace:

Macintosh is aimed at a broad group of business people, professionals and college students. These people perform tasks that are similar in one important respect: they all involve working at a desk and transforming information and ideas into memos, reports, budgets, plans and analyses.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that while there are 25 million of these “knowledge workers” in the United States alone, only 5 percent currently use desk-top computers. Apple market research indicates that the majority are unable or unwilling to invest the 20 to 40 hours it takes to master conventional computers and the additional three to 10 hours’ learning time required for each new application program.

Macintosh, by contrast, typically takes only a few hours to learn. Its operation mirrors the activities that are carried on by people at their desks. Papers can be shuffled on screen, documents revised or discarded, charts drawn–all with a few simple commands executed with the mouse. Several documents can be displayed on screen simultaneously, in “windows” that can be moved, expanded or shrunk. All applications, from financial-planning tools to graphics programs, are based on the same set of intuitive operations. This means that numbers, words and pictures can be easily .. cut” from memos, charts or graphs and “pasted” into other documents–even those created in separate application programs produced by different software companies.

“Macintosh easily fits on a desk, both in terms of its style of operation and its physical design,” said Jobs. “It takes up about the same amount of desk space as a piece of paper. With Macintosh, the computer is an aid to spontaneity and originality, not an obstacle. It allows ideas and relationships to be viewed in new ways. Macintosh enhances not just productivity, but also creativity.”

40 years on that last bit from Jobs really jumps out of me. Let me quote it again:

“With Macintosh, the computer is an aid to spontaneity and originality, not an obstacle. It allows ideas and relationships to be viewed in new ways. Macintosh enhances not just productivity, but also creativity.”

That still defines the Mac today, four decades after it was introduced. This is why I fell in love with the Mac in the first place way back at my high school newspaper, and why I still love it today.