Saturday, January 24, 2009

A dent in the world

Twenty-five years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh at an event in the Flint Center for the Performing Arts to an audience of about 3000 people.

The above link has links to many historical resources about the occasion, including a YouTube video of that event a quarter century ago. Highly recommended!

It would be fair to say that the Macintosh changed the course of my life. Believe it or not, at one time I was fairly well known in the Mac shareware community for my user interface designs and was training to go to work for Apple itself. Some of the highest highs and lowest lows of my life have been connected with Apple hardware and software and the people I met because of them.

And if you're reading these words now, you can say the same thing. You owe the web itself to Tim Berners-Lee developing his global hypertext system on the NeXTstep platform -- which was both successor to the Macintosh and direct ancestor of the current OS X operating system. But more than that, by marrying the vision of Jef Raskin back in the late Seventies of a relatively affordable computer for ordinary people to the mouse-driven graphical user interface borrowed from Xerox PARC, the Macintosh so fundamentally altered the way people thought of computers that we can't even see it anymore.

Computers used to be Colossus: The Forbin Project and math geeks with pocket protectors handling stacks of punched cards with loving care. All of a sudden, the world of computers became a space ordinary people could see and reach into. In one sense, the Internet had existed back in late 1969, well before there was an Apple Computer...but we would not now think of it as a place for us to be in, if not for the innovations brought to us by the Macintosh.

That is some big dent in the world right there.


  1. Learn something new about you all the time, RAB...

    I think you're dead-on in your assessment of the impact of Apple, although I don't think the story is complete without mentioning Redmond as well, if only as a delivery system. But I'm happy that I'm coming to you on an iBook.

    More interesting to me: as a cultural construct, who would have guessed that we would have gotten in the Internet by using a brain sitting on our own desk? All the models I remember from SF had us accessing the Colossus or the Overmind or the WorldBrain or whatever through what would now be called dumb terminals. And with the rise of Netbooks and such, it seems that we might be heading back that way again. Makes you wonder if personal computers might turn out to be a long and wonderful detour.

  2. Oh, yeah - in the mid-sixties, my sister was a keypunch operator. I can remember visiting her at work.

  3. That's an excellent point about the decline of the terminal-and-mainframe model in favor of personal computing, and netbooks as an intermediate step back; one might also include net-capable smartphones and iPhones in the latter category.

    But at the same time, people have come to value the sanctity of their files and personal data too highly to simply entrust all of it to remote mainframes again...and to borrow a cliche, when even our refrigerators and ovens have rudimentary CPUs it's hard to imagine information appliances reverting to completely dumb terminals. Moore's Law or no, even the thinnest and cheapest netbook-descendant a decade from now will have computing power that makes a $4000 PC of today look sad. And we'll still be using it for word processing...

  4. I had a Mac WAAAAAAY back in the late 1980s. I miss the Talking Moose.

  5. My first computer ever was an Apple 2C and after a Windows detour during the sad, sad Performa era I returned to Apple with my beloved PowerBook and iMac.

    And of course there's my iPod. Yep, I drank the Kool-Aid a long, long time ago.


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