40th Anniversary of the Macintosh

Steve Jobs in his office at Apple HQ in front of the Mac

Photo by Norman Seeff

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the Apple Macintosh’s launch. I recommend watching a few minutes of Steve Jobs introducing the Mac at De Anza College in Cupertino, CA on YouTube. While watching try to imagine a world where computers didn’t have a graphical user interface; just a blinking cursor begging you to enter commands. The Chariots of Fire theme song feels cheesy when watching in 2024, but in the moment I can imagine it felt appropriate.

The Steve Jobs Archive wrote a nice piece called 40 years of the Macintosh” for the occasion. One paragraph stuck out:

I remember the week before we launched the Mac,” Steve recalled in 2007. We all got together, and we said, Every computer is going to work this way. You can’t argue about that anymore. You can argue about how long it will take, but you can’t argue about it anymore.’”

This is how I always felt when I was growing up. In the early 1990s (and to be honest through college) I argued with kids and adults about why Apple computers were superior machines. Yes, superior. One could argue I was a bit pompous as a child during these conversations, but I was so passionate about Apple. Windows machines could always do more, but the software was ugly and the hardware was clunky.

While visiting friends’ houses we would sit in front of Macs for hours and just figure out what they could do (in addition to playing Maxis games). We didn’t have modems yet so we were forced to poke around the system with apps like ResEdit. Macs were approachable. Elegant. My friends and I never tried to tinker with a PC. They were built for parents and work. Macs were for us.

The Upgrade podcast collected some of my favorite Apple enthusiasts to discuss the anniversary along with their first Mac, favorite Mac, favorite Mac software, favorite Mac accessory, and their least favorite Mac (the hall of shame). I put together a list as well.

First Mac

Mac LC in a museum

My first Mac was the Mac LC with a 16 Mhz 68020 processor, 40 MB hard drive, and 2 MB of RAM. This is where it all began for me. I remember listening to the national anthems of every country on it and feeling amazed that I had access to so much information. Playing with Kid Pix made me feel like an artist. Perhaps I should find one for my collection.

Favorite Mac

Power Mac G3 Blue and White

My favorite Mac is the Power Mac G3 Blue and White with a 400 Mhz G3 processor, 6 GB hard drive, and 64 MB of RAM. I had it configured with a built-in Zip drive too, and over the years I filled all the RAM slots and added a couple extra hard drives inside. This computer was a beast. It acted as a bridge between the Classic and OS X eras which was a particularly exciting time in Apple’s history. My parents were kind enough to ship it to New York for my freshman year of college where I quickly learned that a tower and CRT monitor combination was not suitable for a tiny dorm room. The best part? I still have it.

Favorite Mac software

Marathon game on Mac

Technically this isn’t the original Marathon, but it’s a great screenshot.

My favorite piece of software is Marathon. Hours and hours were joyfully spent playing this game against friends at Crystal Springs summer school.” I was fortunate to spend a few summers in front of Power Macs learning how to create animations in Macromedia Director and rendering 3D scenes in Strata Studio Pro (when we weren’t playing Marathon of course).

Favorite Mac accessory

Airport Express

My favorite Mac accessory has to be the Airport Express. It was the perfect product for a college student, and I was a senior when it launched. We had laptops, speakers, and giant mp3 collections. The problem was figuring out how to play music wirelessly from any computer in the house or apartment. The Airport Express arrived and everyone could easily play music from iTunes without disconnecting their laptop, moving it to the living room, and reconnecting. It was also a fun party trick! In 2004 no one even imagined wirelessly playing music. It was seamless. It was cool. It, dare I say, just worked.

Hall of Shame

Power Mac G4 Cube

This category is tough. Does one select an unreliable model? Or a model that had a problematic keyboard? My gut tells me the Hall of Shame should be awarded to the Power Mac G4 Cube. Let’s be very clear: the Cube, its speakers, and its matching Cinema Display are GORGEOUS. Cramming the computer into an 8 inch cube was extremely impressive. However, I have some issues.

When this computer launched I was selling Macs at a local third party Apple retail store. The Cube was set up right by the front door. Everyone was clearly impressed by its design, but I don’t recall ever selling one. One person came to the store to complain that the capacitive power button on the top was too easy to accidentally press. He would randomly turn off the computer! Then there were the cracks. The computer didn’t have a fan and its healing solution was unable to adequately cool the acryclic glass enclosure. As a result it was likely to eventually crack. At $1,799 (with a $499 display) it was a tough sell considering its expandability limitations and low performance compared to its G4 tower sibling. This may all sound like nitpicking, but the cracking exterior is unforgiveable.

Apple Mac Steve Jobs Hardware