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24 milestones in the Mac's 30-year history

Ryan Faas | Jan. 27, 2014
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the arrival of the now-iconic Apple Macintosh computer. Columnist Ryan Faas looks back over the past three decades at some of the highlights and lowlights of the Mac's -- and Apple's -- evolution.

The first Power Macs (1993): Macs sold in the 1980s through the mid-1990s relied on Motorola's 680x0 processor family. In the early 1990s, Apple, Motorola and IBM teamed up to develop a new line of more powerful and modern processor designs that became known as PowerPC processors. Working together, the trio hoped to rival Intel and AMD in the PC market. Apple launched the new processors in a series of Power Macs across its various Mac lines. In transitioning to the newer processors, Apple needed to ensure backward compatibility with software — including many parts of the Mac OS — written for the earlier models. The process wasn't entirely smooth and it took several years to complete the transition, but it was ultimately successful. Apple's experience with this transition almost certainly came in helpful in two later transitions - the launch of Mac OS X in 2000 and the switch to Intel processors in 2006.

The Copland fiasco (1994-96): Along with ensuring modern processors for Macs, Apple faced a challenge in creating a modern version of Mac OS. Through the 1990s, Mac OS continued to run on a kernel and architecture designed for the original Mac. That OS received major updates and revisions, of course, but there were core computing capabilities in areas like memory management, multitasking and isolating processes so a single app crash wouldn't bring down the entire OS. These couldn't be added without a major overhaul. Apple made a serious attempt to develop a modern Mac OS under the codename Copland (intended to be shipped as Mac OS 8) that dealt with these issues, but the project spiraled out of control. Work was eventually halted, though some facets of its interface design and user-centric features were introduced in later Mac OS versions.

The Mac clones (1995-98): As Microsoft began to dominate the personal and business computing markets, it did so by licensing Windows and other software to many third-party manufacturers. Under pressure, Apple attempted to license the Mac OS under the belief that Mac clones would target markets outside of Apple's core customer base (education and design) and expand the OS's market share. Things didn't work out as planned and many clones began cannibalizing Apple's own sales. When Steve Jobs took over as Apple's "interim" CEO in 1997, he quickly canceled the clone license agreements. To do this, Apple had to work around a clause in the agreements that permitted clone makers access to all versions of Mac OS 7 up to Mac OS 8.

Be vs. NeXT (1996-97): Following the failure to develop a modern OS for the Mac in-house, Apple went searching for a company that already had created such an OS, one that could be used as the underpinning for the Mac interface, user experience and software. In 1996, Apple had two options: NeXT, the academic-focused computer company that Jobs launched after being forced out of Apple in 1985, and Be, a company founded by one-time Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassee. At one point, Be looked like the option Apple would select, but during negotiations over the terms of a deal with Be, Apple unexpectedly announced its intention to acquire NeXT instead. That decision allowed Steve Jobs to return to the company and within months be installed as interim CEO after Apple's board fired then-CEO Gil Amelio.

 

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