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History of Apple: how Apple came to lead the tech industry

Nik Rawlinson | Aug. 20, 2015
Our History of Apple begins with a look at Apple's not so humble beginnings, follow the Apple story with us.

They saw the potential of the GUI's desktop metaphor after seeing one in use at Xerox PARC, and they'd already laid much of the groundwork for Apple's own take on the system as part of the Lisa project. Tribble tasked the Macintosh team with doing the same for their own machine which, in hindsight, may have been the most important directive ever issued by anyone inside Apple.

If the Macintosh team had continued down the text-and-keyboard path, it's unlikely their product would have sold as well as it did - and Apple, as we know it, might not exist today at all.

The Macintosh project: Simpler and smarter

Through several iterations, the prototype Macintosh became both more able and less complex to build. It had fewer chips, and the Apple engineers were able to push them further and faster. By the time it was ready to launch, the Macintosh incorporated the kind of graphics hardware that would have cost tens of thousands of pounds to buy in any rival machine, yet Apple was aiming to sell it at a price that would put it in reach of the better-heeled home user.

The final spec was radical for its day, with a 6MHz Motorola 68000 processor ramped up to 7.8MHz, 128KB of Ram, and a 9in black and white screen with a fixed 512 x 342 pixels. To put that into perspective, it's not even enough to display an app icon from a retina-class iOS device at its native resolution, but it could still accommodate System Software 1.0 - Apple's fully graphical operating system.

The Macintosh project: good looks

But it wasn't just what went on inside the box that made it such an attractive device. The Macintosh looked just good on the outside. Sure, it was shrouded in beige plastic - but the all in one body incorporated the floppy drive and a handy carrying handle, so you could easily take it with you, wherever you needed to work. It looked friendly, too, and that made it more approachable.

There were still some limitations, though. The original Macintosh didn't have a hard drive, so you had to boot from a floppy and could only temporarily eject the system disk when you needed to access applications and data. Apple partially fixed this shortcoming by offering an external add-on drive, which allowed users to keep the System disk in situ and delegate responsibility for apps and data to a second disk. It was an expensive add-on, though, and the external Hard Disk 20, which cost $1495 and gave just 20MB of storage, was still a year away from going on sale.

Despite it limitations, though, many of the features established on that first Macintosh are still in use today. We've dropped the 'System' monikker in favour of 'OS', but we still use the Finder name, which debuted there, and both Command and Option appeared as modifier buttons on its keyboard (the latter has since been usurped by alt, but the name lives on for many users). 

 

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