24 milestones in the Mac's 30-year history

A look back at the high points -- and some low ones -- in the evolution of the Mac since 1984

Today, it's easy to take the Mac for granted. The whole platform, along with Apple itself, has been reinvented time and again as the tech world has changed, and at the ripe young age of 30 it shows little sign of going away. But there were many times over the past three decades when the Mac's future, and Apple's, was far from certain.

Apple marked the anniversary by posting a lengthy and visually rich timeline on its website. And it even highlighted the date on its home page.

The Mac at 30
Apple marked the Mac's 30th anniversary on its home page today.

Here are some of the most important milestones -- and some of the serious missteps -- in the Mac's 30-year history.

Original Mac introduction (1984): When Steve Jobs unveiled the original Mac on Jan. 24, 1984, he introduced the world to a new type of computing experience. Although GUI systems, including the Apple Lisa, had already been developed, the Mac was the first such system to be unveiled to the general public. Until then, such computers had largely been developed as experimental prototypes at labs like Xerox PARC or pitched to specific markets, often with a significant price tag. (The Apple Lisa originally sold for $9,995 -- in 1984 dollars.)

Note: Hardware teardown expert iFixit marked today's anniversary by tearing down an original Mac.

Test-drive a Mac program: Despite the innovation the Mac represented compared to other common personal computers of the early 1980s -- the Apple II, the Commodore 64 and the IBM PC, for instance -- consumers were wary of the new system because it was priced higher than many of its early competitors. In an effort to show off the value of the Mac and its GUI, Apple CEO John Scully devised a program where potential buyers could borrow a Mac for a few days, take it home and test-drive it. While the program helped raise awareness about the Mac experience, it didn't succeed in jump-starting sales. Many would-be Mac buyers praised the computer when returning it -- then bought something less expensive.

The first expandable non-all-in-one Macs, the Mac II and SE (1987): Early Macs followed the same integrated all-in-one design as the original Mac, including the limited screen size and lack of upgrade or expansion options. Apple broke with that trend in 1987 when it launched the Mac II, the first Mac to use an external display, and the all-in-one Mac SE. Together, they were the first Macs that could be upgraded with additional RAM or expansion cards that could extend the hardware feature set.

Mac user base reaches 1 million (1987): Three years after the Mac's rollout, the number of Macs in use worldwide topped 1 million.

Diversification gone awry (1987-97): The Mac II may have been the first major departure from the original Mac design, but it was far from the last. During the decade that followed, Apple released an incredible number of models, eventually creating multiple product lines for a range of different markets. The Quadra line was for business, the Performa family was for home users, and LC line was aimed primarily at schools. Despite the different markets and occasionally different case designs, many of the Macs shared similar, if not identical, hardware regardless of name or model number. Things got even more confusing when Apple began selling Macs with model numbers in each line that differed only in the software that came pre-installed on them. The diversification became so pervasive that, at one point, Apple provided poster-size product matrices to Mac resellers just so they could keep the lineup straight.

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