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

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The first iMac (1998): The launch of the original iMac was one of the most significant moments in Apple's history. It represented a return to the ease and enjoyment of use that typified the original Mac. It also returned to the Mac's all-in-one roots and introduced the world to the design genius of Jonathan Ive. The iMac also illustrated Apple's commitment to the future by shipping without a floppy drive and with USB, then a new technology that had yet to become a major standard, as its only peripheral interface. With the focus on USB, a technology initially designed for PCs, the iMac also showed Apple's commitment to interoperability with PCs.

The Blue and White G3 (1999): The second-generation Power Mac G3 followed in the iMac's design footsteps, but it was significant for a much different reason. It was easier to open, upgrade and expand than any Mac before it. Lift a simple latch and the side folded out to reveal the motherboard, the processor (which was removable and upgradable), RAM slots, PCI expansion slots (another PC standard) and drive bays for as many as three hard drives. Apple maintained much of the extremely flexible and easy-to-work-with design in its Mac Pro towers for nearly 15 years, right up until it introduced the new cylindrical Mac Pro that went on sale in December.

bondi blue imac 2008 Apple

The digital hub strategy and iLife (1999): In addition to announcing the Blue and White Power Mac G3, the next-generation iMacs and the original iBook in 1999, Jobs also articulated a new concept of everyday computing that he called the digital hub. The concept involved having the Mac serve as a centralized way for people to incorporate all of the digital content and media in their lives -- including photos, home movies, music, and data. This strategy remains a guiding principle for Apple. In the years since Jobs first coined the phrase, Apple has pushed it forward with apps like iPhoto and iMovie as well as other products like the iPod. The digital hub is still a core part of the Apple experience and one that has transcended the Mac. The iPhone, the iPad, Apple TV and iCloud features such as Photostream still align around the digital hub concept.

Mac OS X (2001): If the iMac represented a commitment to the future of the Mac as a piece of hardware, OS X represented a commitment to progress and innovation as a platform. Looking back to the initial release of OS X in 2001 (following a public beta in 2000), is to look at a very raw work in progress. It wasn't until Jaguar was released in 2002 that OS X became the polished product we know today, and it wasn't until Leopard's release five years later that many of the features we take for granted now were introduced. It's also worth remembering that OS X isn't just an operating system that runs Macs. When Apple developed the iPhone and the original Apple TV, the company developed variants of OS X to power those devices, which gave rise to today's iOS.

Apple retail (2001): Before Apple opened its own retail stores beginning in 2001, the experience of shopping for a Mac, finding answers to questions, or troubleshooting problems was often a very varied and difficult undertaking. Unless you lived near an independent Apple reseller, finding hardware and getting answers wasn't easy. Many retailers didn't even carry Apple products. Those that did have them rarely showcased them in a positive light, and most salespeople were unable to answer questions. (In fact, many would steer you to PCs if you asked about Mac hardware.) Apple's retail operation gave the company a way to change that dynamic, and although it started as something of a quirky experiment, it has been successful beyond anyone's predictions.

The Xserve (2003): Alongside OS X, Apple introduced a server platform called OS X Server (the initial version of which actually shipped before OS X). In 2003, Apple set its sights on the server room and data center by introducing the Xserve, its first rack-mount system designed for use in enterprise environments. Ultimately, Apple altered its approach to the enterprise and discontinued the Xserve with a focus on selling products not to IT departments, but to end users and making certain that its products can interoperate with little or no effort in major enterprise systems.

The iTunes Store (and the App Store and iBookstore) (2003): The iTunes Store was significant for Apple in many ways and was the vehicle through which the company transformed the music industry and established the dominance of the iPod. The iTunes Store has repeatedly been expanded, first to sell movies and TV shows, and later to sell iOS apps, e-books and Mac software. In the process, Apple has revolutionized how we look for and purchase digital content and applications for both mobile devices and desktops. It's a model that has been replicated by virtually every major tech company, including Google, Amazon, Samsung, BlackBerry and Microsoft.

The switch to Intel (2006): In 2006, Steve Jobs introduced the first Intel-based Macs. During the course of that year, Apple transitioned its entire Mac product line to Intel processors, an astounding feat for any company. The transition was generally smooth, thanks in part to a PowerPC-to-Intel translation feature called Rosetta that allowed users to run their old PowerPC apps on new Intel Macs. One major advantage of the switch was the ability to run Windows and Windows apps on a Mac using either Apple's Boot Camp dual-boot feature or virtualization tools from Parallels and VMware.

MacBook Air (2008): The MacBook Air remains one of Apple's most popular Macs of all time. The sleek notebook delivers incredible portability and battery life and is partly responsible for the creation of ultrabook PC laptops. In designing the MacBook Air, Apple jettisoned many traditional components, including an optical drive and a built-in Ethernet port (though the company provided USB versions of both). The company also embraced flash storage and developed its own battery design, moves that it later followed with other MacBook models.

Mobility brings more diversification (2007-2010): In 2007, the now-iconic iPhone revolutionized the smartphone market, upending the relationship between hardware makers and wireless carriers. Three years later, Jobs introduced the first iPad, scrambling the moribund tablet market. Though both the iPhone and the iPad are offshoots from the Mac, they are as important -- if not more so -- to the company's bottom line now than the traditional Mac lineup. They also mark a continuation of the company's digital hub strategy, since iCloud allows for the sharing of digital content across both mobile and desktop hardware.

mac pro Apple

The Mac Pro (2013): At the 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple execs unveiled the new, completely revamped Mac Pro, a small, black, cylindrical desktop machine that makes a sharp break with earlier models. The Mac Pro, which actually went on sale in December and starts at $2,999, is aimed squarely at professional Mac users who need the latest, fastest hardware available. It has already proved so popular that delivery dates have been pushed back into March 2014.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to CITEworld.com. Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at RyanFaas.com and follow him on Twitter (@ryanfaas).

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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