In the beginning: The making of the Mac

Luck may have played as big a role as planning in the creation of the first Apple Macintosh

In 1977, Apple made a splash on the world stage by introducing the Apple II, one of the world's first personal computers. In the time between the Apple II's release and IBM's introduction of the first IBM PC in 1981, Apple dominated the personal computer industry.

However, almost as soon as the Apple II was launched, the company began planning successors for its flagship product, fearing that the Apple II would have a limited lifespan. (These fears wound up being unfounded, as variations on the original Apple II model sold well for more than 15 years.) The most enduring result of this quest was the Macintosh computer, which on Jan. 24 celebrates its 25th anniversary.

The course of events that led to the Mac as we know it was convoluted, the result of luck or coincidence as much as planning. But those events began with desire of Apple executives to develop a next-generation computer following the success of the Apple II.

Apple III

The first stop on the journey to a post-Apple II world was the Apple III. Conceived as a business machine, the Apple III was compatible with Apple II hardware and software but also ran software designed specifically for the Apple III.

The Apple III turned out to be one of Apple's biggest flops. Plagued with design flaws (including an overheating issue, due to Steve Jobs' insistence that the system ship without an internal fan) and offering hardware that didn't go significantly beyond what could be added to the less-expensive Apple II, the Apple III was eventually pulled from production after costing Apple $60 million (most of it in support efforts for customers).


Another next-generation computer conceived as a business machine was the Apple Lisa. The Lisa's original specifications were for a basic business computer with a price tag of $2,000. It was not intended to offer any next-generation features. But when it was released in 1983, the Lisa became the first Apple product to feature a graphical user interface (GUI), similar to the one that would ship on the Mac a year later.

Early in the development of the Lisa, Jobs and a handful of Apple engineers made two trips to the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Xerox had created PARC as a think tank for engineers to develop new technologies -- a place where some of the brightest technical minds could work to develop innovative products.

Technologies such as Ethernet, object-oriented programming and GUI operating systems that accepted input from a mouse all emerged from PARC. Focused more on its copier business than on the emerging computer revolution, Xerox Corp. let many of these technologies languish because executives couldn't understand how to turn them into marketable products.

In 1979, Jobs and a team of Apple employees arranged two visits to PARC, allowing Xerox in return to invest in Apple before the company's initial public offering. After seeing the earliest examples of many modern computing technologies -- most notably the mouse-driven graphical operating system of the Xerox Alto -- Apple decided to add as many of these technologies as feasible to the Lisa spec sheet. Engineers at Apple set about reverse-engineering and expanding on many of the features they had seen at PARC.

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