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

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The drive to develop the Mac took on an almost religious fervor, with Jobs giving T-shirts to his engineers that read "90 HRS/WK AND LOVING IT." Throughout the process, ideas and even employees were regularly poached from other teams within Apple.

One casualty of this zeal was Raskin; after repeated conflicts and a final showdown with Jobs, he chose to leave Apple and the Mac behind. Raskin eventually did end up developing some of his original ideas for the Mac into a word processor, which was sold in the late 1980s as the Canon Cat.

Despite the passion and long hours that went into its development, the Mac slipped past its ship dates more than once -- largely because the difficulty of developing the system was underestimated. After the team missed one date in 1982, Mike Markkula, chairman of Apple's board at the time, gave Jobs a woman's black undergarment, saying that it was "the Mac's last slip."

What the Mac became

While many things changed during the Mac's development, some of the original design concepts remained. Conceived by Raskin for the "person in the street," the Mac was from the beginning aimed at being simple to use without complications such as expansion slots or cables. This consideration meant that users wouldn't need to worry about opening the computer for any reason.

The idea inspired the Mac's all-in-one look (and lack of expandability). Even the "person in the street" idea ended up informing the Mac's eventual tagline as "the computer for the rest of us." Indeed, although Jobs took over the Mac project and Raskin left Apple before it shipped, Raskin is often credited as the father of the Mac.

Still, the computer that Apple shipped in 1984 bore only a passing resemblance to Raskin's original Mac concept. In fact, rather than costing the consumer $500, the first Macintosh to ship cost Apple about that much to produce. The ultimate cost for new Mac owners was $2,495.

When Steve Jobs unveiled the Mac on Jan. 24, 1984, it was something the likes of which the world had never seen. The new computer featured a bright graphical display and all-in-one design, relied on a mouse for input, and even offered speech synthesis capabilities. It garnered praise from both computer and mainstream publications, though some criticized the monochrome display, lack of expandability and incompatibility with existing software.

Paltry by today's standards, the original Mac featured a 9-in. black-and-white display, 3.5-in. floppy drive (which could store 400KB of data on each disk), 128KB of RAM and a Motorola 68000 processor running at 8 MHz. It shipped with MacWrite, a word processing tool, and MacPaint, a drawing tool. Later the same year, Apple shipped the Mac 512K, which doubled the installed RAM but kept the same design.

In fact, it wouldn't be until early 1987 that Apple would ship Macs that offered expansion slots or deviated from the all-in-one style of the original (a design still used by today's iMac line). Embedded on the inside of the case of every original Mac are the signatures of each member of the team that helped create it, including Raskin and Jobs.

Over the past 25 years, the Mac has grown and changed significantly. The original model has given way to hundreds of updated models over the years. The processor family on which the Mac is based has gone through two major changes. Apple has even successfully managed to change the core of the Mac operating system in the release of Mac OS X.

And yet the Mac remains true to its beginnings, an icon of how simple a computer can be and how much it can do.

Ryan Faas is a frequent Computerworld contributor specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. Find more about him at

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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