24 of January was a very special day for a very special computer. The computer that started it all, the device that changed the world, the machine that initiated the time of personal computers. Happy 30th Birthday, Macintosh.
Now is a good time to reflect on the beginning not very humble and somewhat controversial of Mac. I’m not talking about 1984, the year in which the formal launch of the Mac was marked by a historic commercial in the Super Bowl. To trace the history of the Macintosh to its design, you need to look back to another very special day of the end of 1979. The day Steve Jobs made a visit to the Xerox Research Center in Palo Alto, the day when the secret was revealed.
At this point in Apple’s history, the company was finalizing a successor to the successful Apple II: Lisa. But Jobs was already looking for the next big thing. It was then that he saw the Xerox Alto computer in action. He was not exactly compact as would be the Macintosh, but had a processing power that the world had yet not seen.
This is the real computer that started it all. As one of the first computers with a graphical user interface (GUI acronym in English), and the first to use the metaphor “desktop”, the Xerox Alto personal computer was done years before people know that something like this existed.
Years later, Steve Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson that his first experience with the Xerox Alto “was like a window of opportunity being open in front of me”. Jobs continued. “I could see how should be the future of computing”, the former employee of Xerox and Apple Larry Tessler remembered the moment. “[ Steve said ] ‘You ‘re sitting on a gold mine. Why you do not do something with this technology? You can … change the world.’ It was clear to him that Xerox would never do the kind of revolutionary thing he was thinking of”.
So what Jobs decided to do? He changed the world on his own with the Macintosh. At the time of the visit of Jobs to the Xerox Lab, the visionary of Apple Jef Raskin started working on the Macintosh project with the ultimate vision of creating an affordable and easy computer to use. Soon after, in 1981, Jobs turned his full attention to the project, inspired by various ideas that had at Xerox, especially in relation to the user interface.
Perhaps you’ve heard that the favorite quote from Steve Jobs was one of Picasso – “Good artists copy, great artists steal”. But it was not just a copy. Jobs actually offered shares of Apple to Xerox in exchange for his visits to the research centers of the company, making it clear he would implement part of the design on his own computer. And even though Xerox Alto has inspired many features of the Macintosh, Apple has struggled to create something innovative in addition. Steve Wozniak wrote about it on his site:
“Steve Jobs made ??it clear to the Xerox executives that they had a great technology, but Apple knew how to make it affordable enough to change the world. That was clear. In the end, Xerox won good number of Apple stock because of the technology shared. So it was not exactly theft.”
The problem was that Xerox did not understand it that way. The company did fill a major lawsuit against Apple in 1989, claiming that Jobs and his company of scientists have used ideas from Xerox to develop the Macintosh software and Lisa. Xerox also said that Apple “intentionally hid” the link between the ideas from Xerox and Lisa and Macintosh software.
Xerox lost the lawsuit, as well as half of the employees of its research center, who were working for Steve Jobs at Apple. Nearly five years after the initial visits, the commercial at the Super Bowl began Macintosh revolution. The computer itself began to be sold on January 24, 1984.
The Macintosh has indeed changed the world. He made accessible and affordable personal computers. It also established a pattern that led Apple to some of its biggest hits in the market. At the turn of the millennium, many MP3 players on the market stored and played music, but the iPod did it better than others. Then we had the iPhone changing the pattern of smartphones, like the iPad dictating the future of tablets.
Then you can call theft or innovation. Or business well done. But in any event, the Macintosh was a revolutionary device, one of many that Apple sold over the years. But revolutions do not always start where you think!