Looking Back (and ahead) as the Mac Turns 25

This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the first Macintosh computer, easily one of the most influential computers of all time. As many like to point out, almost all of the innovations of the Macintosh (its windowed GUI, its use of the mouse, its intuitive interface touches) had been introduced previously, many of them at Xerox Parc. But while original innovators are important, often just as important are those who can take these innovations and make something that is truly useful to many. The Mac was definitely this type of innovation. For those who had used other computers and mainframe systems of the time, trying the Mac led to a light bulb moment. The first time you used a Mac you usually felt, oh, this is how a computer is supposed to work.

chrome.jpgThis weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the first Macintosh computer, easily one of the most influential computers of all time.

As many like to point out, almost all of the innovations of the Macintosh (its windowed GUI, its use of the mouse, its intuitive interface touches) had been introduced previously, many of them at Xerox Parc. But while original innovators are important, often just as important are those who can take these innovations and make something that is truly useful to many.

The Mac was definitely this type of innovation. For those who had used other computers and mainframe systems of the time, trying the Mac led to a light bulb moment. The first time you used a Mac you usually felt, oh, this is how a computer is supposed to work.

Attending university in the 80's, those of us who couldn't afford our own Mac spent a lot of time in the computer labs that featured Macs (which were always much more popular than the other computer labs). I once wrote a 10,000 word novella using just the Macs in one of those computer labs. At this time I also took a part-time job at Mac World in Boston where I wore a Mac on my head and greeted attendees.

After graduation I remember doing quality assurance for an educational software firm and setting up classrooms of fifty Mac pizza boxes all networking off of a single SE/30 server (and doing so quite well). Working on those Macs was always enjoyable. At the same time I was doing QA testing on early Windows systems, which definitely felt like work.

While Apple lost their way in the 1990's when Steve Jobs was no longer in charge (let's call this era The Trials Without Jobs), they still managed to make some pretty good Macintosh systems. But it's the more recent second act with Steve Jobs that has been most impressive.

I don't always agree with Apple and I think they get away with monopolistic practices that Microsoft would never think of doing. But I've always been impressed with their innovation and even more with their fearless desire to compete, even with their own products.

Look at the iPhone. If anything has the possibility to completely destroy the market for laptops and PCs, it's the iPhone (my colleague Cameron Sturdevant just wrote about his ability to do all of his computing tasks using an iPhone). Most companies would be terrified to do any new thing that would endanger one of their lucrative business lines. But it always seems as if Apple's main goal under Jobs is to innovate first.

What does the future hold for Apple and the Mac? In discussions preparing for this post my colleague Jason Brooks asked if the iPhone is now what the Mac once was. One can make a very good case for this argument. If the iPhone isn't as big of a game changer as the Mac was, it is pretty close.

If Apple stays the same kind of fearless innovator that it is now, I fully expect them to continue to push the envelope in computing. Whether the iPhone becomes the next Mac or some other new next generation system, Apple should continue to be one of the main forces pointing the way.

Of course there is the concern that Steve Jobs' health problems will lead to him no longer leading the companies, which could lead to a repeat of the problems of the 1990's.

That remains to be seen. But this weekend take some time to celebrate the Mac. Actually, if you're using any kind of computer you already are. That's because every system today, Windows, Linux, OS X or mobile, is descended in some way from those first Macs.

What are your Mac memories? Let us know in the comments below.