25 Years of Apple (& the GUI as we know it…)

January 24, 2009

The original Apple Macintosh 128k. Image courtesty of AppleInsider.com.

The original Apple Macintosh 128k. Image courtesty of Apple Insider.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Apple Macintosh – that iconic little beige box that has come to represent Apple more than any design but the candy-coloured iMacs.

The birthday is generating tons of press & loads of attention on the web & in print (but not so much at Apple, interestingly…). But while bloggers & other writers turn their attention to misty-eyed reminiscences of Apple’s design history or pondering what might happen with a Jobs-less Apple in the not-too-distant future; I think the most important aspect of this day goes largely unnoticed.

The Apple Macintosh 128k, released January 24, 1984, was the first mainstream computer to feature a mouse & a graphics-based user interface (GUI) consisting of windows, icons, & a desktop. Now, I’m not sure I can stress just how major a development this is so I’ll say it again: THE FIRST.

Up until this point computers were all black & green screens full of painfully awkward text. & while, as a sysadmin, I make entensive use of those awkward screens of text (in fact, I couldn’t imagine trying to do my job without them), the fact of the matter is that there is no way that personal computers would have gained the popularity & ubiquity that they now enjoy if all we had to work with were those screens of text.

The user interface made popular by the first Apple Macintosh defined how we see & use computers to this day. The interfaces of all major operating systems are based around the example set forth by Apple with the Macintosh back in 1984. Now I’m not saying they’re necessarily the best principles (carpal tunnel, anyone) but they are clearly one of the most important in the history of computing.

If you’re interested in other ways that Apple, their products, & their design have affected everyday life, check out Ted Landau’s article on MacFixIt, well worth the read.

In the meantime, no mention of the Apple Macintosh is complete without a reference to the classic, 1984 Superbowl commercial that launched it all…

Enjoy.

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