Happy Birthday, Mac

Happy Birthday, Mac

Today is the 25th anniversary of the first Apple Mac computer, distinguished by its design-sense and mouse-driven GUI (graphical user interface), with a monitor and CPU housed in one unit. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

I bought my first computer a few years before that, a Kaypro II, a clunky chunk of metal that was one of the first portable (at least if you were a weight lifter) computers, though nothing you would ever put on your lap. With a nine inch monochrome screen, dual 5 1/4″ floppy drives, and 64K memory, I was on the cutting edge. And with a 300 baud external modem, I could submit my weekly newspaper columnfrom home ¬†without having to print it out! Things got even more amazing when I started to teach college composition using the Internet in the days before anyone heard of Amazon.com or the World Wide Web. This was when you had to know a smattering of UNIX commands to get on-line and write messages, and an email address was a badge of the technical elite.

The television ad that launched the Apple Mac was directed by Ridley Scott, and I believe it was only shown once. Playing off the ominous year that had arrived, the commercial depicted a grey-shaded Orwellian state of lemmings enslaved to their IBM computers (you may recall that IBM was said to have invented the “personal computer” and this was in the days before PC and Microsoft became synonymously ubiquitous). If I’m recalling correctly, the shackles were broken, and the commercial transitioned to color, thanks to the tiny, but mighty, Mac.

One reason why those of us who labored in the corporate realm stuck to our PCs, despite the fact that our bretheren in the art department got to use the much hipper Macs, was that it was the office standard. It was just too much of a hassle to get an Apple to talk to a PC and vice versa, and nobody wanted to be tinkering with incompatible file formats. So, if you were laboring in a corporate communications department, you were doing it on a PC, like it or not.

The Internet and the standardization of the Microsoft Office applications suite across platforms changed all that (say what you will about Microsoft, but having a word processor displaying text that not only looked on the screen like it would actually print out, but was the same kind of word processor everybody else was using alleviated a tremendous collective headache). So, I was finally able to follow the advice of all my cool techie-friends and I bought the first iMac when it came out (which, with some upgrades, I’m still using today). This Christmas, I bought my daughter the very extremely cool new aluminum Macbook while I inherited her iBook (something wrong in that arrangement, shouldn’t I be getting the newer gizmo?).

All of which is to say that, my wife’s on-the-cheap (but it does exactly what she needs it to do admirably) Windows Vista laptop notwithstanding, we’re a Mac family. I don’t think I’d ever buy anything other than an Apple computer, if only because I can smirk when my friends complain about getting hit by the latest virus (and, I know, I don’t kid myself that I’m immune, but so far, so good). Still, you have to wonder how much of the attraction in owning a Mac is to have a superior piece of seamless (though not always perfect but, then, what is?) technology to display as it is, well, just to be cool. Because Apple has done a very good job of convincing its own set of lemmings, though dressed in hipper shades of black, just how cool it is to be part of the Apple cult.

Sure, I like making fun of the PC guy, too. And, it’s funny because the PC guy does epitomize all the failings, some real and some those of perception, of Windows-based technology. And it’s become so ingrained that Microsoft’s expensive campaign to try to make PCs cool was largely a flop. People can’t get the rolly-polly guy with the glasses out of their heads.

That Apple still is reporting profitability while the technology sector as a whole is taking a nose dive testifies that good products backed by good customer service with a solid brand identity are more likely to enjoy long term and stable success, and maintain premium prices, something American industry as whole has frequently forgotten.

But I have to wonder how cool it can be to be so cool when so many other people are? If it gets to the point where, if not a majority, growing numbers are cool, how cool can that be?

On the other hand, perhaps our recently inaugurated president shows that you can both be in the majority and cool at the same time?

How cool is that?


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James Enge

I sort of feel that I reduce the coolness quotient of any group by being in it (but maybe my kids bring the average up again).

I’m kind of relived that Macs made it this far; in the late 90s the future wasn’t so bright.

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