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Macintosh Then and Now (Updated)

I originally wrote this in January but thought I’d update it for the introduction of the first Retina iMac, especially since the original Mac and the Retina iMac are priced identically. It’s amazing to see how far the Macintosh hardware has come over the 30 1/2 years of its existence. 

Original Macintosh January 24, 1984

Single-core 8 MHz Processor, 16 bit Motorola 68000
128 KB RAM
9 inch, 1 bit per pixel, black and white CRT display, 512×342 pixels, 72 dpi
One 400 KB single-sided floppy drive
2 RS-422 ports
OS: Mac OS 1.0
Number of swaps to copy 1 floppy disk: 4
$2499 in 1984 dollars.

Retina iMac October 16, 2014

Quad-core 3500 MHz Processor, 64 bit Intel Core i5
AMD Radeon R9 M290X graphics processor with 2GB of GDDR5 memory
8,000,000 KB RAM
27 inch, 24 bits per pixel, color Retina LCD display, 5120×2880 pixels, approx 218 dpi
One 1,000,000,000 KB Hard Drive
4 USB 3 ports, 2 Thunderbolt 2 ports, 1 Gigabit Ethernet port, SDXC card slot, Bluetooth, Facetime HD camera
802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible
OS: Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite
Number of swaps to copy 1 floppy disk: huh?
$2,499 in 2014 dollars.

Not to mention how visually different the computers are today.

 

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30 Years of Macintosh

Without a doubt the introduction of the Macintosh changed my life.

In 1984 I was nearing the completion of my PhD in physics. I knew I wasn’t going to continue in physics and I had no idea what I would do instead. My interest in the personal computers of the day was non-existent. In January 1984 I was out of the country so I missed the introduction of the Mac. But a colleague had a friend who worked for Apple and that friend brought a Mac over to show us. It seemed like magic.

I was totally hooked. Stanford had some Macs that you could go and spend time with, playing with MacPaint and MacWrite. When Apple offered Macs through the university at $1000 (a huge discount from the $2500 list price) I scraped together money I didn’t have and bought one.

In the early days of Macintosh the internet was just a bit different than today. A couple of people at Stanford started the “Info Mac Digest” which was a daily mass mailing that went to thousands of people. It was an incredible information source and consisted entirely of postings from people who shared excitement about this sea change in computing. For a period of time I was moderator of info-mac and through that got to meet many people in the Macintosh community, many of which are colleagues and friends today. I have to take at least partial credit for organizing the “netters dinner” that took place annually around MacWorld. I still remember the year that about 70 of us gathered at MacWorld and walked from Moscone up to Chinatown and overtook the Hunan Restaurant. (See Netter’s Dinner.)

Stanford had a users group, SMUG, that met regularly. Gus Fernandez started a developers group associated with SMUG and he seemed to have every Apple superstar come and talk about Macintosh. I don’t remember everybody but I do remember Andy Hertzfeld, Larry Kenyon, Bruce Horn, Chris Crawford, and Bill Budge coming and blowing everybody away with stories, demos, and more. I still remember Andy saying that even though the LaserWriter had a 12 MHz processor (instead of the 8 MHz of the Mac), running PostScript brought the processor to its knees!

All this motivated me to go to the Stanford library where they had a loose leaf copy of a draft of Inside Macintosh and I started reading. Everything was totally new and exciting but completely foreign to me. I’d only done programming in Fortran previously and Pascal was literally a foreign language. It was nothing like the computing I’d done on mainframes! On July 13, 1985 I went to the “MacAfrica” one day class taught by Dave Wilson (see MacAfrica) and learned a ton.

When I finished grad school and started looking for jobs I had a couple of opportunities with high tech companies doing computing work that didn’t really excite me but they were good opportunities nonetheless. Then by chance I met Dave Gustavson at SLAC who was looking for a Mac programmer to do Mac programming using FORTH on a project to control a piece of hardware. I ended up working for him in the Computation Research Group at SLAC programming the Mac using the fantastic Mach1 programming environment created by Rick Miley and others at the Palo Alto Shipping Company.

One bonus of that job was that Dave got one of the first Apple LaserWriter printers. I got a serial cable and started to learn the PostScript programming language. Since it was syntactically similar to FORTH it was a breeze to get started. This was my real first experience with computer graphics and it was a really easy way to learn. This was helpful when a friend at SLAC, Kathy Dager, put me in touch with Dick Sweet at Adobe Systems.

At Adobe I got the opportunity to do a wide range of things, including teaching PostScript programming classes to a wide range of people, working with a number of high profile software developers, including Apple, Aldus, and Quark. While Adobe was in development of a second version of the PostScript programming language (PostScript Level 2) I got to be part of the design of the language.

When Adobe decided that they needed to write a new LaserWriter driver for the Macintosh, I met Rich Blanchard and he and I co-designed and (with a team of talented people) wrote a new PostScript printer driver for Macintosh. That project became a joint project with Apple and became Apple’s LaserWriter 8 printer driver.

This led to my direct involvement with Apple Computer. Over time I worked with Rich and others from the LaserWriter 8 team at RBI Software Systems where we did contract work for Apple, Adobe, Sun, IBM, and others. After 5 years of working with Apple as a contractor, Apple decided they wanted us to work exclusively for them and our team at RBI became Apple employees. I worked at Apple almost 13 years before leaving in January 2013 to take a break from working in the world of technology.

Without my involvement with Macintosh, I would not have met my wife of 25+ years nor most of the people who are my friends today. It has influenced my career, my personal life, and many of my interests that continue to this day.

So I mean it when I say the introduction of the Macintosh changed my life.