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Monday, January 26, 2009

The Mac Turns 25

By Jason Snell (

We Celebrate 25 Years of the Mac (and Macworld)

As I write this, I have the very first issue of Macworld sitting in front of me. It's a magazine without a cover date: because it was produced with the cooperation of Apple Computer itself -- back when Apple still called itself Apple Computer -- the first issue was set to debut the same day as the Mac itself. The editors back then didn't know exactly when that day would be, and so went to press without a date on the cover.

As it turned out, the day was January 24, 1984. And so this past week, we celebrated the 25th birthday of both the Mac and Macworld.

In flipping through that first issue, the few familiar things really stick out, since so much has changed in the intervening years. For example: Steve Jobs is on the cover (though he's in a brown pinstriped suit, not in his modern-era black turtleneck and jeans). In front of him are three all-in-one Macs. Of course, they're the originals. But I'm struck by the fact that the iMac -- an all-in-one device designed for mainstream computer users -- continues to be inspired by those very first Macs.

A lot of the ideas introduced in that first issue seem remarkably normal today. The very first feature article, "A Tour of the Mac Desktop" by longtime Macworld contributor Lon Poole, includes an illustration of features I can see on my Mac screen today: a menu bar with an Apple logo in the left corner, a window full of files and folders represented by icons and names, and a desktop area.

The difference, of course, is that today these concepts are absolutely common. Back in 1984, that first article had to carefully explain the concept of the desktop; its entire first page was devoted to a complicated metaphor about trying to drive a car with a keyboard instead of a steering wheel.

But Apple, of all companies, is not prone to looking back. With the iPhone, especially, we see the company changing the way people use cell phones and other handheld devices. And here, 25 years later, the Mac is more successful than it has ever been. Apple sold more Macs in the last year than it has in a single year ever before, and sales are accelerating.

That's why a lot of the focus of our 25th anniversary coverage centered around what comes next. Followers of a company with such a ruthless dedication to innovation should expect nothing less.
Read our 25th anniversary coverage

As for where Apple goes next, I think we all have a pretty good idea. Apple is going to continue going by the playbook that has served it in good stead since the day it was founded: combining innovative hardware and software in a seamless package. The truth of the matter is, Apple has succeeded by realizing that technology companies fail when they specialize on hardware or software to the exclusion of the other. The best products are those where the hardware and software fuse together to form a single product that's powerful, or lovable, or otherwise just what the user ordered.

We saw that 25 years ago with the original Mac, which was a quantum leap forward in usability for personal computers. We saw it with the iPod in 2001, and again with the iPhone in 2007. Where will Apple go next? The people locked inside a development room somewhere on Apple's Cupertino campus may know for sure, but the rest of us will just have to watch and wait -- and marvel at the next innovation from the company that brought us the original Mac back in 1984.

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