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Macintosh Project

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History

The Macintosh project began with an idea quite different from the Macintosh we all know and love. The project was started in the spring of 1979 by Jef Raskin. Raskin had been asked to head a project to create a low-end $500 game machine. The game machine project didn’t interest Raskin, but he did have another vision: to create a computer based on how people work rather than on what the technology could deliver. This human factors approach was original at the time.

The Macintosh started as a small research project. Raskin envisioned an “appliance” computer to be used by anybody whether they had computer experience or not. This computer would be a closed architecture, with everything built-in, including a screen, keyboard, printer, and disk drive. It would have a fixed amount of memory — 64KB — so all programs could run on all Macs. It would be portable and battery powered. The Mac would include a graphical interface that had no visible operating system, but rather a word processor-like workspace where users could edit text, perform calculations, or draw graphics.

Raskin’s project to create the “Apple V,” as he called it, was strongly opposed by Steve Jobs, who was closely involved with the Lisa project at the time. Apple’s board gave the Macintosh project the go-ahead anyway. At first, the Macintosh project was a small skunkworks led by Raskin, with Burrell Smith doing much of the hardware work.

In the meantime, the Lisa project had gotten bogged down with all the changes brought on by the visit to Xerox PARC. The Lisa team was tired of Jobs’ meddling, and when Mike Scott reorganized the company around product lines, Jobs was removed from the Lisa project. More than a little angered, Jobs turned his sights on the Macintosh project.

Once Jobs got involved with the Macintosh, the project grew quickly. Jobs saw the Mac as his opportunity to show up the Lisa team by creating a computer that was both cheaper and better than the Lisa.

The Macintosh project gradually took on many of the features of the Lisa, including the 68000 processor, Bill Atkinson’s LisaGraf (QuickDraw) graphics core, and the mouse. Raskin was strongly opposed to the mouse, favoring instead a light pen or joystick. Jobs won out, but Raskin did manage to convince the team to at least stick with a one-button mouse.

In February 1982, Raskin had had enough of Jobs and went on a leave of absence that would become permanent. The Macintosh was squarely in the hands of Steve Jobs. It became even more of a crusade under Jobs’ chaotic but visionary leadership. The Macintosh team took to flying a pirate flag over its building on the Apple campus. Jobs felt “it’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.”

The pirates under Jobs’ lead were a dedicated — perhaps fanatical — group of programmers, hardware designers, artists, and others. They routinely worked 80 or more hours per week on the Macintosh and loved it. They believed in the Macintosh vision. By the time the Mac was introduced in January 1984, Apple had incurred $78 million in development costs.

A Few of the Macintosh “Pirates”

  • Bill Atkinson - Wrote QuickDraw and MacPaint
  • Steve Capps - Co-wrote the Finder
  • Chris Espinosa - Documentation lead
  • Andy Hertzfeld - Wrote most of the Macintosh Toolbox
  • Bruce Horn - Co-wrote the Finder
  • Susan Kare - Designed the Mac’s graphics and fonts
  • Larry Kenyon - Wrote low-level system software
  • Jerry Manock - Managed industrial design
  • Burrell - Smith Designed the digital circuit board (motherboard)
  • Randy Wigginton - Wrote MacWrite

What an introduction it was! In the months leading up to the Mac’s introduction, Apple had carefully leaked just enough information about the new computer to get the industry excited. They used evangelism to get third- party developers to support the Mac. They gave Macs to key “luminaries” in the arts, business, and politics. And there was the commercial. Apple’s “1984 ” commercial ran during the Super Bowl two days before the product launch. It was a sensation and put the name “Macintosh” in the minds of millions of viewers.

Sales of the original 128KB Macintosh were strong at first, but tapered off quickly. Despite the efforts of Apple’s software evangelists, very little software was available for the Macintosh. It was underpowered and overpriced, but it was a great start. The Mac limped along for more than a year before things changed for the better.

In 1985, Apple rolled out the Macintosh Office: a vision of Macs networked using AppleTalk and sharing a new printer: the LaserWriter. In part because of the dismal failure of its introductory commercial — “Lemmings” — the Macintosh Office was not greeted warmly by Apple’s customers. One piece of Office, however, played an important role in saving the Macintosh. Combined with Aldus PageMaker, which shipped in July 1985, and the more powerful Mac Plus introduced in January 1986, the LaserWriter started the desktop publishing revolution. Desktop publishing gave the Macintosh its “killer application,” a use so compelling that users buy the computer for that use alone.

Buoyed by desktop publishing, the Macintosh survived and thrived. In 1987, the Macintosh II introduced color and expandability, ending two of the biggest complaints about earlier Macs — color and expandability. Recently, the Macintosh was born again with the introduction of the Power Macintosh. Apple managed to perform a smooth transition to an entirely different microprocessor with little effect on the end user — except for enjoying a speedier computer.

See Also