30 years of the Mac

The Mac was launched 30 years ago today. I don’t remember the launch, but I do remember (as a late primary school student) being taken by my mother to try one out in a computer store on Oxford Street, Bondi Junction, not long afterwards. It was immediately clear that the GUI was a far superior way of doing things, particularly for those who were not as techie as I (read:parents).

Some months later, when Apple released a mouse for our then-new Apple 2e, we grabbed one immediately. I still remember getting used to the way it worked as a user (mouse paint on such a dinky machine felt nearly as good as MacDraw), then jumping into BASIC to work out how to interface with it as a programmer. IN#4 and all that…

That was useful knowledge when we finally bought our first Mac, and retired the Apple 2e, about half a decade later. The superiority of the Mac to the Apple was clear as soon as I started learning to programme it: it did not have a closed apple key, but it could detect presses of just the shift key! And it could tell a press on the left shift key from one on the right!

Apple has set up a site for people to post reminiscences such as this. Clever marketing. But it also reveals some interesting things.

One very interesting data point is as follows. At the bottom of the page, there is an interactive timeline showing the top five uses to which the respondents’ first computers were put, including their respective magnitudes. In 1984, “Education / Teaching” was the biggest use, followed by desktop publishing, then gaming and then programming. The latter two were almost the same size.

Moving through the years, programming stays constant and gaming oscillates around the original figure until 1991, when programming disappears. It remains out of the top five until 1998, when it suddenly emerges as equal second with “Web Design”. It shrinks to equal fifth in 1999, then disappears again in 2000.

“Programming” emerges again in 2002, and hovers around number five, occasionally dropping out. I presume it may be dropping, say, to number six or seven.

That drop-off leads the drop-off in popularity for the Mac itself. Fewer developers buy Macs for programming as of about 1991. Macs drop in popularity from about 1997; one reason was lack of Mac versions of programs. The use has a blip in 1999/2000, allied with Web Design, doubtless due to the dot com boom.

But the re-emergence in 2002 tracks the increase in popularity of OS X (2002 was when 10.2 Jaguar was released; it was the first truly usable OS X) and Macs themselves (Jobs’s return was starting to pay dividends; the iPod was in its first year; and the Lamp-design iMacs were released).

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