What Was So Revolutionary About the First Macintosh Computer?

by Elizabeth Mott
Steve Jobs' vision shaped the design and success of the original Macintosh.

Steve Jobs' vision shaped the design and success of the original Macintosh.

The original Macintosh made history for what it was, what it did and how it was introduced. Apple's famous "1984" television commercial aired twice, but almost everyone who saw it in 1984 saw it during Super Bowl XVIII. Sometime in the third quarter of a game in which the Los Angeles Raiders bested the Washington Redskins by a score of 38 to 9, viewers who didn't run to the kitchen for snack food saw the first big-budget Super Bowl commercial of all time. The iconic all-in-one computer it promoted didn't even appear in the commercial itself. Two days later, on January 24, the Macintosh went on sale at a price of $2,495 and changed the face of personal computing.

Graphical User Interface

The Mac's graphical user interface (GUI) transfixed users who saw it for the first time, but not because they couldn't figure out what it did. In fact, from young children on up to older adults, seemingly everyone who sat down in front of a Macintosh intuitively knew how to use it. Unlike the command-line interface of other systems of its day, the Mac called its directories "folders," and used a pictographic icon of a file folder to represent each folder on what looked like a stylized desktop. Files the user didn't want or need went in the "Trash," represented by a recognizable trash-can icon. The interface made visual sense, which made it easy to use.

File and Folder Windows

The user's on-screen environment included windowed objects representing files and the folders that contained them. Naming the objects in the computing environment after objects in the real world helped users understand what they were and how to use them. This wasn't a "C: prompt" and blinking cursor in green on a black screen: These were recognizable objects.

Point-and-Click Navigation

Other computer systems of the day used keyboards for all forms of data and command input. The Mac's mouse caught on immediately as a way to interact with the environment shown on its 9-inch screen. The mouse pointer captured the user's location and made it easy to find. Dragging and dropping files to move them in folders or into the Trash made sense because of its similarity to moving objects in the real world.

Software

Every Macintosh computer shipped with MacWrite, a full-featured word processor that used typeface software with proportional spacing, like the type in a magazine or book, not monospaced type like a typewriter. Every Mac also included a copy of MacPaint, a bitmap-based freeform drawing program that included lines, shapes, patterns and real typographic options. The optional MacDraw provided everything users needed for technical drawings and illustrations for reports and proposals. Other Apple and third-party software from companies including Microsoft and Lotus provided a wide range of options for everything from spreadsheets to software programming.

About the Author

Elizabeth Mott has been a writer since 1983. Mott has extensive experience writing advertising copy for everything from kitchen appliances and financial services to education and tourism. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from Indiana State University.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images