The Mac at 25: Successes, regrets, Apple's had a few

5 things Apple did right and 5 things it didn't over the last quarter-century

Remember the adage, "Don't trust anyone over 30"? Putting aside the fact that you're likely well past that age if you recognize the line, if you live by it, you may view 32-year-old Apple with a gimlet eye. But the Macintosh itself -- which will hit the 25-year mark on January 24 -- is still something we can trust.

We journalists live for significant anniversaries, which allow us to take a retrospective view of something in the news and look back on events that, in the moment, might not have seemed so momentous. Twenty-five years ago, Apple took the wraps off the first Macintosh, announcing it in a Ridley Scott-directed commercial -- a riff on George Orwell's 1984 -- that aired nationwide just once, during the 1984 Super Bowl, and went on to become iconic.

In these heady days when Apple seems to be gaining ground in a number of places and ways, it's important to remember that everything that followed from the first Mac was not a given. If things had gone differently, maybe Microsoft would be the cool, hip upstart now. With that kind of alternate reality in mind, here's a brief and far-from-complete collection of five successes and five mistakes Apple has made in the last quarter-century.

Let's look at Apple's smooth moves...

The Human Interface Guidelines

What did computers look like in 1983? When you turned them on, what did you see?

Odds are, it was a green cursor on a black screen. You had to know how to do what you wanted to do, and then were limited to what you knew how to do -- a vicious circle of limitation. Sounds like something Joseph Heller might have come up with, no?

The first Mac, in 1984, was something totally new and different to almost everyone in the computer and noncomputer worlds alike. The windows/icons/mouse/pointer (WIMP) interface, first pioneered at Xerox PARC, was intelligible at a glance and set the paradigm for almost every personal computing interface to follow.

Still, it all could have gone bad (imagine if Windows 3 had been the first UI offered) if not for the coherence and progressive discovery offered by the carefully designed Mac user interface.

That was the result of a lot of work, both theoretical and practical, by Apple's Human Interface Group on how people looked at and reacted to various parts of an interface. They codified and published the principles and applications of the Mac interface as the Human Interface Guidelines (HIG), showing everything from how to make a button to where the drop shadows should go on screen to how quickly a visual cue should appear after a user click. This wasn't just a good idea -- though it was indeed a very good idea. The public HIG encouraged developers to produce applications that looked and acted like the familiar Mac interface. Users weren't confused with a whole new way to save, or move, or do anything, each time they loaded a new program. Think that's a trivial achievement? Take a look at the Interface Hall of Shame . You could be stuck with that.

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Dan Turner

Computerworld
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