RandomMaccess LookBack: On the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh, a look at the 20th

On the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Macintosh, RandomMaccess takes a look at how we covered the Mac’s last big milestone — its 20th anniversary. A lot has changed since then: The iPod and iPad were still top-secret projects somewhere deep in the bowels of One Infinite Loop (or its Area 51 equivalent). Apple was enjoying the explosive success of the iPod and the company’s resulting resurgence. And of course, Steve Jobs was still alive.

Although the article is now 10 years old, I think a lot of the analysis still applies to this day — although perhaps one result of Jobs’ absence is an executive team that allowed the retrospective Apple is hosting on its site today. It’s hard to imagine Steve permitting such an emotional walk down memory lane.

By Chuck La Tournous | First published January 24, 2004

Yes, this column is about Apple and the 20th anniversary of the Macintosh, but I promise it won’t be another of those walks down memory lane, where we talk about how Apple had it all only to bungle its way into irrelevance against the mighty onslaught of Microsoft. Sheesh. There are enough Monday-morning quarterbacks opining Apple’s “should-woulda-couldas” to fill a football stadium.

In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons Apple itself has kept so low-key about its milestone. How does the company talk about its history without touching on those issues? For those only following the Mac since Steve Jobs returned to Apple’s helm, it’s easy to forget that Apple had its Dark Ages — and some pretty pitch-black ones at that. And even if the company were to dance its way around issues of licensing and shrinking market share and a zillion and one different models of Performas and spin it into a lovely little fairy tale — that’s just not Steve Jobs.

Jobs has always struck me as someone who looks forward, not back. He plots his course by seeing what’s ahead, not lingering on what he’s done. Even the nod to the past in his keynote was more of a statement of where the company is now than where it was then. Jobs played the famous “1984″ commercial, which aired as a paid spot just once — during the 1984 Superbowl. But in this rendition, the freespirited revolutionary heroine rushes past the legions of listless masses ready to shatter the status quo — wearing an iPod. The spot is no longer about the original Macintosh, but about Apple and what it represents today.

So what does Apple represent today? It’s a big question, and certainly a bigger one that can be fully answered here. Jobs has given the “sound bite” answer himself; he want the Macintosh to be the hub of your “digital lifestyle.” When he first said that, it seemed a pretty vague statement, but what Apple’s done since then has made it a lot clearer. The Mac, then, is more than a just a traditional computer. It’s not just the place to bang away on your word processor, plan your family budget and let your kids play a game or two. As heretical as this may sound, the Mac isn’t the best way to do any of those things. You can write letters and spreadsheets on a cheap PC just as well as on a Mac, and with the money you save, you can buy a console system that will do a much better job of playing games than a PC or a Mac.

But think beyond those traditional computing tasks, and imagine what someone on Star Trek would do with a sort of computerized assistant. “Computer — display the pictures of Alex and James’ baseball games; put them in an email addressed to grandma.” iPhoto. “Computer, take the movies of Nicole’s birthday party. Delete the part where the neighbor kid picks his nose. Add some nice music from my selection of songs from the 1950s. Assemble the movie and put it on a disc so I can send it to Aunt Patty in Florida to watch on her TV.” iMovie & iDVD. “Computer — play a random selection of my top-rated songs — but no slow ones. And don’t play anything by The Beatles — I’ve been listening to them a lot lately.” iTunes. “Computer — My friend David has a new email address. I’ve changed it in my Address Book, but make sure my work computer, cell phone, PDA and iPod are all updated with the new information.” iSync.

I could go on and on. My daughter asked me once, (OK, more than once) why I spend so much time on the computer. I told her that I was actually doing a lot of different things — it just so happened that now, most of them can be done better and faster on the computer. I might be reading the news on the Internet; downloading photos from my camera and printing or sharing them with family and friends; scanning and restoring photos of family members who lived a hundred or more years ago; helping her do research for her homework; making a movie of the apple-picking trip we just took; chatting with a friend who lives in California; or writing a song for her mom. A lot of these are things I couldn’t have done a few years ago; some are things that would’ve taken me much longer or been so hard I might not have tried them.

The image of the woman in the 1984 ad remains a potent and fitting symbol for Apple and the Mac. Because distilled down to one word, the Macintosh is about revolution. It’s what the old slogan “the computer for the rest of us” really means. None of what the Mac allows us to do is impossible without the Mac. But it is beyond the reach of most of us, reserved for the rich or very gifted. The revolution is that these abilities are now in the hands of us — the masses. The revolution that started with the power to create professional-looking documents and spreadsheets continues to this day in GarageBand, which lets the most tone-deaf among us make “real” music. And in between, we’ve been given other tools to do what was once, if not impossible, then highly impractical.

I, for one, am glad Apple’s not devoting a whole lot of its time and energy looking at the past. I’d much rather they keep working on bringing me the future.

All gave some, some gave all

In years past, I had a tradition of linking to MacMinute on Veterans Day. The late Stan Flack would post “In Flanders Field,” a poem by Canadian Soldier Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, dedicated to the fallen soldiers of World War I.

Since Stan passed away, MacMinute has ceased publication. So I’ll carry on his tradition here, with the wish that we all take a moment to honor all those who sacrificed their safety or their lives on our behalf. The politics of any war aside, it is they who pay the price; they who selflessly put themselves in harm’s way in order to secure and defend the blessings of liberty for the rest of us.

They deserve our respect and our solemn promise to do our best to ensure that did not die in vain and to work towards a time where none need pay the price they did.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The ‘canary in the coal mine’ in Apple’s transparency report

Several people have pointed out that Apple’s “Transparency” report of government requests for information contains a brilliant end run around the government’s gag order on revealing that certain requests have even been made.

At the end of the report’s Notes section, Apple states it “has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge an order if served on us.”

Sounds pretty innocuous, right? But here’s the kicker. As long as Apple never receives such a request, we can expect future reports to contain the same statement. If that statement were to go missing, however, it would be a clear message that a request or requests had been received.

Well played, Apple. Well played.

‘Cosmetically damaged’ PowerPots on sale for $100

BioLite’s stove may have gotten more buzz, but Power Practical’s PowerPot V is — to me — a much better implementation of generating electricity with heat. I’ve talked about it during my Tech vs. Wild sessions, and it always scores high on the “wow factor.”

Now, Power Practical is selling “cosmetically damaged” PowerPots for $99 — a third off the regular price. The sale is this weekend only, so if you’re interested, check them out now. My perspective is that if you’re really using it out in the field, it’s like to get cosmetically damaged before long anyway, so why not get it that way and save some money?

More information, including an online order form, is available here.

Sinbad, the Sox and the long con

My friend Paul Kafasis of Rogue Amoeba is — among other things — a brilliant prankster with a lot of patience. His write-up of a “long con” he played on John Gruber is not to be missed. And as much as it pains me to say it, the fact that it was the Sox (you’ll see) makes it even better. (via The Loop)