The Story Of The Apple Macintosh
Written by Historian   
Article Index
The Story Of The Apple Macintosh
The Shape of the Mac

Jobs takes over

By the end of 1980 not much else had happened except of course that now Steve Jobs was no longer involved with the Lisa project. The Mac group couldn't decide exactly what to do with their machine.

Should it go in the same direction as the Lisa and have a full GUI operating system?

Steve Jobs eventually got to know about the project by reading Raskin's notes on how the Mac should be built. He saw the possibility of producing a cheaper version of the Lisa and he got involved.

Raskin wanted to stick with the 6809 because of a philosophical preference for 8-bit bus architecture. However Jobs pressed for a redesign using the 68000. He got his way by challenging Burrell Smith to build a 68000 version by Christmas - he succeeded.

The new prototype was small, powerful and cheap to build. It was clear that it could be the Apple II of the 80s.

Now that it was based on the 68000 the LisaGraf routines that Atkinson had developed for the Lisa could be ported to the new machine.

The Lisa project was now very much in danger of looking silly. It used 24 professional hardware engineers and countless programmers and after two years they had one prototype and 18 months more work in front of them.

The Mac had been hacked together in a few weeks by a single engineer. It was twice as fast as the Lisa, cost one third of the price to build and used nothing but off-the-shelf parts.

Steve Jobs took over the Mac team and added some new faces. His target was to produce the finished product in 12 months. Raskin eventually left the Mac team after becoming increasingly irritated by the way Jobs was running things. Andy Hertzfield was the main force behind the Mac operating system. The LisaGraf routines were incorporated into it and renamed QuickDraw.

Changing shape

Steve decided that the Mac should take no more room on a desk than a phone book and this involved stacking the boards vertically. This single decision lead to the shape of the first Mac that was surely responsible for much of its immediate appeal.



The Mac


The case was subjected to much testing. Mockups would be made and examined and argued over.

The big negative contribution that Jobs made to the Mac design was its lack of expansion slots. He hated them!

The Mac was to be a complete computing solution and so it didn't need expansion slots. This was of course a mistake, computers always need expansion. Jobs said that if users needed expansion they could buy a Lisa!

By May 1981 Bud Tribble and Andy Hertzfield had a mockup of the Mac desktop. At this point Steve Jobs made another important design decision. He opted to make the Mac operating system a standard interface so that other applications programmers could make use of it. This would mean that all Mac applications would look very similar. He may not have liked hardware expansion but this was the software equivalent.

As well as an operating system the Mac also needed applications. Jobs considered poaching LisaWrite and its programmer but the rumor was that it was badly written. Instead he got Randy Wigginton to write MacWrite from scratch.



The Mac GUI OS


Wigginton had left Apple because he couldn't get on with Jobs and so he was offered a royalty of $2 per Mac sold up to a ceiling of $1 million. He took it and he developed the program in an incredibly short time - also admitting that he had never used a word processor before!

The prototype word processor demonstrated that the screen width was too small - only  384 dots. Burrell Smith told them that increasing the number of dots wasn't possible without a custom video chip - so they attempted to build one.

This attempt nearly cost the entire project.

Custom chip design was in its infancy in those days and after months of work they abandoned the project. Instead Burell use a PAL, a sort of hardware programmable device to create a 512 dots wide display. This gave the Mac the full 80-column screen it needed.

What's a name worth?

The final hurdle for the Mac was, believe it or not, its name. The name was already in use by the McIntosh Laboratories who manufactured HiFi and they refused to let Apple use it as the name for their new machine. The problem was solved by a payment of $100,000 in cash - the Mac team really was attached to the name!

One of the last design decisions to be taken was the disk drive. The Lisa group was planning to use the new thin or "twiggy" disk drives that they had designed. But they were unreliable and hardly worked.

The Mac looked as if it was going to use standard high density 5.25 inch drives. Then ALPs, the supplier of the drives, suddenly decided that it couldn't supply the number required for six months and that would have delayed the Mac.

Someone suggested using the new 3.5 inch drives from Sony. But Steve Jobs didn't want to use Japanese electronics.  In the end they adopted the 3.5 inch drive because ALPs further delayed the introduction of its drive.

The Apple Macintosh was released on January 24, 1984.




The Lisa got to the market place before the Mac and died a death. The Mac followed it soon after and many people thought that it was a just low cost version of the Lisa. In fact it was incompatible with the Lisa. Given its price, performance and usability it was a success and the rest of the story you already know.

In the Video below you can see Steve Jobs introduce his new machine to the world: 


As well as the Macintosh itself being of historic importance, so is  the original advert for it. This was directed by Ridley Scott and first broadcast in the third quarter of the Super Bowl in 1984.  It had such strong overtones of George Orwell's novel 1984 that his estate claimed copyright infringement.  Even though it was only ever aired twice, it is considered to be "one of the most memorable and successful American television commercials of all time".



Interestingly after its initial success sales of the Mac slowed. It was almost certainly too expensive to compete with the PC clone. The single factor that is credited with saving it from long term decline was the invention of the laser printer and DeskTop Publishing DTP. This was the Mac's killer app and it made the machine and its software dominate in the publishing industry for years to come.

The Mac project was probably the last of its kind in the computer industry. A group of enthusiasts built a machine and wrote the software for it in a time span that would be thought impossible by more conventionally trained engineers. The final product was buggy and unsatisfactory in many ways, but it probably wouldn't have been built at all without the innocent enthusiasm. 







Related Articles

Steve Jobs and the Early Apple Years

Steve Wozniak

Revolution in The Valley (book review)



ABC - The 1st Computer?

If you are at all interested in the history of the computer you can't help but debate the question of who actually invented the first machine? According to a 1973 court ruling it was John Atanaso [ ... ]

Herman Hollerith and the Punch Card

In the field of business computing one man can be credited with inventing automatic data processing, but these days his name is hardly known. You might even call Herman Hollerith, the forgotten giant  [ ... ]

Other Articles







Last Updated ( Saturday, 08 February 2020 )