Born Apple: Six famous Windows apps that debuted on the Mac

Benj Edwards takes a look at some of the most famous applications in the world that were first developed for the Mac.

Mac first

Windows remains the dominant desktop operating system in terms of market share, which makes for a commonly Windows-centric worldview. It’s especially entertaining, then, to study various software applications that originated outside of the Windows biosphere (say, on the Macintosh) and then moved over to thrive in Microsoft’s domain.

Until roughly 1990, Microsoft Windows lacked both the technical sophistication and market reach to attract significant third-party applications, so for about half a decade, the Mac was the only serious GUI-based platform on the market.

Accordingly, a number of the most famous apps to make the Mac-Windows jump began as GUI-based reinterpretations of older software ideas, while others began as programs that could have only originated in a bitmapped computing environment like that of the Macintosh. We’ll take a look at a handful in this slideshow.

These are not the only famous apps to leap from Mac to Windows. A few others include Microsoft Works, QuarkXPress, and Digidesign Pro Tools. Feel free to share some of your favorites in the comments.

There is no doubt that many applications have made the jump the other way around—from Windows to Mac. But it’s almost always more interesting to trace the influences of the underdog on the dominant platform.

Credit: Museum Victoria
Microsoft Excel (1985)

Widely known today as the spreadsheet-crunching member of Microsoft’s Office suite, Windows users may be surprised to learn that Excel originated in September 1985 as a standalone Mac application.

At the time, Lotus 1-2-3 ruled the spreadsheet market on the IBM PC platform, and as Windows gained influence, Excel received its first version for Microsoft’s GUI system in November 1987. Lotus 1-2-3 lagged with a Windows version and Excel soon captured the PC crown. Microsoft continues to maintain Excel in both Mac and PC versions.

Macromedia Dreamweaver (1997)

Macromedia’s flagship HTML development product launched as a Mac-only application in December 1997 and soon became popular due to its rare and effective implementation of “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) principles to Web development. Dreamweaver received its first Windows release as version 1.2 in March 1998. After Adobe acquired Macromedia in 2005, Dreamweaver became an Adobe product, and it remains so today.

Forethought PowerPoint (1987)

Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin of software firm Forethought initially developed PowerPoint under the name Presenter for the Mac in 1986. It was a novel invention at the time—a desktop presentation program that allowed the creation of graphical software slides through drag-and-drop WYSIWYG editing. Perfect for the Mac.

Microsoft acquired Forethought in 1987 and PowerPoint became a shipping product for the Mac that same year. Three years later, it found its way Windows in 1990 as a part of the Microsoft Office Suite. Today, PowerPoint is an integral part of the Microsoft Office suite.

Aldus PageMaker (1985)

In July 1985, Aldus Corporation shipped PageMaker, one of the first desktop publishing applications for the Mac—and by far the most influential one for years to come. PageMaker allowed users to design publications on a WYSIWYG basis that fit the Mac’s bitmapped display and mouse-based input perfectly.

Windows received its first version of PageMaker in 1987. In fact, that version shipped with its own integrated, stripped-down version of Windows since Microsoft’s nascent windowing system was far from universal on PCs at the time.

Adobe acquired Aldus in 1994 and PageMaker remained a popular Adobe product until QuarkXPress (which also originated as a Mac app) surpassed it in market share. Adobe discontinued development of PageMaker in 2001 in favor of a new DTP application called InDesign.

Forethought FileMaker (1985)

In the 1980s, database software was complex and obtuse to learn and operate. It often used fixed field sizes, fixed indices, and cryptic command-line entry. Nashoba Systems envisioned a more flexible database that used a menu or GUI interface and dynamically-sized entries. FileMaker was born, and Nashoba signed a deal with Forethought to publish the application. The first version shipped for the Mac in April 1985.

(It’s worth noting that while FileMaker itself originated on the Mac, its creators drew inspiration from a previous database app they had created for MS-DOS called Nutshell, published by PC vendor Leading Edge.)

In 1987, Microsoft acquired Forethought and Nashoba decided to publish FileMaker on its own. Then in 1988, Claris (then a wholly-owned subsidiary of Apple) acquired Nashoba. FileMaker Pro 1.0 was released in 1990, and Windows received its first version of FileMaker in 1992. In 1998, Apple disbanded Claris and rolled the FileMaker product into its own company, FileMaker, Inc., which continues to update and sell the database software today.

Adobe Photoshop (1990)

Photoshop, one of the few apps that truly needs no introduction, began as a mouse-based image editing utility developed by brothers Thomas and John Knoll on the Mac in the late 1980s. Seeing the usefulness of their creation, they began to seek a licensee who could distribute the software. Adobe licensed the software and Photoshop 1.0 shipped in February 1990. Windows did not receive a version of Photoshop until version 2.5 in November 1992—over two years later.