Adam C. Engst
The Mac is not a Computer
Despite Apple’s marketing of the G4 “supercomputer on a chip” and Virginia Tech’s supercomputer built from 1,100 Power Mac G5s, the Mac will always be remembered for its influence on communication, not on number crunching.
From the moment Steve Jobs pulled the first Macintosh from a bag in 1984, it was communicating — literally. And Apple bundled MacWrite and MacPaint with those first Macs, starting a desktop-publishing revolution.
By the mid-1990s, the next communications revolution was underway: the Internet. From the vantage point of writing four editions of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, I saw the Macintosh make Internet communication accessible to ordinary people. That’s been a lasting legacy — many people use their Macs primarily for e-mail, Web access, and instant messaging.
With Mac OS X, Apple has further integrated Internet communications into the Mac. Mail, Safari, and iChat have become instant standards, and the iSight can’t be beat for video chats showing off Junior to Mac-savvy grandparents.
Apple’s Internet-based services are also all about communication. Apple revolutionized the online-music world by seamlessly integrating the iTunes Music Store into iTunes, and .Mac enhances OS X and the i-apps with features such as file sharing via iDisk and Web photo publishing via iPhoto’s HomePage button. The trend should continue, with Apple helping us manage Internet communication through easy-to-use Mac applications in place of generic Web browsers.
I’m also watching Apple’s core communications technologies, such as AirPort, Bluetooth, Rendezvous, iSync, Address Book, and iCal. They make many other things possible — an AirPort Extreme–equipped Mac with iChat and an iSight is a Jetsons-style communications panel. Bluetooth-based cell phones provide Internet connections on a PowerBook anywhere your cell phone has service, and Rendezvous helps network devices such as the TiVo Series2 connect with iTunes and iPhoto. The integration of iSync, Address Book, and iCal hints that — someday — we may be able to share information easily between applications, devices, and people. Then perhaps activities like arranging a dinner at a conference won’t require trading contact information via e-mail and cell calls asking, “Where are you?”
What’s next? Identity. Apple is one of the few companies that could promote and integrate an Internet-based open-standard approach to solving the identity problem, eliminating the cacophony of e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and screen names we’re saddled with today. That would be another lasting legacy for the Mac.
by Roger Ebert
Macs turn up in the movies all the time — not so much because of product placement, but because so many movie people use them and like them. A historian of the future, counting all the on-screen computers between 1983 and today, would likely conclude that Macs represented 90 percent of the computer market.
Alas, this is not so. But since any reasonable person would choose a Mac over a PC, Apple’s market share does provide us with an accurate reading of the percentage of reasonable people in our society.
Yet the Mac’s role in the actual making of movies is far larger than the PC’s. Macs are in editing suites, sound studios, and musicians’ mixing rooms. Writers use them, agencies create ads and trailers on them, Web pages are designed on them — and movies are literally made with the Mac.
Using desktop Macs and homegrown software, a group of filmmakers in Austin, Texas, revolutionized the world of animation — taking an art form that was once painstaking and expensive, and putting it within the reach of anyone with, say, a digital-video camera, a Mac, and a lot of imagination.
As anyone can see, a movie shot on a consumer digital camera looks like, well, exactly that. The color and detail are murky, the depth is lacking, and the movie is clearly not ready for prime time. Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001) is one of the most influential of all modern films — because, first, he showed how to make, in postproduction, a consumer-camera digital film look like a commercial, theatrical-quality film, and second, he demonstrated that inexpensive feature-length animation was within the reach of ordinary filmmakers.
The movie follows its hero through Austin after a traumatic event sends him on an odyssey. He seeks truth and insight through conversations with a variety of talkative thinkers. Linklater filmed these conversations and then farmed out each encounter to a different Mac animator. Using rotoscoping-inspired software devised by Bob Sabiston, Linklater’s animation director, the animators applied their personal artistic styles to their segments, so the film is like a group show.
Animation no longer requires thousands of hours of hand-drawn cels, or rooms filled with microstations. There will always be a role for those approaches, and they will remain the animation mainstream. But the Mac makes high-quality animation possible for anyone with an artistic vision to express.
The list of Macintosh firsts is long, interesting, and debatable, but not even the high priests of Xerox PARC can debate one thing — the Macintosh established evangelism as a secular business technique.
The word evangelism is Greek (as opposed to Geek) in origin — it means “bringing the good news.” Prior to the year 1 B.M. (that is, 1983), evangelism was considered a way to spread the good news of the holy gospel and to save people from evil.
On a smaller scale, the Macintosh Division of Apple believed that it, too, was bringing good news and saving people from evil. So it applied the term evangelist to me and other folks who went forth and convinced software developers to write Macintosh versions of their products.
The evangelism concept spread to other Macintosh constituencies, namely user groups. These hardy souls banded together to sell, service, and support the Macintosh when Apple was unable or unwilling to.
One example of the power of evangelism occurred in 1995 — yet another year when “beleaguered” Apple was supposedly about to die. Apple created an e-mail list called EvangeList to counter the seemingly endless supply of bad news about Apple and the Macintosh in the computer and business press.
The list provided new-product announcements from developers, tips and tricks for evangelizing, success stories, and profiles. The list quickly grew to 44,000 subscribers. In some darker moments, the list brought torrents of e-mail down upon journalists when I pointed members to news stories that unjustly criticized Apple. The EvangeList is gone, but the lessons of Macintosh evangelism remain.
Don’t see only hardware and software innovation when you look at your Mac. It also represents innovations in sales and marketing. In so many ways, our favorite computer has changed the world.
The Birth of Desktop Publishing
Jonathan Seybold, founder of the influential Seybold Seminars, says that when Steve Jobs showed him the Macintosh, he was convinced it was the future of not only computing but also publishing. “It was very clear to me that the distinction between computing and information science and graphic arts would just go away,” he says.
In the summer of 1984, Jobs called Seybold. “Steve wanted to see me urgently,” he recalls. “He said they had a deal with Adobe, they were signing a deal with Linotype, they had real fonts. I went to Cupertino and walked into this tiny room, and there stood Jobs and [Adobe cofounder John] Warnock with a Mac and a LaserWriter. He showed me what they were up to. I turned to Steve and said, ‘You’ve just turned publishing on its head. This is the watershed event.’ When I turned to John, he had this look on his face. He was just so happy. I could tell he was thinking, ‘This made the company. This is my validation.’ It was a magic moment.”
It was the end of 1984, and the stage was set for the introduction of the Apple LaserWriter.
The LaserWriter debuted to great fanfare at Apple’s annual stockholder meeting on January 23, 1985, where Steve Jobs’s legendary showmanship was on display. On stage, the Pointer Sisters belted out “I’m So Excited.” In the audience were all 27 Adobe employees who had made the trip to Cupertino’s Flint Center after toasting the culmination of their two-year effort at Adobe’s office the evening before. The jubilant engineers who had toiled in obscurity were seeing their product in a forum where they could gauge the public’s reaction to it.
“You couldn’t walk out of there not feeling you were doing something great,” says Dan Puttman, Adobe employee number 2 and former senior vice president of the North American systems division.
The LaserWriter cost $6,995 — steep by today’s standards, yet astoundingly cheap compared with the IBM and Xerox laser printers of the day, which cost three to ten times that. Plus, the LaserWriter had Adobe’s special ingredient: PostScript. Almost immediately, analysts commented on the LaserWriter’s output, praising its “near-typeset quality.”
With the release of the LaserWriter, Adobe Systems was on the corporate map. The two soft-spoken scientists [cofounders Warnock and Chuck Geschke] were thrust into the media spotlight, fielding interview requests to explain why the world’s second-largest computer company had bet its future on an unknown startup.
When three upstart companies — Adobe Systems, Aldus Corporation, and Apple Computer — joined forces to create desktop publishing in 1985, shock waves rumbled through the publishing world. Thanks to the combination of the Apple Macintosh, Aldus PageMaker, and the Adobe PostScript-equipped LaserWriter, publishing was liberated from the confines of proprietary typesetting and printing systems.
John C. Dvorak
Yes, there is a continuing battle between the PC and the Mac. But as someone who has followed this battle for nearly two decades, I have to conclude that it’s all about aesthetics — nothing more.
It must have been 20 years ago that someone first derided the IBM PC as being designed in the image of its users — bookkeepers. This implied a dull, colorless individual without much interest in the look of things. I know that not all bookkeepers are dull — but the world of the PC generally is. It’s more than a little galling to many PC users that the simple good taste of the Mac seems to mock them from nearby desktops.
But consider the users of the respective machines. The Mac has corralled all the creative types — artists, writers, designers — and ease of use is supposed to be part of the reason. However, I know many artists who have souped-up Macs that would make a hacker proud. They worked hard to put together these screamers, using accelerated chips, chains of weird drives, and tons of extra memory. The only people on the PC side who go through this much trouble are the gaming minority who have elaborate case-mod machines with blinking lights. Plunk down one of those PC hot rods in most offices, and you’d have the PC police at your desk in five minutes, demanding that you take the thing off the network and off the premises. All the while, nobody says anything to the folks in the art department about their “off-spec” Macs.
Of course, I’ve seen little evidence that any office PC user would have the verve to do a case modification — let alone bring it to the office.
Choosing a PC over a Mac is choosing beige over metal — or beige over anything. The PC has the big market share because it’s the safe choice. If Apple produced a safe, dull-looking machine, the company would, I think, be shocked by its success. Thank goodness it doesn’t.
Ahead of the Curve
When Apple flops, it flops by thinking too far ahead.
In 1996, Apple attempted to get into the video-game/thin-computer market with the Pippin. The Pippin was a disaster — a complete and utter failure from both a business and a creative standpoint. It looked a lot like a $60 VCR, but it would have cost about 13 times more. (And it would have run about as many games as a VCR.) The only truly smart move Apple made throughout the entire development of this product was to shut it down before actually shipping: if the Pippin had shipped, federal troops would have had to intervene — to protect the nation from Apple, and to protect Apple from itself.
I also seem to recall that at one stage in Apple’s history, you could buy a sailboard with the Apple logo on it. But apart from the Pippin and the sailboard, Apple hasn’t produced a single failed product in 20 years.
“What about the Newton?” you ask. What about it? As of September 2003, more than 30 million Palm OS devices have been sold. The Newton wasn’t the first computer to use a pen, but only Apple could have invented the PDA. The company quickly understood how to make it work: make it the size of a person’s palm; create a whole OS around pen gestures; and focus on intimate, personal software.
Well, then — how about the Mac Portable? Obviously, there are one or two downsides to a portable computer the size and weight of a concert accordion. But think about why it was so big and heavy: Apple looked at where the portable market was going and gambled that users were no longer interested in having a portable accessory to their desktop computer. They wanted a real Macintosh that could be used at home, in the office, in a hotel room, and along every vector in between. So the Portable had to have a real keyboard, a comfortable screen, a credible processor, ample storage, and enough battery life to make it worth the trouble. And that’s exactly where notebooks are today.
You see where I’m going here? Apple has an idea ahead of its time, and someone else takes the hint and runs with it. And here we’ve just been talking about Apple’s commercial failures. Apple redefined the standard for computing with the Apple II, and then did it again with the Mac. Apple created the iMac; then, all of a sudden, kitchens all over the country had food browning in brightly colored George Foreman grills.
Other technology companies can be likened to the Beatles or Elvis Presley. They might sell more records, but Apple’s the modest Delta bluesman who created rock and roll in the first place. Nothin’ happens until Apple strums the chords and shows everyone else where music is headed.
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
In the early 1980s, I was putting in 70-hour weeks at a Los Angeles advertising agency, producing print, radio, and television commercials for a wide variety of clients. I’m a born perfectionist, and I wanted every ad I worked on to be just right. But that wasn’t how advertising worked back then: because everything cost so much, a lot of what we created was, at best, mediocre.
And even mediocrity wasn’t cheap. For print ads and brochures, we first had to specify and purchase camera-ready type, which cost hundreds (or thousands) of dollars per page. A graphic artist would then cut this type into smaller pieces and glue those pieces onto a piece of board — a mechanical. If the piece included graphics, another specialist had to resize and screen the pictures for printing — at significant cost, of course. Finally, the finished board would be photographed and processed.
Then, in 1984, the Mac came along and changed everything. It wasn’t long before anyone could create typeset pages with nothing more than a Mac, a LaserWriter, and a copy of Aldus PageMaker. Making changes took minutes (or seconds), rather than hours (or days), and cost nothing.
Even more exciting to me is the similar revolution now occurring in video production. In the 1970s and 1980s, when I was producing television commercials full-time, a broadcast-quality video camera cost $100,000 or more, and operating that camera required at least one skilled technician. Building a state-of-the-art video-editing facility (a postproduction suite) could set you back seven figures. Even if you rented everything, you were looking at hundreds of dollars an hour, with a one-minute television commercial needing 10, 20, 30, or more hours of postproduction.
Obviously, average people twenty years ago couldn’t dream of editing video, because they couldn’t afford the highly specialized equipment and skilled technicians.
Things have sure changed. These days, every Mac includes a copy of iMovie, which lets you do more with your video — titles, transitions, special effects, and audio — than a million-dollar postproduction suite allowed in the old days.
Meanwhile, DV camcorders that can record video suitable for broadcasting have dropped in price and can now be had for less than $500. With one of those and your Mac, you’ve got a video studio that can do most of what used to take a room full of equipment and engineers.
In its first 20 years, the Mac has totally democratized print and video production; Mac users can turn out high-quality pages and broadcast-quality movies without leaving their desks. I can’t even imagine what I’ll be able to produce on my Mac 20 years from now, but whatever it may be, I can’t wait.