Macintosh computers still going strong at 25

On Saturday, Macintosh computers celebrated their 25th birthday. A quarter of a century after Apple first brought them to market, on January 24, 1984, they are far from showing their age.


AFP - As Macintosh computers turn 25 years old with renewed vigor, Peter Friess professes a faith in Apple dating back to when founder Steve Jobs handed him one of the early machines in a German museum.

Friess, now president of The Tech Museum of Innovation in the heart of Silicon Valley, is not surprised that the world is catching on as "Macs" hit age 25 on Saturday.

Friess, 49, was in his twenties and cataloguing centuries-old watches in The Deutches Museum when he learned that Apple had built a computer.

"The Deutches was the largest science museum in the world, and not a single office had a computer in it in those days," Friess said. "I called Apple in Munich and told them I really needed a computer."

Jobs happened to be in Munich, and visited the museum with a computer for Friess and another for the director of the institution, according to Friess.

"I was a craftsman working in the basement, perhaps the smallest person in the museum, and Steve Jobs gave me and the director computers," Friess recounted.

"I shook hands with him. I don't know if he remembers, but I do. I still have that computer."

Apple was in its infancy when the company, started in a Northern California garage by friends Steve Wozniak and Jobs, brought the first Macintosh to market on January 24, 1984.

Apple promoted the moment with a now-legendary television ad portraying rival Microsoft as an oppressive symbol of conformity along the lines of "Big Brother" in George Orwell's novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four."

Revolutionary Macintosh features included a "mouse" for navigating on-screen cursors and small pictures clicked to trigger applications or open files.

It was called "graphical user interface" because it let people interact with computers by using images instead of typing software commands.

Apple computers earned a reputation for being premier products, well-crafted machines with intuitive controls non-geeks could easily grasp.

"If you are a beginner on a Windows machine it takes you a while to figure out how it works," Friess said.

"With Apple, this is never the case. It doesn't give you a hard time. I've actually fallen in love with this product."

Apple kept its technology to itself, building Macintosh computers known for high price tags that matched high quality.

Meanwhile, a fledgling US software company known as Microsoft was busy licensing its operating systems and other programs to computer makers that cranked out affordable machines for the masses.

Macintosh computers won a cultish following of artists, designers and other creative types willing to pay premiums for what they believed were superior devices.

"With Macs, every little piece makes sense," Friess said. "Everything fits so nicely together. Now, the software and hardware are engaged in a way I've never seen in anything else -- form follows function."

Macintosh computers held a mere sliver of slumping global computer market by the time Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985 as the result of an internal power struggle.

Apple stumbled and nearly fell in Jobs's absence. Jobs is credited with resurrecting Apple after his return as chief executive in 1996.

With Jobs in charge, Apple introduced world-changing innovations such as iPod MP3 players, iTunes online store, and iPhones.

The company's rediscovered glory cast new light on Macs, which were made leaner, faster, and slicker.

Apple added chips and software that let Macintosh computers run Microsoft programs, eliminating a major obstacle preventing people from opting for Macs in a Windows-dominated world.

"Apple went through hard times," Friess said. "It had a strong leader and the quality of the product is so good it had to survive."

Apple on Wednesday reported it finished 2008 with record quarterly profit of 1.61 billion dollars, with iPod sales hitting an all-time high.

The company posted revenue of 10.17 billion dollars in the three months ending December 27, 2008.

Apple reported selling 2.52 million Macintosh computers during the quarter, representing nine percent growth over the year-ago quarter.

MacBook laptop models drove the sales growth in what Apple executives said is a market trend toward mobile computing.

While Jobs has conceded that Microsoft has won the computer war, accounting for some 90 percent of the world's machines, Macs have been gaining market share.

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