What’s the most important computer company? IBM? Microsoft?
No! The most important computer company is actually Apple. That’s the company that’s had the greatest influence on how we deal with computers today.
Apple was the first computer manufacturer to popularize these ideas successfully:
Apple didn’t invent any of those ideas, but Apple was the first company to popularize them, make people want them, and thereby change our idea of what a computer should do.
Though just 4% of the computers sold today are made by Apple, we all owe a big debt to Apple for how that company improved our world.
Here’s how Apple arose and changed our lives.…
The original Apple computer was invented by Steve Wozniak, who was an engineer at Hewlett-Packard. In 1975, he offered the plans to his boss at Hewlett-Packard, but his boss said Steve’s computer didn’t fit into Hewlett-Packard’s marketing plan. His boss suggested that Steve start his own company. Steve did.
He worked with his friend, Steve Jobs. Steve Wozniak was the engineer; Steve Jobs was the businessman. Both were young: Steve Wozniak was 22; Steve Jobs was 19. Both were college drop-outs. They’d worked together before: when high-school students, they’d built and sold blue boxes (boxes that people attached to telephones to illegally make long-distance calls free). Steve & Steve had sold 200 blue boxes at $80 each, giving them a total of $16,000 in illegal money.
To begin Apple Computer Company, Steve & Steve invested just $1300, which they got by selling a used Volkswagen Micro Bus and a used calculator.
They built the first Apple computer in their garage. They sold it by word of mouth, then later by ads. The advertised price was just $666.60.
Like all computers of that era, the first Apple computer was primitive: it had none of the features for which Apple is now famous. (No color, no 3½-inch floppy disks, no CD-ROM disks, no mouse, no icons, no pull-down menus, no laser printers, no desktop publishing, no pretty fonts, no paint & draw programs.)
The original Apple computer looked pathetic. But in 1977, Steve & Steve invented a slicker version, called the Apple 2. Unlike the original Apple, the Apple 2 included a keyboard and displayed graphics in color. It cost $970.
The Apple 2 became a smashing success, because it was the first computer for under $1000 that could display colors on a TV. It was the only such computer for many years, until Commodore finally invented the Vic, which was even cheaper (under $300).
At first, folks used the Apple 2 just to play games and didn’t take it seriously. But two surprise events changed the world’s feelings about Apple.
The first surprise was that the Minnesota state government decided to buy lots of Apple 2 computers, put them in Minnesota schools, and write programs for them. That state agency, called the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC), then distributed the programs free to other schools across America.
Soon, schools across America discovered that personal computers could be useful in education. Since the only good educational programs came from Minnesota and required Apples, schools across America bought Apples — and then wrote more programs for the Apples they’d bought. Apple became the “standard” computer for education — just because of the chain reaction that started with a chance event in Minnesota. The chain reaction spread fast, as teachers fell in love with the Apple’s color graphics.
The next surprise was that a graduate student at the Harvard Business School and his friend at M.I.T. got together and wrote the first spreadsheet program, called Visicalc. They wrote it for the Apple 2 computer, because it was the only low-cost computer that had a reliable disk operating system.
(Commodore’s computers didn’t have disks yet, and Radio Shack’s disk operating system was buggy until the following year. Apple’s success was due to Steve Wozniak’s brilliance: he invented a disk-controller card that was amazingly cheap and reliable.)
The Visicalc spreadsheet program was so wonderful that accountants and business managers all over the country bought it — and therefore had to buy Apple computers to run it on.
In 1979, Apple Computer Corporation began shipping an improved Apple 2, called the Apple 2+.
Its main improvement was that its ROM chips contained a better version of BASIC, called Applesoft BASIC, which could handle decimals. (The version of BASIC in the old Apple 2’s ROM chips handled just integers.)
Another improvement was how the RESET key acted.
In the Apple 2+ and its predecessors, the motherboard contained eight slots, numbered from 0 to 7. Each slot could hold a printed-circuit card.
In 1983, Apple began shipping a further improvement, called the Apple 2 extended, expanded, enhanced (Apple 2e). Most programs written for the Apple 1, 2, and 2+ also ran on the Apple 2e.
Keyboard To improve on the Apple 2+ keyboard (which contained just 52 keys), the Apple 2e keyboard contained 11 extra keys, making a total of 63. The extra keys helped you type lowercase letters, type special symbols, edit your writing, and control your programs.
For example, the Apple 2e keyboard contained all four arrow keys (“, ”, ‘, and ’), so you could easily move around the screen in all four directions. (The “ and ” keys were missing from the Apple 2+ keyboard.)
The Apple 2e keyboard contained a DELETE key, so you could easily delete an error from the middle of your writing. (The DELETE key was missing from the Apple 2+ keyboard.)
Slot 0 Unlike its predecessors, the Apple 2e omitted slot 0, because the Apple 2e didn’t need a RAM card: the Apple 2e’s motherboard already contained lots of RAM (64K).
Slot 3A The Apple 2e contained an extra slot, called slot 3A. It resembled slot 3 but held a more modern kind of video card that came in two versions: the plain version let your Apple display 80 characters per line; the fancy version did the same but also included a row of 64K RAM chips, so that your Apple contains 128K of RAM altogether.
Apple 2e versus IBM clones The Apple 2e was invented in 1983 — the same year as the IBM XT. Which was better?
An Apple 2e was generally worse than an IBM XT or an IBM XT clone. For example, the Apple 2e system had less RAM (128K instead of 640K), fewer keys on the keyboard (63 instead of 83), inferior disk drives (writing just 140K on the disk instead of 360K), and a crippled version of BASIC (understanding just 114 words instead of 178).
Though worse than an IBM XT, the Apple 2e became quite popular in 1983, because more educational programs and games were available for the Apple 2e than for any other computer. That’s because the Apple 2e still ran thousands of programs that were invented years earlier for its predecessors: the Apple 1, 2, and 2+. Fewer educational programs and games were being written for the IBM XT and clones, because the IBM XT cost more than schools and kids could afford. Although the IBM XT became the standard computer for business, the Apple 2e became the standard computer for schools and kids.
In 1984, Apple created a shrunken Apple 2e called the Apple 2 compact (Apple 2c). Besides being smaller and lighter than the Apple 2e, it cost less. It also consumed less electricity.
But advanced hobbyists spurned the 2c — and stayed with the 2e instead — because the 2c didn’t have any slots for adding cards; it wasn’t expandable.
When the 2c first came out, its ROM was fancier than the 2e’s, so that the 2c could handle BASIC and a mouse better than the 2e. But in February 1985, Apple began putting the fancy ROM chips in the 2e also, so that every new 2e handles BASIC and a mouse as well as the 2c.
Apple 2c+ Apple invented an improved Apple 2c, called the Apple 2c+, whose disk drive was 3½-inch instead of 5¼-inch. Apple’s 3½-inch drive was technologically superior to Apple’s 5¼-inch drive; but unfortunately, most educational software still came on 5¼-inch disks and was not available on 3½-inch disks yet.
In 1986, Apple created an improved version of the Apple 2e and called it the Apple 2 with amazing graphics & sound (Apple 2GS).
Apple 2 family
All those computers resembled each other, so that most programs written for the Apple 2 also worked on the Apple 2+, 2e, 2c, 2c+, and 2GS.
Apple has stopped marketing all those computers, but you can still buy them as “used computers” from your neighbors.
Instead of buying computers built by Apple, some folks bought imitations, such as the Pineapple, the Orange, the Pear, and the Franklin. Such imitations were popular in the United States, Hong Kong, and especially the Soviet Union. Apple sued most of those companies (because they illegally copied Apple’s ROM) and made them stop building clones.
Laser 128 Apple permitted one clone to remain: the Laser 128, because that clone’s designer imitated the functions of Apple’s ROM without exactly copying it.
Back in 1980, shortly after the Apple 2+ was invented, Apple began selling the Apple 3. It was much fancier than the Apple 2+. Unfortunately, it was ridiculously expensive (it listed for $4995, plus a monitor and hard drive), it couldn’t run some of the Apple 2+ software, and the first ones off the assembly line were defective. Few people bought it.
When the IBM PC came out and consumers realized the PC was better and cheaper than the Apple 3, interest in the Apple 3 vanished. Apple gave up trying to sell the Apple 3 but incorporated the Apple 3’s best features into later, cheaper Apples: the Apple 2e and the Apple 2GS.
Back in 1963, when Steve & Steve were just kids in elementary school, Doug Engelbart invented the world’s first computer mouse. He was at the Stanford Research Institute. During the 1970’s, researchers at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC) used his mouse as the basis of a fancy computer system, called the Alto. Xerox considered the Alto too big and expensive to sell well but invited the world to see it.
In 1979, Apple employees nudged Steve Jobs to go to Xerox and see the Alto. Steve was impressed by the Alto and decided to invent a smaller, cheaper version, which he called the Lisa, because that was his daughter’s name.
The Lisa changed the computer world forever. Before the Lisa, personal computers were awkward to use. The Lisa was the first affordable personal computer that made good use of a mouse, icons, horizontal menus, and pull-down menus.
Though the Lisa was “affordable”, it was affordable by just the rich: it cost nearly $10,000. For the Lisa, Apple invented some special business programs that were fun and easy to use; but the Lisa could not run Apple 2 programs, since the Lisa had a completely different CPU.
Apple gradually lowered the Lisa’s price.
In January 1984, Apple introduced the Macintosh (Mac), which was a stripped-down Lisa. Like the original Lisa, the Mac uses a mouse, icons, horizontal menus, and pull-down menus. The Mac’s price is low enough to make it popular.
The Mac is even more fun and easy than the Lisa! It appeals to beginners scared of computers. Advanced computerists like it also, because it feels ultra-modern, handles graphics quickly, and passes data from one program to another simply.
The original version of the Mac ran too slowly, but the newest versions run faster. They’re priced nearly as low as IBM clones.
Since the Mac’s so easy to use and priced nearly as low as IBM clones, many people have bought it. Lots of software’s been developed for it — much more than for the Lisa.
To run Mac software well, you must buy a Mac. Since popular Mac software does not run well on the Lisa, Apple has stopped selling the Lisa and stopped selling a compromise called the Mac XL.
The first Macs
Apple began selling the Mac for $2495. The Mac’s original version consisted of three parts: the mouse, the keyboard, and the system unit.
That Mac was called the original 128K Mac because it includes 128K of RAM (plus 64K of ROM).
Then Apple invented an improvement called the 512K Mac because it included 512K of RAM. (It used two rows of 256K chips instead of two rows of 64K chips.) Apple wanted to call it the “Big Mac” but feared that customers would think it was a hamburger.
In January 1986, Apple began selling a new, improved Mac, called the Mac Plus. It surpassed the 512K Mac in several ways:
Like the 128K and 512K Macs, the Mac Plus included one floppy drive.
In 1987, Apple introduced an even fancier Mac, called the Mac SE. It ran software 15% faster than the Mac Plus because it contains a cleverer ROM (256K instead of 128K) and fancier support chips. It was also more expandable: it let you insert extra circuitry more easily. The keyboard cost extra: you could buy the standard keyboard (which had 81 keys) or the extended keyboard (which had 105 keys and cost more).
When Apple introduced the Mac SE, Apple also introduced a luxury model, called the Mac 2. It contains a faster CPU (a 16-megahertz 68020) and 6 slots for inserting printed-circuit cards.
Instead of sticking you with a 9-inch black-and-white monitor, it let you use any kind of monitor you wish: you could choose big or small; you could choose black-and-white or gray-scale or color. The monitor cost extra; so did the keyboard (standard or extended) and video card (which you put into a slot and attached the monitor to).
Since the Mac 2 let you choose your own monitor, the Mac 2 was called a modular Mac. When buying a modular Mac, remember that the monitor costs extra!
Performas vs. Quadras
In 1990, Apple stopped selling all the Macs that I’ve mentioned so far — the 128K Mac, 512K Mac, Mac Plus, Mac SE, and Mac 2. Apple switched to Macs that are more modern.
Then customers could choose between the Performa (for beginners) and the Quadra (which was still available, for experts).
Though Performas were idiotic, they were the best values: you got more hardware and software per dollar when you bought a Performa than when you bought a Quadra. The Quadras were just for annoyingly fussy nerds who insisted on customizing the computers, making their own decisions about which keyboard, monitor, and fax/modem to use.
At first, the rule was simple: Quadras were sold just at computer stores; Performas were sold just at general stores. At the end of 1994, Apple began letting computer stores sell both kinds of computers (Quadras and Performas), to handle both kinds of customers (experts and idiots). Non-computer stores (such as Staples) were still restricted to selling to idiots: they sold just Performas, no Quadras.
Performas came in several varieties: you could choose a normal CPU (a 68030), a faster CPU (a 68040), or an even faster CPU (a Power PC chip).
After watching the Performa-versus-Quadra war, Apple decided on a compromise: all new Macs include a keyboard (Performa won that battle!), but you can typically choose your own monitor (Quadra won that battle!).
In 1994, Apple began selling powerful Macs, called Power Macs. Each contains a fast CPU chip, called the Power PC.
The newest kind of Power Mac is the Power Mac G4, invented in August 1999. In July 2000 it improved slightly, so its base price of $1599 includes:
That price does not include a monitor. For a 17-inch monitor (having a 16-inch viewable image size), Apple charges $499.
The price does not include a floppy-disk drive. To handle floppy disks, most Mac buyers pay $135 for a SuperDisk Drive (which can handle traditional 3½-inch 1.4-megabyte floppy disks and also 120-megabyte LS-120 SuperDisks).
Your total starting cost is therefore $1599 (for the base system) + $499 (for a 17-inch monitor) + $135 (for a SuperDisk Drive), which adds up to $2233. (You’ll also want to add a printer.)
You can buy directly from Apple (at 800-MY-APPLE) or from your local Apple dealer. Many dealers offer rebates and include extra RAM.
In August 1998, Apple began selling simplified Macs, to help beginners use the Internet. Each simplified Mac is called an Internet Mac (iMac).
The original version cost $1299:
Afterwards, Apple switched to better versions and also dropped the price:
The iMac looks out-of-this-world!
Instead of being old-fashioned white or beige, the iMac comes in eye-popping colors.
To publicize the iMac, Apple invented many hip slogans, such as “I think, therefore iMac.”
The iMac is a good deal, if you’re satisfied with its small screen (15-inch instead of 17-inch). If you need a bigger screen, get a standard Power Mac instead.
The iMac’s price does not include a floppy-disk drive.
The original iMac’s mouse was circular, so it looked like a hockey puck or yo-yo. It was cute but confused beginners who couldn’t tell which way to turn it. The September 2000 iMac’s mouse is oblong and more practical; it’s called the Apple Pro Mouse.
Your iMac normally comes with a “1-year warranty”, which says Apple will fix the hardware if it breaks during the first year. Your iMac normally comes with just “3 months of tech support”, which means Apple will give you free help about hardware and the operating system for just 3 months.
In October 1999, Apple invented a souped-up iMac, fancy enough to edit movies made with a digital video camera. That iMac was called the iMac Digital Video (iMac DV). At the same time, Apple invented an even fancier iMac, called the iMac DV Special Edition (iMac DV SE). Here are the specs:
Each includes an 8M video RAM, a DVD drive (instead of a CD-ROM drive), iMovie (a movie-editing program) and two FireWire ports (so you can attach your Mac to two high-speed devices, such as digital video cameras).
In July 2000, Apple switched to these improved versions:
The $999 version includes a CD-ROM drive; the other versions include DVD.
If you want a new iMac DV but don’t have $999 in your pocket, no problem!
Back in 1991, Apple began selling notebook computers, called PowerBooks. In 1997, Apple began selling an improved version, called the PowerBook G3.
The newest Powerbook is the PowerBook G3. It includes a built-in keyboard, touchpad (which Apple calls a “trackpad”), 56K modem, and lithium battery. It comes in three versions.
Since no floppy drive is included, add $135 for a SuperDisk Drive.
In 1995, Apple’s executives began letting other companies make clones of Macs.
But in 1997, Apple had a change of heart and withdrew the licenses of all the clone makers except Umax. Apple restricted Umax to making just clones that are “junk” (priced under $1000).
Should you buy a Mac?
When the Mac first came out, computer experts loved it and praised it for being easier than an IBM PC.
Then Microsoft invented Windows, which made the IBM PC resemble a Mac.
Now it’s Apple’s turn to play catch-up. I wish Apple well!
Apple faces a new problem: since practically everybody has switched to buying IBM clones (with Windows 98) instead of Macs, most programmers aren’t bothering to write Mac programs anymore.
The big exception to Mac’s downfall is the graphics-art community.
Some universities standardized on Macs because Apple Computer Inc. gave those universities a discount. As the discounts expire, I expect most of those universities will shift to buying IBM clones instead.
After being founded by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, Apple’s leadership changed.
Steve Wozniak got in an airplane crash that hurt his head and gave him amnesia, so he left the company and enrolled in college under a fake name (“Rocky Clark”). After he graduated, he returned to Apple Computer Company quietly. Steve Jobs managed the company.
Though Apple was successful, Steve Jobs’ strategies upset some computerists.
Apple Computer Inc. donated computers to schools for three reasons: to be nice, get a tax write-off, and lure schools into buying Apples (to be compatible with the Apples that the schools received free). But if Apple were really nice, it would have lowered prices to let low-income consumers afford them. Apple sold just to the “chic”, not the poor.
Steve & Steve both left Apple and went separate ways.
Apple’s next head was John Sculley, a marketer who used to be a vice-president of Pepsi. He made Pepsi the #2 soft drink (just behind Coke) and kept Apple the #2 microcomputer company (just behind IBM).
Apple’s next head was Michael Spindler, an efficient German who dropped Apple’s costs and prices. But in 1995, Apple’s profits plunged for three reasons:
In January 1996, Apple’s board of directors fired him and replaced him with Gil Amelio. To cut costs, he fired lots of employees. Then the board fired him.
Now Steve Jobs is back in charge. He’s popular.