Like most Indian kids in small Indian cities, I grew up with Windows. My formative years were spent with such legends like Windows 95, and 98. Later while at an engineering college, I was not only an avid Windows XP user but would spend sleepless nights laughing derisively about Apple and its overpriced products that I have never used but had heard were useless. It wasn’t until much later, when I had finished my master’s and was living in Britain that I could afford those overpriced Apple machines, that I picked one up. By then I was tired of Windows Vista and the plan was that I will pick up a white Macbook to try it out and return it within the liberal British 14-day return period. That never happened. That Macbook led to Macbook Pros and to iPhones and to iPads, so much so that you will be hard-pressed to find anyone else in India who is buried so deep within the Apple ecosystem.
Last week, Apple celebrated the 30th anniversary of the first Macintosh computer. It all started with an advertisement. On January 22, 1984, millions of Americans sitting before their television screens to catch a game of American football at the Superbowl were treated to the visual of a dystopian future ruled by a televised ‘Big Brother’. The Apple commercial directed by Ridley Scott and now recognised as a masterpiece showed a line of people marching through a long tunnel monitored by a string of televisions and listening to the Big Brother on a huge television screen in an allusion to George Orwell’s famous novel 1984. Those marchers themselves were an allusion to the drab IBM PCs that were prevalent at the time. Just as the Big Brother ends his speech with the words ‘we shall prevail’, a hammer thrown by a nameless colourfully dressed runner wearing a white tank top with a cubist picture of Apple’s computer on it shatters the screen shocking the people watching it. The commercial ends with the words “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984’.”
True to the commercial, the first Macintosh was a revolutionary device. In the truest sense of the word it was the first real Personal Computer. Until then computers were considered to be hard-to-use machines that were used by a select few. They required users to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of programming and were operated by inputting a series of commands through the keyboard onto a black screen that depicted green text. The Macintosh, which had a nine-inch 512x384 monochrome display with 128KB of RAM and which introduced the 3.5-inch floppy disk and which sold for $2,495, was an entirely different beast. Most importantly, it had a graphical user interface which depicted the screen as a virtual desk with folders, windows and office icons. It was controlled using a new pointer device called the mouse.
By making it easier for anyone and everyone to use a computer, the Macintosh would democratise the use of computers whose effect would be felt in every industry for the next 30 years. Later Microsoft would liberally borrow elements of the Macintosh and, with Bill Gates’ ingenuity, go on to rule the world.
But most of the technologies we have today like tablets, smartphones and the Internet draw from the moment when Jobs showed off the Macintosh. The launch of the iPhone is usually called the greatest contribution of Steve Jobs. History tells us that it came 30 years ago.
The writer is a tech geek. Email: email@example.com