The computers we use today derive their core experience from Apple's Mac, but the Mac also popularised other tech that's now standard
It was 30 years ago this month that Apple debuted the Macintosh, the iconic and expensive computer that has hugely influenced the personal technology we take for granted today.
Apple had already popularized computing in the late 1970s with the Apple II, but 1981's IBM PC moved the needle from hobbyists to laypeople everywhere. The Mac was Apple's answer to the PC -- and what an answer it was, as InfoWorld's first Macintosh review (on March 26, 1984) showed!
What follows are the key technologies that the Mac brought to everyone, technology that became widely adopted and now forms some of the very essence of personal computing.
1. The graphical user interface
People who used computers before the Mac recall they were all about text -- green, light blue, or amber dot-matrix-style letters on a black background. Building on work at Xerox PARC, Apple changed that, bringing us a screen in which everything was a graphic, including text. The Mac came with MacPaint to make that fact that crystal-clear. (You can still use the original Mac OS via James Friends' emulation website.)
Today, GUIs (graphical user interfaces) are the norm, whether in Windows, Linux, Android, iOS -- even ATMs, car stereos, and kiosks. Folder icons, trashcan icons, and the desktop concept came from the Mac. What we see and do on a computer is much more like the real world than before the Mac.
In a GUI, text is treated as a graphic, not as a fixed set of characters like in a typewriter (remember those?). So they can differ in design, size, and even character spacing. In other words, they are digital fonts -- malleable in a way that physical typefaces never were.
The original Mac fonts were bitmaps, rendered by an OS service called QuickDraw in a fashion similar to dot-matrix printers. But in 1985's Mac OS and LaserWriter printer, Apple adopted Adobe's PostScript technology, which treats fonts like drawings so that they can be manipulated in all sorts of visual ways. Aldus released PageMaker, which used PostScript for more than text, and the desktop publishing revolution began.
3. The mouse
The mouse is another technology that Apple took out of academia and made real. The Mac's GUI required something more than a keyboard to manipulate and a pointing device was that "something more." Ironically, Apple long resisted features like multiple buttons and scroll wheels found in PCs, insisting on a "pure" one-button experience that made less sense in the age of large screens and long Web pages.
Today, all modern computers use mice or similar pointing devices. Tablets and smartphones also use the same fundamental concept, though in the form of your own fingers
4. Local networking
The Mac hardly invented networking -- Novell's NetWare disk-sharing tech debuted the year before the Mac, for example -- but the Mac made networking easy, a feat that took the PC years to duplicate. The secret was AppleTalk's peer-to-peer protocol that lets Macs and devices like printers communicate practically without configuration over Apple's proprietary LocalTalk connectors.
AppleTalk wasn't a clean protocol, so network admins hated its network chattiness. As Internet protocol and Ethernet matured in the 1990s, Apple eventually dumped its own networking technologies, removing the last vestiges in 2012. But networking remains easier to this day on a Mac than on a PC, thanks to largely to 2002's zero-config Bonjour peer networking (also chatty, alas).
5. The CD-ROM drive
Apple's Mac was the first personal computer to come with a CD-ROM drive for use with both data and music. Apple long had a love affair with music, supporting the MIDI protocol as far back as the Apple II Plus, and musicians took to the Mac because it both supported MIDI and could display music graphically. But the CD-ROM's inclusion in a Mac (1992's Mac IIvx) was the first step to marry music and computing for the masses.
Apple bought a music player called Sound Jam in 1999, and in 2001, it released iTunes, its music player and manager based on the technology. Over the years, iTunes has become the core of much more than music.
iTunes today is the foundation of Apple's media business, which transformed the music industry and made online music the way nearly everyone gets music today -- and, increasingly, is doing the same for video. It's also the hub for the iPod, iPad, and iPhone, as well as a key player in Apple's AirPlay streaming technology, which Google's Android ecosystem is doggedly copying.
In 2002, Apple added Bluetooth support to Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, making the Mac the first PC to support the emerging short-range wireless protocol. For many years, its use was largely limited to headsets but has since become a common way to connect peripherals like mice, Braille readers, speakers, and heart-rate monitors. Windows XP Service Pack 2 supported Bluetooth only two years later, but Bluetooth is now standard in laptops of all types as well as mobile devices.
Apple continues to be ahead of the game when it comes to Bluetooth, having adopted the low-power version two years ago in iOS devices and enabling an ecosystem of peripherals unmatched on other devices.