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The following three posters are part of the collection of 14 posters commemorating Macintosh’s 20th birthday Link points to external site. They present the Macintosh mouse (and the ideas behind it), first Macintosh GUI, and three initial Mac applications.

The posters’ original size is 50×70 cm, but they can be printed in smaller formats, down to A3 (otherwise some of the text might be illegible). Print-quality PDF files are available free of charge to anyone interested.

This image can be zoomedMouse
User interface
This image can be zoomedUser interface
This image can be zoomedApplications


[Mouse poster]

The original 1984’s advertisement stated “If you can point, you can use a Macintosh. You do it at baseball games. At the counter in grocery stores. And every time you let your fingers do the walking.” This of course refers to one of the Macintosh’s most distinctive features – its one-button mouse.

The mouse came to Macintosh project straight from Lisa, and it didn’t change much in functionality and appearance. However, the Apple Lisa mouse was substantially better than its direct predecessor designed over at Xerox PARC laboratory.

Xerox’s device was more or less a prototype, used in laboratories by skilled engineers. It had three buttons (each one as important as the other) and when it got dirty, it had to be taken apart for cleaning – literally! Hovey-Kelley Design, hired by Apple, did the hard work of turning this prototype into a mouse which could be mass-produced and was simple enough to use and clean by an average user.

Interestingly enough, Jef Raskin was opposed to the mouse at first, prefering joysticks, trackballs or tablets (and having evidence that they are more efficient pointing devices). However, he was also the person advocating having just one button on the mouse. (“So it’s extremely difficult to push the wrong button,” to quote the aforementioned brochure again.)

This was and remains one of the most controversial Mac issues and not a year comes by without some Macintosh fans asking, demanding or simply wishing for even just one more button. But Apple still sticks to the original premise, and their 21st century mice went even further, with no visible button and the whole upper body of the mouse acting as one.

However, back in 1984 it wasn’t the single button that attracted most of the attention – it was the very presence of the mouse itself. Macintosh succeeded at what Xerox Alto, Xerox Star, and Apple Lisa couldn’t – popularizing the use of the mouse (along with its revolutionary GUI) and introducing the world to a device as powerful, as it was simple, and now such natural concepts as “point and click” and “drag and drop.”

[User Interface poster]

Contrary to popular belief, Macintosh wasn’t first to have commercial Graphical User Interface based on nowadays omnipresent windows, icons and menus – it was preceded by both Xerox Star in 1981, and Apple Lisa in 1983. However, Macintosh was the first to popularize such interface, and it was directly responsible for the following outbreak of GUIs.

After decades of living in a world of mouse-driven interfaces, it might be hard to imagine what a revolution they were. “No more guessing what the computer wants. No more memorizing long commands with names only a programmer could love.” Pointing instead of typing. Doing instead of describing. Seeing instead of imagining.

Of course, the first System (later renamed to Mac OS) was extremely limited – after all, it occupied only half of 400 KB disk. Due to hardware restrictions, it was crippled even more than Lisa’s GUI released a year earlier. It lacked not only multitasking, but even simple task switching – only a couple of “desk accessories” (such as calculator and clock) could be run concurrently. The contents of the trash can were deleted with each reboot, and many operations required a lot of disk swapping. However, it managed to familiarize general public with such ideas as clicking, double-clicking, copy and paste, drag and drop, WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), direct manipulation and desktop metaphor. They are second nature to most of us today, but we owe them to Macintosh.

Looking at its virtual desktop, we will see that not that much really changed during the last twenty years. We still have a trash can, we still drag icons to copy or move documents, we still use menus, we still resize the windows the same way.

Many specialists consider this is a mistake. After all, Mac’s GUI was created when the average user had handful of files on handful of floppy disk. Nowadays everyone accesses millions of files on thousands of computers and the “every file as concrete object” vision starts to cause more and more trouble.

We have yet to see what the next revolution in human-computer interaction will be and who will ignite it. In the meanwhile, graphical user interfaces still evolve and it is very likely that the Macintosh-like interaction will continue to grace our screens for years to come.

[Applications poster]

While pages could be filled describing the ideas behind Mac user interface, it is hard to write about early Macintosh software, because... there simply was none.

And that’s not so big an exaggeration as you might think. Despite Apple claiming that it learned from the failure of Lisa (lack of applications was one of its culprits), it took months for the software companies to start releasing applications. The situation was so grim and the wait so lengthy, that Personal Computing magazine put a big “Macintosh Software: Is The Wait Over?” on its cover. But it was in December 1984, and for the preceding year the Macintosh users were stuck with only a handful of programs – most from Apple itself.

Actually, in January 1984, only two applications were available: MacPaint and MacWrite – and both were bundled with the computer. Shortly thereafter, a nifty spreadsheet called Multiplan was released by no one else, but... Microsoft. Bill Gates actually appeared in Macintosh ads himself, saying that “the next generation of interesting software will be made on a Macintosh, not an IBM PC.” Back then Microsoft’s little Interface Manager was still in development, and who would’ve suspected that years later it will conquer the world as Windows?

But operating system wars aside, the very choice of those three applications perfectly characterized the way of thinking behind Macintosh. It was not the software aimed at hobbyists. Or programmers. Or engineers. This was the software for regular people, who wanted to write a letter to a friend, draw a picture or calculate home budget. One magazine stated that “the Macintosh is the only machine in recent history to be offered without a programming language” – this might be natural these days, but back in 1984 was considered a very bold move.

Fortunately, soon enough more programs started appearing. Among those, two probably most important – Aldus PageMaker, which started the DTP revolution, and Adobe Photoshop, to this date the number one graphic package.

Apple itself also continued writing software, never losing the user-oriented approach. Its recent iSync, iCal or the iLife application suite were considered milestones in user-friendliness. And quite recently the history seemed to come full circle. In a strange twist of fate and a rather unprecedented move, Apple released its iTunes application to use under... Microsoft Windows.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Apple without arrogantly touting it “the best Windows app ever.”

Page added on 20th March 2004, and updated on 4th October 2004.

Copyright © 2002-2006 Marcin Wichary, unless stated otherwise.