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30 years on, Mac still a game-changer

In January 1984, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and president John Sculley debuted the new Macintosh desktop computer.

Associated Press/File

In January 1984, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and president John Sculley debuted the new Macintosh desktop computer.

NEW YORK — Look around. Many of the gadgets you see drew inspiration from the original Mac computer.

Computers at the time typically required people to type in commands. Once the Mac came out 30 years ago Friday, people could instead navigate with a graphical user interface. Available options were organized into menus. People clicked icons to run programs and dragged and dropped files to move them.

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The Mac introduced real-world metaphors such as using a trash can to delete files. It brought us fonts and other tools once limited to professional printers. Most importantly, it made computing and publishing easy enough for everyday people to learn and use.

Apple sparked a revolution in computing with the Mac. In turn, that sparked a revolution in publishing as people began creating fancy newsletters, brochures, and other publications from their desktops.

These concepts are so fundamental today that it’s hard to imagine a time when they existed only in research labs — primarily Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. Apple cofounder Steve Jobs and his team got much of its inspiration from PARC, which they visited while designing the Mac.

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The Mac has had ‘‘incredible influence on pretty much everybody’s lives all over the world since computers are now so ubiquitous,’’ said Brad Myers, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. ‘‘Pretty much all consumer electronics are adopting all of the same kinds of interactions.’’

Apple didn’t invent these tools, nor was the Mac the first to use them. Xerox Corp. sold its own mouse-based Star computer, and Apple’s Lisa beat the Mac by months. It’s impossible to say what would have happened if those machines hadn’t flopped with consumers or whether others would have come along if the Mac hadn’t.

But the Mac prevailed and thus influenced generations of gadgets that followed.

With the Mac came ‘‘the dawn of the notion of we can waste computing power to make it easier for people,’’ said Jim Morris, who worked on the Xerox Alto before joining Carnegie Mellon by the time the Mac came out. ‘‘The Macintosh was not a business machine.’’

Tim Bajarin, a Creative Strategies analyst who has followed Apple for more than three decades, says he was baffled, yet intrigued when he saw the Mac’s unveiling at an Apple shareholders meeting in 1984.

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