A family of desktop and laptop computers from Apple and the first computer to popularize the graphical user interface (GUI). Although a Macintoshe was commonly called a "Mac," Apple eventually changed the brand officially to "Mac."
The combination of Mac hardware and software has been consistent over the years, providing an ease of use that Mac users have enjoyed. Starting in 2006, Macs began using Intel x86 chips and can run Windows natively either as an alternative OS or simultaneously side-by-side in the same machine (see Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion). Prior to the switch to Intel chips, Windows and DOS applications could run in a Mac using a Windows emulator such as Virtual PC.
For an overview of Apple's Mac line, see Macintosh models.
Since the mid-1980s, it has been essentially a Mac vs. PC world for personal computers, with Linux-based PCs gaining a little ground after the millennium.
The First Macs
The original Macintosh, introduced in 1984, contained one floppy disk drive and 128KB of memory. Its "high-rise" cabinet design and built-in 9" monochrome screen were unique. Maintained for a number of years and streamlined in its Classic model, the high-rise gave way to more traditional cabinetry for a while. Starting in the late 1990s, Apple returned to its roots by introducing the iMac and restoring its flair for distinctive cabinetry.
The first Macs were powered by Motorola's 32-bit 68K family of CPUs. In 1994, Apple introduced the Power Macs, which used the higher-performance PowerPC chip designed by Apple, Motorola and IBM. Power Macs ran native PowerPC applications and emulated traditional Mac 68K applications. Over the years, PowerPC chips provided substantial increases in performance.
In 2006, Apple began to switch the Mac line to Intel's x86 CPUs. The first Macs powered by Intel chips were the iMac desktop and MacBook Pro laptop (see Mactel). See G3, G4, G5, HFS, Mac OS X and Apple.
The First Mac
The original Mac was a self-contained unit with a 9" monochrome screen and a unique silhouette. (Image courtesy of Apple Inc.)
Always the Innovator
Apple has created many original designs. For example, this PowerBook was the first laptop with a wide screen and titanium body.
The History of the Mac Interface
The graphical user interface (GUI) was actually developed by Xerox and introduced on its Star workstation in 1981. Apple borrowed heavily from the Star, and subsequently, others copied the Mac, moving the GUI down the line to Windows, OS/2, Unix and Linux.
The Mac interface was immediately popular with non-technical people. Instead of typing in a command to delete a file as in DOS, you could drag it to an on-screen trashcan. Although common today, it was a breakthrough to have such capability on a personal computer in the 1980s.
The Mac also used consistent menus, and Apple's guidelines for application design were generally followed by developers. In operation, the operating system and applications were, and still are, somewhat indistinguishable, and Apple has always tried to keep technical jargon to a minimum.
The First Mac GUI
This is a screen shot of MacPaint on the first Macintosh. The Mac's graphical ability made it a natural for graphics shops and desktop publishing. It might have been slow, but it was far more affordable than the workstations used for such purposes in the 1980s. (Image courtesy of Apple Inc.)
The Mac GUI
Today's Mac desktop looks a lot different than the first Mac in 1984. As with any computer, the larger the monitor, the more windows can be displayed side-by-side on screen.
Why Aren't There More Macs?
The Mac came out in 1984, three years after the DOS-based PC. Although its graphical interface was simple to use, and it eliminated the technical quagmire DOS users faced when adding a new device to their PCs, there were several reasons why the Mac did not overtake the PC.
DOS Was Faster
DOS PCs were much faster. It takes much more CPU power to display graphics than text, and the early Mac hardware was too underpowered for such a sophisticated operating system.
Too Much Mousing
The command languages that could automate myriad tasks in DOS were absent in the Mac. There was sound reason for the expression, "real programmers don't use mice."
In addition, Apple initially overemphasized the mouse so much that it gave little thought to essential keyboard commands. This was hardly a way to gain acceptance in the business world where keyboard-intensive word processing was the largest application.
Mac applications were eventually enhanced, and speed was dramatically increased, but the DOS world was too entrenched by the time those improvements came. Windows 3.0, which offered a graphical interface with some of the Mac's advantages, ran as an extension to DOS and was its natural successor. Windows 95 added more features, and by this time, the world was buying Windows.
Macs Cost More
The Mac was always pricier than a PC, which purchasing agents found hard to justify. Although many corporate users bought their own Macs due to their aversion to PCs, technical personnel were not fond of supporting them. They sweated bullets dealing with DOS and Windows. Supporting yet another environment was not met with enthusiasm.
Unlike the PC, the Mac is Apple's proprietary technology, and except for one brief period, there is no real Mac clone industry (see Macintosh clone
). Apple maintained its sole source status while the PC industry has numerous vendors.
As a result of these combined factors, the Mac was used sporadically in the corporate world, but due to its natural bent, became popular in desktop publishing and graphic design. The Mac quickly became the de facto standard in graphics arts.
Apple moved to Intel chips in 2006, and since then, many Windows users have switched to Macs. Combined with the Mac's ability to run Windows applications at a decent performance level and the increasing use of Web-based applications that are platform-independent, Mac usage is ever expanding. At the start of 2012, the Mac had about a 6% global share and 14% U.S. share of the personal computer market.