Apple didn't just used to make computers, phones, tablets and iPad cases. It used to make printers, too. And in many ways it was the LaserWriter and not the Mac itself that really got Apple’s new computing platform up and running. The Mac was fine and fancy, cute and cool, but the LaserWriter was actually a useful professional tool and not just something to swoon over – although it was worth a swoon itself.
It was the first laser printer to utilise Adobe’s PostScript language that described fonts in outline form – therefore allowing for sizes from tiny to huge (or at least 72 point), rotation and position, as well as mixtures of fonts and bitmaps on the same page. Other laser printers relied on more primitive, inferior layout languages.
The first LaserWriter had only 13 fonts: Times (4), Helvetica (4), Courier (4) and Symbol (1). ITC Zapf Chancery (Medium Italic) was planned as part of this set, but the Type 1 version wasn't ready in time, according to TypeTalk.
These were the days when Apple and Adobe were bosom buddies, and the two companies signed their PostScript agreement just one month before the introduction of the Macintosh. Apple planned an entire Macintosh Office suite of tools, including a fileserver and Unix workstation – the latter two of which never showed up for the Office party.
The marriage of Mac and LaserWriter transformed desktop publishing, as it could be used to accurately proof professional print jobs and even handle smaller-run publishing itself. With its innovative LocalTalk networking connection the printer could be shared by multiple Macs.
The LaserWriter ran a Motorola 68000 processor at 12MHz, and so was more powerful than the 8MHz Mac itself. But power and PostScript came at a price: $6,995 to be precise.
Until 1987 the LaserWriter was a creamy white colour compared to the less-bright beige of the Mac and other Apple products. But after that date it conformed to the new greyer Platinum colour scheme that was used across all Apple hardware. Over-excited at the launch of the eMate a few months earlier Apple added some translucent green parts to 1997’s LaserWriter 8500, beating even the original iMac in the non-beige race. This flagrant breach of the rules was punished by the 8500 being the last LaserWriter ever.
Further reading: Four reasons the LaserWriter mattered.
Mac OS X 10.5 was named Leopard but actually changed its spots more than the other big cat versions of OS X. It sported 300 new features, including a redesigned Finder (including Cover Flow), Dock (now in 3D!) and menu bar, as well as Stacks, Spaces, Time Machine, Quick Look, Boot Camp, Front Row and Photo Booth.
Ominously for the Mac Leopard was the first operating system actually delayed by the company focusing on the iPhone. It was supposed to debut at the end of 2006, but got shunted back to October 2007. The shame of it.
It was also the last OS X version to work on PowerPC Macs, although some of its functions did require an Intel chip.
The Leopard DVD came in a smaller box than previous versions of OS X, and featured a whizzy lenticular cover, making the X float above a purple galaxy, as on the rather gloomy Leopard desktop wallpaper.
Mac OS X 10.6 was much less interesting, and so was known as Snow Leopard – an animal that looks just like a Leopard but a little more cool.
Steven Levy used to write a popular column in Macworld magazine, and was a senior editor at Newsweek before becoming a senior writer at Wired. He is the author of the book ‘Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer That Changed Everything’, which was one of the first to delve into the history and illuminating characters at Apple Computer. In 2004 he wrote a cover story for Newsweek that included an interview with Apple CEO Steve Jobs and surprisingly announced the latest iPod before Steve had the chance to do so in front of a fawning Expo audience.
Apple really pissed people off when, after ten years, it changed its 30-pin iPhone/iPod/iPad connector, starting with the iPhone 5. Great, Lightning has a properly cool name (it’s the only flash allowed in the Apple universe), and is super skinny, and, yes, it fits in either way round… but what about all the millions of speakers, docks, battery cases and gizmos that require the old 30-pin connector?
Does Apple care? Couldn’t it have at least used a similar-sized, universal micro USB plug? Of course not, but it does sell two adaptors (£25 and £30) as if it didn’t have enough money already!
Despite having a stormy name just like Thunderbolt today’s Lightning connector is closer to USB 2.0 than 3.0 speeds, so it’s not really any faster than the old 30-pin connector. It allowed Apple to make the iPhone 5 thinner, and, you know, sell a few more adaptors.
As King of the Jungle, the lion is surely the daddy of all the big cats. What on Earth is Apple going to call the ninth version of OS X – or is that a clue that Mac OS 11 is on the way?
Mac OS X 10.7 Lion (July 2011) features 250 new features, including multitouch gestures, full-screen apps, Mission Control, the Mac App Store, Launchpad, Resume, Auto Save, Versions, AirDrop, and improvements to Mail.
It is the first Mac OS version not to ship on a physical disk or disc, being available only as a download from the Mac App Store.
Before the Mac there was 1983’s Lisa, Apple’s first stab at a computer graphical user interface. Indeed the Lisa was the first commercially sold personal computer to have a GUI. The Mac is no Lisa 2.0 but the similarities are obvious.
It was the Lisa team, under Steve Jobs, that visited Xerox Parc in 1979 to see the mouse-based innovative Smalltalk user interface research – and not the Mac team as legend has it.
Indeed there was much animosity between the Lisa and Macintosh teams.
“The Lisa project reportedly cost $50 million and used more than 200 person-years of effort,” said Byte magazine in 1983. The Apple II took just 25 person years to create from scratch.
However when Jobs was bounced from the Lisa team he determined that the Mac would be the bigger platform and he took his Xerox secrets to the smaller Mac team. The Lisa was as good as dead right then.
But, at the time, it was recognised as a revolutionary product.
"For more than two years, stories about the project have circulated – focused around the notion that this would be the company’s breakthrough product for the 1980s, intended to do for office systems what the original Apple did for the entire field of personal computing," wrote Michael Rogers in the February 1983 edition of Personal Computing magazine in a feature on 'The Birth of Lisa'.
Steve Jobs’ daughter Lisa was born in 1978 – the same year Apple began work on the computer. Andy Hertzfeld of the original Apple team reports that both “Lisa” and “Mac” were just internal code-names and were planned to be replaced with some marketing-led titles. This was a period when all of Apple’s development projects were given women’s names, according to the Personal Computing article.
When the name Lisa stuck they tried to make it into an acronym, with the clumsy result being “Local Integrated Software Architecture”. It was such a crass mouthful that it was mocked as "Let's Invent Some Acronym" by beardy wags.
In some ways the Lisa was more technically advanced than the Mac. For example, it featured Protected Memory, a feature the Mac wouldn’t gain until Lisa Jobs was an adult, with the arrival of OS X in 2001.
But the $10,000 Lisa was not a success. The Lisa was a loser. It suffered the double indignity of being rebranded the Macintosh XL in 1985 (oh, the shame of it!) and then being mass dumped in a Utah landfill in 1989 as a tax write off.
That’s harsh for what the then influential Byte magazine considered in 1983 more influential than the IBM PC: “The Lisa system is the most important development in computers in the last five years, easily outpacing IBM’s introduction of the Personal Computer in August 1981”.
It makes you wonder what the hell they did with all the unsold G4 Cubes…
‘The Little Kingdom: The Private Story of Apple Computer’ (1984) by Michael Moritz was one of the first books exploring the people and products of Apple Computer’s early years. It was recently updated with a bolt-on chapter, as ‘Return To The Little Kingdom’ (2009). I think Moritz might now need to write a few more chapters just a couple of years later…
Apple fans love Star Wars, and Apple founder Steve Jobs bought Pixar from Star Wars creator George Lucas when Lucas was at a financial low point following the loss of merchandising revenue after Return of the Jedi, an expensive divorce and the disastrous Howard The Duck movie. NeXT founder Jobs probably sympathised with his plight.
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