As Apple celebrates its 25th anniversary, we look at the company's five greatest successes and the five biggest mistakes that have helped shaped the Apple we know today.

Technology enthusiasts live for significant anniversaries, which allow us to take a retrospective view of something in the news and look back on events which, in the moment, might not have seemed so momentous.

Twenty-five years ago, Apple took the wraps off the first Macintosh, with a Ridley Scott-directed advert that aired in the US during the 1984 Super Bowl, and went on to become iconic.

In these heady days when Apple seems to be gaining ground in a number of places and ways, it's important to remember that everything that followed from the first Mac was not a success. If things had gone differently, maybe Microsoft would be the cool, hip upstart now.

Microsoft Windows remains by far the world's most popular operating system, but it's showing its first signs of weakness, with Apple's OS achieving a 10 percent market share for the first time since analytics firm Net Applications records began.

Whichever way you look at it, the original Mac has had a significant impact on the modern Windows-based PC market, with Apple devotees claiming Microsoft's interface and basic PC productivity software owes a lot to Mac developments in the 80s.
So what did Apple do right in the early days, and which mistakes allowed Microsoft to capitalise? Here's a collection of five successes and five mistakes Apple has made over the past 25 years.

Apple's smooth moves

We've checked out Apple's five biggest successes of the past 25 years.

1. The Human Interface Guidelines
What did computers look like in 1983? When you turned them on, what did you see?

The chances are, it was a green cursor on a black screen. You had to know how to do what you wanted to do, and then were limited to what you knew how to do - a vicious circle of limitation.

The first Mac, in 1984, was something totally new and different to almost everyone in the computer and non-computer worlds alike. The windows/icons/mouse/pointer (WIMP) interface, first pioneered at Xerox PARC, was intelligible at a glance and set the paradigm for almost every personal computing interface to follow.

Still, it all could have gone bad if not for the coherence and progressive discovery offered by the carefully designed Mac user interface.

That was the result of a lot of work, both theoretical and practical, by Apple's Human Interface Group on how people looked at and reacted to various parts of an interface. They codified and published the principles and applications of the Mac interface as the Human Interface Guidelines (HIG), showing everything from how to make a button to where the drop shadows should go on screen to how quickly a visual cue should appear after a user click.

The public HIG encouraged developers to produce applications that looked and acted like the familiar Mac interface. Users weren't confused with a whole new way to save, or move, or do anything, each time they loaded a new program.
Of course, things change, and there have been blips along the way - especially when Apple moved to Mac OS X.

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NEXT PAGE: Even more of Apple's biggest successes of the past 25 years

  1. The highs and lows of a quarter of a century
  2. Even more of Apple's biggest successes of the past 25 years
  3. The iPod, the iPhone and the iTunes Store
  4. More ways in which Apple went wrong
  5. The original Mac concept

As Apple celebrates its 25th anniversary, we look at the company's five greatest successes and the five biggest mistakes that have helped shaped the Apple we know today.

2. MacPaint/MacWrite
Bundled with the original Mac were these two breakthrough applications that allowed users to ‘paint' by clicking and dragging the mouse, and to create and edit text files in a then-new 'what you see is what you get' (wysiwyg - pronounced 'wizzywig') way.

These programs turned every Mac in a store display into an interactive advertisement - something that was more than an experienced programmer could have easily done on previous computers.

These two apps, with toolbars and drop-down menus, set the stage for every application that came after - including ones like Word, which tossed MacWrite into the dustbin of history.

3. The all-in-one design
The first Mac came in a new shape: a user-friendly, all-contained, all-in-one design (except for keyboard and mouse). It even had a built-in handle on the top for moving it around, and carrying bags were available for maximum portability, though it was a heavy package to lug around. But heavy or not, it was a lot easier to move and set up than the cable-fests offered by competitors.

By necessity, Apple moved away from the combined Mac/monitor design, allowing users to pick and replace monitors and easily access expansion slots and the like. Then in 1998, Apple CEO Steve Jobs debuted the iMac. The 'i' was for internet and the iMac, with its simple setup, brought back the 'computer for the rest of us' trope for the connected world.

The iMac's descendents, including the eMac, have been iconic, and among Apple's best sellers. In fact, the current iMac line has seemed to draw Apple's focus away from its pro desktops, which haven't been refreshed in a long while.

The original iMac (photo: Masashige Motoe, cc-by-sa 2.0 licence)

4. Easy upgrades

Linux and Unix users like to show off how they can select just the right version of the OS, recompile, read manuals, scour online forums for new hardware configurations and eventually wind up with their operating system of choice running on their hardware of choice.

Corporations with a large and not-as-technical user base have to provide a smoother path when making hardware or software changes.

Microsoft has often shown how hard it can be. Look at broken drivers when moving from Windows XP  to Vista, problems with 64-bit software, and the ongoing nightmare of backward compatibility.

And yet Apple has managed to pull it off not once, not twice, but at least four times. They've migrated users from 68k to PowerPC to Intel processor architectures - no easy process, each time. Apple managed to make each change seamless in software to users: with each move, there was a transparent emulation technology in place from the start.

And the change from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X, while bumpy for a few years, was smoothed by the Classic environment that allowed the reluctant to live part-time in the new operating system. We still had the OS 9 security blanket, and could work with mission-critical apps that hadn't been ported to OS X yet.

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NEXT PAGE: The iPod, the iPhone and the iTunes Store

  1. The highs and lows of a quarter of a century
  2. Even more of Apple's biggest successes of the past 25 years
  3. The iPod, the iPhone and the iTunes Store
  4. More ways in which Apple went wrong
  5. The original Mac concept

As Apple celebrates its 25th anniversary, we look at the company's five greatest successes and the five biggest mistakes that have helped shaped the Apple we know today.

5. The iPod, the iPhone and the iTunes Store

The iPod wasn't the first digital music player, not by a long shot, and when the original model was introduced, some people were sceptical to the point of calling it 'lame'. But it grew into an insanely great phenomenon, and may have changed the world. Now the iPhone is shaking up the mobile phone market too.

More than just moneymakers, the two have extended Apple's brand exponentially. Wisely, iTunes was made cross-platform, enabling the iPod to hook into more Windows users than Mac users. And both gadgets have a ‘halo' effect: love your iPod? Check out Apple's other fine products!

And even in the world of netbooks, the iPhone could be a first step toward truly mobile computing. It's not a shrunk-down PC, but something new that could work its way up toward a new and useful paradigm.

The original iPhone

And then there were the stumbles

So where did Apple go wrong? We look at the company's five biggest mistakes.

1. The Apple III
Introduced less than four years before the arrival of the Macintosh, the Apple III was supposed to be the ‘business' computer to succeed the Apple. It made sense to offer a more powerful, more 'serious' computer for the more power-hungry, more serious crowd. And Steve Wozniak, the other founder of Apple, was in on the design.

However, it didn't come together - literally, in a lot of cases. The circuit board was tightly packed, causing short circuits. One technical bulletin told users to pick up their Apple III and drop it a few inches to reseat chips. And Jobs demanded there be o fan, which caused heat-related problems in the hardware.

Other software problems, a high price and problematic backward compatibility with Apple II software all made this a big failure, and Apple's rep in the business world was pretty well damaged.

2. The Perfomas
After Apple disgorged Steve Jobs and brought in ex-soda CEO John Sculley, the latter got the idea to spew out many SKUs of Macs. This was the Perfoma line, designed to be less intimidating than the Mac itself, but the sheer landslide of barely distinguishable models was intimidating enough.

With the same basic hardware, there were educational models, direct sales models, models for sale at a mass-market retailer... each software bundle might be a little different from the others, but who could keep track?

Also, it didn't help that most Perfomas didn't perform. The quality ranged from not so great to awful. For example, the 4400 - a desktop - was supposed to be targeted at casual business users, but it was so poorly built that peripherals would suddenly not work, hardware glitches would cause hard crashes, and so on.

Needless to say, this adversely affected Apple's image of providing high-quality products. Soon after his second coming, Jobs made quality Apple's prime concern. He also quickly stripped down the product matrix: one consumer laptop, one pro laptop, one consumer desktop, one pro desktop.

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NEXT PAGE: More ways in which Apple went wrong

  1. The highs and lows of a quarter of a century
  2. Even more of Apple's biggest successes of the past 25 years
  3. The iPod, the iPhone and the iTunes Store
  4. More ways in which Apple went wrong
  5. The original Mac concept

As Apple celebrates its 25th anniversary, we look at the company's five greatest successes and the five biggest mistakes that have helped shaped the Apple we know today.

3. The clone wars
From 1995 to 1998, Apple tried something new: licensing. It's been an article of faith among Apple critics that the company made a fatal mistake in restricting Mac operating system use to actual Macs. The idea was that if Apple became just an operating system vendor, like Microsoft, it would become a monster, like Microsoft.

Shaky logic there, but Apple tried it in the non-Jobs era. But the hardware licensing agreements were awkward, shortsighted and restrictive - Apple never quite seemed to commit. And the third-party developers, without strong Apple support and with high licensing costs, couldn't find a way to offer products significantly different from Apple's own.

After Jobs' return, he decided to end the licensing experiment. His rationale: it had begun too late to really make a difference, and the clones were cutting into Apple's own sales instead of expanding the market. In late 1997, the whole shebang wound down.

4. Education
The Apple II had the closest thing to a lock on the educational market, in its day. Expensive, but solid and easy to manage, along with a great library of apps kids could use. Since then, Apple has still been strong in the educational market, but not as strong as it could be.

Certainly, some of the reasons for this were out of Apple's control. After Windows 95 was introduced, Microsoft used its hefty connections and cash to donate tons of Windows PCs to secondary schools and higher education depots. This not only trained future Windows users, but it allowed Microsoft to write off the retail costs.

Apple tended to coast in terms of pushing education sales - it has never made the kind of push vendors like Dell or IBM did.

5. Weird online strategies
In the days of online walled gardens such as AOL and CompuServe, Apple tried its own, calling it eWorld. Remember that? Not many people do.

Since then, Apple has thrown up iTools, only to abandon it. There was .Mac, which promised sort of a 'cloud' experience but cost $99 a year and never seemed to go very far. That was recently rebranded MobileMe, with more of a Web 2.0 feel, but it instantly suffered from outages. And it still cost, and still didn't work quite right.

Microsoft's Live initiative hasn't rocked the world either, but it's clear that online efforts aren't Apple's core strength, and poor services are more damaging to the brand than no services.

So there you have it. Highlights and low points from the last 25 years. Of course, there are lots more in each category. You don't live past 30 without acquiring piles of little victories and regrets.

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NEXT PAGE: The original Mac concept

  1. The highs and lows of a quarter of a century
  2. Even more of Apple's biggest successes of the past 25 years
  3. The iPod, the iPhone and the iTunes Store
  4. More ways in which Apple went wrong
  5. The original Mac concept

As Apple celebrates its 25th anniversary, we look at the company's five greatest successes and the five biggest mistakes that have helped shaped the Apple we know today.

The original Mac concept

Despite the fact that the Mac would go on to be a revolutionary product, it had humble beginnings. Commissioned in 1979, the Mac was conceived as a low-cost personal computer intended for the average consumer, with a price tag of around $500 in the US. The Mac project was initially considered a research product, and its somewhat obscure nature was one of the factors that led to its radical reimagining by Steve Jobs.

After the failure of the Apple III, the Apple board had reservations about allowing Jobs to manage another high-profile project. When Jobs asked to take over the Mac assignment, the board allowed him to do so, feeling that the relatively unknown project wasn't critical to Apple's wellbeing.

Under Jobs, the Mac went from being a low-cost computer with a traditional text-based interface to being a less-expensive version of Apple's Lisa computer. But duplicating the work happening on the Lisa wasn't the only goal Jobs had in mind. He envisioned the Mac as expanding on the Lisa's advances.

The result was a resolution by Jobs and his Mac team not only to make a 'baby Lisa' but also to turn the Mac into a product that could advance the computing industry as much as or more than the Apple II had done - or, as Jobs has been quoted as saying, to "put a dent in the universe".

The Lisa and Mac teams actually worked simultaneously on similar technologies for some time, and a rivalry between the two groups developed. The drive to develop the Mac took on an almost religious fervour, with Jobs giving T-shirts to his engineers that read '90 HRS/WK AND LOVING IT'.

Despite the passion and long hours that went into its development, the Mac slipped past its ship dates more than once - largely because the difficulty of developing the system was underestimated. After the team missed one date in 1982, Mike Markkula, chairman of Apple's board at the time, gave Jobs a woman's black undergarment, saying that it was "the Mac's last slip".

The Mac was finally unveiled on January 24, 1984.

The original Macintosh 128k (photo: Marco Mioli, All About Apple, GNU FDL 1.2 licence)

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  1. The highs and lows of a quarter of a century
  2. Even more of Apple's biggest successes of the past 25 years
  3. The iPod, the iPhone and the iTunes Store
  4. More ways in which Apple went wrong
  5. The original Mac concept