Mac at 30: The Shadow of a Smile

happy-macBen Bajarin points out that a key characteristic of Apple for the past 30 years has to make things as simple as possible for users and the same spirit that motivated the Mac in 1984 drives the iPad today. I’ll agree and go further: Apple’s dedication to user experience extends to making its customers feel happy.

As Steven Levy notes in his outstanding reflection in Wired on the launch of the Mac, “it opened with a smile.” To be precise, with the friendly “happy Mac” icon, designed with the rest of the original system icons, by
Susan Kare. The disk would spin for a while and eventually a “desktop” would appear, filled with more of Kare’s icons. Click one, using that other novel device, the mouse,  and something interesting would probably happen.

Unless you were using computers back in the early 80s, you probably don’t realize how stunningly differnet the Mac was. When you fired up an IBM PC , you heard some beeps (the Power On Startup Test). Then some cryptic configuration information appeared on the screen. Finally, if all went well, you would be presented with a line on the screen that looked like:

A:>

or, if you had a hard drive

C:>

followed by a blinking cursor. If you typed in a valid DOS command, something would happen.

The Mac wasn’t always happy. If the boot disk was missing or unreadable, it would show this puzzled icon

mac-question-mark

mac-bombAnd if the Mac crashed, as happened not infrequently in those days, you would get the dread system bomb. This was the Mac at its most DOS-ish. The Resume button, like the Continue button on early Windows error messages, did nothing useful, even when it wasn’t greyed out. And the ID number, more often than not negative, provided no useful information, at least not to ordinary mortals. But, at least, there was always that whimsical bomb.

The original Mac belonged to what was still a primitive era of personal computing. Things went wrong at a rate we would not tolerate today. But the Mac managed to mostly make its users happy by making things easy and friendly, while IBM PCs remained hostile, intimidating devices (the first usable version of Windows was six years in the future when the Mac launched.)

Apple has never lost this impulse. The original iPhone was far more complex and capable than the smart phones then on the market, but no one needed an instruction manual. You picked it up and you could figure out how to use it. The iPad, by virtue of being a some level just a big iPhone, was even more obvious.

Microsoft, by contrast, has never quite gotten the hang of this art of making users happy. The Windows 7 and Mac UIs are closer than they have ever been, and Windows Phone, while introducing a whole new UI metaphor, was relatively comfortable. Unfortunately, the effort to translate it to the PC with Windows 8 produced a hybrid mess, in which you can never live completely in the familiar world of Windows 7 or the new, but well conceived, world of the Phone-like Metro UI. It does not open with a smile, and it doesn’t make many users smile either.

Published by

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

282 thoughts on “Mac at 30: The Shadow of a Smile”

  1. We sure tolerated a lot (and still do). We would have thrown our washing machines and toasters out the window for similar performance, and our cars wouldn’t be street legal. But dang it, computers are just so enabling!

  2. I still have my original 1984 Mac sitting on my desk. I used it to write essays (and more) until the early 90s. Not sure about later models, but the first Mac has the signatures of those who worked on it, inside the case, they look kind of embossed in the plastic.

  3. Hey there! I know this is kind of off-topic, but I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest authoring a blog post or vice-versa? My blog goes over a lot of the same topics as yours, and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other. If you happen to be interested, feel free to shoot me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Great blog by the way!

  4. Howdy would you mind stating which blog platform you’re working with?
    I’m going to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having
    a difficult time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something
    unique. P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

  5. Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of this site. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very difficult to get that “perfect balance” between usability and visual appeal. I must say you have done a great job with this. Also, the blog loads super quick for me on Internet explorer. Outstanding Blog!

  6. Fantastic goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous to and you’re just extremely wonderful. I actually like what you have acquired here, really like what you are saying and the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining and you still take care of to keep it sensible. I cant wait to read much more from you. This is actually a tremendous site.

  7. Nice weblog here! Also your web site so much up very fast! What web host are you the use of? Can I get your affiliate link on your host? I desire my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol my web page: Depi.lt

  8. It is perfect time to make some plans for the long run and it
    is time to be happy. I have read this submit and if I may I want to counsel
    you few fascinating things or suggestions.
    Perhaps you could write subsequent articles relating
    to this article. I wish to learn more things about it!

  9. I think this is among the most vital information for me.
    And i’m glad reading your article. But want to remark on few general things, The
    site style is wonderful, the articles is really nice : D.
    Good job, cheers

  10. I’m amazed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both equally
    educative and entertaining, and without a doubt, you’ve hit
    the nail on the head. The issue is something too few men and women are speaking intelligently about.
    I’m very happy that I came across this in my search for something concerning this.

  11. Hey! Someone in my Facebook group shared this site with us so I came
    to give it a look. I’m definitely loving the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers!
    Great blog and outstanding design and style.

  12. Just want to say your article is as astounding. The clearness in your put up is simply great and that i can think you’re knowledgeable on this subject.
    Fine with your permission allow me to take hold of your RSS feed to stay
    updated with imminent post. Thanks a million and please keep up the gratifying work.

  13. First off I want to say wonderful blog! I had
    a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing.
    I have had a hard time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out.
    I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15
    minutes are usually wasted just trying to figure out how
    to begin. Any recommendations or tips? Many thanks!

  14. With havin so much written content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright infringement?
    My website has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either written myself or outsourced
    but it seems a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any methods to help prevent content from being stolen? I’d truly appreciate it.

  15. hey there and thank you for your information – I
    have definitely picked up something new from right
    here. I did however expertise some technical issues using this
    website, since I experienced to reload the site a lot of times previous
    to I could get it to load properly. I had been wondering if your web host is OK?
    Not that I am complaining, but slow loading
    instances times will sometimes affect your placement in google and
    could damage your high quality score if ads and marketing with Adwords.
    Anyway I’m adding this RSS to my email and can look out for much more of your respective exciting content.
    Ensure that you update this again soon.

  16. Hi there, I discovered your web site via Google even as
    looking for a comparable topic, your web site got here up, it seems great.
    I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

    Hi there, just become alert to your blog through Google, and located that it’s really informative.

    I am gonna watch out for brussels. I will be grateful should you proceed this in future.
    Many folks will probably be benefited from your writing.
    Cheers!

  17. It’s truly a great and useful piece of information.
    I am satisfied that you simply shared this helpful information with us.
    Please stay us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

  18. Hey there! I realize this is somewhat off-topic but
    I had to ask. Does running a well-established website like yours require a large amount of work?

    I’m completely new to running a blog but I do write in my journal on a
    daily basis. I’d like to start a blog so I will be able to share my experience and views online.
    Please let me know if you have any kind of suggestions or tips for new aspiring blog
    owners. Thankyou!

  19. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added”
    checkbox and now each time a comment is added
    I get several emails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?
    Cheers!

  20. Hello! This is kind of off topic but I need some help from an established blog.
    Is it hard to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick.
    I’m thinking about making my own but I’m not sure
    where to start. Do you have any points or suggestions? Cheers

  21. Wow, marvelous blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
    you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is great, let alone the content!

  22. Awesome blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from
    somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog jump out.
    Please let me know where you got your design. Appreciate it

  23. Wonderful beat ! I would like to apprentice at the same time as you amend your site, how could i subscribe for a blog website?
    The account helped me a applicable deal. I had been tiny bit familiar of
    this your broadcast provided vivid clear idea

  24. I believe this is among the most significant information for me.

    And i am happy reading your article. But wanna remark on few normal issues, The website taste is
    ideal, the articles is truly great : D. Excellent job, cheers

  25. Woah! I’m really digging the template/theme of this site.
    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very difficult to get that “perfect balance” between user friendliness
    and appearance. I must say that you’ve done a awesome job with this.
    In addition, the blog loads super quick for me on Internet explorer.
    Exceptional Blog!

  26. Great blog here! Also your website loads up fast! What host are you using?
    Can I get your affiliate link to your host?
    I wish my site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

  27. You actually make it seem really easy with your presentation however I find
    this topic to be actually something that I believe I’d never understand.
    It sort of feels too complex and very extensive for me.
    I am looking ahead to your subsequent put up, I’ll attempt to
    get the dangle of it!

  28. I’m not sure why but this site is loading extremely slow
    for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a problem
    on my end? I’ll check back later on and see if
    the problem still exists.

  29. Fascinating blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download
    it from somewhere? A design like yours with a few
    simple tweeks would really make my blog shine. Please let
    me know where you got your theme. Thank you

  30. Somebody essentially assist to make critically posts I might state.
    This is the very first time I frequented your website page and thus far?
    I amazed with the research you made to create this particular submit amazing.
    Wonderful task!

  31. Hello there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and
    found that it’s truly informative. I’m going to watch out for
    brussels. I will appreciate if you continue this in future.

    Many people will be benefited from your writing.
    Cheers!

  32. Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before
    but after checking through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.

    Nonetheless, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and
    checking back frequently!

  33. I have been exploring for a little bit for any high
    quality articles or weblog posts on this kind of space .

    Exploring in Yahoo I eventually stumbled upon this web site.
    Reading this info So i am satisfied to convey that I
    have a very just right uncanny feeling I came upon exactly what I
    needed. I such a lot certainly will make sure to don?t
    forget this web site and provides it a look on a relentless basis.

  34. This design is spectacular! You certainly know how to keep a
    reader amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was
    almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Great job.

    I really loved what you had to say, and more than that,
    how you presented it. Too cool!

  35. My brother suggested I might like this web site.

    He was totally right. This post actually made my day.
    You cann’t imagine just how much time I had spent for this info!
    Thanks!

  36. We’re a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community.
    Your site offered us with valuable information to work on. You’ve done an impressive job and
    our entire community will be thankful to you.

  37. Hi there! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give
    a quick shout out and tell you I really enjoy reading
    through your articles. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same topics?
    Thanks a ton!

  38. I blog frequently and I truly appreciate your information. This article has really peaked my interest.
    I’m going to book mark your blog and keep checking for new details about once per
    week. I opted in for your RSS feed as well.

  39. I blog quite often and I truly thank you for your information. This great article
    has truly peaked my interest. I will bookmark your blog and
    keep checking for new information about once per week.
    I subscribed to your RSS feed as well.

  40. Pretty great post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and wished to mention that I’ve truly loved surfing around your blog posts.
    In any case I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I’m hoping you write again soon!

  41. Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Thank you, However I am having difficulties with your RSS.
    I don’t know the reason why I am unable to subscribe to it.
    Is there anybody else having similar RSS problems?
    Anyone who knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanx!!

  42. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

  43. Hi, I believe your site might be having internet browser compatibility problems.
    When I take a look at your website in Safari, it looks fine however, if opening in Internet Explorer,
    it’s got some overlapping issues. I just wanted to provide you with a quick heads up!
    Apart from that, great blog!

  44. Undeniably believe that that you said. Your favorite justification appeared to be on the internet the easiest factor to have in mind of.
    I say to you, I certainly get irked while people think about concerns that they just don’t know about.
    You controlled to hit the nail upon the highest as neatly as defined out the entire thing without having side-effects
    , folks could take a signal. Will likely be back to get more.
    Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *