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  • Ian Ritchie : Scottish Business Insider

25 years on from the birth of the Apple Macintosh

THE YEAR WHICH saw the brand new Insider magazine emerge, blinking, into the sunlight was indeed a dramatic year, and not just in the world of Scottish business publishing.

For 1984 was also a breakthrough year in computing – Apple launched the Macintosh computer and redefined the shape which personal desktop computers would take from then on.

The first Mac was a pretty underpowered affair – it shipped with only 128 kilobytes of storage and there was no way of upgrading it; it didn’t even have a hard disk drive. It cost around £2,000.

Today’s equivalent Macintosh is several hundred times faster, has over 30,000 times more memory, and includes a built-in hard drive of several hundreds of gigabytes. It costs under a thousand pounds.

But the first Mac was a revelation – it had a built-in black and white nine inch screen, and when you turned it on it greeted you with a cheery ‘hello’. It came with a word processing package that made documents look like real documents, allowing you to write in different typestyles and sizes, and put in diagrams and images. It even had an easy-to-use drawing package for creating these images, and it had a built-in networking technology that allowed you to share information.

Microsoft later built an operating system, Windows, which mimicked the features of the Mac, and which dominates today’s computing world.

As it happens, I was starting a company in 1984 which was formed to write software for such machines. We did a tour of the various venture capital companies – there weren’t so many of them in those days – and I remember telling these financiers: “one day quite soon every one of you would be using a desktop personal computer for your everyday work”. But they were doubtful – they thought it most likely that their secretaries would be using the computers, and not them.

Later in the 80s I attended a big computer conference in the USA which was full of nerdy people like me, all of whom of course were avid users of desktop computers. “Hands up”, said the speaker, “those of you who have a personal computer”. Everybody in the hall put their hands up. “That’s excellent”, said the speaker, “could you just hold it up above your head please?”

His point, of course, was that we didn’t, in those days, actually have personal computers. Our computers were tied to our desks, back in our office.

Well, here we are 25 years after the launch of the Macintosh, and these days the computation device of choice has shrunk to the size of the mobile phone – every one of which is far more powerful than that original Mac in 1984.

Our mobile has become our method of choice for keeping our diary and our emails in order, and for looking for information such as directions, weather, and stock prices. Devices such as Apple’s iPhone.

And what of the next 25 years. I think it is highly likely that we will soon see the emergence of a new device. A small, light, slim, wireless connected, high resolution tablet, on which we can store and read thousands of books, newspapers, business documents, and even magazines.

The best placed company to sell us these electronic publications is likely to be Apple, with its established iTunes store. So the 50th anniversary issue of Insider is unlikely to be printed on paper – it will most likely be delivered electronically to our personal reading device, possibly via Apple.

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