The iMac: Truly Revolutionary

June 1998: How quickly we forget how revolutionary personal computers are! The first PCs were kits for electronic hobbyists. The Apple 1 came as a kit; users had to add their own keyboard, case, and power supply.

The real revolution came in 1977 with the TRS-80, the Commodore PET, and the Apple II – computers you could buy and use immediately. The Apple even had color video.

Apple II systemBack then, programs were stored on cassette tape. The next revolution was adding floppy drives. These were much faster than tape, much more reliable, and offered random access to data.

Then came hard drives, some as large as 5 or 10 megabytes (MB). And Osborne invented portable computing with a 40 pound, suitcase-sized, Z80-based computer that even had bundled software.


IBM PCIBM legitimized the personal computer revolution with the IBM PC in 1981. In most respects it was a natural outgrowth of the PC movement, but the letters IBM meant that computers belonged in the workplace, not just the home.


The next revolution came in 1984 when Apple took the Lisa concept ($10,000 for a 5 MHz 68000-based computer with 12″ b&w screen, mouse, and graphical user interface), increased the speed to 8 MHz, reduced the screen size to 9″, adopted to a 400 KB 3.5″ disk drive, and made it relatively affordable.

Original Macintosh

The Macintosh immediately stood apart from the crowd of IBM clones (each one more alike than the last) and the hobbyist machines (Commodore, Atari, Radio Shack, and others).


Yes, but it was not received with open arms. Despite Steve Jobs’ claims that this insanely great computer would never need more than 128 KB of memory and that the serial bus architecture offered all the expansion that would ever be necessary, the masses saw it as a toy.

Before the year was out, Apple shipped the Fat Mac, the same computer but with 512 KB of memory. It was a step in the right direction.

Evolutionary, not revolutionary.

In 1986 Apple introduced the Mac Plus, the first Macintosh with a fast expansion bus. In this case, it was the new SCSI standard – something we consider old hat today. And RAM could be boosted from an incredible 1 MB to a truly amazing 4 MB.

Then came PageMaker and the LaserWriter. Desktop publishing became a buzzword.

Evolution led to revolution, to a whole new computer market in the publishing industry.

More evolution:

Which raises the question, where’s the brash, revolutionary Apple of old?

Well, Steve Jobs is back, and the iMac project started the day after he returned. While moving to RISC technology was a risk, it didn’t change the nature of the Macintosh. The G3 made it fast and sassy, but it looked and acted like a Mac II on steroids.

Years of change had retained LocalTalk (the world’s slowest and most convenient network), ADB, SCSI (although some models used SCSI-2), and a barely changed user interface. Then came the adoption of industry standard protocols like PCI, EDI, and ATAPI.


Bondi iMacBut the iMac changes things in a revolutionary way. The OS hasn’t changed, but the look and feel of the computer certainly has. A white translucent computer with Bondi blue accents? A carrying handle? USB ports and no other industry standard expansion bus – no ADB, PCI, RS-232C, parallel, RS-422, or SCSI?

The iMac looks to the future, not just the past and present.

With the bunny-torching G3 processor, 100Base-T networking, and outlandish looks, the iMac is as revolutionary as the original Lisa and Macintosh with one big difference: There’s already software available for this one.

Further Reading

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