The Mac II at Age 25

The Macintosh II is celebrating its 25th anniversary. That was my first Mac, back in 1988. Well, it wasn’t actually mine, but for work. I, personally, owned a Mac SE, one of those all-in-one boxes.

The Mac II was the first Mac with an open system–a beige box users could open up, with expansion slots, and a separate monitor.

For the next several years, I produced a monthly magazine on the Mac II. I used Pagemaker, laying out everything on screen, and used a Laserwriter II for printouts, which I sent to a commercial printshop.

Compare that to the AT&T PC I’d been using for about five years. Two 5.25″ floppy drives, no hard drive, and the clunky DOS operating system (which is redundant, I realize, since DOS stands for Disk Operating System). I composed articles in Wordstar, sent a floppy to a commercial printer, and they sent back long photo-typeset strips of paper. I then spent the next two weeks hunched over a light table laying out the articles before sending everything to the printshop for final printing. It was like farming with oxen.

The Mac II established the Mac as the computer of choice for graphic artists and publishing professionals. Microsoft desperately introduced Windows in an attempt to mimic the Mac. Today, they’ve got it down pretty well. But back in the late 1980s, Microsoft wasn’t even close. Not even in the same universe. Compared to the Mac, Microsoft was a Third World country. I don’t begrudge people choosing a PC today. But just recognize that there was a time when the Mac was ridiculously far ahead (compared to a mere “very far ahead” today).

The Mac II had 2MB of RAM, and a mammoth 40MB hard drive (who would ever need more space than that?). Instead of using those wobbly, fragile, and highly unreliable 5.25″ floppies, the Mac II sported two slots for the hard plastic 3.5″ floppy (which weren’t floppy) disks. And then there was that 12-inch color monitor, a huge improvement over the green-and-white display on my AT&T PC.

The operating system, OS6, was terribly primitive compared to today’s Macs. Unless you used the clunky Multifinder, you could have only one program open at a time. Yet, it was very intuitive, very user-friendly–a quantum leap over the cavemanish DOS system I had been using on the AT&T PC. The commands were consistent from program to program, and it just made sense.

That Mac II was the most expensive computer I’ve ever used–over $6000 in 1988 dollars, or $13,000 today. Now, I can get a loaded, top-of-the-line Mac Pro tower for less than we paid for that Mac II. Such is progress.

Since then, I’ve gone through a whole bunch of Macs, both at home and work–the Mac SE, 2Si, Power Computing clone tower, Quadra 800, PowerMac G3, Power Mac G4, Power Mac G5, and now a Mac Pro. Plus three different laptops, starting with a G4 aluminum back in 2001. Yes, I’m a Mac fanatic.

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