The Macintosh, now correctly called the Mac (since its introduction, Apple has officially changed the name of the computer to Mac), is a family of personal computers manufactured by Apple Computer, based in Cupertino, California, USA.
Launched in January, 1984 with a famous Super Bowl commercial, it was the first computer to popularize the graphical user interface (GUI, pronounced "gooey").
The operating system, simply called the System Software or System, officially became known as the Mac OS as of version 7.6. In March 2001, Apple introduced a modern and secure Unix-based successor, Mac OS X.
From its inception, the Macintosh has introduced or popularized a number of innovations adopted later by other PCs and operating systems:
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The Macintosh's predecessor, the Lisa computer, was introduced in January 1983 for a price of $9,995.00 with many of the GUI-related innovations later seen on the Macintosh. It was aimed at business customers but was too much of a hard sell at the time; it was not a success for Apple, and the line was discontinued in 1986.
The Macintosh was introduced on January 22, 1984, with a famous Super Bowl commercial featuring a female athlete throwing a hammer through a giant image of a dictator ("Big Brother", vaguely reminiscent of the dominant computer maker at that time: IBM). The Mac went on sale two days later for a price of $2,495.00.
Although the Mac garnered an immediate enthusiastic following, it was too radical of a departure for most. Since the machine was entirely designed around the GUI, existing command-line programs had to be redesigned and rewritten, a challenging undertaking that many software developers shied away from, which initially led to a lack of software for the new system.
In 1985, the combination of the Mac and its GUI with Adobe PageMaker and Apple's LaserWriter printer enabled a low-cost solution for designing and previewing printed material, an activity that came to be known as desktop publishing. Interest in the Mac exploded, and it has continued to be the standard platform for publishing and printing houses.
By the early 1990s, it was thought by some that RISC-architecture CPUs would soon dramatically outpace the speed increases occurring over the same time in CISC CPUs such as the Macintosh's Motorola 68000 series and Intel's Pentium series. An alliance of Apple Computer, IBM and Motorola was announced to create a series of RISC CPUs called the PowerPC. Existing Macintosh software that had been written for the 68000 series CPUs -- including some large sections of the Mac OS -- were made to run with a software emulator. The PowerPC remains the Macintosh CPU to date, although the architectural benefits and speed differences of RISC versus CISC remain controversial.
In 2000, the Macintosh made a second fundamental change, this time in its operating system, by switching to the Mach and BSD Unix-based Mac OS X.
The Macintosh's system software strategy was created with an eye toward suppressing any Mac clones. The Macintosh system software was a very large amount of complicated code that embodied the Mac's entire set of APIs, including the use of the GUI and file system, and a large amount of this system software was included in the Macintosh's ROM chips. Hence any competitor who attempted to create a Macintosh clone would have to either illegally duplicate all the copyrighted code in the ROMs -- in which case Apple could legally squash the manufacturer -- or reverse-engineer the ROMs, which would have been an enormous and costly process without certainty of success.
The strategy was successful; for years, several manufacturers created Macintosh clones, but they obtained their ROMs by actually purchasing one of Apple's Macintosh computers and removing from it the required parts, then installing those parts in the clone's case. This resulted in very expensive clones that were never popular, and Apple could safely say that its share of the Macintosh computer market was not in danger.
However, by 1995, Apple owned only about 7% of the worldwide market share of computers, and decided to launch a clone program, by which it would license the Macintosh ROMs and system software to other manufacturers who agreed to pay a royalty. The aim was to increase Apple's market share in the desktop computer market. From early 1995 to mid-1997, it was possible to buy PowerPC-based clone computers, running Mac OS, from Motorola, Power Computing, and Umax. The styling on the Mac clones often more closely resembled that of a PC than of a Mac, but the clones frequently offered a lower price and sometimes better performance.
Soon after Steve Jobs' return to Apple, he terminated the clone program. He stated that the clone program was ill-conceived and had been a result of "institutional guilt", meaning that there had been a widely held belief at Apple that had the company aggressively pursued a legal cloning program early in the history of the Macintosh, consumers might have turned to low-priced Macintosh clones rather than low-priced IBM PC compatible computers, and Apple might have ended up in the position currently occupied by Microsoft -- an extremely profitable company with low margins with a wide base of consumers perpetually dependent on its system software products. By now, Jobs stated, it was too late for this to happen; the clone program was doomed to failure from the start; and since Apple mostly made money by selling computer hardware, for the most part, it ought not engage in a licensing program to reduce its hardware sales.