Features & Columns

Macintosh 30th Anniversary Party

Macintosh 30th anniversary party celebrates the beginnings
of the groundbreaking machine
Macintosh 30th anniversary The first Macs were boxy, self-contained computers.

Archaic manuals, programming books and thrice-generation-photocopied pamphlets are strewn across a handful of tables in the Fireside Room of the De Anza College Campus Center. An original Macintosh computer shell, with the signatures of the original team seemingly embalmed onto the material, sits on one table like royalty.

Atop another pile of relics, a floppy disk copy of Aldus Persuasion for Windows has been converted into a letter opener. T-shirts, old equipment, computer-club programs, Verbum magazines and even more ephemera appear wherever my gaze moves. Members of the original Macintosh development team slowly file in and out of the room. This is the "Un-Conference" organized by Raines Cohen, an unofficial gathering of legends, taking place before the high-priced Macintosh 30th anniversary event in the Flint Center.

The stories are spinning me in every which direction, as original Apple characters are telling me the history of the first Macintosh, how it began entirely as research project, a secret skunkworks operation, without Steve Jobs even knowing about it. Jef Raskin liked McIntosh apples, so that was the only reason the machine eventually became known as the Macintosh, I'm told. Outside, a few wild geese are making a racket in the sunken garden area in front of the Flint Center, just as more aging legends from the original Apple era in Silicon Valley begin to mill about.

Daniel Kottke, probably the only employee who worked on the Apple I, II, III and Macintosh, who traveled to India with Steve Jobs 40 years ago and who holds a music degree from Columbia, is regaling me with stories of what it was like as the original Macintosh began to emerge. In some strange fashion, I feel outside the linear process of time, neither young nor old, but perfectly in tune.

"The Apple II was launched with big fanfare in the spring of 1977," Kottke explains, as we slide into a pair of soda-stained chairs in the Fireside Room. "But it didn't ship until summer, so the Apple II didn't have a clear birthday like the Mac did. The reason we're here is because the Mac had a very clear birthday. That's a moral for the world. If you want to celebrate your product decades later, have a clear birthday."

On that birthday, January 24, 1984, a goofy dressed-up Steve Jobs first debuted the Macintosh, on stage, at the Flint Center, with Chariots of Fire churning in the background. That presentation essentially created the ground it walked on, defining the entire next generation of the product launch as rock-star event. The PC industry was never the same afterward.

So we all sat there last Saturday, in the Flint Center, and watched a video projection of that original event, which took place on that same stage. The effect was eerie. Again, I felt outside of time but somehow completely still in the groove. I felt almost guilty about being a Commodore 64 kid and missing the original spectacle.

Most of the people who designed the original Mac, who built it, wrote the software and/or created the advertising campaign, attended the event. Three panel sessions unfolded. Technology journalist John Markoff moderated the first panel of folks talking about what led up to the Macintosh. Steven Levy moderated the next one, comprising those who wrote the original software. Bill Atkinson told stories about the origins of MacPaint, which he created. Randy Wigginton, who wrote MacWrite, likewise weaved numerous tales. All of them quipped that it took thousands of Microsoft employees to replicate what 125 Apple folks originally created.

More than 100 of those same people from the original 1984 team then took the stage for a group photo. It was a goofy yet poignant scene. I can't possibly imagine how different the world would be, now, 30 years later, had the Mac never happened. At the end of the night, Jerry Manock, originally the Mac industrial design guru, read a birthday letter to the current Mac, from the original Mac family. "Do not let vanity and compliments about your beauty stop you from always remembering your core purpose of fostering innovation and creativity in others," Manock said, reading from the birthday letter. "Don't forget to keep your sense of humor. True artists not only ship... they laugh."