David Beaver knows exactly where he was 30 years ago on Jan. 24, when Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh to an astonished world.
"The idea of having the Mac boot and introduce itself came up in just the few days before the rollout, and the software and hardware teams scrambled to hand-build totally custom Mac hardware (with video output to feed the giant video projector) and software (that 'spoke') until very late the night before the intro," Beaver, who was a Jobs assistant in the early 1980s, wrote in an email.
"There were three identical custom Macs in carrying cases lined up in the wings of the stage, and three identical boot disks; and the team had tested every combination of disks and computers the night before," Beaver, of Portola Valley, continued. "So Steve randomly picked one of the computers, and pulled one of the disks out of his pocket to boot it. Everyone was pretty happy when it worked."
What a white-knuckle ride that must have been. Sometimes it's hard to remember the tangible leap forward that little machine represented. Today we're surrounded by sophisticated computing power and performance that we've stitched into our everyday lives. But the day Jobs walked onto the Flint Center stage in Cupertino was a time when computing was a foreign concept for most; an activity reserved for academics, researchers, military brains, big corporations, bankers and insurance actuaries.
The Mac translated computing into a language that everyone could understand. Which is why, when I wrote recently about the Mac's 30th birthday, I asked you to send me your early Mac stories. As I read the notes you sent, something struck me. Yes, the Mac represented a technological revolution -- wide use of the graphical user interface, a mouse-based navigation system, a portable all-in-one box -- but the real revolution was in how people lived with the Mac. The real revolution led to a new way to do the mundane and sublime.
Allen Smith, of Walnut Creek, was in charge of corporate computing for a big oil company around the time the Mac was released. Jobs met with Smith and a group of other executives to show them what Apple's machine could do.
"He was an amazing and charismatic man," Smith recalls. And he was strategic. He sent a Mac to each of the executives at the meeting. Smith spent some time setting his up, as his 4-year-old daughter watched. Of course, she wanted to play with it. Smith showed his daughter the MacPaint program and she went to work. Smith briefly left the room before returning.
"I went in my home office and she had drawn a picture of a house, a tree, and a dog," Smith wrote. "She wanted to print it, which we did. I knew right then that I was looking at the future of computing in some significant way. To have a 4-year-old little girl be able to use the computer that easily and effectively was a remarkable achievement."
Oh, and Smith still has that Mac. And yes, it still works.
It was the little things that delighted in 1984, like the flexibility of fonts and the ability -- especially if you were a foreign-language teacher -- to easily type accent marks and other squiggles that make all the difference.
"It was a small miracle," writes Robert Davis, a Lynbrook High School teacher at the time. The word processor allowed him to create half-page quizzes, without having to make corrections by literally cutting (with a scissors) and pasting (yes, with actual paste). He could type é, ¿,Ñ and Ã§ -- and print them all out. And he could produce a second version of the quiz for the second class of the day -- the one that met after lunch (keeping honest students honest).
Renée Sawazaki a language professor living in Japan, still remembers standing in line while a student at UC Berkeley to order an early Mac.
"Tears of gratitude welled in my eyes as I proudly filled out my order form," she wrote, "thanking Apple over and over for the generous student discount they offered." The Mac made the regular French papers she was writing a breeze to type -- not to mention that she could finally type her first name with the accent in place.
And the stories go on, the Mac firmly attached to life's memories. Pam McMahon remembers fighting the successful battle to save the Vallco Fashion Park ice rink with the help of her husband, Patrick, and their mighty Mac. Fred Wilkinson, of Santa Clara, remembers the thrill of buying an original Mac at age 60. Yes, he's 90 now and still writing on a Mac (13-inch Mac Pro).
Stephen Reese, of Charlotte, N.C., remembers test driving a Mac for the first time at a mall. "I experienced the purest sense of true magic that I had ever witnessed." Jacquie Heffner, of San Jose, recalls how her stress level plummeted when the Mac arrived at the nonprofit where she was working as an administrative assistant. She's been a Mac fan ever since. "Today we own an iPad and an iMac, but neither will ever hold as special a place in my heart as that first Mac."
In other words, happy birthday, Mac.
Contact Mike Cassidy at email@example.com or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.