Technically, the Macs of today are actually based on operating-system software that originated with the computers made by NeXT, the company Steve Jobs founded after being ousted from Apple in 1985 and then sold to it in 1996. Philosophically, aesthetically and spiritually, though, they’re very much descendants of the original 1984 Mac. The same things Apple cared about then — approachability, integration of software and hardware, a willingness to do fewer things but do them better — it cares about today. It’s always just tried to build the best, most Apple-esque personal computers it could with the technology available to it at the time.
And if you trace the history of the Mac from 1984 to 2014, you keep coming up with ways the platform influenced the rest of the industry — yes, even during the scary period during the mid-1990s when the company flirted with financial disaster.
So for this list, I’m skipping the reasons why the Mac mattered in 1984. Here’s why it’s never stopped being the world’s most influential personal computer.
1. It made icons into art. The first Mac was the first fully mainstream computer with a graphical user interface, and therefore the first one with icons. They were famously designed by Susan Kare, who later did icons for Microsoft, Facebook and other clients. Today, icons are everywhere — on computers, phones, tablets and the web. And even though today’s designers have more pixels and colors to work with than Kare did back in the day, their work, like hers, involves visualizing concepts in a way that’s immediately understandable, even at a teensy size.
2. Macs have always begged to be networked. Starting in 1985, when computer networking was still a pricey and exotic rarity, Apple made it easy to connect Macs to each other using a technology called AppleTalk. The original iMac had Ethernet at a time when that was a startlingly advanced feature for a home computer. And when Apple unveiled a laptop with built-in Wi-Fi at Macworld Expo New York in 1999, the notion of being able to use the Internet without any cords was still so startling that Phil Schiller jumped from a great height onto a mattress while clutching an iBook to prove that no strings were attached.
3. HyperCard helped inspire the web. Bill Atkinson, the genius who did as much as anyone to make the Mac’s interface great, also created 1987′s HyperCard, a Mac application that let anyone create stacks of on-screen cards with text, images and hyperlinks. Widely applauded at the time — and bundled with every Mac — HyperCard never quite changed the world. But it influenced Tim Berners-Lee’s early collaborator Robert Cailliau, who had a hand in inventing the basic technologies of a rather HyperCard-like technology called the World Wide Web.
4. Microsoft Office was born there. Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office have had such a symbiotic relationship for so long that it’s easy to forget that Office started out on the Mac. Back in 1989, Microsoft bundled up the first version — with Mac editions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and an e-mail app — as a limited-time offer. It was a hit, so the bundling became permanent, and a Windows version arrived in 1990.
5. It made pointing portable. PowerBook 100 Wikipedia Grizzled tech veterans recall the age when notebook computers didn’t incorporate a pointing device — you either plugged in a mouse, strapped on some sort of ungainly offboard trackball or did without. That changed in 1991 when Apple announced its first PowerBooks, which put a palm-rest area below the keyboard, with a sizable trackball in the middle. Trackballs didn’t last all that long before giving way to touchpads, but the palm rest is still a standard feature on nearly every laptop.