Why the Macintosh won out over the Apple II

14 Sep 2012 8:24 pm

A coworker of mine had heard about my new Apple II book and he remarked to me that he had an old Macintosh that he would be willing to give away if I were interested. Well of course it's no Apple II, but old Macs are just OK in my book, so I said I'd be interested. He said that it was definitely an older model, but I didn't expect what it turned out to be.

A week later makes it today, and I walked into his office to see a Mac 128K set up on one of the desks, with a whole collection of boxes around it. It turns out that this guy's grandfather was the original purchaser of this 128K, and he had kept all the boxes and manuals in his garage all these years. There was the Mac itself, external 400k drive, and an Imagewriter I printer. The Mac was already booted up into MacWrite, and I typed out a little note on the screen.

I sat down and moused around with an original Mac 128K for the first time in my life! Now I've used old Macs before, the oldest being an SE/30, but the original Mac is something else. I quit to the Finder to see that the Mac was never upgraded; it still had the small 128K RAM size.

It was pretty easy to realize why this little Mac completely shut out the Apple II. At the time, you would have to look past the limited disk storage (only 400K) and RAM to see that in time, the Mac was going to triumph over the Apple II line.

Just the high-resolution screen and the fact that the entire operating system was designed with the mouse in mind made the difference, I think. The system speed was nothing to write home about-- both the original Mac and the Apple II were slow. Booting from a disk was roughly equivalent in time to booting a ProDOS-based word processor from a 5.25" disk on the Apple II. But it was the screen and mouse that really made the Mac a winner!

At the time, the Apple II had a color, high-resolution screen of about 400 x 200 pixels. You were limited to a palette of only 6 colors, though. While the Mac was entirely black & white until 1987 when the first color Mac came out, its screen was much crisper and easier to read: 512 x 342 pixels.

Sure, the Apple II had a much larger software and user base, as well as many more options for expansion, but as soon as the Mac caught up, there was no looking back. I'd say that by 1986, when the Mac Plus with 1 MB of RAM and a double-sided 800K disk was released, the Apple II was on its way out. Those who wanted color and expansion slots got their desires with the Macintosh II in 1987.

It should have been pretty clear to everyone who was future-looking that the Apple II's days were over.

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