128

Ok, I admit it: I’m officially old. Old enough, in fact, to have bought the very first Macintosh in 1984: the Macintosh 128K.

Computers in those days had green screens and were controlled by typing arcane commands. Bold and italics did not appear on-screen, instead you saw ^Bthis is bold^B and ^Ythis is italics^Y (CTRL-Y for italics because CTRL-I was tab, for reasons no-one understood but didn’t question). You never had to worry about what typeface to use because computers could neither display nor print them.

And then came the Macintosh … 

It smiled at you as it started-up. You didn’t have directory listings, you had images of folders. You didn’t type the name of an application or file to open it, you used this strange new thing called a mouse to double-click it. When you made a word bold, it appeared in bold on the screen. You had different typefaces!

It was incredible. I immediately knew this was what computers were supposed to be like. I wanted one.

I couldn’t possibly afford it. It cost the equivalent in today’s terms of $5600, just for the computer itself. The ImageWriter printer needed to print those lovely new typefaces was extra. I was in my first year of journalism, and that was a goodly proportion of my annual salary at the time.

But times were different. Apple courted journalists then, not the other around. Apple figured that if we owned Macintoshes, we’d write about them (it was right). So it offered a journalist discount. A very generous discount: 60 percent off. (We get no discounts at all now, in case you were wondering.) It was still a large chunk of cash, but I didn’t care, I had to have one: I took delivery of the seventh Macintosh to arrive in the UK.

macwrite
To write an article on it, you inserted the system disk to boot it up. Then you ejected that and inserted the MacWrite disk. When you wanted to save your work so far, you ejected the MacWrite disk and inserted a blank disk (which cost $18 each in today’s money, by the way). At various points along the way, the Macintosh would eject whichever disk was in the drive and tell you which one it wanted. Documents were limited to eight pages long – if you needed to write more, you continued in a new document.

I didn’t care about any of this: I loved that machine. I later had it upgraded to Macintosh Plus spec, with the maximum 4MB RAM, and sometime after that added a terrifyingly expensive external 20MB SCSI hard drive. As iFixit observes in its birthday teardown, the machine was pretty easy to upgrade once you got past those T15 screws.

teardown

In that form, the Macintosh lasted five years in all, until I replaced it with …

The Macintosh Portable. The name was perhaps a slight exaggeration – it weighed fully 16 pounds! But I did lug it around all over the place, loved it even more than the original Mac and in fact still have it to this day. Here it is, pictured with my MacBook Air 11:

portable

Today, I carry a MacBook Air 11 or an iPad Air that weighs so little I have to double-check I really did put it in my bag. I wonder what I’ll be carrying 30 years from now … ?

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26 Responses to “Falling in love with the Macintosh 128K back in 1984”

  1. sardonick says:

    Nice article. There is so much I miss everyday. Not the least of which was watching the future take place, and the overall childlike anticipation of where the wonderful world of technology would take us. I wish I had known it would be to China, I’d have gone back to sleep. Talk about feeling old.

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  2. Good stuff, Ben. I bought the third 128K Mac sold in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1984. I was just looking for a computer and was talking to a salesman when I saw the Mac sitting on a display stand. I asked him if that was the Macintosh that everyone was talking about and he got all excited because he was going to get to play with MacPaint to demonstrate it. I also updated to a Mac Plus and got the external drive. And I’m old enough to remember going to computer stores and seeing this tiny (I mean tiny) section of Mac software. You’d get excited if there was one new title you hadn’t seen before. Does anyone else remember the first NFL football game for the Mac that had Xs and Os runing plays? Wow (I’m serious here) that was a GREAT game. I’d love to have that one back.

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  3. Great article. A very enjoyable read. My first machine was an Amstrad CPC464, but this Mac looks great.

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  4. bIg HilL says:

    Ben Lovejoy (I am 100% certain that is a fictitious surname),

    In 1984 according to your article with discounts included, you would’ve paid around£1400 for your Mac. Not bad, considering in 1991 I built my first computer that cost over £1000 with a 486DX2, 8MB RAM, 100MB HD etc., and it only ran nasty software like windows 3.1 etc. So nothing for you to cry about there.

    As you are British I am sure you know that 16lb = 7.27Kg. UK phased out imperial measurements in the early ’70’s. Most of the world is metric. Just because yanks can’t seem to be metricised does not mean you have to pander to retarded processes.

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    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      You are 100 percent wrong about my surname. :-)

      I actually got the complete package of Macintosh, ImageWriter and external floppy, so it was from memory around £2400, or £5,400 in today’s terms.

      The UK is officially metric (mostly – we still have miles for road signs), but many Brits still think in terms of feet and pounds.

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      • truth42 says:

        I used a Mac at art college in 84 Ben. I understand exactly the feelings you describe. My first was the Se, followed by and lc, iici, Quadra 840av (monster machine!), Mac Portable, iMac original, Titanium Powerbook (with paint that peeled), Aluminium Powerbook 17″, G4 Cube, Mac Mini, 17″ iMac, 20″ iMac, 15″ Powerbook.

        Nowadays my main main machine is a Macbook Air, as well as a 24″ iMac if I need a big screen. Over the years I shudder to think how many peripherals and devices I’ve purchased. The original Newton was probably the biggest waste of money.

        And you know what? The more powerful the machine becomes the less work I seem to produce. I blame the internet. I was able to concentrate a lot more than I do these days when going online was a thing of the future.

        Ian

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      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        The Internet certainly has a lot to answer for!

        And yes, best not to do the sums of what we’ve each spent over the years …

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  5. Very nice article. I am not that old yet and it always feels to good read such stories of 4MB upgrade :)

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  6. mochachaiguy says:

    Thanks, Ben.
    Nice trip down memory lane. I don’t go back quite as far… my first Mac was an SE dual floppy with a HUGE 20Mb external Hyperdrive. My dad didn’t understand why I couldn’t save money and just get a PC. Now he gets it.

    Cheers!

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    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Yes, I can’t remember the brand of my 20MB drive, but it was the exact footprint of the Mac and matched the style, so it looked very much like it belonged when sat under the Mac. I thought it would be impossible to ever use all that space …

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  7. I was in the market for a computer in 1984, entering grad school that autumn. I was evaluating the PC clones available at the time (back then they had to say things like 99% BIOS compatible, because nobody had perfectly reverse-engineered the PC bios yet), but I got hooked on the Mac. I gathered all the info I could find (I still have my MacWorld #1) and obsessed about it. Sadly, I just couldn’t raise the money, and ended up with an Apple //e. Three years later, a combination of (slightly) lower prices and a re-directed college loan allowed me to get a Mac Plus. I’ve been a Mac guy ever since.

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  8. “CTRL-I was tab, for reasons no-one understood but didn’t question”

    I for “Indent,” I suspect.

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  9. Reblogged this on Tuesday Dreams and commented:
    Apple products are the only tech products I personalize or possibly humanize. I name them, I grow fond of them, I really love them. I have an iPhone 5s for personal and use a Nexus 4 for work, which I like, I do like Android, but I don’t heart it in the same way. There’s something friendly about my iMac! Happy Birthday Mac.

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  10. My first Mac was not till 1988, a Plus. What I remember most about the costs involved was that Apple’s 20 MB (not 20 Gig, mind you, just 20 Megabytes) drive cost $1,200 – about the same cost as the Mac Plus by itself.

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  11. Errol Kaai says:

    My first Apple product was a Macintosh Classic. I gave it away to a younger cousin when I bought my first PC after college, wish I still had it.

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  12. My first Mac was a MacSE 30 that my public school district bought for every K-12 teacher. I was intrigued with the graphic capabilities and proceeded to make my 2 page lesson plan template with little icons for each subject. We could take the Mac home to print from home to school. My forward thinking district felt teachers would be motivated to use the computers at school by taking the time at home to learn how. I still remember 2 years later finding an unopened MacSE box under the kindergarten teachers desk! Not everyone embraced technology in those days! The Macs were a welcome replacement for our TRS 80 “Trash 80″ RadioShack computers. To load a basic multiplication drill it took 20 minutes to load a program from a cassette player, and then it would crash if a student hit a button wrong! I have been a “Mac Addict” since 1987 and my students’s parents knew that and donated to the purchases of my first gen iPhone and iPad. I was also lucky to be chosen an Apple Classroom of Tomorrow Teacher. As a result of that I did a closed circuit TV show with my third graders doing a two camera shoot. They used Macs to write their news reports. The iMacs I got from writing a grant in 1999 allowed my 4th grade students to make 5 page iWeb web sites. They scanned in their artwork for their art galleries, uploaded videos of themselves performing their poems for Grandparents’ Day, uploaded PowerPoints of their state reports, wrote stories, and autobiographies. Their iWebs were their electronic portfolios and iWeb was much easier to use than EP software. Finally, when Steve Jobs was still alive I wrote him a 4 page letter detailing my love and use of Macs in my class over the years. I also told him I had 2 iMac G4 Power Macs that had neon vertical lines ruining their displays. Within 4 days I got a call from an Apple Rep asking me how he could help me. Even though the iMacs were out of warranty Apple replaced both the displays for over $600 each, and later fixed a third one! That’s why I love all things Apple! The only time I had a PC in my class was to connect up a microscope, but it got a porn virus and I gave it away to our custodian! My verdict is still out on Tim Cook. I have written emails to him and have never heard back. I will always be thankful to Apple for making my teaching so much more gratifying, due to the way I could integrate their technology into my curriculum!

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  13. Ben, assuming you’re familiar with this resource (http://jamesfriend.com.au/pce-js/), but just in case. I purchased one of the first round of 128K macs as soon as I could through the university I was at, Cal Poly Pomona, CA. I recall tromping off to Pasadena to a shady shop that, if you dropped your Mac off, they would unsolder your RAMs and replace them with denser ones to bring the machine up to 512K. If you were in a hurry, they’d do a motherboard swap and it’d be ready in an hour or two. That memory bump was quite nice and made development on the box a much nicer experience.

    I particularly fell in love with the development kit (the ROMs) and working in my favorite language at the time Pascal. The dev kit, explained in glorious detail in two tombs each 2 inches thick as I recall, was a joy to work with. Working in UCSD pascal with two 512K floppy drives on the other hand was barely tolerable.

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