Apple's core: The Mac turns 20
Despite Microsoft's dominance, Apple fans remain loyal
By Marsha Walton
(CNN) -- Its dedicated users are so passionate they're often described as religious about their love for the machine.
Twenty years ago, on January 24, 1984, Apple Computer launched the Macintosh. It contained virtually unknown features, including simple icons, and an odd little attachment called a mouse.
Many newspaper stories at the time had to include a definition. Silicon Valley's newspaper The San Jose (California) Mercury News, for example, described the mouse as "a handheld device that, when slid across a table top, moves the cursor on the Mac's screen."
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dubbed the Macintosh "the people's computer." Jobs and business partner Steve Wozniak -- a math and computer junkie -- had sold their first computer, the Apple I, in 1976. They had put it together in a garage.
"The Mac's a symbol of a whole revolution, and most of us that participated in it from the beginning and believed in it bought into these new ideals of computers to really help people, and not something that you had to fight, memorize and learn," Wozniak told CNN. "That whole revolution just continues in our hearts to this day."
With such an innovative and intuitive product, then why is Apple's market share just 3 percent to 5 percent, with Microsoft Windows claiming more than 90 percent worldwide?
"What Apple does so well is to focus on research and design to produce the most intuitive device and the most elegant device," communications professor Ted Friedman of Georgia State University said.
"The problem has always been that Apple was first but other companies have been able to come in and undercut them on price, and gradually appropriate all the features that made Apple special," Friedman explained.
Still, Apple computers have come a long way since their introduction, when IBM's machines, not Microsoft, were the standard. Back then, people who operated computers were part of an elite club: either hobbyists who built their own, or folks in lab coats who worked on mainframes.
Friedman said the point-and-click Macintosh was destined to make both technological and cultural history.
"This was the product that inspired people in graphic design, and students, and other creative people. It was the whole idea of computers not just being something you would see in the office," Friedman said.
Competing in a PC-dominated world, Apple has had its ups and downs.
Techies trace that change in thinking to a TV ad that teased the Mac's debut during the 1984 Super Bowl. Even today that ad is considered one of the best ever produced.
"It was a pivotal moment in the history of computers and the history of advertising," said Friedman, whose book "Electric Dreams," on the cultural history of personal computers, is due out soon.
In the commercial a female athlete dodges storm troopers and throws a hammer to smash a giant authoritarian figure, who's ordering drone workers to conform and obey. Her message of power and autonomy, says Friedman, reflected Apple's belief that computing was more than mindless numbers crunching. It actually could fuel the creative process.
Jobs, Apple's CEO, was perhaps a good forecaster of the ubiquitous laptops, desktops, and personal digital assistants of today, when he predicted two decades ago that Macs would not be just an office tool.
"People are going to bring them home to work on something Sunday morning, they're not going to be able to get their kids away from them, and maybe someday they may even buy a second one to use at home," Jobs said, the day he introduced the simple beige box back in 1984.
But internal dramas at Apple also contributed to its notorious ups and downs. Jobs left the company in a power struggle in the late 80s. The firm floundered in a PC-dominated world.
But Jobs' star continued to rise. He joined the enormously successful animation studio Pixar, makers of hits such as "Toy Story" and "Finding Nemo." Jobs returned to Apple in the '90s as the visionary savior, and the company returned to making products considered ahead of their time: the iPod music player, iTunes song download service, and the iMovie video editing software to name just three.
Known in tech circles as "The Wizard of Woz," Wozniak never formally left Apple, but he's only involved in a few consulting projects at the company these days. The former Hewlett-Packard engineer spends most of his time working for his firm "Wheels of Zeus," which is expected to launch some products later this year.
"It was just a little bit disappointing that Apple kind of got itself into the situation where they didn't so much own what they had really brought to market," he said.
In a legal fight through much of the 90's, Apple accused Microsoft of ripping off Macintosh interfaces in Windows. The case was settled out of court in 1997. But despite his frustrations with the outcome of the case, Wozniak is proud of being part of a revolution that started in a garage.
"Macintosh users tend to be a very independent type, and they tend to be very loyal to their product," Wozniak said. "They've been threatened with [Apple] going out of business and being put out of their schools and out of their companies, and they've got to fight. There's so much passion for it."