15, 2001: Black and white until it's right
Way back in the early eighties, apple computer was cranking out computer boxes and making a great deal of money at it. Their apple II series of personal computers were functional, well built and practical, although premium priced. They had all but monopolized education and were strong in the home market, but the company hungered after the business sector like an ant after tat's cheese wrappers.
Apple's first attempt to break into business, the apple III, was engineered and fabricated in such a hurried pace that some screws shorted out against the electronics and the machines frequently overheated until their chips jumped right out of their sockets. The company tried to resurrect the machine as the III plus, but buyers quickly correlated the names and refused to buy that model as well.
That dismal failure was matched by the very different and very modern lisa, which introduced the very first personal human interface with overlapping windows and a mouse-driven pointer, and reintroduced the apple III's hard drive. Unfortunately, the lisa was so avant-garde that it was priced in the $10,000 range and nobody bought it. The most exposure the lisa ever got was in a backup role in a lame t&a movie, the title of which escapes me. Watch the usa network for several days and I'm sure you'll catch it.
Another group at apple had been working to build a lisa-like computer for an apple II price. Like the lisa, this new computer would have a mouse, windows, and an entirely graphic, black and white screen. Like the apple II, the machine would cost in the range of $2500.
The macintosh was born. The new mac was so different from anything else that instead of being released to a skeptic audience of computer nerds at a trade show, it debuted with a now classic super bowl commercial that didn't even show the machine. The computer geeks were so offended by the slight that they vilified the mac and its graphics for years until microsoft copied a similar interface for them to put on their own kit at home.
I remember hating the mac. It's price was way out of range for a poor white trash kid like me, and it took attention away from the apples I already knew how to run and program. Fortunately, my hatred runs thin and shallow, because after I got my first real exposure to work on them, I went nuts with the new mac religion and sailed the first wave of modern technology: desktop publishing. It satisfied my perfectionist art for making things work exactly as I wanted, and empowered me to laser print my earliest ideas on paper. It also put me in great debt.
Just when the mac was getting mainstream, apple's cofounder and certainly the strongest personality behind the mac, steve jobs, left the company to start the next big thing. He built a company to sell a workstation class computer system that went far beyond the economical macintosh project. It supported four shades of gray instead of just black and white, so images on the display were photographic instead of simple icons. It had a powerful operating system that blew fifteen years beyond any competition of the time, and used a new object oriented framework of abstracted classes for its application programming.
Next's application frameworks have still not been copied with any real success; ibm, hp and apple worked for years and spent millions on reinventing next's technology wheel at taligent. Sun worked with next, and then later ripped off next's futuristic system of frameworks in a product they call java, which later incorporated bits of taligent. Even worse, java started a decade of bad coffee-pun product branding in the computer industry.
The rival macintosh, back at apple, first moved to color with a new model that cost upwards of $6000. The more colors, the more thousands. Color was outrageously expensive to do right at the time. Other pc's were doing crappy color for less, but the macintosh's quality color made it a better fit for businesses requiring accurate color rendering and matching, such as digital effects, photoediting and publishing.
Jobs refused to do color until it could be done perfectly. Thanks to a cash infusion from both cannon of japan and billionaire h ross perot, jobs got the funding to do great color. Unfortunately for jobs and his 'next' computer, not even perot would continue to fund the company unless it could grow and become profitable. Jobs first stopped making hardware, trying to focus on software instead. Eventually his interests drifted off toward the george lucas industrial light and magic computer graphics division, which he bought back in 1986 with his apple earnings, and built into the prominent disney partner pixar.
Except for the treasure island experiment. Or until now. While we retain the gray on gray and orange look, and the mostly grayscale photography, we've secretly posted vibrant color photographs of the island, the house and various other things throughout the site. Click on the existing gray thumbnails in our stories to view the color photos. More to come.
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