Whatever your opinion of Apple and its Mac computers, few would dispute that they have been the most visible rival to the PC platform and the Windows operating system for almost as long as either has existed.
The Mac has had an enormous influence over the IT industry in general. While Apple did not invent either the graphical user interface (GUI) or the mouse input device, it was the first company to successfully combine these two concepts into a computer aimed at the mass market.
Apple's first attempt produced the Lisa. Shipping in 1983, this was a technical marvel but far too costly for the vast majority of buyers. A parallel project led to the introduction of the first Macintosh in 1984, which was simpler and cheaper, but still revolutionary compared with other commercially available computers at the time.
It's hard nowadays to realise just how different the Mac was when it launched. Most PCs of the same era came with text-only green or amber screens that were incapable of displaying graphics, and an operating system that required users to launch applications or copy files by keying in strings of commands.
In contrast, the Mac featured a desktop environment that would be familiar to today's computer users, enabling documents to be opened by double-clicking on the icon representing the relevant file, or moved by dragging with the mouse. Arguably, the PC did not approach the same level of ease of use until the launch of Windows 95, more than a decade later.
The Mac soon divided opinion between those who saw it as a mere toy, and those who welcomed the fact that it enabled non-technical users to start working with computers. But the Mac platform soon led to the appearance of other GUI systems such as Microsoft Windows, and the X Window protocol that forms the basis of most user interfaces used by Linux and Unix systems today.
Because of its graphics-driven user interface and built-in support for features like proportional fonts, the Mac also soon found a home in the creative industry and became the platform of choice for art packages and desktop publishing. This trend continues to this day, with many publishing companies using Macs on their production desk, even if the rest of the company runs Windows.
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