Apple [AAPL] seems set to kill the optical drive when it releases Mac OS X 'Lion' as a downloadable upgrade via the Mac App Store. While this begs questions -- principally how a Mac user can launch a faulty Mac from disk, without a disk -- this isn't the first time Apple's changed an industry. Here's a short -- and necessarily incomplete -- list:
[ABOVE: The Alto in action, c/o Computer History Museum, copyright Mark Richards.]
Dude, where's the PC
"We started out to get a computer in the hands of everyday people, and we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams." Steve Jobs.
Way back when computing was text-based, an Apple team visited Xerox Parc, where it saw the Alto. Equipped with a mouse, keyboard and screen, Jobs seized on the new interface and took the ideas back to the Apple team. There, he told them, "Let’s make a dent in the universe. We'll make it so important that it will make a dent in the universe."
It did: Apple's GUI revolutionized the industry, gave Microsoft the ideas that became Windows, and while Apple is innovating the interface today, introducing touch, it is undeniable that Apple helped invent the computer world. Even though Commodore boss, Jack Tramiel, called the Mac a toy, admonishing Jobs with the advice, "I guess you'll sell it in boutiques".
Looking at the success of Apple retail since the company launched its chain of "boutiques". Tramiel was ahead of the curve.
From an Acorn an ARM tree grows
Remember the Newton? Apple's mobile solution created its own cohort of fans across its five-year history, and while the project was killed off by Jobs on his return to the cash-strapped company, people who worked within the team went on to help kick-start the mobile solutions industry at Palm, while an early Apple investment in a processor partner for these devices paid long-term dividends, history now shows: after all, Apple was a major start-up investor in today's leading mobile processor company, ARM.
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Originally part of UK firm, Acorn Computers (Acorn's BBC Micro computer was widely-used in UK schools). Acorn was taken over by Olivetti in 1985, with the first RISC-based ARM processor arriving in 1987. ARM was spun-off from Acorn and Apple after they began working on an ARM processor as part of the development of the Newton. Fast forward to the low power demands of 2005, and about 98% of the more than one billion mobile phones sold each year used at least one ARM processor. Apple's own A5 (and the preceding A4) processors are based on ARM reference designs.
Without Apple's investments in the Newton, then Apple would have needed to invest in another chip designer to create its mobile processors.
You have to love Mac OS X. After being on the market for what feels like a billion years, but isn't, there's still no significant virus threats, there's still no significant malware, and despite the constant paranoid carping from security vendors, sensible password management and remaining aware of dangers in opening unknown images or using public wireless points is enough to keep most users safe.
Contrast this with the constant high-level security alert which is using Windows, or the known but criminally-under-reported huge great big yawning chasms of security problems on the so-called open Android OS. (So open Google can delete Apps from your phone if it wants to do so).
It wasn't always so. Way back in time Macs ran a form of OS called, appropriately enough, Mac OS. This quirky operating system was good enough to be fun to use, and charismatic enough that it created its own vast congregation, but it had too many limitations. Apple's own attempt at creating a new OS, Copland had failed --- so the company went scampering to evicted Apple founder Steve Jobs, and his new firm, NeXT, in search of a replacement.
NeXT was acquired for $400 million in 1996. Jobs finally returned to Apple with the deal. "It's perfect," said IDG's Bob Metcalfe in 1996. "The new team at Apple has Amelio and Ellen Hancock (CTO). They are extremely competent, but they lack one thing: charisma. Steve adds that to the mix." Within a year both Amelio and Hancock were out and Jobs had taken over as interim CEO, becoming full CEO in 2000.
And this is significant why? Mac OS X was the starry-eyed offspring of Mac OS and NeXT. Combining user simplicity with graphical features that made it fun to use, this easy-yet-powerful OS had abilities no other OS could match.
Take video handling, for example. iMovie bought movie editing to everybody's computer, but the secret reason Microsoft couldn't match it (until it finally got to grips with creating a truly competitive OS in the form of Windows 7) was because its systems just crumbled and died when trying to handle video. (I'm not saying Windows systems couldn't handle it, just that they couldn't handle it while doing something else).