Time was, if you wanted to buy a Mac, the only place you'd likely head was the Golden Arches.

 

It's stunning to even contemplate that just a quarter-century ago, the Macintosh computer had yet to hit the market, and Windows was barely a twinkle in Bill Gates' eye. A quick perusal of the consumer electronics ads in the Enquirer and Post from the mid 1980s shows Atari and Commodore, of all things, as the hot home computer commodities of the day"”primarily for electronic pinball games.

 

While big business was thriving on the massive mainframe computer, the concept of a machine that could fit on a desktop and serve the needs of a small business"”much less a home office"”was innovative. The internet, information superhighways, cyberspace, e-mail, laser printers, Vista"”everything that feeds entrepreneurs today"”was yet to come.

 

Yes, by the early '80s, IBM had introduced its PCjr, a "personal computer" which Big Blue was convinced would allow it to dominate the home and small business market for years to come. (Ha!) The basic 64K model, implementing cartridges instead of floppy disks, sold for $669. However, add on the thermal printer, joystick, modem and such, and you were talking in excess of $3,000 (in 1980s dollars, yet).

 

"MS-DOS was just beginning to become the dominant operating system," observes Tom Cook, a longtime sales manager at the Cincinnati Computer Store in Springdale. "That was version 1.1 back then, maybe version 1.2. People were just starting to get a feel for using the computer then, mostly for word-processing and spreadsheets. Graphics really didn't exist, basically."

 

And graphics"”or the Graphic User Interface, as the technoids would have it"”was to become everything. The major players in today's desktop computer industry stumbled into such innovations as the mouse and graphics by accident. They were teen-aged hobbyists living in Silicon Valley, building or modifying computers to impress friends and hobby clubs. Kids with names like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who jumped from modifying stone-age Altairs in their garages to playing with software.

 

Then came Jan. 24, 1984. Apple Computer unveiled an offshoot of its "Lisa" project, a "user-friendly""”and faster"”compact desktop computer named after the country's favorite apple: Macintosh. For the first time, users didn't have to type in long strings of commands and words. They could just point at an image and click with a "mouse."

Steve Jobs himself concedes the mouse, graphics and laser printing technology were the product of Xerox's inventions at the company's Palo Alto research center. Xerox handed Jobs the innovations because the giant copying firm decided not to become a player in the computer market. "Xerox could have dominated the industry," Jobs would recall later, "and they gave it away." The graphic interface became the "killer ap""”the killer application"”and marked the first time the installed operating system created the demand for the hardware instead of vice versa.

 

Why this business history lesson? Why glance back at how fast things have changed in a quarter-century? Because those who don't realize that the next quarter-century of technology is destined to change ever more rapidly and radically will have missed out on the biggest history lesson of all.

 

Bringing us full circle to the Golden Arches, where failed entrepreneurs can end up flipping burgers. You want fries with that?