The Mac Was Originally Going To Just Be A Word Processor

As the Mac turns 30, we thought it would be fun to look back at its history to wonder, “What might have been?”

Wired’s Steven Levy recently appended the complete transcript of a “lost” interview he had with Steve Jobs just before the release of the original Macintosh to his book about the history of the Mac. Among the many interesting anecdotes from the interview, Steve Jobs gives one answer to that very question.

According to Jobs, Jef Raskin — the guy who started the Macintosh team at Apple — simply wanted to make a nice word processor in his initial concept for the Mac.

But once they got to the point where they had a good word processor, they realised it wouldn’t take much more work to make a great multi-purpose computer:

It was just going be a word processor initially, that was Jef’s original concept. But, by the time you really got it to be a good word processor, it was very little more money to make it a great whatever you wanted to do. So, the original concept was not quite right, but everything great starts off that way, and you change as you go along. If you define something when you start off, then you leave no room for the creativity of brilliant implementation, which is to say, “Hey, I can’t do this one thing you need cause it costs 10 bucks, but god, for 20 cents I could do this, what about that? ”

Of course, once they opened the door to more functionality, earlier ideas were reassessed and tweaked to make the computer a more cohesive whole:

You remake them, and we must have remade decisions on [some things] 10 times. And each time they got better and better and better and better. The product just kept getting better. You know, you need brilliant, extraordinary people, to do that. In other words, we designed that a good three or four times. Literally, like every time Burrell went from 384 to 512 [pixels], or anything like that, he literally, threw away a design and started over. Literally. So, we went through three or four iterations on that. And you need people that can do that, and do an iteration in a month. To pull that strategy off, it takes six months to do something-you pretty much have to define it and build it and market it. But if you have brilliant people that can implement fast, than you can iterate.

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