Mac in time: 30 years of Apple's legendary PC

Macintosh IIfx

The Macintosh IIfx was a powerhouse at the time [Image credit:]

1991 − Performance is the key

Apple ups the ante on the PC, launching six new Macs, including two high-end Quadras − desktop tower PCs with Motorola 68040 CPUs up to 2.5 times faster than their predecessors. Apple also introduces a new range of Mac portables called PowerBooks: the first laptops to have keyboards at the back and the trackpad at the front. Mac OS reaches System 7.0.

1992 − Apple hits the buffers

The wheels start to come off the Apple happy bus. Firstly, it ships a range of underpowered consumer Macs called Performas. Then Microsoft teams up with Intel to deliver better-performing x486 PCs running the increasingly-popular Windows 3.1. Things are going better at NeXT, with version 3.0 of the NeXTstep OS transitioning from Motorola 68K to Intel CPUs. It's released the following year.

1993 − Windows takes a bite

Apple introduces 19 new Macs split across six different ranges, encompassing the ColorClassic to the low-end LC, mid-range Centris and upmarket Quadra. In addition to Performas and PowerBooks, Apple announces that it's shipped its 10 millionth Mac, but competition's getting tougher and Microsoft says Windows is now being used by over 25 million people.

1994 − The transition to PowerPC

Apple starts the first major transition that it will make during the Mac's 25 year history. It begins with the arrival of the first three Power Macs − machines that run on PowerPC RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) architecture. The PowerPC chips are much, much faster than the CISC-based chips that Apple has been using up until now and are the result of an alliance between Apple, IBM and Motorola. 1994 also sees the arrival of System 7.5.


The IBM 601v 90Mhz PowerPC processor [Image credit: Konstantin Lanzet]

1995 − The Mac can't compete

Apple is hit with a double whammy around this time: the arrival of Windows 95 and the continued success of Intel's unbelievably popular Pentium CPUs. Apple's PowerPC-equipped Macs are selling well, but the rest of its line-up underwhelms. Apple licenses its OS to belatedly compete with the Windows and Intel systems, but by September Steve Jobs is telling Fortune that he knows how to turn Apple's fortunes around and no-one at the company will listen.

1996 − Jobs is back

In February, Steve Jobs shocks many by telling Fortune: "If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it's worth − and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago." Apple finally lays the old 68k processors to rest and begins work on System 8.0 − the next version of the Mac OS. By the end of the year Apple also acquires Jobs' company NeXT and its NeXTstep operating system. Steve Jobs is back in the fold, which turns out to be a prelude to Apple becoming the company we know today.

20th anniversary Mac

The 20th anniversary Mac was a total flop

1997 − Jobs gets back to basics

Apple has too many product lines, too few customers and is haemorrhaging money. Jobs, now interim CEO, explains Apple's predicament to Time in October, saying: "Apple has some tremendous assets, but I believe without some attention, the company could, could, could... could, could die." Apple persuades Bill Gates to buy $150 million worth of shares in the company. Jobs kills off the Mac clones. The Mac OS reaches System 8 and Apple starts work on Rhapsody, the precursor to Mac OS X. Year end sees Apple shipping Macs with PowerPC G3 chips that easily outperform their predecessors.

1998 − The iMac heralds a new era

Steve Jobs continues to wage war on Apple's inventory, killing off the Newton PDA. He focuses the company on a new product that takes Apple back to its origins: the iMac. Jobs' vision takes shape as an all-in-one system boasting a 233MHz PowerPC G3 processor, 32MB of RAM, a 4GB hard disk drive and a 15-inch display. It has no floppy disk drive or legacy ports, but instead offers easy internet hookup and USB − a nascent peripheral connection from Intel. It's a smash hit with consumers worldwide.