It was 1984, at ComputerLand’s annual dealer conference in Boston. The Macintosh was just then being introduced, and ComputerLand had agreed to take on the product. It meant that the biggest computer outlet in the world was committing to sell a bold new Apple product through its 700 plus stores. This was a big deal.
Jobs made his presentation to pump up the crowd of distinguished store owners. He had to know that if he could launch this thing successfully through ComputerLand, the rest of the world would fall in behind.
Remember, this was 1984. This was at the dawn of the Mac. Jobs had yet to be fired from Apple… let alone rehired to return and rebuild to triumphant glory. This was long before iAnything… -pod, -phone, -tunes, -pad, etc. (It was not, however, before Jobs’ “black” period: even then he dressed in his trademark black mock turtleneck.)
But while Jobs’ firm was doing OK, it was far from the juggernaut – let alone “world’s most valuable company” (on some days) – that it later became. And so Steve was in full pitch-man mode that day. He desperately needed this bold new product to succeed. And on that day, he delivered.
At that conference, attendees got to see the legendary “1984” commercial, and the excitement was palpable. Of course, the Mac would go on to change computing forever and along with it, irrevocably changed both Apple and Steve Jobs. There would be fits and starts to be sure (remember the Apple III or the Apple Lisa?), but the general trajectory for Apple from then on was up.
As newly appointed head of marketing and sales for a five-store ComputerLand chain, I was invited to attend the conference with a few peers. This was the year ComputerLand surpassed $1 billion in sales, the year the legendary and mercurial Bill Millard – ComputerLand’s President and majority owner — deigned to make an appearance at his own event. Perhaps it was Jobs’ presence that motivated him to appear. The PC revolution was in full swing, and the tide had been turning from “home” sales to “business” sales. Industry would never be the same again.
Jobs pitched the Mac as the most visual computer of its time – born and bred for tasks like desktop publishing, which, along with its newest printer technologies, enabled Apple largely to corner the market for the publishing and print industries. Later, it became the platform of choice for video production on the cheap. And from there, it just grew.
In 1984, Bill Gates was king of the PC. Jobs was the interloper, largely considered at the time to have been steamrolled by Gates, business-wise (and in market share). But this dimmed Jobs’ evangelism not one iota. He was passionate about his new baby. And the audience felt it.
At the end of his presentation, some of us stuck around and drifted up on stage. Mostly just to shake the guy’s hand. I have no recollection of what words we exchanged. I am sure it was devastatingly trivial. Didn’t matter, really. In 1984, to us, the Mac that he had just debuted on that stage was… the future.
I left inspired enough to take advantage of an employee purchase plan Apple and ComputerLand had offered. I still remember it: for $1,100 you got a Mac (1 floppy drive and 128K (yes, “K”) of RAM, with a 9” grayscale screen), plus an Apple ImageWriter printer, MultiPlan (the Mac version of what later became Excel), and Write word processing.
I still own that Mac. And I still remember Jobs’ and his presentation. Only in time did we learn how ‘insanely great’ both really were.