Aldus Pagemaker: The Mac’s Savior?

By  |  Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Guy Kawasaki claims that a single piece of software was responsible for saving the Macintosh platform — a claim that while seemingly a bit outlandish may actually make sense. That piece of software was Aldus Pagemaker, one of the first visual page-layout programs.

Speaking at the Ad:Tech conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, the former chief evangelist at Apple said that the original Mac did not do tasks such as spreadsheet creation or database management all that well. But desktop publishing was a natural fit.

Indeed, Mac aficionados will tell you that one of the platform’s biggest strengths is that it is visually driven — which is exactly what you need for a task such as what Pagemaker did. Kawasaki was frank: “Desktop publishing — it saved Apple.”

Aldus may have also spurred the perception of the Mac as a visual creation tool, which could be why practically any graphic design shop these days usesthe  Mac as the primary computing platform. It also created a whole core group of users that was able to take the Cupertino company even through its darkest times.

Kawasaki also had a few words for the Mac and its development team that I’m sure will go over well with the Appleheads: calling the original Mac “a piece of crap,” although a “revolutionary piece of crap,” and the original development team the “greatest collection of egos in one room” in the history of Silicon Valley, only to be recently eclipsed by Google.

I tend to agree with Guy’s assessment and would argue this is one of the core reasons why the Mac remains successful to this day. It still does not do the mundane business tasks well, and I doubt it ever will. But look at the creative side — Apple knows its strengths and its all about the visual — up until recently creating highly appealing documents and the like were much easier for the inexperienced on a Mac.

Why do you think Microsoft has made such big strides in recent versions of Windows to match this functionality? Because this is one of the things it has always done well (and arguably right) and Aldus Pagemaker may have just been what the platform needed to prove its worth.



17 Comments For This Post

  1. Patrick Says:

    "the original development team the “greatest collection of egos in one room” – to be fair, they had a lot to be egotistical about.

  2. The_Heraclitus Says:

    I don't know if I would consider having a ~6% market share as being "saved"…

  3. Mike Cerm Says:

    Apple is a hugely profitable company. Even their computer hardware division is profitable, despite their tiny marketshare.

  4. The_Heraclitus Says:

    I guess that the Mac still exists as a teeny, tiny player in the PC mkt DOES mean, technically, that it didn't die.

  5. David Hamilton Says:

    I guess that, technically, Ferrari is practically non-existent as a car maker…. by market share.

    The point being that a company's wellbeing is measured in profit, not market share.

  6. The_Heraclitus Says:

    I'm talking product line not company. Unless, you think that a "Mac" is a company?

  7. David Hamilton Says:

    And the difference is? (When answering, bear in mind that Apple has only one brand in the traditional PC market – the Mac – and so Apple's market share is exactly equal to the Mac's.)

    If you purely want to argue semantics, I think you'll hear the sound of one person arguing… (very Zen!).

  8. stefan Says:

    My first big sale 25 years ago was a Macintosh Plus, a 20 Meg Hard Drive, an Apple LaserWriter, and Aldus PageMaker for $25K….definitely PageMaker saved Apple…

  9. Ed Oswald Says:

    Good lord. 😀

  10. Mike Cerm Says:

    All of them. Mundane business tasks like the ones that you mentioned rely on Microsoft Office, for the most part, and the Mac version is not on the same level as the PC version. Beyond Office, there are a lot of other application used in the corporate world that are PC-only (depending on the nature of the business you're in). Even if the Mac software were available (and up to the level of the Windows counterparts), it still wouldn't make any sense to pay the Apple hardware tax in a corporate environment.

  11. David Hamilton Says:

    Since MS produce both Office and Windows, and optimise the former to run best on the latter, a redux of your argument is:
    "Mac is worse because it isn't Windows"

    And with respect to Office you seem to be confusing the terms 'good' and 'ubiquitous'. As a software developer, I consider Office (particularly Word) to be an excellent case study in how not to create usable software.

    There is lots of great, innovative, productivity software for the Mac, but it will always fail your test if that test is that 'it isn't office'.

  12. Mike Cerm Says:

    Microsoft has totally different teams that work on Windows, Office, and on Office for Mac. The Mac version is optimized for Mac, including stuff like Powerpoint integrating with iPhoto. It's not like they just recompile it or something. However, since few people use Macs in Exchange-based corporate environments, I would agree that Entourage doesn't get as much attention as Outlook gets.

    In the corporate world, ubiquity is often linked to good, because you need to interoperate with people. It might be to use Bean or Pages instead of Word, and both are fine for basic stuff. However, if someone sends you heavily-formatted DOCX, and you manage to get it open, but the formatting is messed up, and you can't see any of the revisions… Well, you can see where I'm going with this.

    As a software developer, you should understand the challenges that Microsoft faces (supporting billions of users, literally), and applaud the work they've done with Word, particularly the Ribbon redesign. If you can think of a way to include ALL of Word's functionality, and make it more "usable" than Microsoft has done, go right ahead!

    For a lot of people, especially Mac-people, they confuse "usable" with "simple". There are a lot of simple Word alternatives, and I've already mentioned two of them. They do a great job replicating 10% of what Word is capable of, and that's why they seem so simple, and easy-to-use. 10% may be good for most people most of the time, but the minute you need one of those omitted features, a simple word processor becomes unusable.

    Case in point: the iPhone has one button. Pretty simple, right? However, unlike Android, Windows Phone, and WebOS, which each provide a dedicated "Back" button (or gesture), there's no standard way to go back to whatever you were just looking at. In menus, there's usually a back button at the top of the scene (which is not visible if you've scrolled down to find a particular setting), but not always. In Safari, the back button is at the bottom. Having a dedicated button is much more usable. (I'm not saying that the iPhone as a whole isn't better than the alternatives, but I can think of several examples where its simplicity makes actually doing things on the phone more difficult than the others.)

  13. BladRnr Says:

    I'm not sure how Office became the central issue of this response to Pagemaker, but the blame the inability to open cross-platform Office files lies directly with Microsoft, not Apple or the Mac. The Mac is an excellent computer that CAN do the same things as a Windows PC. The issues you raised are all to do with Microsoft's continuing attempt to try to diminish Mac sales by giving Mac users horrible versions of Office for Mac. If they can't do the same thing as a Windows PC, it has nothing to do with a Mac and everything to do with that company in Redmond who can't see the forest for the trees. Think about how little they really care about Mac users when they can't ship equivalent software. And this is from a software company? No wonder they are stagnant and will never do much above and beyond Windows and Office. They are stuck in the '90s.

  14. David Hamilton Says:

    Microsoft, like most corporates, suffers from a 'Strategy Tax', where certain products cannot be allowed to succeed to the point where they might impact on the success of another, larger, product in the portfolio. Thus the existance of two teams for the Mac and Windows versions in largely irrelevant: The Mac version of Office could never be allowed to better than the Windows version.

    Secondly, I think you're confusing inter-operability with ubiquity. Corporates need inter-operability – the ability to pass around created artefacts such as documents. Ubiquity is actually a negative, as it denies them the ability to chose the best products for their requirements and to reap the benefits of a competitive market – such as price competition.

    Improve Word? Easy – provide a proper implementation of stylesheets. All the versions that I've ever used have been fine for a one page letter or leaflet, but write proper document? No way. I have spend almost two decades trying to avoid using the (ubiquitous) Microsoft Word. It's an overgrown text-editor that needed a fundamental redesign 15 years ago, but onto which MS have just kept piling feature upon feature.

    I think that for 'Mac people' the word 'usable' means logical and well laid-out. Yes, simple helps with that, but simple involves the hard task of correctly prioritising which 20% of all possible features are actually of real value to the end users. That is actually more difficult than adding 100% of the features – after all, hiring developers to write code is easy, designing a good simple system is really tricky.

    As the old saying goes: "I didn't have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one".

  15. imthepipe Says:

    Like it makes sense to pay the Windows support tax?

  16. jbelkin Says:

    The initial sales of Macs were because of MACPAINT – you couldn't actually do much of anything but it was like when someone drove up in the first automobile or the first time you used Mosiac … And WORD & EXCEL were great – yes, they were built upon MACWRITE & early spreadsheet apps but they were FINALLY WYSIWYG – while the Apple II spreadsheet app and Wp were a nice leap from the PC or actual word processors (imagine that, a terminal hardware that could do WP 🙂 ), WORD & EXCEL were strightforward and wasn't wonky. And ACTUAL typefaces (aka: fonts) and not just Times or Times Roman but Pagemaker and equally as important, the Apple laserprinter meant steady sales to ad agencies, print shops and piblishers – companies willing to spend money on Macs – $5k for a mac, $5k for a laserprinter, etc, etc …

  17. Patricia Miller Says:

    Getting back to the original idea of the post, I've long believed that Pagemaker was the killer app for the Mac. I've been in It long enough to remember the arguments about who got what computer, but as soon as someone said "I need Pagemeker" the discussion was closed.