The Most Inspiring Computer of All Time?

by Chris Howard Nov 15, 2006

Can anyone remember any personal computer not made by Apple that they found inspiring? Probably not since the early ‘80s. Sinclairs, Ataris, BBCs, Commodores and others from way back then were a bit special. But Apple, even back then, was still making computers that stood out from the crowd, computers that inspired awe.

According to OS X’s dictionary, inspire means:
• fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, esp. to do something creative
• create (a feeling, esp. a positive one) in a person

The first definition you’ve got to wonder if Apple wrote itself. Macs have always been intended to inspire creativity. And from strong anecdotal evidence, they certainly achieve that.

OS X’s thesaurus lists synonyms for inspire as: stimulate, motivate, encourage, influence, rouse, move, stir, energize, galvanize, incite; animate, fire, excite, spark, inspirit, incentivize, affect.

Great words to describe both Macs and the various Mac operating systems over the years.

What computers (Macs or not) have inspired you over the last 30 years? The following list is my favorites, the ones that turned my head. Not surprisingly, they are all on my list because their design, design that I found inspirational. Most PCs designers prove that an ugly computer can do the job, but an inspiring design can make working with that computer more pleasant, and who knows, maybe even more productive in sublime ways.

The original Mac


Image courtesy of GUIde Book Gallery

This computer inspired most people who looked upon it. Although not a lot of people bought them, most people desired one. The original Mac put the “personal” into “personal computer”. Even today I still swoon over this machine. It still has “it”. It represented so much then, and it still does now. It was small, friendly looking, portable and had an operating system that talked and smiled at you. In 1984, the Mac seemed straight out of the 21st Century. I wonder how many owners of the original Mac (and it’s upgrades), just sat there and looked at it and said “Wow!” And felt inspired to do anything. (Although of course, they had time to sit and watch it while they swapped floppies. wink )

iMac G4

Image courtesy of

Another traffic stopper from Apple. Besides the original Mac, this is the only other computer that truly inspired me. It’s design was so far ahead of its time that no one has been able to duplicate it - not even Apple themselves. Apple, in design terms, climbed Everest with the iMac G4.

iMac G5

Image courtesy of

How do you follow the iMac G4? Not even Apple could top it. Instead Apple chose simplicity and sleekness but still produced a head turner. As a owner of the Intel equipped iMac, I can certainly say, it still catches my eye when I walk past it, and I still go “Wow!”. It’s a pleasure to sit in front of and certainly does inspire creativity.

20th Anniversary Mac

Image courtesy of

I add this retrospectively. Until only a few years ago I wasn’t aware of it’s existence. It certainly didn’t get a lot of fanfare in this part of the world. But looking at it, it is some sorta machine. Of course, with some sorta price tag. Maybe that’s what killed the fanfare.

iMac G3

Image courtesy of

Wow! Computers didn’t have to be beige! And they didn’t have to look like giant bricks; they could have character. The original iMac is the direct descendant, philosophically, of the original Mac. Once again, a computer could be small, friendly looking and portable.

Now, this list won’t be to everyone’s taste. You can say my whole list is utter bollocks. Inspiration is a personal thing. But Apple seem to know how to tap into it.

You might be inspired by the Cube, the PowerMac, the XServe, the first PowerBook, the Apple ][ and so on. Maybe you see Apple’s Everest as the PowerBook 100. Maybe the Sinclair ZX80 in its tiny form factor in 1980 is the most inspiring computer you’ve seen. Or maybe it was the first mainframe you saw (that took up a whole floor of a building). Or maybe you’ve seen the super Mac cluster at Virginia Tech. Or maybe simply the abacus.

Let us know what you think is the most inspiring computer of all time.


  • Interesting, your favs are all-in-one designs…

    I’d have to add PS/2 Model 25. In the IBM way it was clever, expandable with two MCA channels, had a 14” MCGA monitor that was better than CGA but not as good as EGA. Came with a 3.5” Floppy, and either a blank, floppy, or 20mb hard drive. It was a great PC made by a great company and at a great time in computer history. It was also an all-in-one and had a decent hard edge style. It also introduced such things as the PS/2 port, OS2, future PCI (MCA without the proprietary stuff), and inspired some of us to develop games (Age 12 for me, published in PC Week). Sure it ran Dos but style wise it did inspire and graphics wise it was ahead for the price range $2599.

    On a side note my Mac Classic died last month. It’s being turned into a TV using an 8” screen just because I LOVE the style.

    My All Time fav, the G4 iMac. Followed by the G4 Cube, then the Mac Mini.

    xwiredtva had this to say on Nov 15, 2006 Posts: 172
  • I think the original Mac is the most inspiring computer of all time. 

    But for me it is also the most disappointing.

    1984, I was a grad student ready to buy my first computer and had my sights set on the original Mac.  Then it comes out with this insanely ridiculously high price.

    That put me off buying a Mac for 19 years.

    I’ve always maintained that Apple’s biggest blunder was the extraordinarily greedy shortsighted pricing of the Mac.

    Apparently that’s what you get when you let a soda pop salesman have too big a say on how to run a tech company.

    tundraboy had this to say on Nov 15, 2006 Posts: 132
  • My all-time favorite would still have to be the Apple II GS.  Apple’s decision to kill off the Apple II line and focus their energy on the Mac soured me on the company for many years.

    Your article seems to suggest that hardware is the determining factor in a computer’s “wow-ness,” and that is likely what sold me on the eMac and on my iBook, but the OS and applications available are even bigger, as far as I’m concerned.  In this regard, as cool as the Macs looked on the outside, I found them to be vastly inferior to GSOS; only with OS X did I think Apple finally had another computer worthy of being the successor to the Apple II line.  But then again, I thought the combination of a kick-ass GUI when you wanted it and the option to boot to an interpreted programing environment when you didn’t was a great thing.  I never disputed Apple’s ability to create the best in graphic user interfaces, but only when the terminal in OS X finally replaced the Applesoft Basic command prompt on the II GS did I seriously consider using another Apple computer.

    k95 had this to say on Nov 15, 2006 Posts: 2
  • While I’ve enjoyed lots of Macs, I’ve got to go with the Cube as the most inspired.

    The Cube was truly a work of art and yet was quite powerful for it’s time.  To this day I hate that Apple screwed up the price point.  Granted, the flat screen iMacs are nice and all…but I’d love to buy a nice monitor and trade out new cubes every couple of years whether than having to get an entirely new setup.  The Cube also pointed to Apple’s assault on the rest of the house.  No longer would computers be stuck just in the home office.

    After the Cube, I’d probably go to the SE/30 - similar form-factor to its precursors, but substantially more powerful.  Giving the first indication that the Mac was really going to rock-n-roll over time…those hints of power were inspiring. 

    Even the first PowerBooks were fabulous.  And the Titanium/Aluminium Powerbooks were jaw-dropping (and live on in the current MacBook Pro).  Of course, I can’t wait for the next generation.

    Then the original iMac, the iMac G4, and the flatscreen iMac’s.  Each new form factor hinted that computing was on the cusp on a new era.  Can the Apple flatscreen TV with built-in Mac be far behind?

    Somewhat ironically, one of my favorite form factors remains the 300 MHz G3 “pizza box”.  Powerful for its day, attractively priced, just the right size for my desk, and the monitor sat on top of it just right.  And, as the first generation with a DVD player, it pointed towards the future convergence of computing and entertainment media.


    Outside of Apple?  Like you said, I’ve got to go back awhile.

    The first time I finished typing in pages of hexadecimal from a forgotten magazine into some forgotten vendor’s “monitor” program and moved a sprite from one side of the screen to another, I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life.

    The first time I played Alkabeth on an Apple II, I saw more of the future.  I imagined that I felt the dampness of the dungeon and cobwebs clinging to my face.  Of course, I’ve still found a gaming experience that’s lived up to that, but I hold out hope.

    And with each generation of storage, I’ve had a thrill as the possibilities have seemed even more limitless.  From typing in hex every single time I wanted to do something, to a paper strip reader, to a cassette tape, to the Commodore’s 1541 floppy drive, to the Macintosh 400k 3.5” floppy, to my first 5 MB hard drive, to my first CD-ROM drive, the first 100 MB hard drive, 500 MB hard drive, DVD drive, 1 GB drive, 100 GB drive…  Probably within 5 years, my portable computer will have a terabyte drive!

    Admittedly, I’m a computer geek and have been since the mid-to-late 1970’s.  But little has inspired me more than the continual technology revolution of the last 30 years.


    PS:  And let’s not get started on modems, networking, and wireless.  I liked that field so much that it’s been my career for the last 25 years!

    reinharden had this to say on Nov 15, 2006 Posts: 7
  • The discussion has strayed somewhat from inspiring computers to inspiring design, but I think I have to agree with the previous poster.

    The Cube was one of the most inspiring designs to come out of Apple ever… but they did screw up the pricing on it. Too expensive (although not nearly as bad as the $8000 20th Anniversary Mac… What were they smoking?)

    As for inspiring computers, it was my buddy’s Apple ][+ ... It is what made me an IT professional today. I eventually owned my own //c, but the ][+ will always have a soft spot in my heart because of those very first basic programs my friend and I wrote on it.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Nov 15, 2006 Posts: 243
  • I can honestly say that no computer has inspired me in terms of artistic creation.  That does not mean, however, that I don’t find good industrial design admirable and well done.

    The best designed Mac to me, and maybe computer in general, is the new iMac.  I also really like the Macbooks, based on the previous Powerbook design.  I never liked the “lamp” design.  The Cube was cool but I was really turned off by the price.

    In terms of more vintage computers, I remember the Commodore 64 really being unique at the time in what it could do, although the TSR-80 was the first computer I really learned how to use.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 15, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • Great mention on the Commodores, Ataris, and Sinclairs: I owned them all back in the day. Not to forget the TI/994A.

    I never bought an Apple. The Apple ][ lost our vote to other emerging systems at the time. The Macintosh was amazing but the price was well beyond our means. Even today I won’t shell out $3,000 for a computer.

    Like tundraboy said, I never considered a Mac from that point on. I eventually found myself with an Atari 520ST which gave me the chance at long last to enjoy the Mac. I modded the ST with an external MFM hard drive (via SCSI) and the Magic Sac emulator. I recall going to the Trenton Computer Show and buying the Mac ROMs from a vendor and somehow found a copy of Mac OS. I started the Magic Sac, installed Mac OS from floppy and hardly used the native Atari OS from that point on.

    Then I was off to college so a PC compatible showed up and that’s all she wrote until OS X.

    I feel all of those computers (Commodore, Atari, Mac, etc.) were special because they were the start of something big. Everyone was vying to be the market leader and we know what happened there but the Atari was fun while it lasted.

    The Mac, every iteration, has caught people’s attention in a way that nothing else ever has. Maybe it was the pretty face and the high price. I recall the Commodore Amiga making a brief run of it but by then all was lost to Windows and PC.

    Eric Brodeur had this to say on Nov 16, 2006 Posts: 23
  • My most inspiring computer must be the C64.  Learning Basic programming gave me a whole new feeling of control that you would never before get with a consumer device.  Doe’s anybody remember typing the LIST command and watching all their code cascade down the screen??  How cool was that??

    One thing that seems a shame is that Macs shouldn’t have to be consigned to history.  I love the ‘lamp’ design G4, but it is slow by todays standards - I wish I could upgrade it internally as PC owners can so I can keep the gorgeous thing for years and years.

    I’ve got 12” white-style iBook, a lovely quiet machine that gives you space to think, smiles at you (finder) and snores at night.  Magic.

    della had this to say on Nov 16, 2006 Posts: 3
  • iMac G4. It still turns heads when I take it out and set it up as a temporary office for a day. As it still inspires me to better work and creative solutions, I’ll miss it when I eventually replace it.

    I loved the original Mac but, like others, was priced out of the Mac party for many years. Even so, I remember creating some, at the time, incredible product on friends’ machines.

    Can’t wait to get my hands on a MacBook Pro… smile

    oz-nom had this to say on Nov 16, 2006 Posts: 13
  • della said: I love the ‘lamp’ design G4, but it is slow by todays standards - I wish I could upgrade it internally as PC owners can so I can keep the gorgeous thing for years and years.

    Yeah! As soon as someone works out how to get a Macmini inside a iMac G4. I’m there.

    Ditto the Classic Mac as well.

    tundraboy said: That put me off buying a Mac for 19 years.

    Wow! Same here! 19 years. What a long wait it was. How different would my life have been if I was Mac all those years? Considering that from 1985 to 2005 I was doing PC support. Would I have been doing Mac stuff if I coulda afforded one in 1984?

    Chris Howard had this to say on Nov 16, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • Page 1 of 1 pages
You need log in, or register, in order to comment