Homage to a machine and a visionary

Before we’re swept away (oops, but that seems to have happened already) by the unveiling of Apple’s tablet we ought to pay homage to technologies before the iPad and visionaries before Steve Jobs.

The original messiah machine: the Mac Plus. Introduced in 1986, this little beauty brought a revolution in publication design. It came standard with 1 MB of  RAM in an all-in-one, beige case wrapped around a 9-inch monochrome display. It was the first Mac to come with a built in SCSI port for an external Hard Drive.

The Plus was the computer that brought desktop publishing within reach of almost everyone. The revolutionary WYSIWYG interface enabled fast, professional management of text and images, as well as the creation of simple charts and graphs. Costing about $2700, most design and graphics departments could afford just one. But they came with the signatures of Jobs, Woz and the rest of the Apple design team on the inside of the plastic shell. Iterations of The Plus brought the capacity to design and publish entirely on the computer.

The Plus was also the computer where designers and journalists discovered online networking. Before the Net exploded as open and global platform, communicators connected their Pluses to to PressLink. The database and computer bulletin board service, a subsidiary of Knight Ridder, enabled access, transmissions and downloads of small files of news text, photos, images and graphics. PressLink also served as proprietary network for collaboration and communication.

Now for visionaries. You can’t marvel at the tablets, eReaders and mobile screens that will dazzle the future of communications without nodding to Roger Fidler. A seminal figure in digital publishing, he developed a prophetic prototype for a news tablet in 1994. Roger was among the few to understand the convergence of technology, communications, design and mobility. He developed devices for moving news beyond print in the early 1990s. Now some publishers think those devices are the salvation for newspapers.

Matt Mansfield has written a splendid profile of Roger on the Society for News Design site.

Time to look forward again. It’s noon and the Apple unveiling is five hours away.

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