Today in Apple history: Macintosh Plus brings big changes to Mac

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The MacIntosh Plus was arguably the first truly great Mac.
The MacIntosh Plus was arguably the first truly great Mac.
Photo: Rama/Wikipedia CC

January 16: Today in Apple history January 16, 1986: Apple introduces the Macintosh Plus, its third Mac model and the first to be released after Steve Jobs was forced out of the company the previous year.

The Mac Plus is the first Macintosh to include a SCSI port, the main way of attaching a Mac to other devices until Apple abandoned the tech on the iMac G3 upon Jobs’ return. The Mac Plus also boasted an expandable 1MB of RAM and a double-sided 800KB floppy drive.

Macintosh Plus: A worthy sequel

The $2,600 Macintosh Plus (roughly $5,725 in today’s money) shipped two years after the original Macintosh debuted. In some ways, it was the first true sequel to the Mac. (The intermediate Macintosh 512K model was virtually identical to the original, with the exception of more built-in memory.)

The Mac Plus featured a few nifty innovations that made it the best Mac of its kind at the time. A big one: Its design meant users could finally upgrade their Macs, a change Apple embraced during the late 1980s and early 1990s. (Steve Jobs would never allow this type of DIY capability).

Although the computer came with a not-insubstantial 1MB of RAM (the first Mac came with just 128K), the Mac Plus went even further. The new design let users easily expand to 4MB using socketed RAM boards.

This philosophical change — combined with the ability to add up to seven peripherals (hard drives, scanners, etc.) — made the Mac Plus a considerably better machine than its ancestors.

Depending on when you bought it, the Mac Plus also supported some incredibly useful software beyond the usual MacPaint and MacWrite. The excellent HyperCard and MultiFinder let Mac owners multitask, using several applications at once for the first time.

If you owned an Apple computer back then, you likely also bought Microsoft Excel or Adobe PageMaker, which were Mac-exclusive programs for a time. (The former was exclusive only because of a terrible deal between Apple and Microsoft.)

The Mac Plus also proved quite a hit in the lucrative education market.

Mac Plus: An all-in-one workhorse

The Macintosh Plus was technologically superseded by the Macintosh SE and Macintosh II, which came the following year, but that didn’t slow it down.

With the exception of a 1987 case color change from Putty (beige) to Platinum to fit with Apple’s new Snow White design language, the Mac Plus continued to be produced as it was until October 1990 — giving it a lengthy 4 years-plus lifespan.

For many, this was the first Macintosh that didn’t simply hint at great things to come, but actually delivered them. Historically its status as the first post-Steve Jobs Mac also makes it important.

Did you own a Macintosh Plus?

Did you own or use a Macintosh Plus at school or work? What are your memories of this groundbreaking computer? Leave your comments below.

P.S. Mac Plus makes it to the movies

Oh, and beginning Apple’s long string of on-screen appearances in top Hollywood movies, here’s the Mac Plus in 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

In the scene, Scotty uses the Mac Plus to design a new ultra-thin aluminum, which would no doubt delight Jony Ive.