Video showcases what it was like buying a Mac in 1994


Mac 1994
A whole lot has changed since 1994?
Photo: David Hoffman

Apple has changed a lot since 1994 — and so has the way we buy computers. A video posted on YouTube by filmmaker David Hoffman offers a neat time capsule showing customers at a computer store in Palo Alto, California, quizzing a salesman on a then-top-of-the-line Mac.

At the time, Hoffman was working for a startup called General Magic. As part of the team’s research, they went to a local computer store to watch customers buying computers. It makes fascinating — and, depending on your age, very nostalgic — viewing. It’s a great reminder of how much things have changed, too.

In the video, there’s no shortage of classic 1990s Macs under discussion. At one point, the salesman shows off what appears to be a Performa 600 — which comes equipped with a 160MB hard drive, 4MB of RAM and an Apple Extended Keyboard.

“$1,900 just for this?” says the customer. (Adjusted for inflation, that’s $3,395 today.) “It comes with a mouse and keyboard,” the salesman reassures them.

Too many Macs

Interestingly, the customer cottons on to what was wrong with Apple at the time: Too many Macs made for a confusing product line.

When the salesman shows them the Macintosh Performa 600CD — which came with an in-built CD-ROM — they say that, “In other words, a guy’s got to do a lot of thinking about what he wants.” Simplifying the Mac buying process is one of the first things Steve Jobs did when he came back to Apple a few years later.

Another great bit in the video is the customer’s awe at seeing a brief, low-res Godzilla clip playing on the Mac. “You mean, you can take a movie and put it on the hard drive, and you can show it back?” they say, incredulously. How would they have reacted to know that, a quarter century later, we’d be able to access HD movies in full on tiny, slimline devices we can fit in our pockets?

My other favorite line, all-important in 1994 and unthinkable now: “If you’re going to be doing a lot of DOS, I don’t recommend the Apple.”

Buying a Mac in the ’90s

The videographer behind the footage, David Hoffman, describes just how different computing was back in the ’90s:

“At the time, I considered the results of this shoot boring and put the Beta SP videotape in my archive. But today, all these years later, it is history for sure. All of my viewers who were around at that time will remember what computers and printers and keyboards and screens were like and how excited we were just to have a bit more memory. For my younger viewers, I do hope that this seems like ancient history, which in a way, it is. I particularly like the scene where the customer sees early video on a computer screen. I can still remember the thrill at seeing that moving image with sound coming over the Internet.”

What was the first computer you remember buying? Do you remember being amazed at the sight of multimedia on a computer? Were you a Mac user in 1994? Let us know in the comments below.