For today’s Mac user, QuickTime is nothing special—just part of the base package, lost among other bells and whistles. But travel back to this week in December 1991, when consumers got their first taste of QuickTime 1.0, and you’ll understand how revolutionary QuickTime was upon its debut.
Today we can all livestream on Facebook using our smartphones at any given moment, so it’s probably difficult for readers below a certain age to conceive that once upon a time computers didn’t play videos. But that was the case, and Apple’s attempt to develop video playback software prior to QuickTime had been a false start. (Called QuickScan, the program got a public demo, but because it required its own graphics chip to run, the software was never released.)
How QuickTime changed the game
QuickTime 1.0, however, overcame that obstacle and worked on any color-capable Macintosh, nothing extra required. “As a result, you, the developer, can take it for granted that QuickTime will be available on any Macintosh running your software,” wrote Guillermo A. Ortiz in this Apple developers’ guide. With QuickTime 1.0, developers could add video and sound to their applications because QuickTime (note the “time” in its name) could handle data that changed with time. For instance, in showing a video, QuickTime could overcome a slow CPU by skipping certain frames, ensuring video kept up with audio—and ensuring a standard experience across different types of hardware.
Naturally, this development attracted great attention in the tech community and led to yet another chapter in the Apple vs. Microsoft saga. On Dec. 6, 1994, Apple filed a lawsuit against the San Francisco Canyon Company, asserting that the contract software development company had reused its QuickTime code in later work for Intel as part of the development of Microsoft’s Video for Windows. This complaint was ultimately resolved in the great 1997 détente between the tech giants.
Bonus: For a true flashback, watch this tongue-in-cheek “tour” of the QuickTime “lab.”
Tech Time Warp is a weekly feature that looks back at interesting moments and milestones in tech history.