The first documentation for the Macintosh 128k, Inside Macintosh was distributed in two large binders with photocopied 3-hole punched pages, with updates distributed for insertion every few months. As the official version by Addison-Wesley was delayed, a $25 Promotional Edition (known as the "Phonebook edition" as it was published by phonebook publisher Lakeside Press) became available in April 1985.
Addison-Wesley published the first hardcover edition of Inside Macintosh in November 1985. It had three volumes in one book, covering the original Mac 128K, Macintosh XL, and the Mac 512K ("Fat Mac") models. When the Macintosh Plus was released, Volume IV (1986) detailing the changes to the system software introduced with that model. Volume V was introduced with the Mac II line in 1987. This manual discusses color QuickDraw, as well as the Mac II and Mac SE hardware and other new software components. Volume VI (April 1991) described System 7; with 32 chapters, it was thicker than the hardcover edition of the first three volumes. All volumes were designed to be read together; no information was repeated.
Shortly after this, Apple revamped the entire Inside Macintosh series, breaking it into volumes according to the functional area discussed, rather than specific machine models or capabilities. In this form, the series was far more coherent and a much better reference for programmers. As new functionality was added to the classic Mac OS, a new volume could be written without invalidating those published earlier, in contrast to the first series, which became increasingly out of date over time. 27 volumes:
- AOCE Application Interfaces
- AOCE Service Access Modules
- Communications Toolbox
- Imaging With QuickDraw
- Interapplication Communication
- Macintosh Toolbox Essentials
- More Macintosh Toolbox
- Operating System Utilities
- QuickDraw GX Environment & Utilities
- QuickDraw GX Graphics
- QuickDraw GX Objects
- QuickDraw GX Printing
- QuickDraw GX Printing Extension & Drivers
- QuickDraw GX Programmers's Overview
- QuickDraw GX Typography
- QuickTime Components
- PowerPC Numerics
- PowerPC System Software
- ResEdit Reference
- TrueType Font Format Specification
In the late 1990s, Apple ceased to publish Inside Macintosh as a printed book, instead making it available as a CD-ROM, and online. Since then, the CD variant has been phased out, though Apple developers can still receive online documentation as part of the developer CDs. In its online form, the information is much easier to maintain, but some developers still prefer a printed format.
Inside Macintosh only covers the classic Mac OS; a new set of documentation was introduced for Mac OS X. Initially this documentation included only the 'Carbon Specification' that said which APIs were supported in Carbon and which were not, and the Cocoa documentation inherited from OPENSTEP. Later, the Carbon Specification was refactored into the Carbon Reference, which actually described the APIs it documented (taking much content from Inside Macintosh). Today, the Carbon Reference and Cocoa reference are bundled together in the ADC Reference Library.
Bruce F. Webster in BYTE in December 1985 described Inside Macintosh as "infamous, expensive, and obscure", but "for anyone wanting to do much with the Mac ... the only real [printed] source of information". He quoted Kathe Spracklen, developer of Sargon, as saying that the book "consists of 25 chapters, each of which requires that you understand the other 24 before reading it". "The best guide to the Mac's ROMs is Inside Macintosh", Robert C. Platt said in August 1985. "Unfortunately, Inside Macintosh is also the most incomprehensible documentation ever written".