While I’ve needed to be competent on Macintosh, Windows, and Unix systems for my professional life, I far prefer Macintosh to the others. I feel that Macintosh gives me the greatest flexibility in concentrating on my work, rather than concentrating on my computer. (That the shareware and freeware for Macintosh are often professional quality makes my life even simpler.) Cary Lu, in his , gives a view of the computing world that jibes with my years of experience.
That’s not to say that Apple Computer can do no wrong. Quite the opposite. It’s made many horrible, screeching technical and marketing screw-ups. A superior product combined with an almost reverent evangelical following has allowed the company to survive what would probably have killed companies with lesser offerings. Shortages, back-orders, poor upgrade paths, poor technical choices, letting promising products lie fallow and championing products that only Marketing could love – these are just some of the bone-head decisions that we’ve had to live with. Apple’s legendary disregard for the small-scale third-party developer is probably its biggest sin. Still, with all this foolishness taken into consideration, Macintosh has been a seductive and powerful tool for expressing my ideas. (I have more comments about the
After many years of being mired in AppleLink, the electronic equivalent of the La Brea Tar Pits, Apple has arrived on the Internet with a vengence. Along with the development of the PowerBook, Apple’s being on the net is the most empowering advance since the Lisa XL was released. Besides all the free system updates, tools, and developer documentation available, Apple has moved into the electronic distribution of commercial software: the first such venture that I’m aware of was the sale of QuickTime via the World Wide Web. I had to open a First Virtual account, but even that was done via the web, and anyone with a credit card could be using the software a quarter-hour after deciding to explore all-digital purchasing.
After years of command-line interfaces, the GUI
I was an early adopter of the so-called graphic user interface (GUI) operating systems. Years before Apple took work done at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center – Xerox PARC – and polished it into the Macintosh Operating System (MacOS), years before Bill Gates’ Microsoft took MacOS and created a poor knock-off called Windows, I was using a point-and-click mouse-driven GUI on a forgotten piece of history, the Three Rivers PERQ computer.
Fast-forward to 1981, to a hardware laboratory at the Massachusettes Institute of Technology (MIT). A small group of us are invited to see a prototype of the soon-to-be-released personal computer from IBM. Project codename “peanut” was shown to us without a skin, electronic innards spread out across half a lab table. I remember that two features struck us: the high-quality keyboard and the already-obsolete central processing unit. Being used as we were to writing IBM 360/370 assembly language which ran on a huge mainframe IBM, the small computer’s pathetic operating system didn’t seem to be a great weakness. (If we’d only known that Gates had purchased a hack from someone and christened it MS-DOS….) Sad to say, the IBM PC-AT debuted at a price higher than many students – including myself – could pay. We went back to our mainframes and waited.
Two years later, while I was programming in C on UNIX workstations at a spin-off MIT hardware company in New Hampshire (my first job) I came across the Apple Lisa. The bitmapped graphics were beautiful, and even though it was fast enough only to be a computing joke, it was easy to see that a new computational way had been blazed.
Then, in 1984, word spread about a new kind of computer on the market. Not having the same kind of early access to Apple’s prototypes, I wandered to several Boston computer stores to see for myself. All of them had become little IBM powerhouses, selling package deals to businesses and being completely unable to answer any questions not pre-digested in the sales brochures. It was only deep in the Financial District, behind one of these IBM shops, in a small basement shop, that saw the Apple logo. “Not a retread Lisa”, I thought.
It wasn’t. The one-piece almost cubical beige Macintosh was visually a very different computer than was Lisa. It came across as an elegant solution to a certain class of problem, including what was required of me as a student (except programming, a lack it would take Apple many years to remedy). It too was more expensive than a student’s budget, and being an Apple product, was back-ordered. (I write this having just been informed that my PowerBook 5300c/100 just arrived after being on back-order for about three months. The decades may change but Apple is forever.)
Somehow I scraped together the money from a combination of my parent’s cheques to me and my income as a programmer. When I returned the next day with cash in hand I found that the Mac 512e – the one with 512 kb of RAM – were just the product of a feverish imagination of a marketing person at Apple, not expected to arrive anytime in the forseeable future. I walked out with a 128 kb Mac in a carrying case. (I mention the carrying case because it wore out many years later from all its travels in the overhead bins of many a US$16 People’s Express round trip jet journey between Boston and Newark during my university years.)
Over the years my certificate of ownership of one of the first thousand Macs (sent by MacWorld magazine publisher David Bunnell) has been waylaid over the years, probably victim of a ceiling collapse in my
Over the years the Macintosh on my desk changed models, becoming first a 512e, then a MacPlus, and on, until finally the “programmer’s Macintosh” – the Mac IIx – with its eight slots for add-on and third-party hardware with a 19-inch greyscale monitor covered my workspace.
Then some new advertisments featuring Steven Wozniac and his son graced my geek magazines: they were each holding a laptop Macintosh. The
had arrived. Read on; I’ve owned several of them.
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