“On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce “Macintosh”, and you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984”.
-Closing line from Apple’s famous “1984” commercial, which starred Anya Major, and which was directed by Ridley Scott.
With the twentieth anniversary of the Macintosh upon us, I felt that this would be an appropriate time to tell “my story”, of how I came to be such a fan of this computing platform. Heck, everyone has stories, right?
As it says in my profile, my first exposure to a computer was my high school’s Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-11, way back in the dark ages of the early 1970’s. It was pretty cool. Up until that point, computers, at least to me, had been the stuff of Saturday afternoon science fiction movies, where white-coated scientists were always trying to either save the world, or blow it up. School authorities kept the PDP-11 locked in a room, with only a few teachers being allowed access to it, but on occasion, some of us students got to see it. A big deal for us students was to get to see the teacher in charge of it actually start it up. True excitement among 70’s high school geeks! The room where students were allowed to actually work on the computer was just an ordinary classroom, normal, but for the Teletype terminals, mounted on pedestals, around the room. To all you younger readers, that means they looked like fancy typewriters, with little ball shaped gizmos that traveled back and fourth, printing code and whatnot on yellow paper. And yes, even back then, there was games, mostly written in BASIC. There was even a pretty cool Star Trek game, where two players on different terminals could play against each other. (Gasp!)
Fast forward to the early 1980’s. At this point, I had been in the work force for a few years, laboring away as a test technician. One of my earliest jobs involved testing and troubleshooting printed circuit boards at a mid-size company. Here, I used computers on the job. Automatic test equipment, or A.T.E. was coming in big time, and it demanded techs that were “computer literate”. We had moved away from the Teletype interfaces, and now had monochromatic terminals. So, I found computers to be useful, and even fun to use on the job. But to actually own one? You had to be kidding. They cost thousands, and what would anyone do with one? The answer was no. I had heard about some hobbyists cobbling together some home computers, but my interests at that time were elsewhere.
I started reading about this company called “Apple Computer” in the various technical and business magazines. They were making lots of headlines, as innovators of new stuff, and for the company being a “cool place to work”. The Apple II computers were turning up on desks here and there, and everyone raved about “how much more fun they were than those IBM’s”. I noticed something: Anyone who used an Apple II, whether that person was a secretary, or a techno-whiz kid, was always smiling and enjoying whatever it was they were doing. Okay, that’s nice, but still, my interest in computers was strictly as an on-the-job tool, nothing more. National Semiconductor made an ATE system called the “Starplex”, and a Massachusetts company called Genrad (shortened from “General Radio Company”) made a huge system for PC board testing. It had a vacuum system, with a “bed of nails”, where the PC card, small or huge, got sucked down onto the nails, made it’s electrical connections (hopefully), and the computer ran the test program. I won’t go into any dull details on that, but any test tech who ever used this system is probably rolling his / her eyeballs right about now. Yeah, it was like that. Let’s just say that Genrad should have shipped a large supply of aspirin with each system. When they worked, they worked very well, and when they didn’t? Well, you had better have been blessed with a great sense of humor. Opinions differ as to whether or not I have this particular gift.
In December of 1984, I went to work at RCA, on second shift. It was here where I first started noticing the little beige boxes called Macintosh on desktops, and in some lab areas. I had heard of it, they came from that Apple Computer Company. I had heard how revolutionary it was. I had not put my hands on one. That was soon to change. One of the things I had to do was write some notes on what had been accomplished during the course of the shift. The reports didn’t have to be long or involved, but a reasonable account of the nights transgressions. Not too bad, I thought, I’ll use the VAX system. (Anyone remember the good old VAX?)
Well, after a few nights of dutifully typing out some notes on what happened, I came in to work one afternoon, and my supervisor said that the VAX system was down, and would not be up again that night. He pointed to one of the little beige Macs and said, “Use one of those for your report”.
Thus, it began for me, on a late night in 1984, in a darkened office area, with a cold December wind howling outside. (They turned off the lights in office areas, except for “night lights” at 9 PM) I sat down at my first Macintosh. Small, rather simple looking, with a cable exiting from a port in the back, and going to a printer that looked enormous. A little keyboard, and the “mouse” which I had heard about. I had no clue as to where to begin, so with the Mac already powered up, I started poking around with the mouse. And…. AMAZING! This is awesome, I thought. But what the heck was that “KA-Klunk” noise I heard here and there? It sounded like someone banging on a tin can with a small hammer. Another tech, watching me play said, “I think that means you’re doing something wrong, or something”. Okay, fair enough. It was funny, but for a few moments, I could not determine that the noise was coming from the Mac.
After a few minutes of marveling at the graphical user interface, I found something called “Macwrite”, and clicked on it. Hot Damn, this is just too cool! Very soon, I had typed out my evening’s report, and figured out how to print it. Nice! And I never even cracked a manual. So, this is what this Apple Computer is all about, making it fun, as well as interesting.
More and more of the little Macs started appearing all over the place, and even in some more lab and shop areas. Most people really loved them; with “They’re so easy to use” being heard constantly. It was right along in here, when I encountered my first “Mac basher”. I won’t hash this up again, other than to say that here was a man who apparently could not stand the fact that a company had made using computers not only simple, but also fun. His favorite expression: “They’re so stupid”! I’m sure you’ve all met at least one of these. I’m not sure where they come from. My best guess would be a toxic waste dump.
I continued to work with the Mac, and it got even better when I learned that you could use “Mac Draw” to do up some pretty decent mechanical drawings. Professional applications for this purpose started appearing, and it was even nicer. Macdraft continues to be a favorite of mine.
Time did what it always does, it marched on. Processors got faster, demands went up, and the Mac evolved. Other types of desktop computers evolved as well. The “PC Genius” seemed to be everywhere, and appeared to be the choice of those who considered themselves to be “more computer literate” than Mac users. By the early 90’s, I found myself actually wanting to own a personal computer. I wanted a Mac of course, but buying a new one was out of the question. No dice, not on what technicians were paid. But, I got an even deeper appreciation for the Mac, when I was hit with a long stretch of unemployment from ‘91 to late ‘92. General Electric had bought out RCA, and GE handed me a nice layoff letter. But, they provided an outplacement office, which was well equipped with Mac IIs, and early laser printers. I was able to build a most excellent resume’, and get it just right, thanks to those Macs. While the PC’s in the outplacement office were coughing along with early versions of Windows, (Lots of crashes, and problems which no one knew how to solve) the Macs made like the energizer bunny, and just kept going and going. With so many people now out of jobs, there were usually lines of folks waiting to use those Mac IIs. No waiting for the PC’s, even if they were up and running.
I realized that I was hooked on these computers, and that was that.
In late 1995, I finally purchased my first Mac, a Performa 6360, equipped with OS 7.5 I know, not one of their better products, or operating systems. (Boy, don’t I know it!) A lot of the problems with this box went away when I installed 7.6.1 on it. Now it worked fine. Maybe not the fastest around, but I loved it just the same. (I still have it.) As most people know, this was Apple’s worst time as a company. I felt it was important to stick with them, and to keep buying their products, despite so many saying that the company was going to disappear any second. It was during this time, that I knew that I was truly a “Macaddict”, and no, I was not about to apologize. People kept saying negative things about Apple, and my response was simply, “Just wait awhile”. When the company was reorganized, and Steve Jobs returned to the helm in 1997, I knew things were going to start happening, and probably fast.
As most of us know, and as some of the more hard-line PC zealots will admit, (albeit grudgingly) the waiting has paid off, and I would say it has paid off big time. We have hardware and an operating system we can truly be proud of, and some applications that are nothing short of awesome. Apple continues to develop technologies which are generations ahead of everyone else, and which are the envy of the industry. (Despite the best efforts of some naysayers to put “spin control” on it.) The iPod is a classic example of this. How many imitations of the iPod are there now anyway? And would anyone care to bet how long it will be before Dell’s cases and internal designs start to bear a strange resemblance to the G5s? (Look Mike, no cables to clutter things up! Hard Drives you can install and remove without tools! Better get busy Mike.)
Question: What do you call the R & D department at Dell?
Answer: Apple Computer.
I know, I know, lots of pompom waving here. The answer to the question you want to ask is no, I don’t think Apple is perfect by any means. I don’t agree with all of their decisions. They’ve had a lot of successes in recent years, and some failures as well. The failures are getting fewer and father between.
Twenty years of being a Mac Fan. Yeah, it’s a long time, and I’m amazed at how far we’ve come, with technology and everything else. Are you looking forward to the next twenty? I know I am.
I salute the Macintosh on its twentieth birthday! I am damn glad to have been along for the ride, even if there have been some “potholes” here and there.
Oh, and if anyone out there knows where I can grab that “Ka-Klunk” sound, or the “monkey squeal” sound, drop me a line here at MyMac.com.
So, what’s your story?