Working On The Mac In The Late 1980s

Characters and people I knew and worked with in prehistoric Mac times.

ANNE – Was a wonderful interior designer, working out of her house in Southern California in the late 1980s. She used a Mac II, brand new, out-of-the-box for five grand. I helped her purchase and install RAM back then, because the more RAM you could install, the faster that 25 MHz computer would run applications.

Her house was furnished in late 70s Hippy fashion, which looked dated a decade later, but it was an interesting place to hang out. Anne was not the most beautiful girl, but she was a very decent sort and very business-like to work with. This lady was almost always in a bathrobe when I would come over, smelling like she just came out of the shower, her hair looking slightly damp and not yet blow dried. There was nothing overt in this. She probably liked to take a lot of showers. So I would just have her sit away from the Mac II while I had the top off and was fooling around its insides.

We Mac people had our culture back then – an informed, power-using clique, and Anne was a newbie, buying her way in. She had to be taught everything, including navigating the Desktop, working in PhotoShop, Corel Draw, and Quark. But she was a fast learner, and very intelligent, so she picked up stuff quickly, and soon was showing me shortcuts and processes, while turning out wonderful room interior proposals for her clients.

Printers back then were almost as expensive as the Macs were, and you would have to buy Font packages to have them installed on the memories of these large, heavy laser printers. I think you could print a page every couple of minutes. Of course, more RAM for these guys was also required to do heavy graphics on paper. Inkjets were almost as big and expensive, but a lot more buggy, since they weren’t made by Apple.

Anne had a son, almost grown. A blond kid that I suspected could neither read, write, or talk. He was a surfer-dude, thin, tanned and blond, always heading out to the beach close by, to ride his waves. The TV in their house was always on the weather channel, to get surf conditions. He had no interest in the Mac at all, but he loved his mom’s art. For Anne, I did some surfboard graphics, which she gave him for his birthday, and which he used as a design to airbrush onto a new board.

I was also the software Pusher in those days, carrying around a small shoebox of 3″ ” floppies. These held a myriad number of software programs for the Macintosh, mostly fonts, applets, control panel apps, screensavers (remember Satori?), as well as stand-alone, one-of-a-kind apps that made the Mac so much fun to work on. I also had programs like Aldus FreeHand, which fit on two floppies, PageMaker, on three floppies, and Microsoft Word 5.0, which took five floppies, mostly for the fonts.

These last were only demos of the programs themselves, complete in every way, and before the need for installation serial numbers, but if you bought the applications ($4-500), you also got a printed manual and the box. I pushed these things to my small group of users, hoping to save them from the horrors of Quark and Corel Draw. Of course, they all bought their own copies so they would have the boxes to proudly display above their Mac computers on their big oak computer desks.

I also used these applications myself, since they installed so quickly, so it was handy to have them when I worked the long hours on my friend’s computers, and sometimes needing to print out something on their expensive printers, out of PageMaker or FreeHand, uh, for my own clients, who wanted their illustrations and/or corporate manuals.

As you probably figured, I did not have my own Mac. Who could afford five grand for a computer back then, when you were just a job-shopper working the job-of-the-month? So the free services I provided for my Mac friends allowed me use of their Macs to do my own business on the side. Kinkos was handy back then too, since they all had Macs and Apple laser printers, so a guy could get his stuff outputted for his clients.

Anne later married a real estate executive and moved to Malibu, raising the three new kids she gave him. Now I hear she paints watercolor landscapes.

FRANK – an early educational computer vendor for many school districts. Frank was an engineer, who tired of the trade and wanted to be an entrepreneur, so he rented a small warehouse-storefront and bought and sold Macintoshes. Mostly he had the Mac Plus, since educators loved that for their teachers and administrators. But he also had the first Newton and Mac Portable, as well as a couple of Mac IIs.

Frank also had access to Apple Credit, wherein someone could actually purchase a Mac Plus for two grand, on low monthly payments. I helped my parents in Kentucky to buy a Mac Plus back then, and floated enough credit to buy my own Mac II with an Apple 12” color monitor. The extra RAM was borrowed from Frank’s store, since he had so much of it. I paid him for things like this by creating his company mascot, sort of a Mac Plus with hands and feet, and a happy face on the screen. It was cool to put this art and his company name with a locator map on coffee mugs and fliers and mailings, connecting Frank with another Mac power-user who had the special equipment for putting artwork on mugs and another guy who had a new color inkjet printer.

I wasn’t the only one of the hangers-on around Frank’s store. There were the Lopez brothers, young kids, barely teenagers, who spent time every day on the Mac IIs in the display area in the front of the store. They drew awesome, photo realistic art in FreeHand. You could watch their art, like a beautiful 18 wheeler tanker truck, as it slowly drew each layer on the screen, until the finished work was complete.

Frank and I helped these kids get piecework with a company doing California Drivers License manuals. That guy was a maker of books and publications, old school, and used to paste-up and drafting board work, but he bought their printed art, just the same. These kids were too young to work, and perhaps didn’t even have a green card to be working, if they could. But with the Mac, their art had life, and they had good income.

Sadly, Frank was put out of business one day, when Apple decided to do their own Educational channel. He lost his right to sell Macs to educators, and went back to engineering, closing his store, and selling his stock for pennies-on-the-dollar. He now works for Microsoft, or so I hear.

ED – Here was a guy, when I found him, who was doing entire publications for companies, on a Wang, typing out lines of code on a green monitor, keeping the layout and font styles in his head. He did awesome, professional work, but it pained me to see him doing it like he did. So I introduced him to the Mac, and it didn’t take him long to see the value of WYSIWYG. He bought one of the first Mac IIfx, with two, large Ikigami color monitors, all the RAM in the world, and every font in existence. Twenty-Five grand, I think he spent for all of it, but being a real newbie, I stuck around to teach him about things on the Mac.

We became fast friends after that, and still are. In the beginning, he could make Fontographer tap dance, and soon was creating his own fonts. He spurned PageMaker and even Quark, preferring to do advanced page layouts in Microsoft Word. He was quite successful in that too. Since I had my own Mac, I did all his line art for his manuals.

He made his living doing publications and technical manuals for local corporations in Southern California, so he considered himself to be just a page layout guy and font expert. But one day, I introduced him to Photoshop, just so he could clean up photos for his manuals. Who knew I would unleash a monster upon the world?

Ed found that he could paint in Photoshop. Not only paint, but do awesome computer graphics and abstract art. He ended up doing art and animation backgrounds for Peter Gabriel concerts, and now has fine art hanging in galleries – all created from blank documents in Photoshop.

Of course, he had to buy and own nearly every color printer ever made to that point. But most of these had output that were sadly lacking to his perfect eye. Eventually, he went to professional Giclee large drum inkjet printers, output on canvas and mylar, to get the museum quality he wanted for his fine art.

You know, to this day, he still uses and maintains his Mac IIfx! He works in Mac OS 8.5, using Fontographer and Suitcase, as well as the host of older Mac publishing and graphics apps. He is happy in this, and why not? It all works. So why learn something new and spend all that money for new hardware and software with a steep learning curve? That would never work for me, but it works for Ed.

The Eighties were totally different back then for people buying and using the Macintosh. It was not quite the wild, wild, West, but almost. Macs back then were very expensive, but powerful graphics tools. Today, we fly at warp speed on Macs which no one could even dream of, and we carry around cheap Apple pocket devices that are more powerful than those five grand desktop beasts that were as much of a status symbol to own, as they were awesomely fun and productive to use.


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