There have been a number of trips down memory lane this week regarding the Macintosh so now you’ll have mine. If you’ve been living under a rock you may not know that the Macintosh was introduced 30 years ago this week. It truly changed computing and it certainly changed my course in life.
I entered college in the Fall of 1985 to become an electrical engineer. While PC’s weren’t unknown at the time they were still expensive enough where they weren’t common. In the fraternity that I joined, they had two(!) IBM PC’s sitting in the basement ‘computer room’. We were praised by the national fraternity for having all of our books on Lotus 123. Looking back how quaint.
As with any fraternity we had our various committees and in the Fall semester of 1986 I ended up being the chairman of the Parents Committee and it was one our charges to send a newsletter out to parents to inform them of all the great things their kids (and money) were doing. For many years we had people that worked at the newspaper and had access to the Linotype machine where we could print out the text at high resolution, lay it out on boards for printing. That semester we had no one on staff and I was scrambling to figure it out.
One of the older Brothers worked at the school computer lab. He mentioned they had these new Macintosh computers and this thing called a LaserWriter printer that was ‘very cool. He handed me a copy of MS Word and Aldus PageMaker and told me to go figure it out (ah the days before anti-piracy solutions). I was reluctant but curious and got to play around with the two apps on a Macinoths plus.
I was intrigued and hooked. I had used quite a few different types of computers, TRS 80, Apple II, IBM PC’s, Atari to name a few but the Mac was something special with its 9 inch black and white monitor and its mouse where you pointed and clicked and dragged things in a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) environment. It was SO intuitive. If you didn’t know the exact command you could find it in the menu’s.
My parents newsletter went out with relative ease and our chapter won an award for innovative newsletter. The following semester I was in charge of the Alumni Committee and we won an award for the newsletter we did then too. From then on I can’t tell you how many newsletters I did for the fraternity. Again, looking back on 30 years they’re pretty cheesy but superb for the time.
This was an engineering school so we were predominantly IBM PC’s (this is long before Windows came into play). Our classes expected us to use PC’s, the software was PC only and I stuck out like a sore thumb. It was common practice at the time to do all lab reports by hand and to use very expensive chart paper to hand draw lab results and it took many hours to make nice graphs. I pissed off more than a few classmates off by turning in my lab reports done on a LaserWriter where I used Word, PageMaker and a charting app to chart my data. The lab TA’s were impressed with my reports despite having crap data and questionable results. This is when I learned that making it user friendly and looking pretty counts.
The rage of the era was attending Mac User Groups, or MUG’s, where you could meet with like minded Mac geeks and talk about the software you were using, get questions answered, etc. I started one at school. I had my own MUG newsletter (for the 30 engineering students that actually liked the Mac). I hooked up with other MUG’s in the Chicago area and got involved with them and because of that involvement was able to help pay my way through school doing Mac training and graphic design (okay I wasn’t very good at it but I was better than most desktop publishers of the day).
One Fall (I think ’88, or maybe ’89) I went to a MUG conference in Ann Harbor, Michigan. The keynote speaker was Bill Gates (really!) and he spoke about how well Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint versions 1.0 were doing on the Mac. His engineers held breakout sessions that lasted ’til the wee hours of the night listening to what Mac users thought needed improving. I even shook Mr. Gates’ hand when I passed him in the hallway. Despite having more money at that point than I’ll probably ever have, he was just your average computer geek. Go figure.
That conference also happens to be the first place I saw my first 1 GB drive. It was the size of a suitcase and cost a couple of grand. As we all filed past we kept muttering, “What the hell would you have that needed something that big?” Remember, operating systems lived on a 1.5 megabyte floppy drives back then. We were so naive.
At times it’s been a very long 30 years. I remember the mid to late 90’s. It was an ugly time to be a Mac user. Windows was king of the hill and every year there were fewer and fewer of us. Even though I was using a Windows PC at work I always came home to a Mac where I was writing software for fun. I used Think Pascal and Metrowerks CodeWarrior. I had learned Pascal in college but learned C and C++ on my own. CodeWarrior was a great development environment in my opinion.
When I finally was smart enough to switch careers – okay my soon to be wife told me to find a job I liked before we got married – I found Visual Basic and Access gig. It was decent and I did learn to appreciate what Microsoft had done in terms of wiping out alternatives and becoming ‘the standard’. However, DLL hell and compatibility problems were still issues that plagued even 100% Microsoft shops.
I landed a development job working for an exclusive CodeWarrior shop doing very early Mac OS X development work. They did a lot of fun stuff but they wanted to do some rapid prototyping of an app idea and since I was the new guy in the office they told me to look at this thing called REALbasic. I did and without too many issues I created a proof of concept for a photo storage and management application – the iTunes for photos if you will. Sadly for all of us, iPhoto came out just a few months later and killed the project. But my intrigue for REALbasic remained and I kept working on small projects and when it could do Macintosh AND Windows builds with just a click of checkbox I was sold! It was the best of both worlds.
One thing that I recall vividly was my reaction when Microsoft was officially convicted of being a monopoly. I was sure they would NEVER again have 95% marketshare because the only way they got it initially was to do it illegally. So far history has proven me right. Of course the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad have had something do with it.
When I started doing REALbasic (now Xojo) consulting 13 years ago few people cared about Mac versions of their apps. A few years later when the iMac and iPod started to reinvigorate Apple it was a common theme to do a Mac version to keep the boss happy. Nowadays, nearly all of our consulting clients want a Mac version first and if we can do a Windows version to keep the accountant happy (who is running some accounting app that’s still Windows only) that’s great.
Thirty years is a good chunk of my life. I can remember life before the Macintosh but working on that first Mac literally changed my outlook on life and put me in a different path. There are a lot of things about the Mac that made me a rebel, but also set the quality bar high. I’m still willing to pay more for things that are of better quality from cars, to tools, to hiring contractors that work on my house because I firmly belied that you get what you pay for.
The Mac inspired me for 30 years. I’m hoping it will for another 30. Happy birthday, Macintosh!