Today is the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh computer’s release. Not Apple, but the Macintosh. Ponder that for a moment. Thirty years is a long time in the technology industry. Companies that were making personal computers thirty years ago are either long gone or have been absorbed into other companies. Dell came along a few months later and is still around, but like Apple of the past has been through the ringer.
My dad’s business had had computers for a long time. He had Tandy Model II and 16 computers running a version of UNIX and PCs running DOS and Windows. I had a TRS-80 that I learned to program on in BASIC. In elementary school we had Apple IIs and I loved those.
My first experience with a Mac was in high school around 1990. A friend had one and it was fantastic. When we both worked at Astroworld in the rides department during high school we got fed up with the time sheets provided. Over a week we used Quark XPress to create a new time sheet that was more flexible and easier to understand. We gave it to the supervisors of our department and they started using it right away. Without the WYSIWYG capabilities of the Mac it would have taken us a lot longer.
When I went to university in 1992 I took a Compaq 386 with me. I knew Windows and MS-DOS from working with my dad’s business. That computer lasted me through school, but at some point I started using the Mac SE and Classic models that were available in the College of Forestry. I worked in the GIS lab and used UNIX machines there, but for typing papers and creating charts and spreadsheets nothing beat the Macs. I always made sure I saved stuff so I could work on it on my PC, but there was just something about Macs.
When I took a surveying course the college had a site license for some surveying software that only ran on Mac OS. It was the best out there for what we did and I kept a copy to use later. Between the Junior and Senior years of school all forestry students went to a campus deep in East Texas and did a six week intensive field station course. We had another surveying class there and then used surveying in other courses through field station. Through the kindness of my then housemate Cameron I was able to borrow his Mac and take it with me to field station to run the surveying software. I also sweet-talked the forestry IT guy into letting me borrow a printer as long as I paid for the paper and toner.
With that Mac I was able to crank out not only every report with charts and graphs, but great maps too. I was one of the few people that brought a computer, and the only person to bring a printer, to field station so I ended up being pretty popular with people needing to type and print papers. The only other computers and printer were school provided in a shared area that was locked up at night.
After that college love affair I moved to New York and worked on UNIX and Linux machines for a long while. I dabbled personally with a DEC Alpha computer and some DIY PCs running Linux, but never quite brought myself to buy a Mac. After a while I was able to buy a used Blue & White G3. I started running Mac OS on it and dabbled with A/UX, but I really had it to try out Mac OS X.
Mac OS X changed everything for me. I ran that G3 for a while and then lots of OpenBSD machines (x86, sun, sparc64, alpha). I was able to get a PowerMac G5 through the Friends & Family purchase program offered to Pixar employees. Prior to that I had taken stabs at learning Objective C and Cocoa, but the lessons never stuck. This time I sat down and made myself learn and everything clicked. I also began to explore OS X as the workhorse that it is.
Now I’ve gone from the G5 to a white Macbook then to a Macbook Air and now to a Retina Macbook Pro. At one job we built out a full build farm with Mac mini and Pro models. Everything I ever want to do on a personal computer I can do on a Mac. Everything I used to do on high-end UNIX machines I can do on a Mac. I know they’re not for everyone, but I love the way that my novice relatives and I can both use Macs to get everything we need done.
Looking back it’s hard to imagine the Macintosh of today thirty years ago, but I’m glad it came out, because we’d all be poorer without it. What will another thirty years bring? I sure don’t know, but I’m excited to see it when it arrives.