Today, January 24, 2014, is the 30th birthday of the Apple Macintosh. It also may be the birthday of a phenomena known as tech lust, which still prevails to this day. Today across the web people are writing about the first time they saw, and began lusting for, the Apple Macintosh. Here is my story.
I was a high school senior on January 24, 2014 when the Macintosh was introduced and most of us saw that Super Bowl ad. The first time I saw the Mac in person was in the computer science lab at Michigan Technological University in the fall of my freshman year.
Apple donated six Macs and an ImageWriter to the computer science department, who put them in a lab. My work study job was to baby sit the lab to make sure nobody ran off with the computers. Tech went so far as to teach Pascal programming using those computers with one class of students. To my knowledge it was the first programming class taught at Tech using personal computers, all other classes used mainframes. (My first programming class was in Fortran on the mainframe.)
Imagine being in a class of about twenty students and being told the computer you are going to use for your classes, in which you had regular programming assignments, was one of these new computers called a Macintosh. Exciting, until you learn there are six computers to be shared with 20 students.
It gets worse. These were the original Macs that had no hard drive, the computer booted from a floppy disk, although much of the operating system was in Read Only Memory, you then loaded the Pascal programming environment from floppy disk, and then once it finished you swapped out that floppy for the disk on which you stored your programs. Bad enough you were constrained to only six, bleeding edge computers, but then you also had to use a new and buggy development environment. Frankly, I am glad that I was not in that class.
My job, however, did give me the opportunity to use the Macs whenever they were not being used by students, and they came with the MacWrite and MacPaint programs. I fell in love with the What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) word processing and the ability to pick and choose fonts. The ImageWriter printed out whichever font you chose rather than the familiar doted letters of the dot matrix printers. The Mac and ImageWriter made it easy to write and publish really cool looking documents.
In 1984 computers were not cheap, and the fully loaded Mac cost nearly $3,000, well beyond my means to purchase. I deeply desired a Macintosh of my own and for several years wished that the university book store, which provided a way for students to buy IBM PCs on installment payments, would do the same for a Mac, but they never did until much later.
In my second year in college I scrapped together enough money to buy my first computer, an Atari 800 XL, along with a monochrome monitor, Epson printer, and 1200 baud modem. My programming classes were all done on mainframes or mini computers, so I was able to use the modem and a VT-100 terminal emulator on the Atari to do all of my programming class work, and I had a word processing application for writing papers.
The Atari 800 XL served me well through all of my remaining college years and was my main computer right up until I started working for EDS in 1989. While the Atari met my functional computing needs, I kept using and desiring the Macs on campus. One time, after seeing an advertisement by a store that offered loans to purchase anything they sold, including the Macs, I drove 100 miles from where I lived to apply for and be denied the loan.
Even in 1990 a Mac cost thousands of dollars, and while I then had a job, the cost of a Mac was well beyond the means of my disposable income. I could afford the next best thing at the time, an Atari 1040ST.
The STs where Atari’s answer to the Mac’s graphical user interface and Atari’s last gasp at remaining a viable computer company. Atari and Commodore, who sold the Amiga, which was the other computer on the market with a GUI, fell victim to the growing number of PC clones and to Microsoft Windows.
In 1993 I bought my first Apple product, the Newton Messagepad. I used Windows at work, and so the practical side of me led me to buy computers that ran Windows, first a Packard Bell, later a Dell, and even one home built kit.
Finally, in 2003 I bought my first Macintosh, the 12-inch Powerbook G4 with an aluminum case, and I wrote two editions of my book using that notebook computer, which I still have. The Powerbook and Mac Mini that I have owned has since been replaced by the 13-inch Macbook Air, which is by far the best computer I have ever owned. I bought the Macbook Air on my 45th birthday, you can call it a geek’s mid-life crisis purchase, the culmination of tech lust that began from my first encounter of the Mac in 1984.