Friday, January 24, 2014

Celebrate the 30th birthday of a revolutionary

I'm writing this post on a Macintosh computer, 30 years after the Mac was introduced to the world in that memorable Super Bowl "Big Brother" commercial. At that time, my family had a PC Jr., or maybe it was an earlier Radio Shack computer. We could do little more than word processing on whatever it was. There was no Internet, and the only things online were birds and fallen limbs.

The Mac was revolutionary (which justifies the Super Bowl commercial) with its small, monochrome screen and its (voila!) mouse. The computers I used at the newspaper in those days were very basic, monochrome DOS machines with a blinking green cursor and green type. Commands had to be written in arcane code to do something as simple as boldface or italicize a word. There was no mouse and no icons.

It was a lot like the Apple IIC computer that I used in a BASIC programming class I took at Atlantic Christian College in 1981. Everything was in code, and you better get it right! The early Apples had been heavily marketed to schools, and many of today's adults got their introduction to computing on Apple IIs.

My wife got to use one of the early Macs when she went to work as a church secretary in the mid-1980s. She soon mastered the word processing, page layout and spreadsheet functions, creating her own church software package. Macs swept the newspaper business, and sometime in the late 1980s, my newspaper bought one Mac for the use of the entire newsroom. We used it for designing logos and occasionally for getting online. Later, the Associated Press stopped sending photos via its patented Laserphoto scanning machine and began posting photos online so that member newspaper could download them, via that Mac computer.

When that Mac, which cost about $8,000 with its software, monitor, printer, etc. became archaic, I purchased it from the newspaper for a few hundred dollars, and it became our family computer. We could dial up to get on AOL, and we used the installed word processing and other software. We used the mouse to get around.

It was the 1990s before the newspaper invested in Macs for the entire newsroom, and we became a truly connected newsroom for the first time. I loved the Mac and got into good-natured arguments with my older brother, a long-time IBM employee who sneered at all things Apple.

The newspaper stuck with Macs for as long as I was there. We had the basic rectangular box Macs and the short-lived Mac Cube (with its "toaster" CD drive), some early iMacs and some eMacs. When we were contemplating a major software change in the 1990s, we considered dumping Macs because Apple Computer was deeply troubled and rumored to be headed for bankruptcy. Then Steve Jobs returned, the iMac and iPod came along, and Apple became one of the most admired and loved companies in the world.

When our oldest daughter went off to college, we bought her an electric typewriter. Four years later, when her sister headed to college, we bought her a used Mac Classic — which looked just like the original 1984 Mac. When her Mac's screen failed to light up, I purchased from a friend (for shipping charges only) an original Mac — one without a hard drive; everything was on those revolutionary 3.5 inch discs — in hopes that I could swap out the monitors (picture tubes) and have her Mac working again. When I got the case off (no easy task, by the way), I discovered that the "yoke" that held the wires connecting the monitor to the guts of the computer had fallen off when she hauled the computer home from college. I put the yoke back, and it continued to serve her needs. I ended up using that original Mac for a bookend.

Our family is on its sixth or seventh Mac, some bought new, some bought used. My current working companion is a Mac Mini, a cube barely larger than a CD case that has all the speed and computing power I need. It's hooked to an HP monitor (I went cheap). We've had three iMacs, none of them the fruit-colored plastic blob that was the original iMac style, and now we own iPods, iPhones and iPads, too.

Computers have come a long way, and so have we, in the last 30 years. The ingenious, revolutionary Mac led the way.

1 comment:

Melinda said...

We had an apple back when they came as kits you had to build and used tape drives. I wanted to play games on it so my dad made me learn to code so I could enter in programs for games. I remember entering in tons of lines of code for the simplest games. We did have a donkey Kong style game that came on a tape, way more fun than pong! I was the cool kid on the block for awhil, but everyone in our neighborhood worked at IBM so it didn't take long till they all had apple Kong as well :)