Friday, January 24, 2014

Happy 30th Birthday, Mac!

I wasn't really exposed to computers until later in grade school, so I don't have a moment in 1984 that I can recall, but as long as I've known of it I wanted a Mac. I learned to program on an Apple ][+ clone in a country where original Apple computers were rare treasures of rich friends, but the five-colored Apple logo had always been familiar and dear.

I grew up to regret somewhat that I wasn't old enough (or living in the right part of the right country, for that matter) to have been a part of the personal computer revolution. How exciting it must have been, I always thought, to have worked alongside the pioneers who eventually changed the world.

As much as I lusted after it, the Mac cost thousands of dollars, and was laughably out of my reach financially. In what must have been the late 80's or early 90's, however, the mouse made it to the PCs we could afford (I vaguely remember our first optical mouse - which needed a special grid mousepad - to cost 2,000 pesos) and I valiantly started to copy MacOS. Alas, the graphics library that came with Turbo Pascal and Turbo C were woefully primitive, and I remember trying to work out how overlapping windows worked. I even remember staring at screenshots in magazines to copy the shape of the mouse pointer pixel for pixel, annoyed that the PC's non-square pixels couldn't reproduce the look exactly.

In the early 90's the world around me started switching from DOS to Windows. I was in college, and one of our labs had a Mac that nobody ever used, but there were also Solaris and Linux machines that supported graphical desktops. In the years after college, the Mac struggled mightily in hardware and software, and I felt that it would probably soon be relegated to the dustbins of history to join the likes of Amiga, patronized as "ahead of its time".

Even then, when I graduated, I submitted my resume to Apple, only to ever get a postcard in return.

I was aware of Steve Jobs' return to Apple, but didn't think much of it at the time. The gum drop iMacs that followed were fun and I wanted one, but I couldn't justify the purchase because the Serious Hacker ran and evangelized Linux because it was efficient and relatively immune from the viruses that were all over Windows. I went from Slackware to Red Hat (because RPMs were so much better!) to Debian (because it was so pure!), as MacOS started to shed its cocoon to emerge as the NeXTSTEP-based butterfly. I remember when brushed metal was cool, but the rekindled old lust was still tempered by an unoptimized OS with a shaky future.

Around 2002, as Mabel was graduating, I decided that I was just tired of spending a good chunk of my weekends maintaining Linux and being constantly disappointed by the over-promises of free software advocates, and I'd heard good things about MacOS X Jaguar. So we bought our first Mac, the Quicksilver Power Mac. What a pretty machine that was! The gray body coated in translucent plastic, the sturdy and convenient handles, the tasteful logo, the fold down tray holding the motherboard, even the neat and close-cropped cabling: this was a machine that made you feel bad for putting it under the desk.

Though by then a very different company than the one in which Steve Wozniak labored over saving a single chip, it was still clearly a company that cared a great deal about the little things.

We never looked back.