Posted by: Frank | January 24, 2009

My First Mac Memory

As I sit here this morning, casually reading information on the Internet using my Mac Mini, I came across Larry Magid’s review of the first Macintosh, which was announced during the Super Bowl 25 years ago this weekend. The Mac was introduced during my senior year of high school after I already decided to major in computer science at Michigan Tech. My first Mac experience was in the Computer Science lab at Tech, which had six of the computers that I oversaw as part of my work study job. By oversaw I mean made sure they didn’t walk out the door. Apple had donated the computers to Michigan Tech for teaching programming, in this case Pascal, which would have been a second year class as the first year programming at that time was in Fortran. Imagine being in a class of 20 or so students having to share 6 computers at one physical location to get your programming assignments complete. (As I recall, they were only used for the programming class during that first year after which the computer science department determined they weren’t ready for prime time use in programming classes. Still, the computers remained in the lab for general use throughout the years that I worked in the lab.)

I did no programming on the Macs, but I did get to use them to write papers and play around when they weren’t in use. It was not hard to fall in love with them because their high resolution screens were so unique and the WYSIWYG display made it easy to make very cool looking documents thanks to the Image Writers. (If memory serves, the first Apple Laser Writer came a year or two after the Mac and the computer science department had one in use for sharing amongst the professors and grad students.) I very much lusted for a Mac, but the > $2,000 price put it way out of reach. The Tech book store sold IBM computers at discount prices for students that were still out of my reach, and they did not sell Macs.

So for me to own a computer I had to settle for one much less than a Mac or even an IBM PC. The first computer that I bought with my own money was an Atari 800XL. You might recall that during the early ’80s Atari and Commodore (V-20, V-64) were popular computer brands along with Radio Shack (TRS-80), Apple, and eventually IBM. That 800 XL paired with an Epson printer was my main computing tool through my college years, thanks in large part to a VT-100 terminal emulator and dial-in access to Tech’s mainframe computers to do much of my programming in college. When we did have classes that required PCs for lab work, I did that work on campus in one of the many computer labs. On that 800 XL I used CompuServe to email with my friends and access bulletin board systems (BBS) to participate in online communities, forebearers to the Facebook and Twitter that I use today. (For me computers have always first and foremost been a communications tool to maintain relationships with friends hundreds of miles away.)

Even though that Atari served me well, my lust for the Apple Macintosh remained. I remember traveling to the nearest “big box” electronics store to Houghton, which was 60 or so miles away in Marquette, (American of Marquette) and trying to get a loan to buy a Mac, only to be turned down. (College student with no job, no big surprise.) Several years later after I got my job at EDS the first computer that I bought was an Atari 1040ST, which had the knickname of “Jackintosh” because the computer with this Mac-like graphical user interface was brought to market by Jack Tramiel, CEO of Atari.

Even after having a job the price for a Mac was too high for me. It wasn’t until nearly twenty years after the Mac first released that I finally made enough money, thanks to my books, to afford buying a Mac, which was a 12-inch Mac PowerBook. After several years of use the 12-inch PowerBook and its G4 processor became too slow and gave way to a less expensive but more powerful (dual core Intel processor) Mac Mini, which is what I am using to write this blog post. These Macs, however, were not the first Apple computers that I owned. My first Apple product was the first Newton MessagePad that I bought in 1993, which began my experience with handheld computers that eventually lead to the publication of my first book in 2000.

As you can tell, I have found memories of Macintosh even if I found that their prices too high and the culture around them too high-brow. Macintosh clearly has an important place in computer history, as well as you can see in this post, a place in my personal history.


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