Reflections on my first Mac

With all the talk of the 25th anniversary of the Mac I started to wax nostalgic about my original Mac experience.

Though my blog got a lot of page views last year because of my switch from Windows to Mac, the reality is the little white MacBook I bought in February of 2008 was not actually my first Mac. From '83-'84 I worked at a small retail computer chain in Southern California named Sun Computers (not Sun Microsystems). We sold IBMs, Compaqs, DECs and Apples.

When the Mac was introduced Apple provided special training to the authorized dealers and I went off for a day of presentations in early '84. At the end of the presentation Apple gave us all forms that allowed us to purchase one Mac directly from Apple for a ridiculously low price. We could get a 128K Mac, an Image Writer dot matrix printer and a padded carrying case (for the Mac). To be honest I don't even remember the price, though it was considerably lower than its $2,500 retail price; so low that I quickly took them up on the offer and bought the machine, maxing out my one and only credit card in the process.

Keep in mind that in today's dollars the retail price was over $5,000, a princely sum of money for a 20 year old geek to be spending on a computer. Though I had been spending a lot of time around various computers that Mac was a completely different animal. It's hard to appreciate how much better it was than the DOS based PCs of the day.

It took a while before the machine was actually delivered—a couple of very, very long weeks—but when it finally came I remember spending countless hours playing with MacWrite and MacPaint, the only two programs that I had available. I would happily jam my Mac into the padded carrying case and take it with me the first couple of weeks I had it, though that got old fairly quickly. My girlfriend at the time was unimpressed with the machine, likely because I wasn't paying attention to her when I was using it.

The lack of software and the paltry 128K of memory meant that my first Mac quickly got less and less use. There were only so many MacWrite documents and MacPaint images I had the energy to do. Software started to trickle in to our store for the Mac over the late spring and early summer but it was expensive and I was already tapped out because of the cost of the Mac. In September of 1984 I landed my first job as a programmer working with DOS based PCs and my Mac quickly became expendable. I ended up selling the machine to buy a PC clone so that I could continue to learn the programming tools I was using during the day.

For the next 24 years I rarely touched a Mac, spending the vast majority of my time on DOS/Windows and later various Linux flavors. When I finally did rediscover the Mac last year it was a great experience; I felt like a kid again, exploring all the new features (well, new to me anyway) and playing with the wide range of software that is now available.

With all the coverage about the 25th anniversary of the Mac's launch I've been looking at original announcement videos and news stories and for just a few minutes I am that 20 year old budding computer geek, carefully removing that original Mac from its white box.

So what about you? If you are a Mac user when did you get your first Mac?

(PS: That picture of me? The one where I actually had hair? that was from the Spring of 1984, the same time frame I got my Mac)


the_0ne said...

I have grown to the mac much in the same way Dave. I never actually owned one in the 80's or 90's, but messed with one in school a lot, in the library. Used to play Carmen Sandiego a lot, but never programmed on it.

In the mid 90's I finally got my first programming job and it was all windows from there. Web programming, some VB, some javascript, but all windows 3.1, 3.11 and 95.

I worked for a small co (law office with an owner that loves to dabble, actually wrote his own software package for his company in Foxpro) in 1999 that just couldn't afford all the MS stuff anymore, so we switched to a linux environment. Even moved some of our office staff to Mandrake. I used an Ubuntu laptop for the better part of early 2000's. Was awesome, but I always went by the idea that could my mother or grandmother use this computer. And with linux, I don't care what the zealots say (I used to be one), it can not replace windows or mac at this time on the desktop. I spent countless hours trying to get it where I wanted. Simple things like getting the mic working on my laptop was a pain.

Then the guy I work with Tony said, hey I'm hearing good things about mac. I of course laughed at him, because a year earlier he would have laughed at me if I said that. Well he bought his ppc mini (1st gen) and showed the owner of the co and from there it's been a marriage. The entire staff uses leased intel mac mini's. My boss was nice enough to buy us 2 developers 24" iMac Extreme's. I have a mini at home doing backups and bittorrents things like that and I have a 2nd gen Macbook Pro that I love. My wife loves the mbp too, even though she won't admit it. (note to self, buy her her own damn laptop so she stops hogging mine.)

Unless things drastically change in the next few years with Mac OS and Windows, I can not imagine wanting to EVER go back.

VesperDEM said...

Did you manage to get one of the "signed" 128K Mac's? I was working for a software company that had a developer contract with Apple so we were able to buy machines at large discounted prices too. That's the reason I bought my 128K Mac.

When I opened up the case, I had signatures of all the folks involved in the development of the Mac on the inside of the back panel (which actually wrapped around the sides too).

I didn't stick with the Mac for very long. There wasn't all that much that the machine did when compared to the IBM clones that were around at the time. Plus, I made a living developing software for the IBM clones. The company I worked at didn't do any development for the Mac, they were developing for the Apple //e and Apple ][gs computers.

David Alison said...

@VesperDEM: I never popped open the case on my first Mac but I'm pretty sure all of those first run Macs had the signed case, which was actually part of the molding for it.

vulpine said...

In my own case, my first Mac was a Mac 512 I purchased used in 1992. On the other hand, I'd already been using Apples since 1979, purchasing an Apple ][ in October of that year and modifying it internally (per instructions from a fan magazine and using Applied Engineering aftermarket components) to ][e capabilities. In '89 I purchased an actual ][e because I finally actually needed the Apple key.

Since then I've owned two different Performa models, a fruit-flavored iMac, a G4 Mini and am now using a 24" flat-screen iMac. While I have built and owned Windows-based PCs, I never liked them and only had them because the software I needed (and the games) didn't come for Macs at the time. That argument is now moot for me since everything I need has a Mac version or Mac equivalent now.

Sam said...

I puttered around with macs and apples at school starting in 1989. We were a little behind on the tech curve in central MO. My mom had a Mac at work (University of Missouri) so I played on it some.

In 1995 or 1996 we got a Performa 6116 at home. It was a wonderful experience for the most part. The computers at school had 3.1 at the best of times so I was in heaven at home. I had Sim City 2000 and A-10 Attack. The problems we experienced: constant floating point processor errors and other errors. It served us well until 1999 when we went the cheap way and got an e-machine.

I repented of my ways at the end of college/beginning of graduate school and purchased a MacBook which was followed a year later with an iMac. Now I'm waiting to see what they do with the Apple TV and Mac Mini to see what my next purchase will be.

Anonymous said...

To comment on the poster above all Macs (128,512 and Pluses) had the cases with signatures.

My first Mac was as a grad student at University of Utah. I used it to draw the illustrations for my masters thesis. Wow, I have ZERO artistic talent and can barely draw a straight line with a ruler but MacPaint was revelation. I had been typing everything for a long time since my writing was terrible but now I had a tool that would let me draw stuff too.

Anyway right before I finished there I bought a Mac Plus which became my engagement present to my future wife. She needed a machine for her business and we have had Macs of various flavors since then.

Jim said...

I'm part of the last generation of college graduates who grew up without having to use a computer, having graduated from college in 1982. I'm a marketing copywriter; for the first couple of years in my first job (1983), we actually used typewriters. After a few years, we started to use Wang word processing terminals at the office. Around the same time, I bought a word processing machine for home that used the CPM DOS.

Meanwhile, the hype surrounding the launch of the Macintosh captured my imagination. In the mid-80s, I purchased a Mac Plus. I fondly remember hauling the machine around in a padded case, as well. The interface of the Mac seemed to be just right--and not having done much computing beyond word processing before buying my Mac, the Mac interface quickly became the norm for me. I used the Mac Plus mainly for my own personal creative writing and for songwriting experiments with MIDI software. One of the other little programs I loved was a play-calling football simulator based on the beloved 1985 Bears Super-Bowl-winning season; I thoroughly enjoyed destroying other NFL teams' offensive schemes with blitzes, even though the interface consisted completely of animated Xs and Os.

I left my first job in a now-departed national retailer's advertising department to join a sales promotion agency. The agency equipped all of its writers with PCs running DOS and, if I recall correctly, WordPerfect; art directors didn't have computers at all until a few years later. Almost as soon as I left the retailer, their advertising department went completely Mac in the first wave of the desktop revolution. The funny part is that the person who spearheaded the conversion there was a staff economist who just happened to be a Mac enthusiast. It kind of recalls how later, at the dawn of the Internet era, qualifications were also fluid and often based on pure enthusiasm for an emerging technology.

Having spent my whole career in the creative end of marketing, I've been fortunate enough to have been able to use Macs at the office from the early 90s on. The PC I used at work just prior to the Mac was strictly DOS, so I can say that I have used Windows for less than a working day's worth of hours in 26 years of computing--amazing, isn't it? At home, I progressed from the Mac Plus to the LC II, to the Power Mac 7200, to the Cube, to the G5 iMac, and, since last November, to the newest MacBook Pro.

All I can say is, I am very happy that Apple survived its worst days to emerge with a Mac that is now on stronger footing than ever. Here's hoping I can make it through the rest of my life without significantly increasing my Windows hours total!

Jacki Hollywood Brown said...

I did my thesis on a piddly PC with 2 5 1/4" floppies. It took ALL NIGHT to analyze the stats from my experiments. I was FOREVER rebooting the machine, I hated it. I vowed never to like computers, EVER!

In 2006 we moved. Our PC went on the moving van, our backups and original software went in the car with us. Car was broken into and all the CDs were stolen.

Faced with being unable to update the PC software (ie re-purchasing everything) and the nightmare of Vista, we made the switch and bought a 20" Mac.

Now, "Big Mac" is my new best friend. It does everything I ask and does it very well. It has great parental controls and I never have to reboot because something has "frozen".

I can honestly say that I know actually enjoy spending time on the computer.

Oh yeah, and although the initial cost of the Mac was more than the PC, we have spent much LESS on software over the past 3 years than we did with the PC over 1 year.

Anonymous said...

I used my first Mac in 1985--the 512k model. At the time, I was in college and had a work study job in the campus library AV room, where I instructed patrons in the use of IBM DOS machines with 256k or 512k. There were about 20 of these IBMs in the room, and one Mac. I remember feeling that the Mac made the PCs seem silly by comparison; indeed, anyone using a modern computer today could go back to early Macs and navigate without being confused, because most of the modern GUI that we all use today was in place in the Mac OS from the beginning. I bought my first Mac in 1988--a Mac Plus with one meg of RAM, supplemented with a 40 meg hard drive the size of a small VCR. It was running system five at the time, and I quickly began using it for MIDI sequencing and music, art work, and games. I've owned nine Macs, but never a PC, and have always been a bit of the 'Mac Evangelist' because I was aware of the Mac's user experience from the early days. It's interesting that user experience--the design and functionality of the OS--continues to be the primary difference between PCs and Macs, and ultimately Apple's biggest selling point, though Apple has always tried to extend their design efforts equally into hardware development. As the film critic might say, form should mirror content in great film (or computers in this case). Best regards to all--Todd

David Alison said...

@Todd: Interesting point about the strength of the Mac. Rediscovering it late in the game the UI is clearly a strength but what made it a great "system" for me was the complete package. All it takes is popping open the side of a Mac Pro and swapping out drives and/or memory to appreciate the level of engineering that goes in to these machines. Apple has done a really fantastic job of tying together the entire user experience, from the quality of the hardware through the user interface experience right through the customer service/sales process. I came away from my buying experience thinking "Wow, these guys have their act together".

Jeff Miller said...

First Mac was an aluminum iMac in Oct 2007. Never had any interest in Mac previously and never had access to one to play with. Started out on a C64, Amiga, then PC's from 1990 - 2007. When I first heard on TWIT that Apple had gone Intel, I didn't care much. The iPod first got me interested in Apple and I started to hear plenty about OSX on podcasts. Bootcamp and being able to run Windows really intrigued me. So I bought an iMac as an experiment and tied it in with my Windows box via synergy. When the motherboard on my PC went bad, I was hardly upset. I was so pleased with how VMWare Fusion ran that I didn't need a PC anymore. As a Windows developer using Visual Studio I was totally happy running it as a virtual machine, ran better than my work machine. Since then I went on to first buy a Mac Pro and then a Macbook Pro earlier this year.

David Alison said...

@Jeff Miller: The best part about doing Windows development on a Mac Pro is that I set up my VM exactly the way I want it in VMware Fusion, set up a save point and can come back to it later if I need to. I've had issues where I've screwed up my Visual Studio set up because I installed an aftermarket control; now I just back up my VM before I do something like that and if it looks like there is a problem I can just roll back to the previous version.

brian said...

Forgive me for the ignorant question, but with a computer in 1984, what exactly did you "do" for all those countless hours? I am truly interested because without an internet connection, and no college paper to write, I don't think I'd turn my computer on very much. Any insight is appreciated.

Neil Anderson said...

Welcome back to the future.

Chris Howard said...

Dave, never owned an original Mac. I guess we're same age though. I was totally smitten by the Mac then and never ever lost that, even though it would be 19 years before I bought my first proper Mac.(I did but the kids a 10 year old Mac Classic for $50 bucks once, but you couldn't get any software for it. It was just for the my kids, who were pre-schoolers, to learn to use a mouse and keyboard).

My first Mac was 15" Ti Powerbook. Great computer, but my first Mac love will always be that original 1984 Mac. For a computer nerd it stirred so many feelings to see a computer that could be personal. Didnt' we all dream of replacing man's best friend with a truly personal computer?

The original Mac was brilliant design and totally huggable. And I reckon I would still want to today if I came across one.

In computers, nothing before or since has had such a profound effect on our understanding or expection of computers.

To somne dgree, the iPhone is doing the same to phones.

David Alison said...

@Brian: What did I do for countless hours? First off you have to remember what 20 year old college dropouts had available in 1984: half a dozen channels on TV (all crap), a single hard phone line in our home of 4 people, no cell phones, no text messaging, no e-mail, no... nothin'. When I wasn't working I could hang out with my girlfriend or chill with my buddies playing sports, or... well, that pretty much summed up the existence outside of the day job.

Given that environment I was playing around with MacPaint a LOT. As a bored teenager I drew a lot, though I really sucked at it. MacPaint was fun to just sit and use for drawing. I knew I wanted to do more with computers and initially it was just being immersed in the new technology that kept me interested.

That said I only kept the Mac for about 6 months and my usage during the last couple months of it had dropped off dramatically.

brian said...

Thanks, David! You're right, there really wasn't much to do back then. Now that I think about it, around that time I used to love this video game system called Vectrex. If you look at it now, it's laughable. Thanks for indulging me! Brian

M Roselius said...

Bought a Mac in '85 as a college student. Traded in my Apple IIc toward it - pretty sure I got hosed on the deal - but I had plenty of space on my Apple issued credit card - and I was in love with the idea.

My biggest "oh wow" moment was when I bought and played MacGolf. I remember just being blown away with the sounds. They had sampled in the sounds of the ball dropping into the cup, or the crowd saying "ooohhhh" when you barely missed a putt. Now it's second nature - but back then, for a computer to do anything other than beep was amazing.