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[personal profile] krpalmer
Last year, I got nostalgic enough to mark anniversaries for both the TRS-80 Model 100 and the first iMac. This year, another computing anniversary has arrived, that of the introduction of the very first Macintosh twenty-five years ago... and perhaps I'm contemplating it because in the twists and turns of its history, there were times when it seemed uncertain this particular anniversary would be part of a still-unfolding experience, or whether that computer would wind up seeming as "historical" as the Model 100. In looking ahead to the anniversary, I did find myself trying to reconstruct the five-year intervals leading up to it...

1984: The $2495 price of the first Macintosh was increased by five hundred dollars just to pay for its advertising, and from much of what I've heard did seem to have performance issues with its 128 kilobytes of memory. If it's true that "the winners write the history books," then those who won for a time may have attached the blame for those limitations on Steve Jobs, who had managed to connect himself to the project. However, whether subsidised by Apple II sales or not, the upgrades rolled out one by one, and the software struck a chord... I remember a "MacPaint clone" being made for our family's computer at the time, the rather more limited Radio Shack Color Computer.

1989: For all that I wasn't really part of it (or perhaps because of that), this seems to me to have been a golden age. While I do gather that the more dedicated Apple II users got upset that Apple could let their computers just sort of drift off to irrelevance, the Macintosh product line had expanded and was powerful... but also quite expensive. My father managed to get the well-regarded SE/30 at around this time to use at work by having his company pay for it, but at home we were still using the latest model of the Color Computer, which could now run a "MacWrite clone" as well as its upgraded MacPaint clone. Also thinking of computers such as the Commodore Amiga, I suppose you couldn't quite say that it was "Macintosh or nothing" if you wanted a computer that worked like it, even then...

1994: A tenth anniversary might seem to be a pretty big deal, but for all that on a wholly personal level my family had at last retired our Color Computer years after Tandy had discontinued it to buy an LC II, I got a sense even at the time that there was discontent. With an upgrade to Windows 3.1 lurking in the future that promised to cut the sense of directories of cryptically named files still somewhere behind the graphics on PC screens, it seemed that for all that the idea of Macintosh had triumphed over those who had once smirked at it, people would just smirk at Apple itself...

1999: While "fifteenth anniversaries" don't seem to attract a lot of attention, things were happening. After uncertain years of losing money, the management had turned over. After some controversial early decisions from Steve Jobs (shutting down the Macintosh clones and accepting Microsoft's charity), things seemed to be picking up at last. I suppose there were still undercurrents of disdain from some about computers wrapped in bright colours, for all that the hardware under those "candy coatings" was impressive, and still-uncertain plans for a next-generation operating system to replace an old one under a thickening coat of graphics paint (the plans before it hadn't worked out all that well). Still, there did seem reasons to hope, and they were welcome.

2004: In this year of the twentieth anniversary, Apple had a new product called the iPod, and while some initial reactions to "another digital music player" might have seemed a little dubious, it was now becoming more and more and more popular and getting new features added to it. What was more, after some early controversy drummed up over how its new interface was a blight on the world, Mac OS X was doing well for itself as well. The only problem seemed to be that, while the bright colours had been replaced by white plastic and metal, the Motorola CPUs under those new cases didn't seem to be keeping up in the numbers game...

2009: After a successful changeover to Intel processors offering still more versatility, Apple now seems to be one of the few computer companies still advertising clock speeds. Of course, Steve Jobs going on a leave of medical absence is just one more data point to add to the directives of all the armchair CEOs out there, but who can really say how the future will change?

I suppose the idea of "an alternative" has waxed and waned in different directions over the years, and maybe when it comes down to it I just like to use something that "looks different" from the stuff I'm given to use at work. I shouldn't begrudge the contentment of those who are fine with a Microsoft suite or a hand-tweaked Linux system. Still, I think the world is more interesting for having variety in it.

June 2017

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