My First Mac

Mac: A Dream Fulfilled

Ryan Sutter - 2001.05.23

1982. My relationship with computers goes back a long way - to when I was nine years old and bought a Commodore VIC-20 in 1982. Since there was little else to do with it, I programmed. I learned BASIC, designed my own games, and basically had a good time. Through the years I was exposed to programming BASIC on the Commodore 64, Radio Shack TRS-80, and Apple II; I loved every minute of it.

I was growing and learning, and I soon found myself in a tenth grade creative writing course, where Mac PlusI first met a Mac. The year was 1990 and I am pretty sure it was a Plus. I immediately wanted one, despite all the floppy switching. Compared to the other machines I had used, this thing was a dream. I didn't understand how it worked or know anything about it, but I had technolust. I started going to Kinko's to type things up on their Macs and print them out on their laser printer. I ooohhhhed, I ahhhhhhed, and I had a great time. Record a tape of music with my band, go to Kinko's to print up the liner notes. Graduating? No problem, Kinko's, Mac, invitations. Voilà! Oh did I ever want one - but I had no money, so no Mac.

1992. Shortly after graduation, I decided I was in love and, worse, decided to get married. I had no money and no marketable skills, so I got married and then started to put myself through school for computer programming. The first thing I realized was that I needed a computer to get me through school. I wanted to buy a Mac. "No, everything you will be learning is PC. That's all anybody uses. The Mac is dead, blah blah blah..."

Based on the input of my instructors, I purchased a 486 with Windows 3.1. I immediately resented this machine, despite the fact that it was pretty powerful for it's time (as far as PCs go). I shelled out $2,000 (which I borrowed) to buy it, and it didn't even have the decency to play the games it was supposed to without hacking AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS!

It crashed, it thrashed, and it taught me everything I would need to know to be a PC guru. The things you need to know are as follows: "PCs are not designed, they are accidentally assembled," and "The inherent stupidity of PCs gives you job security." Professionally I was OK with PCs, but personally I still wanted that Mac. But, alas, no money, no justification, no Mac.

1994. Two years into my PC programming career, and I was a DOS guru. I could do anything that could be done with Windows 3.1. I could make a PC work no matter how badly it wanted to crash. I was powerful.

I was also annoyed. So what if this was job security? These machines were making me crazy. The lousy design of the OS and the programming languages (Visual Basic? PowerBuilder? Clipper?) was aggravating.

I hadn't touched a Mac in nearly five years, but I still wanted to. And then, a revelation - the Internet. My first exposure to the Net in 1994 made me think two things:

  1. This is going to be the next application development platform, and the kind of computer you have shouldn't matter.
  2. Maybe if I move into this Internet thing, someday I will be able to justify having a Mac.

So, despite the hot PowerBuilder/VB job market, I jumped into "this Internet thing." In 1995 I jumped on Java. I studied, I learned, I crammed. My stated motive? To further my career and keep from being obsolete.

My secret motive? To justify moving to Mac.

1996. Working on my first major Web development project, my coworkers noticed something about me. I kept saying the same thing, "Hey, we should get a Mac for cross-platform testing of our site." Eventually, I justified it to my boss, and finally, after years of wishing, had a Mac in my hands. It was a Power Mac 7300/200, and I had no idea what to do with it.

I was so excited, I trembled opening the box. Still only one button on that mouse, huh? What's with all these OS upgrades in this box? Hey, look - built in ethernet! Neat.

I cracked the case, examined it, fired it up, and fell in love right where I had left off in high school. I had a ThinkPad running Windows NT to my right, where I did all my real work, but I stayed late playing on the Mac to my left. I wanted one, I needed one - but still, thanks to a baby at home and school bills and stuff, no money, no Mac.

1998. By this point I had encountered Macs in the workplace working at a couple of companies as a consultant. I had established that the next machine I bought would be a Mac. Then events in my life took a bad turn. My wife and I split and eventually divorced. I gave her my Pentium system and found myself computerless for the first time in six years.

All the software I was writing was Java, HTML and JavaScript... should run on a Mac, right? I needed a computer, but I didn't know what to make of Apple's product line and was still a little scared, so I procrastinated.

But one day I was at a garage sale and found a Mac 512K being sold for $5. No mouse, no keyboard, no disks. I bought it. My first Mac. Finally. I brought it home completely thrilled, like I had just adopted a new puppy. I used a Mac at work to make system disks, then found a keyboard and mouse on the Web. I got it running and was in heaven. It was everything I wanted. Me, a professional computer programmer with 256 MB of RAM in my NT box at work. Me, a Unix guru and DOS/Windows developer, a jaded geek. I gushed over that little 512K. I played with it and played with it. I learned about every version of the System software. I used the original MacWrite. I fell in love again, albeit 13 years late.

When the iMac was introduced, I was one of the first in line. It, too, was a dream. In less than three months I had gone from dreaming about Macs to owning two of them. I suddenly felt like I had accomplished a lifelong goal. My money, my Macs.

2001. I now have a family of Mac's at home. That first Mac I got my boss to buy? I went back and bought it from the company. When I left, they had put it in a closet. They sold it to me for $450. I adopt Macs when I find them at thrift stores and garage sales. There is Carolyn (the 512K, upgraded to 2 MB of RAM and SCSI with an add-on board), Cleo (a Plus that has become my all around writing and play machine), Raheem (a IIcx that I use as a print server), Gonzo (my Rev. A iMac, in my son's room), Coltrane (that 7300 that was my first corporate Mac, now my wife's system in our bedroom), Django (a spanking new G4, all loaded up for video editing and digital audio), and Ernie (not a Mac technically, an Apple IIgs that PowerBook 170I've lovingly restored for gaming). Coming soon, a PowerBook 170 for me (I am obsessed with old Macs for writing) and a new iBook for my new wife.

My brother has purchased two Macs (iMac and iBook), thanks to my obsession, and many of my friends are considering it. Last night, sitting at my Plus, writing, I realized I had come full circle. The dream that I had in tenth grade of having a Mac and creating with it was a reality - and every bit as good as I had dreamed.

Insanely great? Yeah, most definitely.

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