My First Mac

Macs Meet My Needs

Flint Million - 2001.08.14

"Look what I've got, Mr. Gates!"

I've been a computer user forever - since 1985, when I was two and my parents introduced me to the computer. I was hooked. I started out on a Texas Instruments 99/4A, with a glorious 16 KB of RAM, audio cassette storage, composite output for video, and program carts (similar to console gaming sets). I played for hours on that machine. Of course, at the time I'd used nothing else.

I started my PC fix at the age of three, on an IBM PCjr computer, which was, in my opinion, one of IBM's biggest flops. All the ports were nonstandard, expansion was via these weird boxes called "sidecars," and its BIOS was so incompatible with the PC BIOS that it couldn't run anything higher than DOS 2.1 without special ROM patches that came on a cart. Nonetheless, that was my only PC, and I used it for at least eight years.

The year was 1994, and I was in sixth grade. Through the years, I'd seen, heard, and used Macs, but minimally. I always fancied myself as a PC user. I had gotten a 486/25 laptop less than a year earlier, and less than a few months back had gotten Windows 3.1.

Then came my first real Mac - a PowerBook 150. Compared to the puny 80 MB hard drive in my 486, it PowerBook 100 Serieshad a 120 MB (!) hard drive, 4 MB of RAM (compared to 2.5 MB in my 486), and a larger LCD. That's when I discovered how small older Mac software is. ClarisWorks 2.0 fits into a couple megs. A bunch of great games like Oregon Trail and Word Munchers would fit into a few more. The system software (7.1) itself took under 10 megs. I typically had more than 90 MB free on that machine, and wonder if I'd ever find enough cool software to fill it up.

Alas, the machine had its demise less than a year later. It fell victim to the weird "yellow box in upper-right corner of screen" problem. I myself never have figured out how a grayscale LCD can make a yellow box on the screen. Oh well....

I never stopped using Macs, though. I was now in seventh grade, and we'd just gotten a new lab of 5260/75s. I played on those every chance I got. I was frequently seen walking around the labs looking for a free Mac. Who could not want to sit down before school and play Oregon Trail or SimCity 2000? These short encounters with the Mac were all I had for quite some time.

When I got to high school, I really started using Macs more. By eleventh grade (1999), I had a good working base of Mac technical knowledge. I could fix system software problems and install software. I even learned a little about Network Assistant. I once called it "the tool of the CIA" - observe screens, take over computers, audit entire labs with a couple clicks - wow!

Our new lab of iMac Rev Bs enlightened me even more. At home I had a Pentium III 600 that I still use. But whenever I was in the labs at school, I used Macs. I had my own Pentium II laptop, but still I used Macs in the labs. Through all this, however, I still thought of myself as a PC user. I did have more technical knowledge about the PC, and I owned only PCs at home. But I still found something to like about the Mac.

It was only eight months ago, last November (2000), when one of my teachers offered me a free Mac. A free Mac? Did I hear him right? He was offering me a 5200/75. Seeing as how I didn't have a Mac, I immediately accepted his proposal. Who wouldn't?

I got the machine home and booted it up. Mac OS 7.6.1, a 540 MB hard drive, 8 MB of RAM, and a comm slot ethernet card were its features. I found out pretty quickly that my stashes of PC parts could be used to upgrade the 5200. First was a 1.2 GB IDE hard drive upgrade, followed by a 32 MB RAM upgrade, and finally an upgrade to Mac OS 8.6.

Wanting to learn more about the technical side of Macs, I hopped on the Net and searched. One of the first places I was led to was Low End Mac, which is a resource I still use for all things Mac. I learned about the 5200/6200 motherboard issues, but somehow didn't believe them because I thought my Mac was fast. Then again, it was the first Mac I really got to play with since sixth grade. Yes, I'd used iMacs and G3 All-in-Ones in the classroom, but the security software makes that a less-than-pleasant experience at times.

The 5200, even though it has motherboard issues, satisfied my Mac desires for another five months. I then heard (from the same teacher) about a surplus sale our local university was having in May. The ad said that one could buy a complete computer for $35, including monitor of choice, keyboard, and mouse. It also said that Macs were sort of the "showcase" of the computer sale.

I got myself out of bed at 05.00 AM (rare for me!) and stood in the rain for an hour and a half just to get into the sale. Once inside, I went on a mad rush through the place. Armed with my Palm loaded with Mac specs, I searched the huge stacks of Macs for the best model. I finally settled on a 7100/66, which was the only machine I could find that was faster than 60 MHz and wasn't a 6200 or 5200. (I later heard that some lucky kid got a 7200/120 there....) I chose an Apple MultiScan 15AV monitor with speakers on it. I also got the standard ADB keyboard and mouse - everything for just $35.

I planned my schedule so that I would also be able to spend the day at the college talking with people and touring. Somewhere throughout my journeys around that place I met one of the techs. He and I talked tech jargon for a little while. He happened to mention that he had a damaged PB 180 that he wanted to rid himself of. I promptly offered to take it off his hands, and he gave it to me - free of charge.

Two Macs in one day - not bad. I was proud.

I took the machines home and got to work. First was the 7100. I transferred the RAM out of the 5200 into the 7100, and then installed Mac OS 8.6. My 5200 is now running 7.6.1 again, and I don't use it as often. Why? Because I finally realized what LEM meant by the motherboard issues. A slower machine (66 MHz, vs. 75 MHz in the 5200) performed far better than the faster machine. I also hopped on eBay and got a 1.2 GB SCSI drive for it - there are no IDE ports on a 7100, so my box of IDE drives was useless. I also got a decent collection of software from my school - old software they don't want to use anymore. Just within the last month I finally got a G3 upgrade card for $135. The 7100 is very usable, and it only cost a total of $170.

Now on to the PB. After scrounging the Net for the service and take-apart manual, I got the machine opened. First thing was that the hard drive was missing. Oh well, time to jump onto eBay again. I got a 360 MB laptop SCSI drive for $35. Not bad. Then came the memory - it only had the onboard 4 MB chip, with no expansion card. Back to eBay to bid on a 10 MB card for $45. Plus there was no battery - just the plastic cover. Oh well, a venture to bought me a NiMH battery for $75. Besides that, everything looked good. It even had the 14.4 modem.

I waited for the parts to come. Every day I ran to the mail to see if boxes had arrived containing PB parts. Finally, they arrived. I installed all the parts, borrowed an OS 7.6.1 CD and SCSI CD drive from my school, and installed the OS. The machine worked perfectly! What I ended up with was a PB 180 with a brand new battery, memory chip, and 350 MB HD for only $150.

Oh yes, I also got a free LC III from my school. They didn't want it anymore. I upgraded it with a 16 MB SIMM (to bring it to 20 MB) and a 270 MB SCSI drive. That gives me a total of four Macs for under $350. Amazing what a little cash (and guys who believe in obsolesce) can do.

Did I mention that I always fancied myself as a PC user? Once I finally got my hands on some Macs of my own, I'm not so sure. Whenever Windows gets me angry, I move over to my 7100 and say "Tell me a joke." Whenever my Pentium II notebook gives me a blue screen, I pull out my PB 180 and fire up ClarisWorks 5.0. And when I just can't seem to get IE 5.5 working like it should on my PC, I move over to my 7100/G3 and surf the Web there. It usually works.

I still use my PCs, but I use my Macs, too. Sometimes I find myself not touching my PC for as long as a few days - my Mac fulfills all the needs I have at the time. (I do have a Linux server too, but I don't use that often.)

Will my next computer be a Mac or a PC? Right now, I'm not sure. Once I would have said "PC" without a hitch. But lately, I've had doubts. A Mac can run Virtual PC and run a lot of PC software easily. A Mac can recognize speech without shelling out money to Dragon Systems or IBM for their products. A Mac can generate great-sounding speech without paying for it. A Mac's system files are cleanly labeled and it's obvious what they do, unlike "REGSVR32.EXE". What is that? Hmmmm.

Now on my Mac, "File Sharing Extension." Much better.

Macs and PCs - the everlasting debate. Which is better? I'm truly not sure. I still use my PCs, but my Mac has advantages that make it superior to my PC in some departments. I think that I'll probably continue to use both types of systems. But then again, you never know....

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