My First Mac

Hello Again

Valjean Robidoux - 2001.09.11

With the hoopla surrounding the 20th anniversary of the IBM PC this year, I don't need to rehash the state of the personal computer in the early 80s. I found computers fascinating and had taken a couple of college programming classes which only whetted my appetite. Beyond programming, I wasn't sure what I would do with a computer of my own, but one thing was certain: I had the bug. I bought computer magazines and browsed computer retail outlets.

The 1984 introduction of an amazing little box called Macintosh was a watershed in my computing history. The MacintoshThe Macintosh was unlike any computer I had ever seen - and I'd been doing a lot of looking. The small size and innovate technology fascinated me, so I made my way to the nearest Apple dealer to see one in person. A bit of point and click with MacPaint and MacWrite, and I was hooked. This wasn't a machine; this was an ingenious extension of the mind. Still, the price held me back.

At that time, I was attending junior college. To meet writing requirements for classes, we (my wife and I) had an IBM Selectric typewriter. This electromechanical behemoth was noteworthy for its handy correcting backspace, but that didn't keep the process of transferring handwritten drafts to final typed copy from being a chore.

In the spring of 1985, I enrolled in a 4-year college. During the first week of the semester, the school announced that Apple was offering an educational promotion on Macintosh computers. If memory serves me correctly, the 128k Mac with an ImageWriter printer was $2,145, and the Fat Mac was another $500.

The combination of lower price (relatively speaking) and my academic workload convinced me it was time to make the plunge. My magnanimous wife clearly understood how much we "needed" that 128k Mac, knowing that it was more than a tool for writing college papers - it was also my toy. The Mac was a wonderful asset that semester as I used the combination of MacWrite/MacPaint to produce numerous illustrated papers as well as several creative notes of appreciation to my better half.

The Mac remained an integral part of my undergraduate experience, though I transferred to another college in the fall. My initial setup grew to include a third-party external floppy, a Kensington System Saver, and an upgrade to 512k of RAM. WriteNow became my word-processor - it was clean and fast. Following the antics of Bloom County's Banana PC Junior 6000 in the newspaper became a favorite past-time.

The most creative use for my first Mac - which endeared me to that svelte beige box and the Mac way of doing things - developed in an unexpected way. After I'd been using the Macintosh about a year, the youth director at our church asked if I would help him with a monthly newsletter. I found this nifty page layout program, Ready-Set-Go, and got to work. Ready-Set-Go never achieved the acclaim of Quark Xpress or Adobe PageMaker, but had similar features and is still available from Diwan Software, Ltd. I made use of Thunderscan, a 72 dpi scanner that attached to the ImageWriter, to insert graphics.

For the next five years, the Mac put out a fun and informative four, six, or eight page newsletter. What a feeling of accomplishment to hear that rhythmic buzz-saw of the ImageWriter grinding out the final version for reproduction. It was then I found out about feedback from readers: often positive, occasionally disgruntled. I don't think anyone asked to cancel their "subscription" (after all, it was free).

In 1991, I sold my original Mac - which was still running strong - and upgraded to the Mac Classic. For someone who had been swapping floppies for several years and running into memory problems, a 40 MB hard drive and 2 MB of RAM were ideal. The hard drive was quiet and much faster at loading programs and files. But as I was no longer producing the newsletter, it wasn't used as much.

The Classic was in service until sometime in 1995 or 1996 when the hard disk died. Meanwhile, our home had been infiltrated by a Compaq PC running Windows 3.1 that was provided by my employer for after hours remote technical support of the company's midrange computer (IBM AS/400). Since I could create MS Office documents at home and print them at work, I was able to get by without the Mac.

Now that we had a family of four and a mortgage as well, money to repair or replace an aging computer wasn't in the budget. A friend gave me an external 80 MB Jasmine hard drive to attempt to resurrect the Classic. It worked - sort of. Programs ran a bit jerky and would lock up frequently. I could still boot and work from a floppy, but it just didn't seem worth the trouble. We gave the gave the Classic away. (Now, I wish I had it for a Macquarium!). All that remained of our Mac experience was a couple of floppy disks of text files.

So it remained for the next three years or so, when in January of 1999 I made a serious plunge into the Windows world. A short-lived venture into software consulting required that I have my own PC, so I purchased a Dell Inspiron 3500. Since I was traveling during the week, we wanted a home computer as well.

I had enough experience with Windows to know that there was no way it would do as our home operating platform. The iMac had been introduced a few months earlier, and the "hello, again" ad campaign evoked those old feelings in my Mac-deprived heart. We purchased what was supposed to be a blueberry model, but it looked suspiciously like the original Bondi when it arrived.

The Apple System Profiler confirmed it had all the right innards, however: 266 MHz processor, 6 GB hard drive. My wife and our three daughters, loved communicating via email, the Internet proved to be an invaluable resource for our home-schooling lifestyle, Nanosaur was a blast, and tinkering with PageMill brought a new appreciation for Web development.

The consulting business lasted less than a year, but the Dell hung around a bit longer. It wasn't a bad machine, and I liked having two computers in the house, since the iMac always seemed to be in use. But early this year, after yet another reinstall of Windows 98, it had to go. It's still in the family, though - sold to my brother-in-law, a committed Windows user. During the same two years, the iMac had never had a system reinstall, just a seamless upgrade from OS 8.5 to 8.6.

Going back to one computer after having two for so long introduced some squabbling over use of the single iMac. With all the figurative gagging that the "Flower Power" iMac generated in other circles, the design was a hit in our house full of girls. When the scheme was discontinued, we found a reconditioned unit for a significant savings over a new 500 MHz iMac. We're now toying with iTunes, working on sharing USB devices (Canoscan, DeskJet, SuperDrive) between the two iMacs, and have set up multiple users in OS 9.1 to limit the 2-year-old to her favorite application: AppleWorks.

Now, there's plenty of computing capability to go around. It's great to be an all Mac family again.

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