My First Mac

Macs Are the More Sensible Option

Adrian Carter - July 2002

For starters, Apple computers have not always dominated my own computing history. I first got into using technology just before my teens. This was the early 80s, and in the UK there was something of an 8-bit revolution going on in the computer world.

The 8-Bit Era

At school it seemed like every kid I knew used a computer of some sort, the most common being the Sinclair Spectrum, although there was a good number of Commodore and Dragon 32 owners out there. Unless you count my foray into the world of consoles, I guess this was my first computer.

I considered myself fortunate to have had access to 48k of RAM in those days. Most of my time was taken up either typing in the programs you found in magazines (written in BASIC), or playing the wealth of respectable games that were around for the platform.

The "Speccy," as it was commonly known at the time, lasted me a good couple of years before it got blown up during an upgrade. I had installed a Currah Speech Module onto the venerable machine's one expansion port. They were often prone to wobbling around on the port, and this is how many Sinclair machines met their untimely end.

I was without a machine for a while until I got myself another 8-bit wonder. This time it was an Atari 130XE. This was my first taste of what it was like to be in the computing minority. I liked the Atari; it had pretty impressive graphics and sound capabilities for the time. It shipped with a cassette drive that had the styling and finesse of a brick - and a data cable so thick that it could be used for towing ships.

Also, loading software was painfully (and I mean painfully) slow. The machine would often take 40 minutes to load a game, and woe betide you if the process got even the slightest hint of an interruption. For those who might be wondering, the floppy drive that became available for this machine wasn't much better. I still have this machine and all it's peripherals and software somewhere in storage.

My fondest memories of this machine were playing such games as Gauntlet and the Questprobe adventures. This was the machine that introduced me to the brilliant Infocom text adventures; I'd hate to think how many hours I lost on those.

Looking back, these were the machines that got me started with my love affair with technology.

The PC Era

My next machine would be a PC - or something that vaguely resembled one anyway.

I didn't get my first "proper" computer until I was about nineteen. I had outgrown the machines I had used for playing games when I was younger and simply never replaced them. However, seeing a friend of mine playing some of the Leisure Suit Larry games on his IBM XT style machine did whet my appetite to get back into computers.

My first PC was built by my own not-so-fair hand. A friend of a friend in Manchester was involved in computers and sold me enough bits to cobble together my first 286. Another friend (cheers, Clive) helped me bolt the machine together, and over the next few months I started learning to work my way through DR-DOS.

In those days, working with command line interfaces seemed painless enough (I guess I didn't know better). In fact, when confronted with my first simple GUI (a simple pre-Windows bolt on from Digital Research), I shied away from it. But a few years down the line and the thought of digging into OS X's command line is one that makes me feel distinctly uncomfortable.

As time went by, I upgraded and changed my PCs. I familiarized myself with Windows in its 3.0 and 3.1 incarnations, and I was an early adopter of Windows 95.

In all honesty, during this time the Macintosh or Apple as a whole were unknown factors to me. I never came across Macs, and Apple never seemed to be mentioned in the computer magazines I was reading at the time.

The Macintosh Era

My introduction to Apple came from two distinct routes. Firstly I took a part time university course at Red Tape Studios in Music Production. Part of my studies involved getting into MIDI composition and recording.

We built tracks using Cubase on a Macintosh Quadra that was driving a couple of external MIDI modules.

My PC at home was already setup with software for making music, and I had a distinct interest in getting some tracks down. I just needed to broaden my knowledge a little before I took the plunge; that is why I took the course.

After the course ended, I bought a MIDI module and a dumb keyboard and began experimenting with music. The packages were adequate for the beginner, and in truth again I didn't know much better. However, using the Quadra had made me curious about Apple's technology. Besides that, the PC was starting to show signs of instability as my audio experimentation went further.

Another influence on my decision to "go Mac" was my choice of PDA at the time. My intention was to upgrade from the trusty Psion I had been using and move on to something a bit more powerful. I ended up getting a brand new Apple Newton MessagePad 2100 just after it's release (and shortly before it's cancellation). This was and remains an incredible tool for note taking - and lots more besides - and I can honestly say I would have a much harder time organizing my notes without it. (I use it for note taking in class now. I am on a part degree but that's a story for another time.)

A short time after this, a lightning strike down my phone line cooked my PC, which was by now into the Pentium Class (166 MHz, if I remember rightly). It was at this point I decided that I would finally take the plunge and change "brands" as it were.

I bought myself a new beige G3 266 MHz machine that I still use as my main Mac today. I installed Cubase 3.5 VST on it, and before too long this machine was handling all my music and writing duties, as well as being a moderate games playing machine. It started out life running OS 8.1 and with 32 MB of RAM that even then seemed woefully inadequate. However I soon upgraded the machine with a 128 DIMM, and things like Web surfing became much more stable experiences.

In the present day the G3 remains fundamentally how I bought it, but I did take the memory up to 416 MB. I also stuck in a Voodoo 5 graphics card and a second IDE drive (40 gig - as soon as I started messing with audio and getting serious with music I knew I would need this), and to handle some of the newer musical equipment on the market I installed a USB PCI card.

The machine now runs Cubase 5 VST, Logic Audio, Rebirth, and Pro Tools, amongst others, and still behaves respectably with all these applications. I also now have a PowerBook G3 and an upgraded G3 6400, amongst other machines. My place of work uses an iMac, although I constantly seem to be up against the wall when it comes to using it, thanks to the presence of a Mac hater amongst the staff.

In conclusion, I would say that there is nothing better to work on from my own personal experience than a "well stacked Mac." Even today I have found there is no better machine that suits my working habits. Upgrading the machine has never given me any problems. The hard drive slotted into the spare drive bay without a problem, and upgrading RAM and installing cards has always been a procedure that occurs without hassle, mainly thanks to the layout of the "fold down" motherboard, which is something I never encountered on a PC.

My beige Mac still "kicks ass" in so many different areas. Even without the Voodoo card the machine was always respectable when it came to things like playing Unreal Tournament; with that card the playing experience is nothing less than awesome. Alas, the lack of drivers for the card under OS X has been the main reason that I still use OS 9.1. Until there is some kind of Voodoo support or I can find a reasonably priced video card to replace it, then for the time being OS 9 is going to remain my operating system of choice (I'm also waiting for my favourite apps to become OS X native as well, even though I know that's going to be a costly experience).

I'm not saying the Macintosh experience is perfect. We've had some real nightmares at work getting an OfficeJet G85 up and running, mainly due, I believe, to the absolutely lousy drivers built for the printer. There's also the fact that we are still tied to Virtual PC in order to run a couple of apps, and in all honesty I hate having to run an emulated environment inside Apple's much simpler and cleaner interface.

However, it has to be said that nine times out of ten the Mac has proven to be the more sensible option of the two main platforms, and with the right spec anyone can make a Macintosh into a highly productive tool, whether that be for creative or business purposes.

Go to the My First Mac index.

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