Welcome to Macintosh

After Windows and Linux, the Mac Floored Me

- 2008.03.24

Bong! . . . :-) . . . Welcome to Macintosh!

Where were you when the Macintosh got to you? When was that moment when you knew without a doubt Macintosh was for you?

Everyone reading this has his or her own story to share of how the Macintosh influenced you. I think it's time to hear your stories, the true stories, the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things with the Macintosh.

In a new and ongoing series here on Welcome to Macintosh, I aim to do just that. I'll be interviewing everyday people from around the world, asking you about your first experience with the Mac. If you'd like to be interviewed, drop me a line at thomas (at) lowendmac (dot) com, and we'll set it up!

Our first interview is with Lee Farrell. He's a devout member of the 68K Macintosh Liberation Army (68kMLA). I'm proud to be interviewing him for this new series.

Editor's note: Lee distinguishes between Macs based on operating system. He calls those that run the Classic Mac OS Macintoshes and those that run Mac OS X Macs. ed

Tommy: Hey Lee, thank you for the opportunity to interview you today.

1) To kick this off, tell me about your first experience with the Macintosh.

I had been a DOS/Windows user since childhood. I used whatever my parents had, and those were PCs. My parents weren't much for upgrading often it seems, and to my knowledge, we've had three PCs here. The first that I used was a 386 with DOS, the next one was a PII with Windows 98 (see? I told you, upgrade they don't), and the third that they still have is a PIII with Windows XP.

It was when they upgraded to the PIII that I got the PII. I messed about with Windows 98 for a while and soon tired of it, well, being Windows and destroying my work. So I installed the only other option I had, Linux. I used and became proficient in that for a year or two before deciding that if I were going into computer tech in my future, I should have experience with the three major platforms out there. That meant I needed to get myself a Macintosh.

I'd used Apples and Macintoshes in school for years. The private school that I attended from K-3 had a lab full of Apple IIGSs, the machines that I learned to type and program on. All through school I was surrounded by Performas and the occasional Power Macintosh. I remember my science teacher in seventh grade getting an orange iMac and thinking it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen.

When I finally decided to get one, a good friend of mine had just upgraded from an aging Power Mac G4 to a G5, and he sold me his G4. It came only with a copy of OS 9. Keep in mind that this was around when OS X 10.3 came out. :P Once I set it up and installed OS 9, I was hooked. It was just so wow. "Wow" pretty much sums up my first experience.

2) What was it like in comparison to other computers you were using at the time?

Bwahahahaha, it was quite different. I had gotten myself used to the idea that to change many things about the system, you had to go to the command line and screw about. While I still have nothing against the command line, and was amazed that an OS could ship without one, I was doubly amazed that it really wasn't needed. Most anything you wanted to change in the system was all there for me in a few mouse clicks. I was also stunned that such an old machine (dual 500 MHz G4s) could look and feel so much faster than my Linux machine (dual 933 MHz PIIIs). It was just a whole different world.

When the friend that I bought the machine from finally gave me a copy of OS X, I was floored again. There was my buddy, the command line! But there was still no reason to rely on it to do most things. I guess just the fact that they are such well-designed machines with very well-written software to boot is what really set them above most other machines.

3) What was it about the Macintosh that made you go Wow!?

Well, starting in OS 9, it was more of an "Oooooh, aaaaaaah" sort of thing. I was still amazingly impressed by the system, but it was so different compared to what I was used to, it was a bit of a shock. It wasn't until I got into OS X that I was forced to go "wow". And while I know how tired most people are of hearing this, it was the ease of doing things that impressed me. While OS 9 had this too, the fact that this system was so similar to what I was used to underneath the GUI, the fact that many things that I was used to dropping in to the CLI for could be done easily through the GUI floored me. I was in the presence of well-written and cohesive software. That is what really got me.

4) If there was one certain program that drew you to the Macintosh, what was it and why?

There wasn't really one app that convinced me to switch, unless you count the Mac OS. Almost as soon as I got my Macintosh up and running, I immediately began installing as many ports of the software I was used to from Linux. However, I've gotten away from most of those and use mostly Macintosh-native apps. So no particular app that made me switch.

5) Do you use the Macintosh in school or at work, and if so how?

Unfortunately, my university (University of South Florida, Go Bulls!) has recently been purging the campus of a lot of its public-use Macs. I've seen literally hundreds of iMacs disappear to be replaced next day with Dells. I personally still use my Macintoshes and Macs at school though. And I've applied to work at the Apple Store that's opening near my house soon, so hopefully I'll be working with Macs at work too ;)

6) What was the coolest thing about your first experience with the Macintosh?

How freakishly easy most things were. Most, not all, things were exactly where you would expect them to be and where they made sense. There were a few confusing things (Monitors and Sound? Dragging disks to the Trash, won't that delete them? Oi, lets not forget the Chooser), but for the most part, it was an extremely well-written system. Many of those issues were fixed with OS X, but that of course introduced its own set of issues (poof off the Dock, way heavy on the eye candy, well, you know the rest). But really, most things remained freakishly easy to do and to access. That is what continues to impress me about the Macintosh and the Mac.

7) How has the Macintosh changed in your view, and in what way?

Hoo boy, there's a loaded question. For one, I would argue that you cannot go out and buy a new Macintosh anymore, nor have you been able to since around 2001. You can buy a Mac, which is still an awesome computer, but it's not a Macintosh. I would consider an Apple that is currently running OS 9.2.2 and under to be a Macintosh, while an Apple that is running OS X is a Mac. Obviously, the successor to the Macintosh is far superior technically, but it doesn't have the same amount of, well, soul is really the only thing that works here. Right now, I'm typing this on a Mac (a MacBook to be exact), and it is an amazing computer. I love this little bugger. However, using it is very different from using my main laptop that I use on campus, a PowerBook Duo 2300c. The MacBook is way faster, has much more RAM, a much larger hard disk, and runs a far more advanced OS. However, I use the Duo, running OS 8.1, because the feeling of using it is not to be found on the MacBook. One of the biggest changes that I've noticed is that OS X is being filled with "features" that look totally awesome in the store (the fan view in Stacks, Dock magnification, Cover Flow in the Finder) but really aren't that useful in the long run. While it is incredibly nifty to see your files fan out in a curving line a few times, it gets annoying to tilt your head to the side to read the names, and you'll probably just go back to the old menu-based view. Cover Flow in the Finder is another perfect example; it sure does look neat to just flip through your files like this, doesn't it? Just makes you wanna buy one of these shiny new machines, doesn't it?

This adding of eye-catching features that don't add much to the overall usability of the OS is inexcusable in my opinion.

In this process, the Mac has lost its soul. In nearly any version of the Classic Mac OS, I can go into a control panel, random menu option, whatever, and Option-click and see a cute little animation stuck in there from the developer that wrote that bit of the OS. Who remembers Larry, John, Steve, and Bruce? Who has any idea who wrote the modern Finder? The '040 cache switch control panel has a nifty little animation revealing the name of the developer. What ever happened to Clarus the Dogcow, helping me to position my paper? And what ever happened to my abstract view of Silicon Valley?

So many of the things that made the Macintosh truly unique disappeared in the Mac. It is a disappointment, but they are the future. I'm glad that sites like this try and keep the Macintosh alive, although Low End Mac does seem to be focusing on the Mac in general. I was glad to find this column that actually talks about the Macintosh :)

8) How does the Macintosh differ from Windows in your view?

I'll come right out and say it: Windows NT is a decent system. There. One of the biggest differences between Windows and the Mac is hardware. Yes, Macs use the same hardware now, but think about it for a moment. When Apple writes the Mac OS, even when they were in Classic, they knew exactly what hardware the OS had to be written for, and they can fine-tune the OS for it. That's why I say the biggest problem for Windows is hardware; it has to support so bloody much. That is one of the key advantages of the Macintosh or the Mac; since Apple makes the hardware and the software, they can tune them together. Since Windows has to support so much hardware, they're reduced to using fairly generic drivers to support them, unless you wish to replace them with specific drivers yourself. That is the biggest difference that I see between the two. I mean, they both run pretty much the same software.

Speaking of the software that they run, the Macintosh/Mac does have another massive advantage; Apple's stringent UI conventions. These ensure that most similar things in different programs are in similar places. This is what makes it easy to learn how to do something in one app and carry it over to another with minimal tweaking. Microsoft, from what I've seen, could really care less about what its developers write and what it ends up looking like. This can create some true kludges and make the whole OS look bad. That is another massive advantage that the Mac has over Windows.

9) What was your first Macintosh?

My first Macintosh was a Power Mac G4 running OS 9. My first "real" Macintosh, one that is stuck with Classic, was my Macintosh Classic II. My first Mac was the G4 under OS X.

10) What Mac(s) do you currently use?

My main Macs are my Power Mac G4, currently running Leopard, and my MacBook, also running Leopard. My main Macintoshes are a Power Macintosh 6500/225 running 9.1 and a PowerBook Duo 2300c running 8.1. I've found that I can use the 6500 and the Duo for most of my day-to-day tasks, and really only need the Macs for Internet-related things.

Yes, Classic does suck on the modern Internet; I'll admit it. :P However, I've been finding that most of my Internet things (most school sites, short emails unlike this one, etc.) can easily be taken care of by my iPod touch. Jailbroken, it's one of the most horribly useful things I've ever held in my hand. Other than those five computers, I have another G4 tower (single 400 MHz) that's an on-again, off-again server, a Classic II on my desk that I mostly use for games, a Classic that I don't use that often and am planning on giving away to someone who will, and an Apple IIc Plus that I mess about on all the time. Big family. ;)

11) For anyone who hasn't used a Macintosh, what advice would you give them?

Find a friend that has one or drop by an Apple Store and mess about with a Mac. They really are well-designed machines. They're different, yes, but don't let that put you off. Give 'em a try. You're sure to come out of it, if not overjoyed and an instant raving Apple fanatic, at least with one thing scratched off your bucket list. :)

Thanks for your time, Lee. That was a really interesting story.

To close this Welcome to Macintosh, Lee has a story to share about his Apple II:

From K-3, I attended a local private school, where they had a lab full of Apple IIs. Since we mainly used them for typing lessons, and I was usually the fastest typer in the class, I had a lot of free time in there, and the teacher would lend me a (at the beginning) blank disk and turn me loose in Applesoft BASIC to have fun. I remember eating my way through the manual "A Touch of Applesoft BASIC", then progressing to a more in-depth manual that she had, and writing all sorts of great little apps. I can remember longing for one of these great machines to use at home (we had some old DOS-x86).

That was then.

After I moved into the public school system for 4-12, I moved into the wonderful world of Windows. While it was cool to have a GUI, the machines just didn't have the same feeling to them as those old Apple IIs. Gradually, though, I became acclimated to the Wintel world and got my own PC. It was okay; I had cobbled it together from various other PCs with dead parts, but it wasn't the greatest experience in the world. After I got Windows 98 on it, I started wondering if there was anything else out there that would work for me.

Near the end of middle school, my parents decided to get me a laptop. It came out of the box, in all its dark bland wonderfulness, running Windows XP. I was in heaven, because nearly anything seems nice after Win98. :P I used that lappy for many years, until I started getting fed up with even XP.

I again started wondering if there was anything else out there that would work for me. I briefly thought of a Mac, but then reminded myself that those weren't "real computers" and that only Photoshop people used them. Besides, "Macs Suck." Right? So I went to the only other option out there that wouldn't require me to get new hardware: Linux. I piddled about in Linux as my main OS for about two years, and I had gotten my computers fine-tuned to run well. Everything was great, as long as I didn't really want much software or games or any of that....

Needless to say, I got restless and was looking around for something new. Of course, there was only one choice left, and that was the Macintosh. I got a great deal on a used Power Mac G4 (dual 500) and a copy of OS 9. It was amazing to have a computer smile at me when it started up. I got a copy of Tiger and was firmly hooked.

As I was happily using my G4, I started getting a feeling again that I hadn't felt in a long time. It was the longing for an Apple II that I could call my own. After I joined the 68k Macintosh Liberation Army and heard others talk about their Apple IIs, I knew it was time to start the hunt again. I searched all around, but could never find one in the price range of a high school student. After graduation, I couldn't find one in the price range of a starving, saving college student. :P

Then, about a month ago, I went to my local little computer shop to get some RAM for my Power Macintosh 6500 (my Mac collection has expanded past the G4 somewhat) and saw a pile of junk that somebody apparently had dropped off. What caught my eye was a huge box with a rainbow Apple on the side.

I asked to look at it, and opened it up to find some old Apple monitor. I started digging through the pile and found some smaller boxes with Apples on them, including a joystick, a mouse, and a box of cables. At the bottom, sitting under an old Packard Bell PC, was a box that contained an unblemished Apple IIc+. I immediately grabbed it out of the box and held it to my chest, turned to the lady that ran the place, and almost yelled at her, "Is this for sale?!?!?" She told me I could have all the stuff from the pile that I wanted for $10 as long as I would make it go away.

I took it all home, set it up, and flipped the switch on the Apple II for the first time. It beeped and griped about not having a bootable disk. I dug around in the box of cables and came out with a few floppies. I tossed one in and watched it boot right up! I spent the rest of the night, as well as the better part of the next few days, tapping away relearning Applesoft BASIC. It now occupies a place of honor in my room and has its own little desk.

Well, that's the story of my Apple II. Hope you enjoyed it :)

If you'd like to be interviewed to tell me what drew you to the Mac, shoot me an email at thomas (at) lowendmac (dot) com. LEM

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