I often feel a pang of regret that I came to the Mac so late in its return to popularity. My corner of the internet is littered with epic stories of the Mac in the 80’s, heroric tales of the dreadful 90’s and the renasiance from ‘97 into the early 2000s.
I grew up in the early 90’s in Cape Town. While the Macintosh was not doing well globally, it was doing even worse in South Africa. Apple had pulled out of the country in 1985 as a result of the then government’s policy of apartheid making them difficult to find and very expensive.
Our house had a IBM PC clone with a monochrome orange screen running MS-DOS 5. It was at that blinking “C:>” DOS prompt that I developed a love for computers. I typed up projects in Word Perfect 5.1 and studied the “toolbar” that my father had attached to the top of our keyboard. It wad three rows and twelve columns. The rows represented the modifer keys CTRL, ALT and SHIFT, while the columns were aligned with the “F” function keys. I learned to spell through playing Space Quest and Police Quest… and King’s Quest! I made a menu appear at startup through what I thought was some impressive autoexec.bat hackery.
But as I read Stephen Hackett and John Siracusa detailing their early and formative experiences with the Macintosh, I can’t help feeling like I missed out. What I do know is that there was something deeply formative about learning DOS on that clunky PC clone. I remember bawling my eyes out when I had to tell my mom and dad that I’d accidentally run RD C:/ and formatted the entire drive. I remember the feeling of finding QBasic for the first time.
Years later I would use a Mac for the very first time. It was 1999 and we were at Legoland during a family holiday to the UK. My dad had booked my brother and I into the Mindstorms Programming Class.
Yeah, when your parents are teachers, you’re going to be coerced into something educational wherever you go!
We sat down at these funny looking computers and were shown around. I was floored. The monitors where blue in colour and semi-transparent, the mouse was this funny round disc and I couldn’t figure out where the tower was hidden. The software looked unlike anything I’d ever used, but oddly familiar. I’d seen these windows and icons in computer books at the library. That afternoon we programmed Lego robots to drive around the room, pick things up and make sounds. And we did this all from an incredible little Apple computer.
Eight years later I finally bought my first Mac. It was a late-2007 Macbook Pro. I was in my third year of university studies and used up every last cent of my savings to buy it. This was before the era of unibody construction, button-less trackpads and solid state drives. It had a 15” glorious matte screen, a screaming-fast Intel Core 2 Duo and Nvidia graphics. Driving home I wondered if this machine had been worth all that money.
And then I kinda never wondered again.