Einar's blog
31 jan. 2014

The Mac is dead, long live the Mac!

The 30th anniversary of the Macintosh

I start up that old Quadra 700 in System 7, and I am back at the personal computer that lets me put whatever I want in the Apple-menu, a truely Wozniakian machine. I’m back at the desktop where I ResEdited all the desktop patterns and changed those STR# resources so my Mac would tell me «Welcome to Einar’s Mac» at start-up, back at the computer where I could put a picture in a special StartUpScreen format in the system folder, and see my picture as the background when the machine booted. I am back at that operating system that lets me choose which control panels and extensions should run, the system that lets me allocate the amount of RAM I want for my programs, the amount of virtual memory used and whether I would like a RAM-disk or not.

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These were the days of System 7: The IBM-compatibles were the machines of the corporate office drones, opening their 3,11 Windows so their 1,6 children could Excel in Word with 4 colours. On my Mac, I could publish «newspapers» with the kids in my neighbourhood using ClarisWorks, while others were struggling with config.sys, autoexec.bat and extended memory. I could write orchestral scores in Finale at the age of learning my first words of English at school. I could program my own games in HyperTalk, make a contact database in ClarisWorks or chill with Prince of Persia or Maelstrom. I could draw superbly in SuperPaint even if not on paper. I could MacDraw, MacPaint, MacLISP and MacWrite II. These were the days of PowerBook 140s, the days when PCs didn’t have norwegian characters in the fonts used by MS-DOS while Macs had whatever keyboard layout I would like and the fonts to match them. These were the days of WriteNow, PageMaker, GraphicConverter, Netscape, iCab, WordPerfect and PhotoShop.

Alas, it had to end. Steve Jobs’ second coming at Apple brought a revolution. Bill Gates from MICROSOFT! was presented as Apple’s saviour at MacWorld. Hell had frozen over and Steve Jobs held a funeral for Mac OS 9. Our corporate overlords decided that everything on screen should be grey from now on and that the Apple logo should loose its colours. Resistance was futile and the brushed aluminium age of Apple Inc. had commenced. All the colour, charm, humour and personality of the good old Macintosh System Software was gone. Forever lost to retro-computing was Clarus the dog-cow, the view of the Cupertino campus hidden in «About Finder», the program menu from the days of ye olde MultiFinder, the customisable and colourful Apple-menu, and the illogical charm of logging into a network server over AppleTalk with the Chooser DA.

It was a new jungle of Panthers, Tigers, Snow Leopards and Mountain Lions. It was a Quartz Extreme time of Carbonised Aqua and imprisonment in brushed metal interfaces. It was a time of confusion of keyboard shortcuts, and a time of mousing into the menu after not having had to do so since System 6 in the late 80s. It was a time of every program having a menu called the name of the program, but not containing much other than «Settings..» and «Quit», in stead of the File menu being next to the Apple menu, as Atkinson intended and sense predicted. It was mayham and confusion. It was a time of accepting being a user, not a poweruser. It was brutal, but I adapted.

Macs are more popular than ever, with the Mac-hating sheep of the MS-DOS days now flocking to the glass-walled, consumerist temples that are the Apple stores. For the new converts, the Mac delivers the friendly interface Windows users never knew they could have. (Try out the control panel on a Mac and compare with Windows, and you get what I mean.) But for me, the magic has faded with the six colours. I still use Macs, and in many ways, they are greater than ever, but I don’t like that Apple’s designs are forcing obsolesence while Cook is talking green on stage. I find myself drawn towards the open source world, where lots of the exciting new technological developments are happening. Maybe it is just a matter of wanting to think different(ly)?

This is the legacy of the Macintosh: the idea that a computing device needs a user-friendly Graphical User Interface (GUI) to be efficient and compelling. It’s everywhere today, not necessarily greatly executed, but everywhere. I love my iBook, Macintosh Server G3, MacBook, MacBook Pro and EeePC, but nothing gets me moofing like starting System 7.6.1 on the Quadra, hearing the major chord chime, seeing the happy Mac, and booting into the good old Finder. I get the warm feeling of coming home to my personal computer.

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