Friday, January 23, 2009

25 Years of the Mac

This article should bring back the memories. Though I must admit that my own Mac journey is only around 20 years old. My first Mac was a "wicked fast" IIfx with some impressive specs for its day (1990). I even had a super-large 1 GB full height hard drive installed, making this a computer worth around $12,000 at the time. The computer was hooked up to an extremely heavy 21" Ikegami monitor that was priced at $3,500.

I obtained this Mac by default. It was loaned to a startup company, New Wave Exploration, of which I was a 50% partner. The idea was to sell seismic processing software but my business partner turned out to have personal financial problems (he filed for bankruptcy) and I decided to fold the company, buy the system and start using it as my main computer. It replaced an 80286 PC by another start up company, PCs Limited, later renamed Dell. I have never looked back. And it is possible that this computer also set Pete on his way to being a social media consultant (he also uses a Mac today).

The IIfx lasted a long time but eventually I moved up through a variety of mostly portable PowerBooks, right up to the present time.

In the early days Apple Computer had an office in Houston and also sponsored an Apple Petroleum Group which met once a month. One of the things I remember was handing in my business card to the receptionist who immediately scanned it into her Mac Plus and printed out a sticky label for my lapel. At one of the meetings we were shown an early version of Quicktime. It was the time of the First Gulf War (1991) and the demonstrator admitted that he could watch CNN in a small window while at work. That all seems so simple today but at the time it was mind-boggling!

Apple's flirtations with the oil industry went into decline and fewer and fewer of the large companies supported Macs. At one time the exploration departments of BP, Amoco, Conoco, Chevron, Arco and many others all had Macs but their IT managers couldn't handle more than one operating system at a time. The messages went out and with them the creative tool so many geologists had at their desks. In retrospect the opportunity for Apple was killed by the very complexity and unreliability of Microsoft's systems that required huge manpower support.

For me the Apple OS has rarely been a problem. Being in a minority can be difficult but in recent years Apple has endeavored to help out by providing export capability from iWork so that I can send Word and Excel files to colleagues who have never used a Mac. Ironically my Mac has saved the day on a number of occasions, including being able to set up quickly with a strange presentation projector in Africa and being able to rescue a PowerPoint file that no-one could open by importing it into and exporting it out from Keynote.

Microsoft have tried hard to scupper this ability to collaborate - they have never produced a Mac version of Project, for example, forcing me to buy Virtual PC. All that did was persuade me never to buy a Windows machine. I do recognize that the difference between operating systems is closing but Apple always seems to be one step ahead where it matters most - ease of use and ability to be productive.

So the question now is, after 25 years of the Mac, where do we go next? I really haven't a clue but I am looking forward to whatever comes down the runway from Cupertino.