Apple and Me

My first memories of using Apple computers come from elementary school in the late 80s; we would play Lemonade Stand and The Oregon Trail during our recess period (the original Oregon Trail, none of the point-and-click wimpiness that kids these days have). These were Apple IIes with monochrome monitors, not top-of-the-line, but all that a public school could afford. My parents refused to buy a computer for the house. "You already have Nintendo. You don't need another machine to play games on." A few years later, I learned how to program in BASIC on an Apple II, and before long, I could write my own games. My father finally caved and bought a computer in 1989, although he never allowed an Apple product in his house.

Middle school brought my first experience with Macs - we had an LC II with a CD-ROM in the school library. Instead of going out to play during lunch, my friends and I would hang around (monopolize?) the computer, looking up articles on the New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (and occasionally playing a game or two). Kids probably don't even use encyclopedias anymore (other than Wikipedia), but this was revolutionary. First of all, you could fit an entire encyclopedia on a single CD-ROM, while a paper encyclopedia took up an entire wall. But, more importantly, this was a "Multimedia" encyclopedia. If you looked up a famous piece of music, you got to hear a tinny MIDI rendition of the piece (thanks to the sound capabilities provided by Apple). It was all pretty amazing, or so we thought at the time.

By the time I got to High School, we were using Macintosh LCIIIs to publish the school paper. We used a different 3.5" floppy disk for each page - heaven forbid if a disk broke or got corrupted (this only happened once, so far as I can remember). Eventually we moved to using a network mount to store all the pages, and even bought an early digital camera. This seemed pretty high-tech (for 1996). I was still using a PC at home, but at least I had software that let me transfer files between Mac and PC.

This was also the first time I heard about a certain character named Steve Jobs. The school newspaper shared the computer lab with the "Applied Personal Computing" teacher, who was a huge Macintosh fan. He would regale us with Apple trivia and show us his MacWorld magazines; when NeXT was acquired in 1996, I remember hearing the saga of Steve Jobs' triumphant return to Apple. I later learned a lot more about Jobs while reading The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, an unauthorized biography that detailed Jobs' life based on hearsay from people who knew him.

College brought the first Mac that I owned - I started out with a PC, but my friend Jasper quickly convinced me to buy a Mac. I trolled MIT's monthly computer flea market, finally settling on a used PowerMac 7500. After installing a "G3" upgrade card, I began to run it as my primary machine. My time in college coincided with the second golden age of Apple, as some of Jobs' dreams began to come to life. The iMac, the iPod, the Titanium Powerbook, and OS X all made a definite impression on me. Unlike the ugly PCs that I had been using for the past ten years, Macs were refined and pretty. They were well designed and a pleasure to use - truly what a computer was meant to be.

Immediately before I began an internship at Microsoft in 2001, Apple announced the long-awaited white iBook, and I finally pulled the trigger on my first new Macintosh (it was $1499, not including the Airport card). The experience of unboxing it was truly magical - you got to open a meticulously designed package and were greeted by what seemed like the most beautiful machine in the world. It was almost as if Steve Jobs had custom-crafted the experience just for you (and remains to this day). As I brought my iBook in to each day of my internship at Microsoft; I felt like such a little rebel. That machine stayed with me for almost five years, and I was sad to finally sell it.

Back in those days, having a Mac kind of set you apart from the unwashed masses of PC users, who didn't know better than to run whatever Microsoft handed to them. Whenever I met someone else who owned a Mac, a sort of club was formed. We were different, and somehow special, just by virtue of owning the same computer. Apple was exciting, rebellious, and never beige (at least after the late 90s). I always loved Apple's "Think Different" advertisements, which was one of my favorite ad campaigns of all time. I spent quite a while tracking down the Think Different poster featuring Richard Feynman; it still hangs proudly on my wall.

I was actually at the Stanford commencement in 2005 where Steve Jobs gave his now-famous speech. While I had already read and heard much about the creation of the Macintosh, it really added a whole new level of meaning to hear some of it in his own words. Jobs also revealed how he had contracted pancreatic cancer the year before, and how his life had flashed before his eyes. It is interesting to see how a brush with death changes people - for Steve Jobs, it appears to have doubly focused him on completing his life's work. He knew that he probably only had a few more years, so he compressed at least a  lifetime of work into that time.

Building Apple from an underdog into one of the most valuable companies in the world was an impressive achievement, but I think that the iPad will be remembered as his crowning glory (as he would have wanted). With that invention, he fundamentally changed the way that we interact with computers, and began the transition to a post-PC world.

Rest in peace, Steve.