Mac memories

This year is the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh, and my newspaper asked for memories.  I’ll point them to this post ;).

As context, I was programming for the educational computer game company, DesignWare.  DesignWare had started out doing computer games to accompany K12 textbooks, but I (not alone) had been arguing about heading into the home market, and happened to run into Bill Bowman and David Seuss at a computer conference, who’d started Spinnaker to sell education software to the home market, and were looking for companies that could develop product. I told them to contact my CEO, and as a reward I got to do the first joint title, FaceMaker. When DesignWare created it’s own titles, I got to do Creature Creator and Spellicopter before I headed off to graduate school for my Ph.D. in what ended up being, effectively, applied cognitive science.

While I was at DesignWare, I had been an groupie of Artificial Intelligence and a nerd around all things cool in computers, so I was a fan of the work going on at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (aka Parc), and followed along in Byte magazine. (I confess that, at the time, I was a bit young to have been aware of the mother of all demos by Doug Engelbart and the inspiration of the Parc work.)  So I lusted after bitmap screens and mice, and the Lisa (the Mac predecessor).

My Ph.D. advisor, Donald Norman, had written about cognitive engineering and the research lab I joined was very keen on interface design (leading to Don’s first mass-market and must-read book, The Psychology of Everyday Things, subsequently titled The Design of Everyday Things, and a compendium of writings call User-Centered System Design).  He was, naturally, advising Apple.  So while I dabbled in meta-learning, I was right there at the heart of thinking around interface design.

Naturally, if you cared about interface design, had designed engaging graphic interfaces, and had watched how badly the IBM PC botched the introduction of the work computer, you really wanted the Macintosh.  Command lines were for those who didn’t know better.  When the Macintosh first came out, however, I couldn’t justify the cost.  I had access to Unix machines and the power of the ARPANET.  (The reason I was originally ho-hum about the internet was that I’d been playing with Gopher and WAIS and USENET for years!)

I finally justified the purchase of a Mac II to write my PhD thesis on.  I used Microsoft Word, and with the styles option was able to meet the rigorous requirements of the library for theses without having to pay someone to type it for me (a major victory in the small battles of academia!).  I’ve been on a Macintosh ever since, and have survived the glories of iMacs and Duos (and the less-than stellar Performa).  And I’ve written books, created presentations, and brainstormed through diagrams in ways I just haven’t been able to on other platforms.  My family is now also on Macs.  When the alternative can be couched as the triumph of marketing over matter, there really has been little other choice.  Happy 30th!

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