Thursday, October 6, 2011

The day the music died

Steve Jobs Dead at 56

The first computer I remember using in school was either an Apple //c or a Macintosh Classic. The first computer we had in the house growing up was an Apple ][e. Oh, and on that ][e? We had the duo-disk drive. Two floppy drives side-by-side in one housing. They stacked right on top of the computer, and then the monitor sat on top of that. I was King of the Hill with that setup, baby!!!

You see, I am a military brat, and one of the first smart marketing moves Apple made was to get a preferential supplier contract with the DoD. Every AAFES  store carried Apple computers, and that was it. No IBM PCs or PC Jrs, just Apple gear. All of the DoD schools  used Apple computers. So, if it was done on a computer, it was done on an Apple, at least for me.

Later, the family upgraded to an Apple IIgs, and I got the ][e in my room. I don't remember the name of it, but there was a side-scrolling "kung fu" type game that I loved to play. It fit on one 5.25" floppy. I remember finding my first "easter egg" in that game. One day, I accidentally put the disk in upside down. Well, instead of getting an error about not being able to read the disk, the game started playing, upside down. They simply took all the graphics code and flipped it, so your character was running across the top of the monitor instead of the bottom. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world.

The first computer program I ever wrote was on the IIgs. That system made it VERY easy to do graphics coding, so I wrote a small AppleBasic program that made a colored bar "bounce" across the screen. It started on the left edge, and then grew a random length across the screen. It also randomly shifted colors. It was a crappy program, but it was my first one.

The first document-processing software I used was also Apple-based. I don't remember the name for it now, but it was all command-line. No GUI used. Your formatting codes were all inserted directly into the document, and showed up inline with your text, like formatting marks if you turn those on in Word today. I had most of the formatting codes memorized, and the technology/computer teacher would frequently ask me for help. (Yeah, I was that kid that always wanted to run the projector, too).

I was finally introduced to PC clones and Microsoft operating systems in junior high, once we moved back stateside. The first PC I bought for myself was right before my senior year. It was a 386-DX40, with a 100MB hard drive, 16 MB of RAM, a 16-bit Soundblaster, and a 1x CD-ROM drive. It was marketed as MMC-1 (multi-media computer) compliant. I still have my DOS 6.0 and 6.22 install diskettes, along with my Windows for Workgroups 3.11 floppies.

Today, the only Apple products in my house are a 3rd-gen iPod Nano (bought used from a friend when he traded up) and a 4th-gen iPod Touch (a graduation present). I have personally never spent money on Apple hardware.

Apple, especially under Jobs' leadership, has designed great hardware, with wonderful UI and UX elements. However, one of the things that has always turned me off about them, especially in the computer arena, was that they kept everything in-house from a hardware perspective, instead of licensing it out. I remember working in a computer shop that was also a licensed Apple facility. We had to order all of the replacement hardware direct from Apple; there were no other suppliers. A disk drive that would cost $40 for a PC clone was over $120 for a Macintosh (yes, I realize their Superdrive was a bit different technologically, but it was functionally the same). So, I just never really bought into the Cult of Apple on the computer side.

Regardless, though, Steve Jobs will be missed in the IT industry. He was a visionary, who cared as much about the user experience as he did about company profits.

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