When I was a wee boy back in college, at the beginning of my Sophomore year at Carnegie Mellon University in 1983, I had just sold the TRS-80 computer, printer and floppy disk drives I had bought over the years prior. My computer buying had begun at the tender age of fourteen, when I got my mom to co-sign a bank loan for $600 so that I could buy a computer. I suppose that was also be beginning of my debt.
Money well-spent/well-borrowed, I say! After upgrading the BASIC ROMs on the computer, upgrading the memory—$99 for 16K of RAM—buying an “expansion interface”, an Epson Printer and 2 floppy disk drives to replace the already-past-its-limits cassette drive, and after acquiring several hundred dollars worth of software, I sold the whole mess in 1983 for about $2000.
One day, when CMU had just opened their campus computer store—an unheard-of thing in those days—a few of us decided to check it out. Not much to see, just an office in the “new” office building on campus, painted cinder-block walls stock office desks. We looked at the price list and I had almost immediately decided on an IBM PC with 2 floppy drives and 16K of memory. Oh, and with the IBM display (monochrome, green characters on a black screen). This was going to clock in at around $1600. Fair enough, I figured. I was getting a 6MHz machine for less than I’d sold my 1.77MHz TRS-80.
As we turned to walk back out of the store/office, there on a desk sat a little beige machine with a mostly-white display. With one of those mouse-things attached to it (now, mice I had seen before, down in one of the quasi-subterranean floors of Warner/Science Hall….I wasn’t sure what they were for, but a small box with buttons attached to a strange-shaped computer workstation made quite an impression).
A paint program was running. I moved the mouse around and watched the cursor on the little screen follow. I clicked the button; it made a dot on the screen. I held the button down and moved the mouse, and an oval grew from the starting point!
I got the whole catastrophic beauty of this machine in less than a couple of minutes. And on February 7, 1984, just two weeks after the official introduction, I had one in my dorm room.
To this day, I have never regularly used a PC, never bought a PC for myself. I have, however, had upwards of a dozen different Macs.
Apple & the Mac have been significant yardsticks in how I measure the progress of my life, important memory-prods into very specific times in my past and quite a fine ongoing example of majority-minority patterns. In other words, I’ve learned a lot.
So, Happy 21st Birthday (January 24) to the Macintosh. Click on the young Steve Jobs above to watch a streaming video of the original introduction. You, of course, must have QuickTime installed on your machine—and shame on you if you don’t already.
I’m going to go spin the propeller on the little cap on my big head, and try like hell not to shudder when I think of what might not have been…