Middle Aged Mac User
I was looking through the back pages of MacUser the other day, searching for the cheapest advertised price on disks. I wasn’t planning on buying any disks through mail order, mind you, but you need to find the lowest price to show the saleslady at Egghead Software so she will pull out that green form from beneath the cash register that allows her to match any advertised price.
So there I was, flipping through the pages of a magazine that had, I thought, been thoroughly read and digested weeks ago when it arrived, when suddenly I noticed a Manx Software ad for their Aztec C compiler. That’s when it struck me; being a Mac user has become pretty comfortable.
Not that I’ve been a Mac user since the beginning or anything like that. I bought my first computer (an MS-DOS machine that was not IBM-compatible) in 1983, a year before the Mac appeared. A few months after I signed the lease agreement, my buddy James and I went in to visit a computer store in the Wilshire district and let the salesperson trot out his Lisa show for us. Ten grand for a computer, a printer, and a five megabyte ProFile hard drive. James thought the animation that accompanied file and window openings and closings had been put there to disguise the slowness of the machine. I allowed that they did make screen activities seem faster, but I wasn’t sure the Lisa was all that slow to begin with. Either way, I thought they were a nice touch.
Neither of us had ten grand, so the entire discussion was moot. With my mind’s eye staring dully out at a line of lease payment coupons that stretched off to the vanishing point, my rational mind was having not a little difficultly coming to grips with a purchase of substantially higher magnitude. I’m sure James was thinking similar thoughts. He turned to me and said, “Doesn’t seem smart to force people to take theirs hands off the keyboard to use a mouse,” he said. “Slow you right down,” I agreed. That settled it. Neither of us was going to buy a Lisa that day.
The next time I came into contact with a Mac was at Commtype. I had signed on to write the owner’s manual for Fender’s zoomy new keyboard synthesizer, and because they had no entrenched method of printing their documentation I suggested that I modem the text to Commtype to eliminate rekeying. Fender was real slow about getting me the illustrations I requested, so after telecommunicating the text over we had two options; wait for Fender or do the illustrations myself. Not being an artist, I was thrilled when Mark Heliger (owner of Commtype) started whipping out the illustrations on one of his Macs. At first we were going to use the Mac art simply for position, but Fender liked the look so much we used the Mac art in the final product.
This got me thinking about the Mac in a little different light. That mouse turned out to be a pretty darned zippy way of getting around a screen. I started going back through my back issues of Byte magazine and rereading the evaluations. Whenever I went to Commtype for typesetting on their Compugraphic equipment I’d take a minute or two to check out the Mac in person. Not that I had any money or anything. I was simply interested. A couple times I trotted out a variation of James’ line, “Why don’t they have cursor keys so your hands don’t have to leave the keyboard?” I tried tentatively.
When confronted time and again with the obvious utility of the mouse, however, that argument seemed a bit silly. I changed my tack. “I’d buy one if the screen was bigger,” was my next line to Mark. He would nod supportively and say nothing. His Zen-like calm was unsettling. He never argued with me or pointed out the obvious juxaposition of my head and my hind end.
Gradually, I began to scheme how to create company newsletters, documentation, and miscellaneous projects on the Mac instead of on the Compugraphics equipment. Around this time, I started buying the Mac magazines, and when people asked for a computer recommendation, I strongly urged them to consider the Mac in addition to whatever they were currently looking at. I had gone out of my way to buy a computer that was not an IBM the first time out, and some of that animosity continued over, I guess.
So after each project at Commtype, I’d say, “You know, I’d buy one of those if only the screen was larger,” and then I would go home and pore over the Mac magazines I had bought.
That’s why that Manx Software ad got me. At one point there was so little commercially available software that I would practically memorize the ads. Any ads. All ads. At one point I could have told you the major differences among the five or so C compilers that were available then. Mind you, I don’t program in C; I never have and I never will. Haven’t got the least interest in the subject, if the truth be known. But there I was, soaking up all the claims and counter-claims from the C compiler companies. What the heck? They ran on a Macintosh so I wanted the details.
What a difference a couple years make. I have a Mac Plus and the screen is just the right size, thank you. Would I like a Mac II, or at the very least a big screen (“helpful for those newsletter layouts, sir”)? No, but it’s considerate of you to ask. I’m not saying a bigger screen wouldn’t be nice, but if it comes at the expense of a larger footprint on the desk I’m not really interested (why hasn’t Apple tried grafting a Radius-type FPD onto the upper portion of a Mac? That would be just about perfect, yes?). As my Victor 9000 spoiled me in terms of the MS-DOS computers, my Mac has spoiled my in terms of anything that takes up more room on the desk. The power and functionality of the Mac are now foregone conclusions. I’ve settled into being a Mac user.
The mouse and I get along fine together, too. I went so head-over-heels in love with this Steve Job’s wunderkinder that two months into my ownership I bought a hard drive to go with it. Have to be able to connect all that data via the Clipboard, you know.
So when I pick up the latest issue of MacUser, MacWorld, Macintosh Today, MacWeek, or MACazine I may examine them fairly closely but I am no longer sifting, cataloging, cross-referencing, indexing, and flat out devouring them as I once did. My Mac metabolism has changed from the lean to the soft, as if I have grown so sated on the Mac life that now all I ask from life is a comfortable chair where I can sit back, let my belly hang over my belt, and bask in the glow of having made the right choice.
Life is sweet.