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My life with Apple

Posted on by Harold Bakker

The first computer I ever touched was a Commodore 64. It would have been around christmas 1982 I guess. My mom had got a job with scientific publisher Samsom, now part of Reed Elsevier, as a contact for bookstores. She'd had the opportunity to take a computer class and as an incentive all those who took part could get a C64 at home to practice and play with. I think she took a minor pay hit for a few months to eventually make it ours and not have to return it.

Soon we were copying games on cassettes from her colleagues and kids in the neighbourhood, we had a flourishing illegal trade in games going on. At that time a popular childrens' scientific magazine called Kijk (it still exists) published small BASIC programs that I would laboriously copy out line by line. I was learning the basics of BASIC. With for while loops, if then statements, and of course the ever popular go to command. I never got really far with BASIC as my interests shifted to biology and I spent a lot of time on a farm in the neighbourhood (we lived at the edge of town), I was learning about cows and crops and the cycle of life.

I finished secondary education without ever touching a computer for school work, I typed up my serious papers on my parents' orange manual typewriter. When I went to the teachers' academy in 1989 to learn Biology and Chemistry the mix of computers I saw there was eclectic. One of the Chemistry teachers used C64 machines to read in and plot solution gradients or something. We had a few dozen DOS + WordPerfect machines in the library. They were a bitch to work with. In later years Windows 3.11 (I think) came out. It had graphical programs that allowed you to adorn your papers with clipart and graphical crap. Yet the best they seemed to be able to do was make butt ugly extruded faux-3D letters with added geometrical shapes filled with nauseating colours.

After I quit my studies I started doing volunteer work in cultural center EKKO, which programs bands, disco nights, film, video, dance, classes etc. It was there that I first met Macintosh computers. I didn't really know anything about them but I'd used several different types of computer with several different types of operating system so after some initial trepidation I delved into the Mac. I haven't looked back since. I started writing nonsensical short stories for the internal magazine, distribution about 100. The ease of use of a Mac made me realise computer could be intuitive and not stand in the way of the creative process. Apple's operating system made computing effortless.
Soon I applied for the position of editor of the internal mag as the previous editor wanted to quit. It was then that I truly realised what a Mac could do. I worked with Photoshop, QuarkExpress and numerous other programs, all at the same time. I would shuffle files around on the internal AppleTalk network. I would hook up scanners and optical drives and download pictures from the early internet using sites found with AltaVista. I was completely hooked on the Mac and I bugged my good friends Jurjan and Jeroen, who I met at EKKO, endlessly about Macs and what made them tick. How they could be made faster by restarting and selectively enabling or disabling certain extensions, depending on what resources you needed for a particular job.

In 1996 (I think) I got my first Mac. Both Jeroen and Jurjan had bought new machines and they had combined their old computers into one super monster. An Apple Macintosh LC 475 with FPU (floating point unit). It had a hard drive measured in Megabytes, a speed of about 25 MHz and a small 13" colour screen. I used that computer with immense pleasure for a few years until I got a job and saved up so I could afford a new computer. I bought a Umax C500, a clone, one of the reasons Apple seemed to be going under at the time.

Shortly after I bought that machine Steve Jobs came back to Apple and killed the clones. He also killed off almost the entire line of Apple's computers, radically simplifying the business. When the iMac came out I knew Apple would get on top, the things were popping up everywhere in pop-culture, from Ikea catalogs (where every third page seemed to feature some lickable semi-transparant computer to tv shows where, inevitably, good guys used macs and bad guys used wintel (it was a shock to see Mr Glass' setup in Unbreakable).

Since that time in EKKO I don't think it's ever been a question that I was a Mac man. I would never voluntarily use anything else. The ease of use of the Mac was only reinforced by working with PCs at my job. When my Umax became too old and slow for me I bought a new middle of the range PowerMac as the MacPros were then called. I gave my old clone to my mom, who used it for years to play Snood and browse the web and do her email.

When Apple introduced the iPod I didn't jump on the bandwagon immediately. I calculated how much room I would need to store my entire collection of metal, I would have to wait until such a time as when Apple came out with one that was more my size. The 3rd generation provided this with a 30Gb iPod. I also bought a 60 Gb version a few years later. I still have both of them around, they hold an extra backup of some video files created between 1998-2000 when I was doing VJ stuff with Jurjan and Jeroen, all created on Macs of course.

In the early years of the new millennium I held out on getting a mobile phone. They seemed unnecessary and clunky. I relished not being in touch all the time. When asked whether I would ever get one I joked that I might if Apple came out with one. Over the years this joke turned more and more into reality as rumours started to come out that Apple was really working on a phone. When the first iPhone came out I saw the presentation and knew that I would probably get one as soon as they were released in the Netherlands. The iPhone 3G was the first model officially available and I got my name on the waiting list on the second day. It transformed my life, not because I could give up my landline and call mobile, I have never phoned much and I hardly do so now. No, the biggest part for me was being able to browse the internet while on the go. I could travel to my parents in the train and look at my shifting position on Google maps, switching to my RSS feeds to read up on the latest on ScienceBlogs.com. I could check my email when sitting in the bus to go to a meeting. I could take notes during meetings and send them via email straight away. In short: I had bought myself a very tiny yet fully workable Apple computer, which also happened to make calls.

During the early years of 2000 I bought another new Mac. This time I bought a G4 with Mac OS X. The ability to run Apache, MySQL and PHP transformed my working life as I was suddenly able to create scripts on my home machine, test them locally and then send to a server at work. I started to learn SQL, scripting and the arcana of CHRON. I put the Terminal app as my second in line right after the Finder, where it remains to this day, even though I don't poke around in the Unix parts much anymore as my job and interests have shifted somewhat.

The last Apple machine I bought was the first generation iPad, which it seems I mostly like to use when the days get shorter. I used it hardly at all in summer but as the days shorten I find myself more on the couch with my iPad, browsing the news or checking out videos, and less on the desktop machine.

Over the years I have used many Apple products, from computers to mobile devices to printers to monitors. And they all, still, invoke this wonder: how can something this complicated and technologically advanced be so much fun to use?
Apple has generally been criticised for not giving people enough choice, not giving them enough "openness", whatever that is. What Apple realised is that choice is confusing. Taking choice away leads to quicker decisions and that, ultimately, leads to more productivity and less frustration.
Apple has always balanced on the edge of what's possible. What can we eliminate in order to make the experience more friendly? What can we do to make things easier, less confusing, more pleasing to look at and more consistent?
The iPhone's one Home button on the front is apparently a design compromise Steve Jobs had to accept. He wanted a phone with zero buttons. But he also realised that you can't always take everything away, and that products are built by a team. He challenged his teams to come up with the best, which is why I have every confidence Apple will continue to be a market leader for some time to come. Will Apple fade? Undoubtedly, nothing lasts forever. Even the greatest empires fall, they did so in ancient times and there's no reason to think they won't do so now.

But in the mean time we'll live in a world shaped by Apple's products. Even if you've never used a single Apple product, the machine you are now using is most likely beholden to Apple and Steve Jobs' vision of a simpler future, where technology is created to serve man and not the other way around.
Make no mistake, now that the singular vision of Jobs has gone from the industry we might see stagnation for years to come as competitors for the last decade have shown themselves completely (I would almost say pathologically) incapable of designing anything new or groundbreaking themselves. Here's hoping Apple still has loads of stuff on the shelf, things that might not even be feasible for the next ten years.

I am sad that Steve passed away so young, but his legacy cannot be underestimated. I wonder what future historians will make of his idiosyncratic style and the impact of this one man on an entire world at the dawn of the electronic age.

RIP Steve. May your atoms be scattered to the corners of the earth and hang around for trillions of years.

Topic: Apple



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