In 1983 or 1984, I was a senior in high school. The year I had started there, they had received a bunch of new Apple ][ computers, and there was no one on staff who knew how to use them. (Previously the computer class had used terminals hooked to a computer in a semi trailer parked outside the school building.)
I was hooked as soon as I sat down at one of the new machines, and it wasn’t long before I was able to offer instruction to my computer teacher, who had duties beyond spending every free hour on the computers.
It was because of this that I was invited by the faculty to attend a special meeting offered by Apple, to show off a new computer they were introducing. I don’t know if it had already been released (hence my uncertainty about the date) but the computer was the brand-new Macintosh.
I was mesmerized. I had never seen anything so perfect. The black-on-white display, the fine resolution (72 dpi), the mouse, and the motorized 3.5″ floppy drive… I told the faculty that they were looking at the future, right there.
It would be several years before I was able to purchase a computer of my own, but when I did, it was a Macintosh SE/30, upgraded to 5MB of RAM and a 40MB hard disk drive. My wife still reminds me of my assurance that we would never need to buy more storage than that. When people asked me what kind of computer to get, I would always point them to the Mac, and I seldom had anyone be disappointed with my advice.
In the mid-1990s, when the press was beating the drum of Apple’s demise I was confident that their deep cash reserves and superior engineering (both software and hardware) would see them through. I never had a problem with Apple until Steve Jobs came back to the company and cancelled the cloning program.
Now, I had purchased a computer while the clone program was still going on. I had really wanted to buy a UMAX clone, partly because I really liked their scanners, but when it came down to it, the Apple Macintosh 7500 was a better computer for the money, and that’s what I had got. However, it bugged me that Steve had shut down the competition, and I remember stomping up and down the service floor expressing my indignation. I don’t know if someone else asked me, or if I asked myself, “So, what are you going to do?”
The question settled me instantly. Most of my work at that time was building and fixing Windows-based computers. Windows 95 was the shipping OS, and I knew quite a bit about how to get it working under various conditions. I also knew that I never wanted to rely on Windows 95 for anything. I might have started playing with Linux, but it was a really raw operating system, and wasn’t really a player. I realized that I wasn’t going to not use a Mac just to spite Steve Jobs — that would be cutting off my nose to spite my face.
Later, in 2000, Mac OS X came out and revolutionized everything all over again. With the Unix underpinnings and bundled developer tools, OS X not only reinvigorated Apple, it also breathed new life into that other Unix derivative, Linux. Being able to do things in the Bash shell on both Linux and Mac, and being able to recompile lots of software to work on either helped both platforms to grow. I experimented with Linux from time to time, but the Mac was so stable, and had such good software, that I didn’t need to switch, and didn’t really want to.
When the iPhone came out, I was disappointed that the openness we had seen on OS X was not carried on with the mobile platform. Although iOS is built on the same technology as OS X, Apple chose to lock it down, and they locked it down rather tight. This didn’t stop me from jailbreaking my phone a couple of times (‘rooting’ in Android parlance) and I loved the smooth performance of the computer in my pocket. The integration with my Mac was nice, too, and although I was skeptical of iCloud (or .Mac, or the other incarnations) I was able to do most of what I wanted without handing Apple all of my keys.
This began to change when Apple began to push iOS updates harder and harder. Suddenly my friendly Apple phone was behaving like malware, using misdirection and social engineering to try to trick me into installing an update I didn’t want. It downloaded the update to my limited phone memory using equally limited foreign cell minutes while I was traveling overseas. I set the iPhone on my bedside table and left it there, getting an Android phone instead.
While I had spent years working to keep Google from invading my life, I was surprised to find that it was actually pretty easy to block them from tracking my Android phone. Turning off the voice assistant, blocking various permissions, I was struck at how easy it was to protect my privacy on the Android, where with the iPhone I had been faced with the binary choice: install or don’t install the software, but don’t ask what it accesses.
Meanwhile, Apple was also beginning to make life difficult on the desktop. Starting with Mac OS X Yosemite, they wanted to prevent me from having root access to my own computer. Suddenly the little tricks and hacks that had been coming over from the Linux world were stymied — my friendly Mac wanted to keep me, its owner, at arms’ length. I disabled SIP (System Integrity Protection, the Orwellian name for giving Apple more control over my own computer than I had) and soldiered on, ignoring the Sierra and High Sierra updates that broke so much of the large software collection I had accumulated in decades of using the Mac. I also didn’t like the interface changes that had crept in, removing so much of what made the Mac interface intuitive after using it since 1984.
In short, I began to feel towards Apple the way I had once felt towards Microsoft. They weren’t interested in how I wanted to use a computer — they wanted to tell me what to do, and how to do it. Facing challenges with syncing my Android phone to the Mac, looking at more and more of my software breaking as they pushed out updates, being nagged by my other Apple software (Pages, and the rest of the iWork suite, iPhoto and its replacement) to upgrade my system, I finally decided that it was time to try something different.
I downloaded and installed Peppermint Linux 9 on one of the spare drives in my computer. (Only possible because I am using an older Mac with lots of room for drives. Newer Mac models are restrictive in that way.) I rebooted into Linux and found that I could now go days and weeks without needing my Mac. My Android phone mounted seamlessly on the desktop. My calendar and contacts were syncing nicely with my NextCloud server. Although some software, like 1Password, and Scrivener, were no longer options for my computer, I found many new programs that had no peer on the Mac. And while I could run Linux in a virtual machine on the Mac, and have not yet figured the intricacies out of running Mac OS in a virtual machine under Linux on the Mac, Linux was so much faster, using the multiple processor cores where Safari on the Mac (and just booting) had chugged slowly along, draining time from my day.
I miss the Mac. I truly miss what it was. Peaking somewhere around Lion, Mac OS was a beautiful thing, and a real tribute to the engineers who put it all together. Somewhere along the way (and I must admit it began before Steve Jobs died) Apple lost their way, and began to push novelty for its own sake, and to wrap their customers into a tighter and tighter cocoon of Apple-only software. Where previously I had been able to plug something in and confidently expect it to “just work”, they had opted for a system where if it wasn’t from Apple, it probably wouldn’t.
I’m typing this update in Chromium on Linux, on my Mac Pro tower. Mac OS El Capitan is still installed on another partition, and I reboot to it once every week or two to try to salvage some remnant of my former life, like Crusoe returning to the ship wreck. Like him, I wonder if one of these times I’ll find that the sea has reclaimed the last thing I wanted — if it will be my last visit to those familiar boards. I wonder what software I’ll use for my writing, as NaNoWriMo approaches in November. Mostly, I feel a deep sadness for the friend I trusted — for their tech, even when I questioned their business decisions — who finally drove me away.