The only computer I’ve ever loved

The following first appeared on my old blog, New Tech Heroes, on March 6, 2008. I reproduce it here because it’s still true. The only things I’ve updated are a few broken links and accompanying photos where necessary.

Macintosh Plus logoTwenty-two years ago (NOTE: As of 2008…), I bought the only computer I’ve ever loved. It was a whirlwind romance, and it began, as many affairs do, with a quick glance across a crowded room. A brand-new Macintosh Plus was sitting on a small desk in a computer shop called Computer Contact in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. It was a beautiful spring day in central Michigan, with the sun shining and the birds singing. Our eyes met and I casually strolled across the sales floor to introduce myself.

When I first met Mac, it had a golf game running on its nine-inch monochrome screen. This was remarkable because the only golf games I’d played on my Kaypro II computer worked like this:

You are 175 yards from the hole. What club do you want to use?
> 4i
The ball travels 163 yards. You are in the fairway.
You are 12 yards from the hole. What club do you want to use?
Jack Nicklaus’ Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf for Macintosh, 1986. Published by Accolade.

And so on. Almost as exciting as watching golf on television, actually. The game on the Macintosh wasn’t text-based, though. It featured a real-looking golfer (probably Jack Nicklaus) jauntily waiting to tee off. I’d never seen anything like this. I’d played video games in arcades, of course, and on my Atari 2600 at home, but this was nothing like the blocky sprites that passed for humans in many of those games. This was revolutionary.

Now I realize the original Mac came out two years earlier, and while I certainly remember the famous “1984” Super Bowl ad, it didn’t actually show the computer. The ad’s imagery and message were cool, but what could Apple be introducing that would justify that ad? With IBM PCs and Apple IIs as my only comparison, how different could this “Macintosh” possibly be? It didn’t help that sales of the original Mac and its 512K successor weren’t exactly stellar. So Macintosh had been under my radar… until I saw the golfer on my new love’s monitor.

The Macintosh Plus mouseLooking closer, I saw the mouse. I’d never seen a computer mouse, but it seemed fairly natural to hold the soap bar shaped object and move it around a bit. Pointing at the menus across the top of the screen, I watched as each one “dropped down” to display several choices. I quit the golf game and began exploring the rest of what I soon learned was the Mac’s “desktop.”

I found MacWrite and MacPaint. The affair was all but consummated at that point. Remember block commands in WordStar? I still have painful memories about block commands. They resurface every time I go looking for a missing HTML end tag.

I wanted this computer. I needed this computer. I loved this computer.

The shop also had a 512K Mac nearby, and I was almost swayed by its lower price tag. The store owner – Bob – assured me, though, that the Plus was the one I wanted because it had one megabyte of RAM: “Enough to last you pretty much forever,” Bob said. I don’t blame Bob for being wildly wrong with that prediction, after all, most PCs had only 64K of memory at that point.

$2600 later, the Plus came home with me, along with a $600 ImageWriter II dot-matrix printer. I’ve never enjoyed taking anything out of a box more. Now I had my own Macintosh that I could play with endlessly. Or at least when it wasn’t loading and saving files onto its single 800K floppy drive.

Apple Macintosh PlusA month later, having had enough of “floppy swapping,” I bought my Mac’s first peripheral: a second 800K floppy drive. That made life much easier, and made the next major event possible in our ongoing relationship: Mac and I went pro.

The manufacturing company my wife Doreen and I were working for needed a price list for a product line they were taking on from a sister company in Florida. The decision to move manufacturing to Michigan had been made on short notice, so they needed the materials right away. Doreen was in charge of the company’s marketing materials, so she called the printing company Delfield worked with to find out how quickly they could turn the job around. They weren’t able to promise anything faster than six weeks, due to the time requirements of traditional typesetting and design. Doreen asked me if I could put something together with the Macintosh. I said yes and started laying out the price list in MacDraw. A few days later, I took a floppy disk with the file on it to another computer store in Midland where they had an Apple LaserWriter – très exotique! The quality of the output was excellent, 300 dpi, and while the commercial printer’s layout department had to cut in the logos and a few photos, the brochure was done only three weeks after the initial request. They also saved some money in having me do the work, so soon there were more layout projects coming my way.

I bought Aldus PageMaker 1.0 and Adobe Illustrator 88 and continued to improve my skills in the infant field of desktop publishing. When I was making more from my moonlighting than I was as a draftsman at Delfield, I quit and started my own freelance business, which I’ve now been doing for 20 years (NOTE: Again, in 2008…).

I couldn’t have done it without my Mac Plus. Oh, I’ve owned plenty of other computers, including a Mac LC (my first color computer), a Mac Performa series, and several Windows-based computers. But my Mac Plus was the one that changed my life. It doesn’t work very well any more – its monitor only displays the top half of the desktop – but I still have it, and one of these days I’ll have to take some time to see if I can repair it. It’s the least I can do for an old friend.

POSTSCRIPT: I didn’t have a Mac for a long time until buying a MacBook in 2016. It’s a good computer, of course, and I have an iPhone and two iPads of various vintages. It’s not the same, though; my Windows computers are also as good or better, and everything works together nicely in the cloud. So I doubt that I’ll ever have that same experience of falling in love with my first Mac back in 1986.