Me and the Mac – how Apple shaped my working life

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Love at first byte – State of the art 1991
(image via Wikipedia)

It started in 1991 with an Apple Classic. A little beige box that seems to have personality and a sense of fun that was nothing like the other computers I had seen or used, an ‘all in one ‘ with a 12 inch black & white screen. It promised something magic – the ability to do  graphic design in a What You See is What You Get (WYSWYG) environment. With the magic of a mouse and a screen that actually displayed what would print on the paper. More than 20 years later it maybe hard for some to grasp how revolutionary this was. Suddenly the design process became fun. Maybe I lack the patience, but I doubt I would have made a career in the slow & painstaking world of lick, stick and paste-up that was the state of the art in graphic design before the Mac.

Until the moment I met the Mac I had meandered through a crummy ‘modular’ degree, majoring in design at the dreary and uninspiring City of London Polytechnic (which became London Guildhall University since swallowed by London Metropolitan University). The idea that the vast subject of design could be covered by a single degree was deeply flawed but I had unwisely taken this course in order to avoid spending a year either throwing paint at walls or trying to ‘finding myself’ on an art foundation course required by more reputable graphic or product design courses. The practical work for the Graphic Design module of the course mostly involved a pencil & crayons and the course was so poor it did not even properly cover the paste-up process then in use in most studios. My only other brush with a computer in the college was a bizarre machine that literally pushed individual pixels around at snail pace using archaic keyboard commands and would print out tiny images. In the early 1990s few people, especially students could afford computers at home and time had to be booked in the much revered ‘computer suite’ to use a Mac. (I think the suite was expensively kitted out with Mac IICi models). My first real world graphic design work was the design of promotional materials for a pantomime and I fumbled about with Aldus FreeHand creating these ‘masterpieces’ which were adequate but my poor design education and lack of understanding of basic typography is plain to see looking back now.

Anyway after graduating into a recession and enduring an excruciating period of unemployment (I feel your pain, college graduates of today) I landed a year’s internship with a small design company and learned more about graphic design in my first 3 weeks than I had in 3 years at college. The main work was designing reports for charities using Aldus PageMaker  Mostly I used a mighty Macintosh Quadra. This was a ‘high end’ machine and we even had a 17 inch screen that made designing A4 pages at least tolerable but I was also sometimes forced endure using a PC running Windows 3  as the company could not afford a full suite of Macs. By the end of the year the PC had thankfully gone and we had moved from using Pagemaker to Quark XPress. By 1994 I had scraped enough money together  to buy my first home Mac – a second-hand LCII (LC  for ‘Low Cost’ – something resembling a pizza box, with a colour 12 inch screen). I probably spent more time loading freeware that came on floppy disks selotaped to the front of MacUser magazines than doing much serious design work but it was nice to have a Mac to experiment with.

I eventually got a permanent paid job as a junior designer, working at a London advertising agency and was the just in time to witness the final demise of paste-up and black and white artwork supplied on bromide or film as the company switched fully to doing all design and production on Macs. I spent 7 years at that company and used a variety of machines which included a Power Macintosh 8600 a G3 tower, a G4 Graphite tower and a G4 ‘Mirrored Drive Doors’ Tower. For most of that time in the 1990s Macs users were in a minority, seen as a weird sect in Windows-dominated world. Macs were mistakenly seen as ‘acceptable niche machines for designers and creatives’ but not much use for anything else. When the transparent ‘Blondi blue’  iMac arrived in 1998, followed soon after by the iPod, it was the beginning of a big change in Apple fortunes that took it from obscurity to the uber-cool and fashionable force it is today. I had never loved Macs because I wanted to support the underdog or got a thrill out of going against the mainstream. I was fortunate to be in a profession where they were used in the work environment but fundamentally it was an addiction – once I had been introduced to Macs (and then further inoculated by being forced to use a PC occasionally) there was simply no going back.

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27 inches of joy – Apple iMac 2013

My history of home-owned macs progressed to Power Mac 4400, which I replaced with a G4 Tower. In 2002 I bought my first laptop – a second-hand Titanium PowerBook and this was the first machine I used that run OSX – a fundamentally new operating UNIX-based operating system that Apple adopted to replace its OS9. OSX has stood the test of time and it still forms the core of Apple’s Operating Systems today. It’s UNIX foundations has now made Mac very stable and I often go for weeks without requiring a restart. Applications still crash occasionally but I have only experienced a handful of OSX crashes (‘kernel panics’) in the last 10 years of using Macs almost every day. This kind of reliability is crucial when working on tight deadlines. In the old days of OS8 and OS9 I would suffer from freezes at least every couple of days which could result in the loss of several hours work.

Amazingly I have never thrown away a Mac but always managed to sell or give away every machine I’ve owned and finished with – this is a testimony to the long-term value of even old Macs which may have cost more in the first place, but continue to work reliably long after a PC would have been ditched. Plenty of printers, scanners and disk drives are however, my sorry contribution to the world’s landfill.

Am I an Apple fanboy? – yes and no. There is much about Apple that I find annoying, particularly now they are now the most dominant brand in the world and of course Macs don’t always perform flawlessly. I only recently bought an iPhone and don’t have and iPad. You definitely won’t catch me in the queue at the Apples store when there is a new release or whoophing it up at an Apple Keynote. My affection for Apple goes much deeper than pretty hardware – fundamentally it’s the operating systems that are most engaging and exciting, it is the attention to detail and the whole user experience that means for the majority of my working life I have actually looked forward to sitting down in front of one and getting stuff done.

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