So, the Mac was introduced 30 years ago today on January 24, 1984. I was one year away from graduating high school, but little did I know just how much I would be digging into the Mac just a short time following my graduation. And, by digging in, I truly mean that.
After high school, college, and some gradual work experience with computers, I landed a job as the manager of a computer repair center. We took in just about every kind of computer equipment at the time, which included Mac II's, Mac Classics, Mac SEs, and the originals. Macs were a rare breed, though, at the time, they weren't the most popular PCs. PC clones were all the rage because you could build 5 PCs for the price of a single Mac model. Still, there was something to be said about a computer that had everything built into it. The Mac SE became the most popular of the Apple computers. It had everything integrated into a single housing. The floppy disk drive, the hard drive, and the CRT. The keyboard connected through an RJ-11 connection and the original mouse was a serial connection.
So, yeah…we repaired these things. Repairing the original Mac and Mac SE required special tools. There was a long hex driver that you had to insert into the back of the computer to remove several screws. The hex driver was just around 12 inches long. Once you extracted the screws, there was a special "Mac Cracker" that had to be used to separate the front from the back housing. I actually still have these tools. I came across them recently while cleaning out the basement.
Once you had the Mac apart, you then had to ground yourself and discharge the static from the Mac video tube using a plastic handled screw driver. If you didn't, the resulting shock could numb your fingers for several minutes. I had this happen to me only a few times. True to form, I didn't learn my lesson the first time it happened. If the Mac had been running recently, you could severely freak people out because the static stored in the tube was immense enough to let off a resounding thunderclap. And, if you turned off all the lights when you did it, you could wow anyone with the lightshow.
The Macs were pretty easy to fix – hardware-wise. Most parts could be found using several component distributors we used, but like the Mac itself, they weren't cheap. A CRT could be swapped out in about 20 minutes and the forlorn owner was on their way in 30 with a much lighter pocket.
From a software perspective, though, the Macs were atrocious. Most Macs would software bomb at least twice a day, sometimes more. Anyone remember Mac 'extensions'? Extensions were similar to Chrome plugins. You could never tell if an extension would cause an issue until it did, and usually the problem would end up being that a single extension would just not work with other extensions installed on the computer. Even back then, Adobe was notorious for writing Mac extensions that would completely bomb the system and require a complete reinstallation of the OS. Yeah…Adobe has been causing issues for that long.
Still, despite the issues, the Mac was innovative and definitely a lot more fashionable than a PC. When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in the late 1990's one of Apple's first releases was the extra stylish iMac.
Jobs knew that the computational aspect of computers was something any vendor could produce, but Jobs wanted the computer to be more. He wanted it to functional, but at the same be something more than a bland chunk of plastic and metal. He wanted computer users to be able to just perform whatever function they desired without having to become ultra-geeks and learn DOS commands and get a computing science degree in IBM's Microchannel bus. <= if you remember that, you're as old and geeky as I am.
I have a lot of fond memories working on those original Mac systems and they taught me a lot about repairing computers. Repairing computers were part of my baby steps into caring about computing industry, which eventually led me to where I sit today.
Happy Birthday, Mac!