The Circle of Life
Having five children I have seen my share of Walt Disney movies. I wish I had a dime for every time I have seen The Emperor’s New Groove; I would be able to buy Disneyland. One of my kid’s favorite Disney movies is the Lion King. If the truth be told, it is my wife’s favorite Disney movie and she insists on watching it as much as the kids do. During the opening credits of that movie the scene is set with the king introducing his son to the animals of the plains. It is a dramatic shot made even more powerful by the inclusion of the song “The Circle of Life”. The song talks about the progression of life and how it forms a circle where you find yourself.
My computer career is represented by this song many ways. I began my digital journey with an Apple computer. At the time it was an Apple ][ and it was the greatest thing I had ever owned. Forget that it had no storage and that you had to program it every time you turned it on. The idea of harnessing that kind of power and making a machine do precisely what you told it was amazing. When Apple introduced the ability to save programs on cassette tape to use them repeatedly I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I could not imagine anything better than that. I was therefore in awe when the floppy drive was introduced and it would hold 160K of information on a 5.25″ disk which you could read and write randomly. I had convinced myself that I had reached computer nirvana when I bought an Apple //e with 2 floppy drives and a display capable of 80 characters per line in millions of colors. Of course those millions of colors were simplified to green and black (who needs color anyway?)
In late 1983 I was content in the notion that I had the best development platform on the planet. Sure there was the Apple Lisa but who had $10,000 to spend on a computer? As a software developer I was offered an opportunity to see what Apple referred to as a revolution in computers. After signing my life away in non-disclosure forms I was placed in a room surrounded by security and had my first encounter with the Macintosh. Some people remember where they were with Kennedy was killed or what they were doing the day man landed on the moon or even what they were doing when the World Trade Center towers were destroyed. I have the same connection with the Macintosh. It was an amazing hardware platform and I could see limitless potential for software. At that moment my beloved Apple //e was placed in a closet replaced by a Macintosh with its 128K of memory and 400K 3.5″ disk drive.
On January 24 I watched as people lined up to put down $3000 for the opportunity to be put on a waiting list for months to own one of these computers. Clearly Apple had redefined the computer industry with the Macintosh. For many years I was a part of the Mac community writing software, evangelizing its unique computing environment and reveling in being a Mac guy. It was some of the most fun I ever had. Each iteration of hardware and software seemed to bring new joy to my life.
Then something happened; I sold out. I followed market share and abandoned the Macintosh in order to chase the elusive dream of corporate America. Instead of the elegant interface of the Mac OS I instead dealt with Microsoft and Windows. The joy I had previously felt when writing software was replaced with frustration and disgust as I waded through the many levels of bloated code. The computer ceased to be an artistic tool and instead became an appliance no more sexy than your grandmother’s toaster. I chalked this up to market maturity and assumed everyone felt the same way I did. I chose to ignore the Mac market so I would not realize what I had given up.
Although I had ignored the Macintosh it continued to exist and maintained a loyal following. Apple branched out into other areas and suddenly I found myself drawn back to them. It started with an iPod; a simple device to carry my music with me. This led to the iPhone as my choice for a communications device. Each time I had to go from these Apple products back to Microsoft Windows I became more and more frustrated.
Finally I decided that life was too short not to enjoy my digital life. I’ve therefore made the decision to walk away from the PC and Microsoft and return to where I began. The Vista machine I’ve built will be moved off my desk and in its place will be a MacBook Pro. It feels a little bit like it did when I first began pouring over the specs of the original Macintosh. I’m now no longer dreading my time at the computer. Instead I am looking forward to receiving the new computer and unlocking those creative juices that have been dormant for way too long.