Happy 30th Birthday, Macintosh

The computer that saved my life turns 30 today. My friends know I am prone to hyperbole, but in this case my words contain no exaggeration. The computer for "the rest of us" may be the most lasting, formative relationship of my life.


I was a nerdy, imaginative kid of nearly unlimited social ineptitude. Cast aside your preconception of nerdy shyness–I was anything but. My tendency to share anything and everything with anyone pushed me to the edge of first grade society. I remained there until high school.

I wasn't diagnosed with a learning disability until my junior year. It turns out I have great trouble with short term memory, auditory processing, and certain types of dexterity. Writing by hand is both taxing and frustrating: the shapes in my mind never pour from a pen correctly. I can not tell me right from my left, and I am perpetually unaware of the time, date, or day of the week.

I was such a poor early student that I was put in special classes. To this day, I'm not sure if the teachers suspected me of hidden brilliance or too-far-below-the-bell-curve intelligence. I suspect they were unsure as well. This individualized instruction didn't accomplish much, aside from a safe harbor from the teasing of my schoolmates. There were discussions in some years about holding me back.

That is, until the school got computers. I was born in 1978, and desktop computers and I entered the educational system together. I can still remember the room where the computers were kept, and the exhilaration I felt when you could simply *press a key and letters would appear on screen.* It was writing, but without handwriting. I could type thoughts far easier than I could write them. I took to computers like a man who meets the girl he's going to marry. Where have you been all my life?

I was a pretty decent programmer by fourth grade. But those were Apple IIs, a more primitive ancestor of the Macintosh. They were a life line, sure, but they were not the thing that would become an effortless extension of my own mind. That took the Mac.

I can remember the first Mac I ever saw. I walked into the computer lab in sixth grade, thrilled to see row after row of Apple IIgs (quite a hotrod in its day). But over in the corner were three curious little computers. They were black-and-white, with built in screens. I thought they seemed primitive at first, and I resented the fact that sixth graders couldn't use them.

I walked over to one of the older kids and said, "What's that?" He didn't even look away from the screen, "A Macintosh." I leaned in closer. "Is it made by Apple."

"Duh, yes."

I didn't take well to the "duh." I was the top dog when it came to computers back in fifth grade. None of my classmates even new what a CPU was, while I knew it was the computer's traffic cop.

"Why is it black and white? Apple makes color computers now." I felt happy about establishing the superiority of the computer I had to use in the class.

"It doesn't have to be color. It's got graphics."
"What are graphics?"
"Pictures on the screen that look the same when you print them."

Now that was an interesting notion. I was often frustrate with the way things looked when printed on an ImageWriter from an Apple II. Looking at the screen, I could see there was a certain sharpness and smoothness to the images on the display. My IIgs looked blocky and slow somehow next to this Mac.

I vowed to use one. I worked hard in computer class, and won the computer fair. That was enough to secure me a rare opportunity for a sixth grader–the use of the Macs. It was love at first touch. The pointer moved in perfect time with the mouse, as if your hand was in the screen.

I became an expert in Macs. I built a campus wide network out of unused intercom cabling. I connected computers to the Internet, and created shared printers and scanners. I helped the science teachers wire up Apple IIs, Macs and Laser Disk players. In eight grade, I was named "Computer Trainer of the Year." It's the only trophy I've ever received.

I started a computer business in high school, going from house to house helping people setup and use their computers. I learned how to fix them, and how to make them easier on people who weren't comfortable with them. Local businesses started to call me for help.

I got a job working in IT for the government at 17. Soon after, the owner of the local Apple Reseller and Service Provider hired me–a man to whom I still owe a debt of gratitude. For the first time I was a part of the Mac movement.

I went to MacWorld. I met Steve Jobs. I got a job running IT for an ad agency. I was a VP by 25.

I owe my life to that machine. Without it, I would have no career and no education. I wouldn't be able to blog. Steve Jobs said he wanted to put a dent in the Universe, and that dent created the space for me to have the life I live today.

As we've gotten older, some of the fire has left our relationship. I no longer espouse the superiority of the Mac over all other computers. I've learned that different computers have different uses for different people. Windows is a pretty good operating system these days. So is Linux.

But I'll always love the Mac. I'm not me without it. It is the bicycle of my mind, strong where I am weak. It gives me a whole brain. My Mac is as full of my thoughts as my own brain–and it knows more about my day tomorrow.

Happy 30th, Macintosh. Here's to 30 more.

Microsoft Office Mac & Retina Displays

There's been quite a few stories in the news lately about Microsoft's plans for the Office suite.  These articles draw the conclusion that Microsoft has no immediate plans to update their office suite to support HiDPI rendering on Macs with Retina Displays.  What source is cited for this conclusion?  The comments from a blog post.  Based on criticisms about the quality of icons and interface elements, a user with the name "Office for Mac Team" posted the following: "The remaining apps will have the same viewing quality as on any non-Retina device... ...Unfortunately at this time, we cannot comment on any future updates regarding supporting Retina on Word, Excel or PowerPoint."

Am I missing something?  This is a really standard PR phrasing for "no comment."  There's no dismissal or discussion of Retina support.  All that is asserted is that the apps work today on Retina Macs-there is no discussion of what's next.

Office icons

I can think of three possibilities regarding Retina support in Mac Office.

  1. Office 2011 for Mac will get an update for Retina displays.  This could be as simple as text rendering, or could include updated bitmaps as well.
  2. The next version of Office will include support for Retina displays.
  3. Microsoft is evaluating retina support and has not reached a conclusion.

I'd be shocked if there's no 2011 build floating around in the Mac BU with Retina text support.  If it exists, it has to be tested.  We also don't know how far along the next version of Mac Office is in development.  It may already be too late for it to ship with native Retina support.  In that case, we may be looking at a patch that comes later.

The point is we don't know.  Microsoft has only issued a "we don't have anything to say" statement.  That does not mean there is nothing to be said.

Promise Pegasus R6 with Thunderbolt. Holy Wow.

While we wait on a full review from Anandtech, I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring.  If anyone is wondering how fast ThunderBolt is, I can definitvely answer.  ThunderBolt is really fast.  Absurdly fast.  I've migrated my home directory over to a 12 terabyte Promise Pegasus R6 and it's unbelievable.  Booting from a SSD and accessing your home folder from a 6 disk array over a dual channel 10 gigabit interconnect is quite quick.  Really amazing.

I left the R6 set as a RAID 5 volume.  I can only imagine what it would do as a RAID 0.  Here's a run from QuickBench:


It's a good looking piece of hardware as well, and nicely matches my iMac.



All that over a single cable.  Amazing.


SSD + HD = The best of both worlds?

It had to be done.  My computer felt slow despite the fact that my desktop computer was an overpowered Mac Pro from 2 years ago stuffed with too many cores and too much RAM for the work I do on it.  My MacBook Air, iPad and even iPhone felt so much more fluid for day-to-day use than the Mac Pro despite all of them having much less computational horsepower.  Sure the Mac Pro was a beast when I was encoding video or building a Keynote presentation full of large assets, but booting, launching apps or even switching between tasks was noticeably slower than even my iPhone.

The Mac Pro was held back by a mechanical hard drive.  Every other device I use had an SSD, and I was spoiled.  Only the Mac Pro had to wait for a little part to move and search across a spinning disk to find information.  I'd held out though for capacity.  My data set won't fit on any contemporary SSD.  My solution has been to keep my working data on Dropbox, and use my Mac Pro for archival storage.  I have a pretty extensive Backup/replication strategy (Most data replicated across two computers and Dropbox, both computers backing up to Time Machine, both computers backing up to Crashplan).

Then Apple released new iMacs and several points caught my eye.  First was quad-core i7 option at 3.4 GHz.  The next was a 2GB Radeon 6970M.  Finally was the option to get a 256 GB SSD with a 2 TB HD.  I decided to get the iMac and move my home directory to the HD while keeping the OS and applications on the SSD.  Then to boost speed a little more, I symlinked some directories back to the SSD from my home directory (~/Application Support, ~/Caches, etc.).

The end result is the most responsive computing device I've ever used.  Day-to-day tasks are fast and responsive, but there is still ample CPU for more demanding tasks when needed.  The speed, capacity and massive display make my other devices seem like compromises necessary for mobility–and I'm finally using my Macs more than my iPad again.

Ah, progress.


09/09/09 & Apple's Formula for Rock 'N Roll

There's a wealth of quality reporting and analysis surrounding today's announcements from Apple, so I won't waste time writing an inferior summary.  However, there is one aspect of Apple's announcements that struck me and I haven't seen it discussed elsewhere.

Think back to Apple before Steve Jobs returned to the company.  The company had lost its innovative spirit.  The Mac suffered from an OS strategy that was lost in the wilderness and hardware that did little to advance the differences between Macs and other PCs.  Apple was coasting on the amazing innovations it pioneered in the early 80s.  Certainly, Apple tried to break the mold with break through projects like the Newton, but the implementation of those concepts weren't viable in the marketplace.  Apple was either ahead of the curve, or botched the implementation.

Then Steve came back.

Apple followers found themselves on a wild ride.  Apple found a tight focus in its OS strategy and began to make major strides quickly.  Simultaneously, we watched as the hardware became candy colored, then grey and white, then all white and finally aluminum.  In all those transitions, radical changes in the appearance of Mac models and lines were a regular occurrence.  Think about the evolution of the iMac from a friendly bubble, to a sunflower, to a picture frame on a stand and finally an aluminum frame on a stand.  The pace of change was dizzying.

All this iteration created products that increasingly resonated in the marketplace.  Apple capitalized on the major ground shift to OS X and Intel, and wrapped it in an industrial design that continues to stand above its competition.  Sales continue to rise, as does the quality of Apple's hardware.  Each years product is more enjoyable to use than the last's.

This comes with a price.  Mac hardware announcements are not as exciting as they were 5 or 10 years ago.  That's not to say the products are bad: I'm absolutely in love with the MacBook Air I'm typing on now--but this MacBook Air is an awful lot like the last MacBook Air I had.  Mac Industrial Design has become largely iterative and evolutionary.

It's clear the iPod, iPod Touch and iPhone are reaching a similar place.  The form factor of these products is so successful, and the process of manufacturing these products so effective that iteration is all Apple needs to stay in front of competitors.

Apple is still in the revolution business.  The iPhone didn't exist 5 years ago.  The iPod didn't exist 10 years ago, and nether did the iTunes Store.  Apple is in a place where they have the ability to invent category disrupting products, which they follow with a series of rapid, massive revision followed by a mature cycle of refinement and iteration.  It's an amazing business model, and certainly benefits me as a customer.

The nerd in me always hungers for that category buster though.  I love to watch the rules of the game change.


PS - Home Sharing is awesome.