The end of the war

Future Tense for Apr. 10, 2006

I grew up in the war years.

Not the shooting wars.

The computer wars.

Usually, I fought on the losing side.

IBM vs. Digital Equipment Corp.? I learned programming on an IBM machine in the late-1960s. We punched software code into a stack of cards. Remember those “hanging chads” from the 2004 election in Florida? I used to hate them.

The first time I saw a DEC system that let me to type program instructions on a video terminal, I turned my back on IBM forever. The first computer that truly warmed my heart was a DEC PDP/11; I spent hours basking in the glow of its VT100 terminal.
from its circuits.

I shed no tears for that old DEC; I had already moved on to personal computers. But I continued my habit of backing losers. Given a choice between a Radio Shack Tandy and Texas Instruments, I bought a TI-99/4A. Instead of a Commodore 64, I went with Amiga. Instead of an IBM PC XT, I chose a Hewlett-Packard.

Back in those early days, while personal computers began revolutionizing business and entertainment, some people fought long and hard over such platform choices. We were caught up in a torrent of innovations both in hardware and software.

However, Digital Equipment lost the mini-computer wars in a combined assault by IBM and personal computers. Compaq eventually acquired DEC and Hewlett-Packard later swallowed Compaq. I turned off my last PDP/11 10 years ago. A junk dealer broke it up and “mined” the gold and silver The costs were high, but many businesses felt the loss would be much worse if they fell behind in the race for digital supremacy. At the same time, young employees like myself saw a quick path to advancement if we mastered the tools our bosses were buying.

I never bought an Apple, even though I learned software programming (BASIC), disk-operating systems commands (Pro-DOS) and how to use a spreadsheet (VisiCalc) on Apple II and IIe machines. Our corporate computer gurus all had IBM experience using “big iron” mainframes and were arrogantly contemptuous of “those little toys.” The word came down from headquarters that anyone using an Apple for “professional” purposes could be fired. If any manager or supervisor insisted on buying a personal computer, I had to be an IBM.

Then in 1984, during the Superbowl telecast, I watched an attractive blonde athlete throw a sledgehammer through a dictator’s face on a huge video display and heard the fateful words, “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.’”

I had found the love of my life. That would be my wife, who I married on May 26, 1984.

I didn’t fall in love with an Apple Macintosh until 1987. I wasn’t alone. Macintosh users’ passion for their machines quickly became legendary. But where passions run high, and lots of money and power is in play, fights break out. Through the late 1980s and into the 1990s, I watched the platform wars being fought in schools, government offices, corporate board rooms and across the Internet.

In the mid-1990s, I quit the field. No, not computers (that didn’t happen until later). I had moved into a job with responsibility for both Macintosh and Windows PC computers and it wouldn’t help matters if people thought I favored one side over the other. So, I declared my neutrality. After all, Microsoft Word, Excel or an Internet browser runs much the same whether it’s on a Mac or a PC. The only difference is that I spent five times as much time fixing broken PCs as Macs and, in 15 years, I only saw one virus infect a Macintosh.

Now it’s time to re-swear my allegiance to the Mac. Here’s why:

On March 16, two San Francisco-area software developers, Jesus Lopez and Eric Wasserman, won the prize for developing a way to run Microsoft Windows XP and Windows-compatible software on new Macintosh computers. Since then, Apple Computer has released a free program, Boot Camp, that lets people easily load and run Windows XP on Intel-powered Macs. Apple said the software will be a standard part of its next operating system software, expected next year.

PC enthusiasts have had two long-standing criticisms of the Apple Macintosh. One is that the Macs cost more; the other is that they’re slower than PCs. I’ve never accepted the first argument, because the Apple-designed machines generally are far more reliable over a lifetime of use. As for the second, it now turns out that Windows XP runs very, very fast on the new Macintosh models.

Today, I can run programs under Apple OS X or Microsoft Windows on one computer, but it isn’t a PC. I’m all set to fall in love again with a Macintosh ... in the future.

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