Sunday, March 7, 2010

After 25 Years, My Mac Plus Still Works

On this day 25 years ago, I got my first Mac.
It had 128KB of RAM, a single-sided 3.5 inch internal floppy drive and a Motorola 68000 microprocessor running at 8 MHz. The black and white 9-inch CRT screen had a resolution of 512×342 pixels. My purchase was a bundle that included a 1200 baud modem, an Imagewriter printer, an external floppy drive, and a copy of MacPascal. As a Stanford student, I was eligible for a discount, so the whole package cost me $2,051.92, including sales tax. About a year later I got it upgraded to a Mac Plus.

I'm currently typing on the 8th Mac that I've used as my main computer. It's a MacBook Pro.  It has 4 GB of RAM, a 320 GB hard drive, An Intel Core 2 Duo Microprocessor running at 2.53 GHz, and a 15 inch color LCD screen with a resolution of 1440x900 pixels.

I never got rid of my original Mac. To celebrate its 25th birthday, I went up to the attic to bring it out for some air. My kids were excited to get a look at the antique. It still works.

What was interesting to me is that apart from being alarmed at the disk drive noises, and asking "is this what they called a floppy disk?", my teenagers sat down and immediately knew how to use MacPaint, MacDraw and Word 3.0. They understood how to interact with Ultima II. The graphical user interface notions introduced with the Mac are still alive and well.

This got me thinking about the longevity of user interfaces. For example, the rotary dial telephone that I grew up with was an interface introduced in the US in 1919. It lasted about 60 years. The Model T Ford that I wrote about last July had the same basic driver interface as my car does today and is still going strong, but the television I grew up with has almost nothing in common with the one I own today.

My all-time favorite YouTube video is taken from a Norwegian comedy show. It imagines what it might have been like for users when the new-fangled "book" came along:

The book's "user interface" (more precisely, the Codex) has had a pretty good run; it's in its third millenium. Kids 25 years from now will know how to use the codex interface, though I'm guessing they'll consider books to be hopelessly out of date, like the vinyl LPs that I had to move around to get at the Mac in my attic.

It won't be the Nook that replaces the book, though. I got to play with one the other night, and while it has some pretty interesting features, the user-interface, which uses a small touch screen and a larger e-ink display, is not long for this world.

It's possible that my long run of Macs will eventually end with a touch oriented device, such as the iPad. Its hard to imagine the devices that, 25 years from now, will make my very nice MacBook Pro seem as much an antique as my Mac Plus.

The kids lost interest in the Mac Plus after about 20 minutes. It had no internet.

More pictures of my Mac are on the Facebook fan page.
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  1. fun! how long did you use that machine?
    what operating system is it running now?


  2. The user interface on the rotary dial telephone isn't as simple. I have one in my living room. My kid's friends have no idea how to use it. I have to give a demonstration to every new kid that comes over.

  3. The Mac Plus was my primary computer for 3.5 years; it served another 4 years as my home computer. It runs whatever "system" is on the floppy disk you feed it.

  4. Brings back fond memories. I used my Mac Plus, from Dec 2005, I think for a good 9 years. Though several months was taking it in for repair.For several more years, I continued to have it hooked up for kids games and MS Word use for several more years till finally the external hard drive crashed.

    The interface seems to be alive and well. Hard to imagine us office-workers leaving our desktop monitors, but who knows?