My First Mac

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Everyone is on Twitter talking about their first Mac because of the 30th anniversary and it has me all nostalgic.

I grew up around computers, but not Macs. I occasionally used Macs in school (mostly to play Oregon Trail or Sim City), but my home computers were always Intel-based (DOS then Windows) machines. I had never given the Mac platform much thought. But in 2001 I was about ready to start my first year as a VCU undergrad. I needed a computer of my own.

My dad could get me a good deal on a PC through work, but the Photography labs were stocked with PowerMac G3s and Performas of some sort. The department was making it pretty clear that I should be using a Mac. I actually lived near the first Apple store to open (Tysons Corner), but did most of my research online, at CompUSA, or at the VCU computer store.

I’d never really coveted a computer before, especially not based on appearances or build quality. Then I saw the original Titanium PowerBook G4. Slimmer than any laptop I had ever used, a beautiful wide-screen LCD, and an intangible aura of sophistication. Still, they were expensive and came with significant tradeoffs. A top-of-the-line model PowerBook topped out at 500 MHz and had a 30GB hard drive.

Eventually, I realized that power and longevity was more important for me than portability. I priced out my options and placed an order for a dual 800 MHz PowerMac G4 (Quicksilver) with an 80GB hard drive, 256 MB of RAM, a SuperDrive, a built-in Zip drive, a cheap Mitsubishi 17” CRT monitor, a cheap (probably free) printer, and a copy of Photoshop 6. A few weeks (and around $4,000) later, I was a Mac user. And I have been ever since.

Unpacking that massive desktop and learning how to use Mac OS 9 (the beta OS X didn’t have driver support for my Mitsubishi monitor) was both exciting and frightening. I was thrown into a world of Apple Menus and troubleshooting extensions, beta operating systems and shareware. And I loved it. I was blown away the first time I pulled that ring on the side of the case and lowered the door to reveal a computer as beautiful inside as it was on the outside. It was like opening Pandora’s box, except everything that came out was amazing. I was introduced to a whole new world, and yes, at times it felt like I belonged to a semi-exclusive club (not cult) of people who “get it.” 

During winter break, I drove to the new Tysons Corner Apple Store and purchased an AirPort card so I could get on my dad’s new WiFi network (and stop using my 50’ ethernet cable). Upgrading that machine was so unbelievably easy. I’d eventually add a second hard drive, swap out many sticks of RAM, even upgrade the optical drive and video card. I’d convinced myself that I was an expert computer repairman and I volunteered to install a wireless card in my mom’s HP desktop. Hours later, with bleeding fingers from rough edges, a couple lost screws, and after nearly breaking the outer case, I got it installed. I went home with an even greater appreciation for the design of my G4 workhorse.

Over the years, I dragged that tower with me to and from my dorm, back home, into a couple different apartments, and even to work. In my sophomore year, I got a job at a local Apple Reseller. At the time, the shop was struggling due to high demand and low availability of the iMac G4 (the lamp one), among other reasons. So, without inventory to sell, I was pretty bored. Three or four days a week, I would walk about a mile to work, carrying the 30 lb. tower over my shoulder (who says they weren’t portable?), hook it up to a huge 21” CRT I found in storage, and play Medal of Honor over the LAN all day with my co-workers.

Once I switched my major from Photography to Filmmaking, I spent most of my time in Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro, captured hundreds of hours of DV footage, burned countless DVDs, rendered timelines overnight, hooked up a second monitor and even previewed my footage on a TV through a firewire analog converter. That machine, while obviously sluggish by today’s standards took a beating and lasted my entire college career. Try doing all that on a PowerBook G4.

Right before graduation, I landed a Mac Specialist job at the newly opened Apple Store in Richmond. My then-girlfriend-now-wife had a PowerMac G5, and we didn’t need two desktops in our apartment. I sold my tower and used my employee discount to buy my first PowerBook. I’ve been a laptop user since, but I’ll always fondly remember the little tower that could — my dual 800 Quicksilver.

My entire adult life I’ve either worked (directly or indirectly) for Apple or made money using Apple computers. It’s weird (and a little sad), but I can’t imagine where I would be today if it wasn’t for that computer.