Home » 14 months as a Mac user (or, a NeXTStep user comes home)

14 months as a Mac user (or, a NeXTStep user comes home)

In September of 2003, I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about. I acquired a secondhand iMac (original, Bondi Blue) and the latest OS/X (Jaguar, follwed quickly by Panther). Since October ’03 I haven’t looked back. Even that slow 233 MHz gem was quite peppy compared to Windows. The only thing it wouldn’t do to my satisfaction was run video of any kind. I managed to get all of my everyday apps running and committed myself to using the iMac exclusively as my desktop for 10 months, as research into the laptop market. I was looking to replace my aging Wintel laptop with something that ran Linux or some other friendly system. I wanted long battery life and a light payload, and if OS/X was good enough, I reasoned, I’d consider an iBook.

I bought the iBook in July and haven’t looked back. It’s quite simply the best computer purchase I have ever made… except maybe for that iMac. There was a time when I’d have laughed about the prospect of buying a Mac. Frankly, before OS/X it really wasn’t an option for me. But OS/X has its roots in NeXTStep, and I’d like to take this opportunity to say that it’s good to finally be home again, where everything is stable, fast and intuitive.

I first encountered the joy of working with a well designed interactive system in my high school days. The year was 1990, and a few of us at “nerd school”, as it was affectionately known, had signed up for some extracurricular activity to prep for “SuperQuest.” As it turned out, we were entirely unready for the challenge, but we all ended up with UNIX accounts at WileyMUD University on the CS departments Sun3 an Sun4 cluster. We also had access, at some point, to the i960 (or was it 860?) nCUBE. At least, that’s what my tired mind remembers. The point was to come up with some innovative application or solution in the supercomputing domain. The winning entry would earn their school a supercomputer…

The joy of true multitasking! A real compiler! Access to Usenet! And multiple windows (at least on the console) all running programs concurrently! Clearly… this was the future and it was bright! Little did I know… it was already the past. For deep in the heart of a small computer company in California, a quiet, dark, cube with a magnesium (yes! magnesium!) skin, the heart of a daemon, and a stylized “M” stamped on its 30MHz brain was springing to life.

Fast forward to August of 1991. As a freshman at RHIT, I was privileged to be one of a select group of students whose perspective on computing would be forever changed by a maze of tiny black boxes, all alike. Allegedly, only 50000 of these machines were ever made, each proudly wearing a badge with four colors and a 2D form that resembled a diagram of a cube. Each little badge had just four letters. NeXT. These machines were the perfect blend of design, technology and ease of use. The OS was UNIX, but it was as easy to use (if not moreso!) than a Macintosh. They were multimedia ready, with full Internet mail and voice attachments. There really wasn’t anything these machines couldn’t do at the time, and the development environment was the richest I’ve ever seen.

Sadly, these little beasts were about 15 years ahead of their time, and they were rather pricey. Worth every penny, if you had the cash. They were much more than computers, they were information appliances. And they were reliable. Even six years later they still put Windows 95 to shame. By then, I could finally afford one of my own. But the company had long stopped production.

Apple was having its own woes. Faced with redesigning their aging system, they acquired NeXT (check my facts, I’m not sure) around 1996 and began work on “Rhapsody.” The rumor was… NeXTStep for Mac! The rumor was true, and for the last 4 years now (since 2000) it’s been known as Mac OS/X.

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