Mac at 30: A love/hate relationship from the support front

As an admirer of the Mac from its early days, working in IT support instilled some frustration as well.


The Macintosh has influenced me in countless ways over the years. I was first introduced to computers way back in 1983, when I encountered a Commodore 64 at a friend's house. And from that moment forward, I had to have one. I incessantly begged and pleaded with my parents to buy a C64 for our home, and soon enough, we had one with all the trimmings. Little did I know that purchase would lead me down a career path that has me writing for NetworkWorld today, but I digress.

Even way back then, there seemed to be cult followings for different computers. I was entrenched in the Commodore camp. I had some friends who loved their Apple IIs though, and a few others who swore by their TRS-80s or TI/99s. But eventually we all outgrew these entry-level computers and graduated to more powerful systems, like the Amiga, Apple IIgs, or PC. I jumped from the C64 to an HP Vectra PC clone and an Apple IIgs, which was technically my mom’s, although I used it far more often.

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Right around that time, however, my older brother’s wife bought one of the very first Macintosh systems. And whenever I went over to hang out at their place, I’d see this awesome little box, with its high-resolution screen and cool mouse, and I couldn’t get enough. I’d explore its GUI and wonder why my PC couldn’t do things the Mac did. The graphics seemed so crisp and the sound coming out of the thing was awesome. A little while later, a friend of one of my Commodore-loving buddies also got a Mac. While checking out his setup one night, he showed me Crystal Castle, and WOW, was I jealous. Don’t get me wrong — I loved (and still love) to tinker with my PC, messing with command line parameters and BIOS settings to tweak things just the way I wanted, but there was an elegance to those early Macs that had me intrigued.

If you were into the demo scene back then — which I was — you may also remember that the gurus working with the IIgs were huge Macintosh haters. Though I didn’t own one at the time, I secretly lusted after the Amiga, and Amiga users were staunchly anti-Macintosh as well. And, of course, I don’t have to explain how PC users felt. I think my early envy of the Mac and the exposure to all of these anti-Mac groups instilled some strong negative sentiments toward the Macintosh in me, which were so deep-rooted that they have never gone away completely. But that was just kid stuff.

Fast forward a few years and I parlayed my love of computers into a job at a small software company doing QA and technical support work. While working for this company, I was exposed to virtually every model Macintosh (and version of Mac OS) available. We had to test various software packages across a wide array of systems and OS configurations to ensure compatibility, and the only way to do it properly was to actually have the machines on-hand. It was while working at this job that I grew to appreciate many things about the Macintosh, and despise some others.

The first thing about the Macintosh I grew to love was the quality of its design. Regardless of the model, Apple always seemed to go the extra mile. The material quality almost always seemed better on the Mac than on competing PCs. Components and accessories seemed to work together better too. And, in the event of a software problem, the Macs were super easy to fix. Hold down a button, boot to an install disk, and you were basically done. Anyone could do it. On a Windows PC, there was just so much more to worry about.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. The Macs hard-locked way more often than the PCs when beta testing software, and when things failed it was sometimes catastrophic. After these experiences with the Mac, to this day I can still only cringe and look away when someone says “Macs just work.”

If anything, though, Apple has taken all of the great things about the Mac and made them better over time. No other company builds hardware as attractive and well-made as Apple. From the MacBook Air to the Mac Pro, there are simply no PC equivalents quite as refined. And, ironically enough, those things that made me envy the early Macs way back in the day — the high-resolution screens, slick GUI, and attractive designs — are still the things that make me want one today.

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