• Not Another Story About the History of Apple

    April 1st, 2006

    I can predict what some of you are reading this week: The story of two college dropouts who found fame and fortune building personal computers for the masses, how the company had its ups and downs and was declared about to die on many occasions. Finally, in an unexpected turn of events, the company conquers another field entirely, that of portable music players.

    It’s a great story, and the book ought to be made into a movie. Oh, that’s already happened, but I suppose that any company founded on April Fool’s Day that can live it down and somehow succeed can work miracles.

    Instead I’ll focus on my personal history and how it became aligned with that of Apple Computer, and you can bet I never expected that, particularly as I look back to where it all begin, in the late 1970’s. At the time, I was production manager for a company that offered typesetting services, and we used computerized systems that put your documents on floppy discs. They were dedicated to a single task, that of interfacing with the output device, and you operated in a world of codes and were divorced from the look of the final document until it emerged from a processing machine.

    At the time, someone in the sales staff bought an Apple computer, but I regarded it as nothing more than a curiosity at the time. I was too busy trying to earn a living.

    Several years later, I was plying my trade at another company, with similar equipment, and this time noted an Apple II gracing the desk of one of my colleagues. Again, I didn’t pay much attention, although I was somewhat intrigued by the potentials of the device. This time, I did have exposure to a personal computer that we used to transfer files from one format to another, but it was all DOS, all codes, and my concerns were limited to the tasks at hand.

    In fact, it was Mrs. Steinberg’s career as a singer that brought me into contact with the first Apple Macintosh. Her arranger/producer bought one, and marveled at its potential to one day function as a recording studio. I marveled at the Mac OS, and its graphical interface. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I thought, if the typesetting computers I used could also provide similar point and click simplicity, and I could examine the visual elements of a document on the screen before having to run a copy on expensive photographic paper?

    The next few years were somewhat muddled as to how it all came together. A new employer had the foresight to consider the possibilities of the Mac and the laser printer, and my interest in what made gadgets tick resulted in being selected to help deploy the new equipment. Over the next few years, clumsy traditional typesetting input devices began a rapid decline. At the same time, my interest in becoming the company’s honorary Mac troubleshooter helped reignite my passion for writing and, much later, broadcasting.

    You see for the first decade of my working life, I worked in commercial radio, and, in my spare time, as a freelance writer and editor. It was an accident that led me to typesetting in the first place; I needed to perfect the skills to design a small magazine, and when the magazine and my first marriage subsequently failed, I relied on the former as a quick source of income until I could get my life back together.

    For me, the Mac was a way to refocus my career as a writer. It all started when I began to participate in the Mac-oriented message boards on AOL, and I soon became a member of its system operator or forum staff. An unexpected offer to write reviews and features from Macworld magazine, and an invitation to write a book soon followed. Someone my personal fortunes had become intertwined with that eccentric personal computer.

    The whole thing seems oddly improbable when I look back at the last couple of decades of my life. Then again, Apple’s own ups and downs seem quite improbable too, and as it is poised to begin its 31st year in business, I just wonder if my personal fortunes will somehow remain tied to its success, or if I will just move on in an entirely new and unexpected direction. But as I sit here working as writer, editor and broadcaster, I feel things have somehow come full circle.

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