Falling far from the tree

scale12xThis week, on the 30th anniversary of the unleashing of the Macintosh to the world, I’m going to go far afield and talk about Macs and how I got to Linux through them.

A little history (OK, a lot of history): My exposure to Apple goes back to the early 1980s. While working as a copywriter for Spillis Candela and Partners in Coral Gables, Fla., I worked on a Lisa to produce federal documents for public projects.

Later — and many have already heard this story, so forgive me in advance — I plopped down nearly $3,000 for an “on-sale” package of an Apple //c (not IIc) and a Brother daisy-wheel printer. I’ll let that sink in for a minute — $3,000 buys how much tech these days? — while I compose myself and wipe away the tears.

I had a Mac in the mid-’80s. I’ve had several Macs. Having a Mac in the ’80s was not the status toy it is today. Having a Mac was a statement, like the woman in the 1984 ad throwing the sledgehammer into the telescreen. It was pretty much a middle finger extended to both IBM and Microsoft long before Linux and BSD were available at all, let alone long before it was available to the average user.

It was a different Apple then, too, and not in the best way. Steve Jobs had been booted. John Sculley and Gil Amelio and about 40 different versions of the Macintosh existed with about 10 different setups for each. It was mind boggling.

There were good parts of it, too. For the longest time, Macs could handle CMYK, making it a standard in printing (giving rise to Aldus, now Adobe, and its print-related suite of software) while Microsoft scurried to catch up. Computer maker Power Computing sent their booth staff to Macworld in fatigues ready to fight the good fight. MacMarines, of which I was one in the ’90s, also embraced the same passion as Mac evangelists of all stripes fought for the forces of digital good while Apple circled the wagons with a consistently minuscule, and dropping, user base percentage.

I could go on for days about this. The nouveau Apple users have no idea. No clue whatsoever. You truly had to be there.

Then Power Computing and Umax, making hardware using MacOS, had their licensing agreement yanked when Steve Jobs returned to the helm. This was pretty much the beginning of the end for what Apple was then, and the beginning of what it is now for the hardware-trendsetting juggernaut. Kicked off by a $150 million gift from Microsoft, and with the killing of the Newton (bad move — I still have a MessagePad 120), Jobs immediately put his mark on the company, drove it in the direction he wanted it, and made it what it is today.

I’m not criticizing or laying blame — Jobs did what he did and it is what it is. By Wall Street standards, Apple is a huge success story. However, I clearly don’t agree with the direction Apple took, especially on locking down hardware and software and praying at the altar of the almighty bottom line, but that’s the way it goes.

In a lot of ways, Apple’s odyssey reminds me of the Gentle Giant album, “The Power and the Glory.” Most of you probably don’t know this group — a progressive rock band in the mid-’70s and a contemporary of King Crimson, as a point of reference — but the gist of the album is a series of songs telling the story of someone saying the system must change while finally concluding at the end of the album that the system must not change.

But what does this have to do with Linux or FOSS? For me personally, I started with Linux using Macs.

Back story, maestro: In 2006 I ran for Insurance Commissioner as the Green Party candidate. Putting aside the inside baseball as to why I ran (and won’t do it again), I asked the IT guy for the Green Party if he had any suggestions about software to use for the campaign. He introduced me to Free/Open Source Software, how it worked, and the paradigm behind it. The next day, I was running an iMac on the PowerPC version of Debian.

Since then, I have never used anything but FOSS on all the hardware I’ve owned. For years after I started using Linux, I still used PowerPC Macs because in most cases, the hardware was of a high quality (iMac G5 notwithstanding — what a dog!); at least until I learned to love the IBM ThinkPad.

As for my conversion to FOSS, I may not have been such a strong believer in FOSS if I had not been a Mac user back in the day.

The Apple of today bears absolutely no resemblance of the Apple of the 1980s and 1990s. None. In this case, the fruit has fallen far — very far — from the tree.

See you here next week.

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Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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