My Macintosh Experiences of 25 Years Ago

January 23, 2009

In late 1984, before the Macintosh was public, I had an Apple Lisa on my desk for two months while working at General Dynamics. A year later I quit to start a little business writing software for the Mac. I never even thought I would still be using the platform and still writing code (mostly iPhone, but close) for it.

General Dynamics was an early supporter of Apple, and through the connection GD's headquarters had ordered a Lisa and ask people for evaluations. I had just started working for the "microcomputer group" and we were actually the only Apple-knowledgeable folks in the division (even PC's were still scare) so it would up on my desk. We had the developer tools as well, but Object Pascal and Quickdraw were pretty far removed from my usual fare (Fortran and 6502 assembly were the common languages for me at the time) so I didn't get very far. But playing with the OS and showing others what it could do was breathtaking. Just the concept of a mouse as enough to spark a lot of questions (most people didn't understand what it was good for).

After the Super Bowl Ad they took my Lisa away, but I didn't get a Mac at our location, I was tasked with a larger project involving the first IBM PC/XTs that consumed (along with my earlier work on a VT100 emulator for Apple IIs) my time. But I spent every minute I could at the local Apple dealer, read everything I could, and dreamed of doing something for it.

In October 1985 I quit GD, and started first my building canned spreadsheets for a while. I bought a PC and a Mac 128 to work with. Later on in late 1985 I came up with the idea for the Trapeze spreadsheet program, found some investors, hired two friends of mine (and wound up with a Lisa/MacXL and two Macs) and we started development.

Man what a primitive time it was. We were going to develop in C, not Pascal, and the IDE we used (not from Apple) was beyond crappy. It took 20 minutes to link the application sometimes. We only had the one hard drive on the Lisa, and shared it over LocalTalk connections. Just building for a GUI was a huge challenge, I wound up using a third party framework (MacExpress) and actually redid the whole UI twice (the first one sucked bigtime) for the app shipped at MacWorld in 1987.

I went to the 1986 Worldwide Developers Conference, at which virtually 100% of the world's Mac developers were represented. It was an amazing experience, we were in the Fairmont hotel in San Francisco, the 512K Mac was the big story. During the conference all of us took a boat ride in the harbor (and gambled for non-cash prizes) and someone joked that all IBM had to do was sink the ship, and the whole Mac market would vanish!

So here I am 25 years later and about to release my first (of many) iPhone apps (some of which will be ported to OS X as well). What an amazing platform this has been, despite the ups and downs (I experience the way downs in my brief interlude at Apple in the mid 90's before the return of Steve).

What will happen in the coming years, who knows? But if I am still writing code for Macs 25 years from now I'm gonna be the world's oldest Macintosh programmer. Maybe then I'll pull the plug out of my brain and give it a rest.

Happy Birthday, Mac!

Happy Mac