Tech

Monitors I Have Known by Gia Cavalli

A Life in Mac, part 1.

I own an iPhone. This is not a fact anyone who is acquainted with me would ever contest, by way of the following reasons.

a) iPhone resides on a near-constant basis in the palm of my right hand.

b) iPhone resides the remainder of the time within a 5 foot radius of my person.

c) if, by the result of some awful circumstance iPhone is in neither of these places,  I turn into a spitting, snarling harridan who hurls objects wildly about the room and roundly abuses the people she loves until the errant device is located and restored to one of its rightful residences.

This kind of behaviour, whilst neither excusable or conducive to personal relationships, is the culmination of over a decade’s worth of deepening attachment to the Apple franchise, software, and product.

Apple has, from the moment of my introduction to computer technology, shaped the way I function daily, and the way I live my technological life.

In 1994, my family was introduced to our first home computer, the Apple Performa 550. Working then as the director of an animation company, my father had recently been involved in a brief professional dalliance with a Microsoft PC, which ended in much cursing and a trip to the nearest skip. The PC was replaced with Quadra 840 AV, and with it came the death of any possibility that Microsoft would ever cross again our threshold.

Not everyone could be expected to agree, of course. The Performa and Quadra were two of several models released by Apple in the late 80’s and early 90’s as an answer to the threat of the PC’s ever-growing popularity. Whilst Apple remained the platform of choice for creative professionals and continued to make distinctive steps forward in design and function, the company had been suffering internal upheavals and losing out on sales; due in part to it’s refusal to license their operating system to other vendors.

In 1990, Microsoft released it’s first widely-popular GUI in the form of Windows 3.0. Over the following 8 years, non-Microsoft computers saw barely 3% of market share.

In the Cavalli homestead however, the Mac still reigned supreme. In many ways, these were to be the most formative of my years in front of a monitor. In the sponge-like manner of all children, I absorbed information hungrily, unknowingly picking up nuances in form, functionality and design, and building the framework upon which my later preferences and expectations would be based.

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The Performa series was primarily marketed towards families, and as such was shipped with an included software-bundle of home-use programs. Among these were ClarisWorks (now AppleWorks), Quicken, AfterDark (with which I was inexplicably fascinated, despite the total lack of interaction involved,) and a few child-friendly educational programs such as the indomitable Mavis Beacon, humbling us all with her passion for correct type.

We soon began to supplement these initial softwares with those we purchased. The two most influential and stand-out of these programs were then as they are now, albeit in a slightly more nostalgic and hazy fashion, Kid Pix and Spelunx.

Kid Pix was a bitmap program originally developed as a child-friendly version of MacPaint; despite having an interface designed to be as simple as possible, it gained huge popularity in the late 90s and went on to outlive MacPaint by almost ten years, though today’s product bears very little resemblance to the program on which I was creating my first masterpieces at home after Brownies.

As well as including basic tools such as the Pencil, Paint, Line Tools etc, Kid Pix also included a selection of “special” tools which played directly to a child’s imagination. Some of these included;

Undo Guy : a small, bald man who would utter cries such as “Yikes!”, “My bad!” and “ I made a booboo, yeah!” when called upon to right any artistic mistake.

Wacky Brush : a brush that produced a selection of “wacky” effects, surprisingly.

Draw Me : a random mix of several pre-recorded phrases that would be spoken to inspire an idea for a drawing. ie: “I’m a singing mermaid, with slosh in my noggin! And I live in your bathtub.” Whilst I remember never actually drawing these suggestions (I did admittedly draw my fair share of mermaids despite that), they certainly caused much hilarity and were an essential factor in the attraction to the program.

Kid Pix understood the scope of childlike creativity and encouraged it. It did so with a range .of simple, amusing icons and functions that were readable, standard and universal enough to set every child who used it in good stead for any design program that would be developed in the following years. Certainly, when I was teaching myself how to use Photoshop Illustrator some years later, I would find myself using a certain tool and thinking, “ah, I see. It’s just the grown-up Undo Guy.”

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Spelunx (or to give its full title, Spelunx And The Caves Of Mr Suedo,) on the other hand, was a lesson in pure graphical potential. Developed and even completely hand-drawn by the Miller brothers, who would eventually go on to release the much-acclaimed Myst, Spelunx was an educational game with no real story or aim. Rather than be completed, it wished its user to explore, learn and participate. Game-play was contained within a series of underground passages and cave-rooms, each containing an activity or challenge that concerned a certain field of learning; ranging from genetics to animation, metabolism to gravity, animal behaviour to Cartesian co-ordinates, Spelunx covered the gamut.

Spelunx captivated me utterly. As much as I enjoyed the games, my real enjoyment of it lay in the moving around an interactive environment, an environment that responded to my wishes.

This was also the heyday of shareware. Shareware was developed in the early days of personal computers, when many so called “computer hobbyists” wrote their own programs simply because there was no-one else to do so. When I came across it in the 1990’s, it had grown exponentially and was being distrobuted via bulletin board systems and diskette: including that which came with the monthly MacFormat magazine.

For my part, I was drawn to the lure of “free stuff.” I enjoyed the diversity, individuality and the low-key user-orientated gameplay on offer.I focused mainly on games; some I loved, some I tried endlessly to love and failed. Among the latter were text-based roleplay games:

“You wake up dizzy, not recognising your surroundings. The door to the empty room is locked, but there is a cob-webbed window located high up the far wall. If you stand on tiptoe, you can perhaps see out of it. What do you want to do?

-Look out of the window.

“What do you want to do?”

-LOOK OUT OF THE WINDOW.

“What do you want to do?”

-Play Spelunx.

Within the next two years, we had upgraded computers. I very reluctantly and tearfully said goodbye to my beloved Performa. Originally intended to be a part of the high end of Apple’s product line, the Power Mac used PowerPC;  the 9600 model offered us speeds of over 200 MHz higher than that of the Performa. I was won around.

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My father meanwhile, despairing at the inability to access his own computer due to my small but stubborn presence at the keyboard, purchased a PowerBook 5300; an object about which I remember very little except the game SpinDoctor. The PowerBook however, despite being part of the first series of portable computers to offer a trackpad and hot swappable expansion modules, was to go down as one of the worst Apple products in history. My father insists to this day that his gave him no trouble whatsoever.

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In 1996, Steve Jobs re-materialized. Since his enforced resignation from Apple in 1985, he had busily been involving himself with the now-reknowned Pixar, as well as creating NeXT Inc. The NeXTstep operating system was a pretty useful trick to have squirrelled up his sleeve, as Apple bought the company that December, reintroduced Jobs to Apple management and began to evolve NeXT technology into OSX.

Less than six months later, following a 12-year record low in stock price and financial losses, Jobs stepped in as interim CEO and began a massive revamp in retail strategy.

So began The Apple Renaissance.

Around this time, I began to undergo my own major restructure : I had hit the turbulent waters of young adulthood. As a result, whilst Jobs was asking –   “What would be cool?”; I was asking with much the same degree of urgency –   “What would make me cool?!”

……the answer, in both instances, was the iMac.

That, as they say, is another story.

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