Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Time to switch

The Sinclair ZX 80. This was my first computer. It plugged into the antenna on the TV, had eight colours (or maybe 16) and BASIC. It also had a microphone and speaker jack so you could plug it into cassette recorder and save your programs onto tapes.

I was twelve back then, and although I thought it was cool, it was not a lot of fun.

Second computer was also a ZX 80. I can't seem to find a picture of it, but it was more like a personal organiser thing from Tandy with a tiny little keyboard and a calculator-style LCD screen. It did use a ZX 80 chip though and you could write BASIC programs for it, but no big screen to see the fruits of your labours.

Then one day Dad asks me "Which computer should we get? An Apple IIe or a Commodore 64". I had seen Apple IIe's at school. You had to type in codes to get a square block called a Turtle to move around the screen to draw patterns. I had also seen Commodore64's at school. Commodore64s had games. "The Commodore64 would be my choice Dad" I replied.
And so we found a secondhand C64 in the classifieds. It was a bundle of secondhand gear. The 48cm Rank Arena colour television, a tape drive, a disk drive, a couple of joysticks and about 500 floppy disks of games. Damn. I'll never forget that day. Heaven.

The Commodore64 was my third computer and lasted for about two years before starting to spend more time in the repair shop than at home. I don't think I ever got around to playing all the games that came with it. Dad never really got into trying to use it for his work. There wasn't much in the way of drawing packages for the C64. Besides, it would have cut into my game time.

My family travelled about a fair bit around Queensland chasing work during the eighties. We were in Cairns when I started to see other computers. Nathan, a school mate had an Amstrad CPC 464. It was almost identical to the C64 to use, although the BASIC was a little less forgiving, and the tape deck was built right into the keyboard! Only one joystick port though so you had to daisy-chain joysticks together to multiplay anything.

Mmmm, multiplayer games. I've always loved mulitplayer games. Playing the AI just doesn't have the same satisfaction as crushing another human being into the dust. Hours of Archon, Hard Ball, International Karate, Summer Games and M.U.L.E. on my C64 and I got a good kick out of Top Gun on Nathan's Amstrad CPC.

I also saw the new computer from Commodore. The Amiga 500. I wasn't really all that impressed with the Amiga. Not sure why. I guess I thought when Commodore were to move on from my beloved C64, I expected better.

Then I walked into The Byte Centre in Cairns. The Apple shop. The place one goes to aquire a Mac. They didn't have Apple IIe's there. They had this thing called a Macintosh. It was a white box with a slit in the front and it had a mouse. I said I was interested in looking at thier computers and even though I was only 13, they sat me down and left me to play. I pointed. I clicked. I double-clicked. I even triple-clicked. I opened a program called Pixel Paint, a colour version of MacPaint (which is still now vastly superior to Microsoft Paint), and with a click I filled the screen with 256 brilliant colours. I spent the next four hours at least sitting on this worderful machine drawing, making cartoons with some Garfield comic-building program, opening windows, resizing windows. Point. Click. Drag. Wow.

The next chance I got, I dragged Dad into The Byte Centre. Soon after that we had a Macintosh II sitting at home.
Well homework was certainly made easier. A big Apple LaserWriter to go with this baby made sure of that. Not much for games, but for everything else this machine did it with ease. I wrote music on it with MIDI software called ConcertWare. I drew and painted and created and wrote. I even got into animation with a program called MacroMind Director. Dad did his technical drawings and Mum used it with for her graphic art and both worked without having to know anything about how the computer worked. It just did.

I'd like to say that it ran perfectly and we never had any problems with it, but that just isn't the case. On more than one occasion we were pulling our hair out. When this particular Mac crashes, it plays a sound that sounds like a single strum on a harp, then it leaves you staring at a grey screen with nothing on it except a little icon-sized mac face with crosses for eyes and a frowny face. Ok, so this means that my Mac has died and gone to heaven? I guess so! BYTE CENTRE!!! Those guys were always great. They fixed our Macs and rescued our sanity a few times.

It was after the Mac experience that I was even exposed to a DOS Box. Eww... I loved all technology equally back then. But even new DOS Boxes seemed somehow... old... compared to our Macs and I didn't really get introduced to PC's until I was forced to. We moved again, this time to a town with no Byte Centre. In fact, not an Apple in sight. You would have to travel about five hundred kilometers to get to an Apple reseller. I was in Grade 11 and trying to find a career and I had just lost my Mac world. Everyone used PC's and this bloody awful excuse for a graphical interface called Windows for Workgroups 3.11. Taught in school they were very easy to understand. CD to change directory, DEL or ERASE to wipe a file. It didn't seem to me at the time very smart to be learning DOS after I'd seen a WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer) OS (Operating System).

Then came Doom. I did have a go at Wolfenstien3D, but it didn't cut it. Doom had it all. Doom on networked 486 PC's running DOS. You'd have to spend some six to eight hours to get the IPX network running over coax network cable. Awful stuff. But once you get it going you'd play DeathMatch Doom for days straight.

The beer bottles and cigarette butts pile up around you, your bloodshot eyes staring into the glow of your monitor as you sprint as fast as you can across pools of acid with rockets blazing at a foe who is sitting on the other side of the table from you in his own monitor glow lit crater of Simpson Street debris. Don't drink the water.
---Simpson Street.

That was me. PC's have the games. Warcraft was the next big multiplayer time loser. Lost months to that one. F1 GP was great multiplayer. Of course there was all the Doom clones. Heretic, DukeNukem 3d which was awsome and Rise of the Triad even got a small showing.

Then came Windows95. That was cool. The PC had finally caught up. Sort of. But with no alternatve I learned to use it. At least it looked like a proper WIMP OS.

I built my first PC on the dole, a frankensteins monster of second hand parts and hand-me downs. It was a Cyrix MX chip 120MHz. I had it overclocked to 133MHz. Not deliberatly. I didn't have the jumpers set right, but I didn't notice for about 6 months. I think it had 64Mb of RAM and a 1Mb S3 Virge PCI video card, 200Mb Hard Drive and a 1x CD-ROM that loaded with a cartridge. I painted the beige box with black spraypaint and scored a 19" CRT monitor from a draftsman. That monitor stayed with me for a lot longer than that computer did. I only disposed of it last year.

First real job out of school was not the big rock band that I had hoped for. After a few blurry years out of school and out of home, where if I wasn't playing with a computer I was playing guitar. After many drunk nights out at the local karaoke bar I even found that I could sing a few notes. It was in said karaoke bar that I met my wife. Of course she wouldn't be my wife until about five years later. We moved in together and soon after that Social Security got sick of supporting me. They rang me up and asked me if I would like a job. I thought this was a trick question. I'd heard about these. People telling the truth could get their dole cut off. "Yes", I replied. They said "Good, get dressed for an interview." Fifteen minutes later a guy turns up at my doorstep and drives me to the interview. He tells me and this other young feller what job we are actually applying for on the way. "Computer Technician" he tells me. "You had computers on your list of interests." I still remember the small talk with the other candidate.

"So, y'know much about computers?", I asked.
"I got a Playstaion", he told me, nodding, in a tone that suggested to me that he believed that to be the one and true answer to my question.
I hoped it was.

Anyway, I got the job. Dave, the guy that owned the shop had his wife to do the interview. "I just built my own computer" beats saying "I've clocked Need for Speed on my Playstation three times". Clearly the pickings for employees wasn't great back then, but I learned a lot there. I blew up a few computers and Dave didn't kill me for which I am thankful.

It was working here that I was introduced to the Internet. IRC (Internet Relay Chat) with people all over the world in little computer shops like mine all chatting to each other about the problems they are trying to solve and the solutions that have been found. Online gaming started to get popular with Diablo. RealPlayer streamed music and terrible video to us. Of course there was the World Wide Web, or as we used to call it, the World Wide Wait. The upgrade from 28.8 and 33.6 modems to 56.6 was an amazing boost in speed. Some even got webcams to work on it. Every now and then I'd surf on over to Apple and have a look at what they were up to, like some exile sneaking back to check up on his family.

So that was me for the next seven or so years. Compuer Technician. We saw OS2 (what PC's could've been if we had stuck with OS2 instead of Windows...) come and go. Windows95 and its several versions. Internet Explorer 4 came out and was followed by Windows98. Windows98SE was the best Windows for games when it came out and kept the top place through WindowsMe and Windows2000 until WindowsXP was released.

WindowsMe was quite possibly the worst Windows since Windows 3.1. Most prefer to forget it existed, including Microsoft I think.

I've been running WindowsXP ever since, albiet the x64 edition now on my latest PC. I've had a play with many different breeds of Linux and even purchased Lindows (now Linspire).

Enter Vista. Personally I don't like Vista. It's true that it's more secure. It's true that it's easier to use. It's also true that its a pile of steaming dog shit. Just my personal opinion. Stick with XP and when really must upgrade, buy a Mac.

Check it out. While I was away, but watching out of the corner of my eye to be sure, Apple has changed. Steve Jobs, founder and God of Apple, got fired and cast out. He tried to start another computer business called NeXT and failed. Apple weren't doing so well, even without a god and started licencing clones (Apple computers built by third parties) in the hopes that things would pick up. After all, Windows was doing so well and a major factor of its success is that it runs on clones. Things didn't pick up so Apple re-instated Steve Jobs as their god and saviour and Steve smote the clones and painted the Macs in bright colours. Good idea, but we need more from a diety.


And all of Appletopia rejoiced. They rejoiced long and hard and, most importantly, loud. The rest of the world heard and listened. They hear the rejoicing and listened to iPod and iTunes. On Windows. It looks good and it's easy to use. And it just worked. Like Macs.

Steve ditched the lagging PowerPC processors in favour of the latest speed demons from Intel. Dual-core, 64bit, blisteringly fast and suprisingly cheap, the new Intel chips are pushing some models of the Macs up to 5x faster than their PowerPC counterpart. The same chips that anyone building an Intel Windows box would buy today are in all the new Macs. And graphics cards. Macs are using the nVidia chips and ATI chips that PC gamers put in thier rigs. Same kind of RAM, same kind of Hard Drives... they've turned into PC's running MacOS X.

Games are mostly written to run on Windows. I think I have made it clear that I love my games. That fact has kept me from trying to find my way back to the Mac world. A recent visit to the Apple website has just removed that problem.

Apple have released software called BootCamp which allows you to install WindowsXP on any Mac computer with an Intel CPU and dual-boot between Windows and MacOS X. There are reports of people running Half-Life 2 and FarCry on thier Macs already. Seeing as all new Macs are now Intel chips I can't see why I'd buy anything else. MacOSX is beautiful and for the odd thing that I absolutley need Windows for, it now runs nativly on the Mac. Check out the preview of the latest version. You'll need broadband to watch it though.
Ain't that just the cutest little computer you ever did see? This thing retails for under a grand Australian. For the entry level one that is. If you get the bigger model and max out the RAM and Hard Drive, it's still under two grand. This isn't a gaming computer though. The MacMinis are entry level computers as far as gaming due to the Intel Graphics. This Mac is more suited to photo editing, video editing, media center, office work, internet, just about everything else actually. If you're not into games, there's nothingn wrong with this little piece of art and the bundled software will have you actually being creative with your stuff.

This is the beast on my wishlist. 24" Apple widescreen display with the entire computer hidden inside the back of it. DVD burner in the side and a webcam built into the top. Entry level for the 24" iMac starts at $2999.00 but to deck it out for the kind of work I'm doing will push it out to around the four and a half grand mark. You can get smaller versions of the iMac for under two grand.

Of course, these machines are still on my wishlist. I have yet to get a new Intel Mac or even have a proper play with MacOS X. One of my neices, Jemma, has just bought herself a 13" MacBook just like this. Notice the built in webcam above the screen.

I'm sure she's going to tell me all about it and when she does, I'll most likely have something to say about it here. Jemma has never owned a Mac and is upgrading from a WindowsXP Tablet PC. But she has an iPod and she's got a friend with a Mac (always helpful when you get stuck) so I think she will make the transition just fine.

Fast. Beautiful. Simple. Sexy. And will now run Windows.

And thats why I'm sure my next PC will be a Mac.

Oh, and Apple are breaking into the media center arena with AppleTV (which has already been hacked to play DivX files) and the mobile phone market with iPhone. iPhone. You want one.

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