Benj's Recent Macworld Adventures

November 26th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Macworld Logo

As long time readers of VC&G know, I usually post short entries about my non-blog writing activities on this blog so you can enjoy them.

Recently, I've been so engrossed in writing Macworld articles that I have neglected to mention them. Consider that remedied with this handy digest of pieces I've written over the past two months for said Mac-related publication. Conveniently, they all have history angles to them (or else I wouldn't list them here):

There's more on the way, so stay tuned to see whether I neglect to mention those here as well. The excitement is palpable!

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Trip Hawkins Interview: 30 Years of Electronic Arts

June 29th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Trip Hawkins Interview on EDGE-online.com

Electronic Arts turned 30 on May 28th, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to check in with its founder, Trip Hawkins, on how he feels about Electronic Arts today. It's no secret that EA, while a massively successful company, takes a lot of heat from gamers on a number of issues (see this Retro Scan and its comments for more on that).

In an interview published at Edge Online, Hawkins and I spoke at length about Electronic Arts, including the founding of EA, finding early EA developers, his time at Apple, his friendship with Steve Jobs, and yes, how he feels about Electronic Arts today.

The resulting interview was so long that Edge decided to split it into five parts. It just published the last part today, so I thought I'd collect all the links here so you can read it.

06/25/2012 "Trip Hawkins: The inspiration for EA"
06/26/2012 "Trip Hawkins on Apple and Steve Jobs"
06/27/2012 "Trip Hawkins: Founding Electronic Arts"
06/28/2012 "Trip Hawkins: The EA Days"
06/29/2012 "Trip Hawkins on the EA of today"

Interestingly, there has been no mention of the company's 30th anniversary from Electronic Arts itself. Its staff was probably too busy revising its own history to notice.

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Macintosh II 25th Anniversary

June 8th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Macintosh II 25th Anniversary at Macworld

25 years ago this March (1987), Apple released the Macintosh II, the first open architecture Macintosh. Naturally, I've written a short feature about this pioneering machine over at Macworld.

While speaking with Michael Dhuey, the Apple engineer that conceived the Mac II, I learned that Apple patterned the Mac II after the 1977 Apple II, which sported the same sort of flexibility and expandability as the Mac II. That self-referential influence amazed me — especially coming from a company that recently institutionalized the practice of ignoring its own history.

But only two years after Steve Jobs resigned from Apple, the company had no problem making the un-Jobs move of both looking backward and opening up the Macintosh. The result changed the course of Macintosh history.

[ Continue reading Macintosh II 25th Anniversary » ]

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The Beleaguered IBM PC in History

August 12th, 2011 by Benj Edwards

The IBM PC 5150

From the 1990s until very recently, the press has been generally unkind to the achievements of the first IBM PC. Due to the PC platform's utter dominance of the personal computer market, popular accounts of personal computer history commonly paint IBM as the slow, lumbering, clueless enemy while cheering on spunky underdogs like Apple. I'm not even going to cite specific examples: Google "computer history." Read. You will see it.

But that perspective is not fair at all. IBM truly pulled off something smart, savvy, and remarkable in designing the IBM PC 5150 (and the machines that followed it, into the PS/2 era). With the 5150, a team of 12 people took the machine from concept to shipping product in less than a year. And yet many focus on how IBM supposedly lost its way.

IBM PC KidMuch ballyhoo has been made, for example, about how IBM lost its grip on the PC's direction as clones flooded the market. From a different perspective, that runaway-freight-train-of-a-platform is a success story for IBM.

While Big Blue lost market share to clone manufacturers, you have to keep in mind that IBM's percentage shrank as the market size exploded. IBM fostered a rich PC standard that it kept reaping until it sold its PC division to Lenovo in 2004. IBM may not have kept steering the ship, but they sure made a lot of money in the cargo hold.

And if you think IBM's influence on the PC standard ended in the early 1980s, think again. Real history is not so cut-and-dry. The PS/2 era (which dawned in 1987) gave us stalwarts like the PS/2 mouse/keyboard ports and, ah yes, that minor display technology called VGA. You can also thank the 1990s ThinkPad line for its part in streamlining the modern laptop.

Apple vs. IBM

The popular narrative of IBM vs. Apple in the 1980s, with its strong contrasts of Good vs. Evil and Hero vs. Villain was largely a creation of Apple's marketing department. The image of Apple's David verses IBM's Goliath got repeated so many times that the press started using the supposed rivalry as the basis of dramatic stories. Humans need narratives to make sense of history, and writers have forced the PC market story into that archetypal mold.

Sure, IBM and Apple competed for dollars — and they may have even done it vigorously — but business is business. It's not swashbuckling. The first thing you learn when actually studying computer history (i.e. interviewing folks) is that just about no one involved in creating these products thinks they were doing something so incredibly amazing that it should be turned into a movie. They were just doing their jobs, developing good products, and trying to make money like everyone else. When the project was over, they moved on to other things. That story is incredibly boring if you don't dramatize it.

By using the IBM PC for a week for a recent article, I learned firsthand that the original PC really was an amazing machine for its time. It wasn't just a generic box that happened to have an IBM logo on it, as some people argue. Sure, it didn't have flashy graphics or a GUI, but it was solid, reliable, well-designed, and it was definitely the most qualified personal computer for getting work done in 1981. There is a reason it became a standard, after all — everyone imitated it, and they imitated it because it was amazing.

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Steve Jobs Signed My Macintosh

January 9th, 2008 by Benj Edwards

Steve Jobs Signature on Inside of Mac Plus Case

Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, Inc., signed my Macintosh. And if you're the owner of a Mac 128k, 512k, or Plus, he signed yours too. In fact, so did Woz.

Macintosh Case SignaturesIn crafting the original Macintosh, Steve Jobs viewed himself and his team as artists. As such, it was only fitting for the renegade band of Apple developers to sign their work. At the urging of Jobs, the Mac design group held a small party on February 10th, 1982, during which they ate cake, drank champagne, and took turns signing their names onto a large piece of paper (see image, right). Soon afterward, Jobs had the signatures engraved into the Macintosh case mold, with an obvious result: Apple permanently impressed the team's autographs into the plastic case of every Mac that rolled off the production line.

You might notice that some of the signatures present on the original signing sheet are missing on the Plus. But fear not; no one was slighted. All the names originally graced the interior of the first Macintosh release (128k), but according to Andy Hertzfeld, some names were lost over time due to revisions of the case design on subsequent models. For example, compare the Mac Plus interior with this picture of the original 1984 Macintosh case.

I recall seeing signatures in the cases of later Macs by the teams that designed them. But I can't remember if the later compact Macs contain the original names seen here, or simply others that worked on those particular projects.

Channel Your Inner Jobs

Mac Plus Case Open and Closed

To locate these hallowed names within your own Mac case, simply take your machine apart and peer inside the rear half of its chassis. They might be hard to see at first, but they're there, hiding in the back. Keep in mind that the presence of signatures on your case doesn't make your Mac any more or less valuable than it would be otherwise — every early Mac has them, without exception. But at least now you can impress your friends with a formidable piece of Mac trivia.

Shortly after the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, most of its original development team parted company. But in a poetic way, they will always be united inside your Macintosh. It's a fitting, populist monument to an extraordinary chapter in computer history.

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What Computer Nerds Should Be Thankful For

November 22nd, 2006 by Benj Edwards

Things That Nerds Should Be Thankful ForTomorrow is Thanksgiving in the United States, which means we cook a lot, eat a lot, sleep a lot, feel uncomfortable around somewhat estranged relatives a lot, prepare to spend a lot, officially start Christmas a lot, and generally take it all for granted, despite the title of the holiday. In order to break with American tradition, I thought I'd offer a personal list of things that I think we — vintage computer and video game enthusiasts — should be thankful for. After all, these things let us enjoy our hobbies. Without them, we'd be collecting dirt and not even know what it's called. Pay attention, my friends, as we start off serious-ish and degrade into something resembling silliness — but it's all in the name of holiday fun.

[ Continue reading What Computer Nerds Should Be Thankful For » ]

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