There was a dark time in the late 1990s when Apple Computer, Inc. was going to go out of business any minute now and the tech (save, famously, WIRED) and business presses were so fixated on this fact that the company name was widely reported as Beleaguered Apple Computer, Inc. (NASDAQ: BAPL). To be fair the company unquestionably had its share of problems, notably a revolving door of CEOs with leadership skills as hinky as the hardware they were overseeing (going from my PowerBook 190cs with the faulty ROM to the Performa 6320CD with the realllllly faulty ROM was an experience and a half); but there was just something so friendly and elegant about that mass of code quivering on its last legs known as System 7. It was fun. It didn’t seem to want me to hate it, or myself. I eventually jammed it full of so many UI mods that I became an expert at troubleshooting the Mac OS and hardware just to keep myself up and running for those all-nighter essays in university. The community, too, was something else. One of the great criticisms of the Mac OS was that there wasn’t much software for it, but that turned out to be a strength considering I could get everything I needed to done and when I ever had to email a developer with a problem I’d invariably get a friendly response directly from the programmer. We were the underdogs, and we shared this odd and immediate bond as we forged ahead with our beige boxes with the purple smiles as many told us to simply give up. We circled our wagons. We bled six colours as per the original Apple logo.
I felt a profound sense of relief when on December 20, 1996 it was announced that Apple had bought NeXT. I was an old time Apple ][+ user and knew even at my young age that the two Steves ran the Apple show and as an older end user I cried tears of relief into my ADB II keyboard because Steve Jobs was coming home.
Obviously, we know how Apple’s fortunes changed with the introduction of the iMac, sparking the design revolution that had us admiring the internals of most of our household appliances for a few years whether we wanted to or not; and later the introduction of the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. I don’t think any of us who hung on through Apple’s worst troubles ever figured out when it would have been appropriate to say “I told you so” or who, exactly, to say it to, but it may not be that important considering how much the company has defined the nature and character of consumer electronics in the past decade.
When Steve Jobs died I feared that Apple would again lose its way, but although it isn’t the same company I loved those years ago, it hasn’t imploded, either. I’m ordering a new iMac to replace my end-of-life black plastic MacBook tomorrow.