40 years ago, the Mac wasn't a fond memory for me

40 years ago, the Mac wasn't a fond memory for me
Photo by Julian Hochgesang / Unsplash

It's the 40th anniversary of the Macintosh, and you'll read many stories about how it was such a paradigm change for so many people in the way they saw computers, some of them becoming so enthusiastic that it was a critical inflecting point for their life and future career.

Not me; the Mac somehow turned me away, not from computers but from Apple.

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Let me explain...

At that time, I was a kid who learned programming on a ZX81, then an Oric 1, and later on, my dream came true... an Apple //e. My parents wisely understood there was something worth putting some money into as it was one of the few things that would hold my attention for more than ten minutes at a time. Fast forward a few more years, and I'm sixteen, and the Macintosh is launched.

After a few weeks, I popped up at the local Apple reseller, which was mostly a bunch of friendly old guys on the nerd side of things. Ex-telcos engineers in jeans having fun with personal computing and managing to make some money, as Apple Inc. in France was mostly more relaxed than in the U.S. But when I arrived, there were no more old guys. I'm greeted by why I would identify later as a car salesman with a tie (a tie!) looking at me half-worried and half-annoyed, probably thinking, 'Oh no, another one of these kids...' that without me having the time to ask many questions, rapidly explained to me that yes, they received the new Apple computer, but mostly it was for Architects and Doctors (I clearly heard the capitalization in the tone of voice) and also, in case I wasn't frightened by the price of the main unit, I'd also have to know that the keyboard was sold separately...

That felt like in that dream where you arrive late at a very important exam, you are unprepared and, of course, totally naked. A few months later, I would buy an Amiga, like most of my friends whose parents weren't in a liberal profession and loaded with excess free cash flow. And it was a blast. From there, I was in the DOS and later Windows PC world for a long time until I returned to Apple with a lovely Aluminium MacBook in my late thirties...

Why do I write about this?

It might not be a remarkable story in itself, but it always was a very clear and personal reminder that the product doesn't do much for your business. It's how you organize your business model and decide to bring value to specific categories of customers. Forty years ago, Apple made a remarkable choice of shedding its garage-nerdy-tinkering culture to refocus completely on its brand and organization. It was a clear and decisive move that left a few of us on the side of the road, but that did eventually lead to a multi-trillion-dollar company. Apple wasn't embarrassed by the sunk cost of its old market; it was happy to cannibalize it to invest in another future.

And if you video-conference call with me, you'll probably see a dead Mac behind me... that's a reminder of this principle.

Again, I might not have liked it at the time, but it was such a remarkable move.