In 2012, I invested in my daughter, who was studying social work, by buying her a new MacBook Pro, the last one with a DVD drive. My road to Mac Fanboy has been one of the longest. My first professional job in 1983 was as a programmer hired to write educational software for the Apple II+. That lasted almost nine months till I left for college to finish my degree. It wasn’t until late in the 1980s, while working at IBM Research in New York doing final assembly and distribution on the as-yet-unannounced IBM RT/PC, that I encountered one of Steve Jobs’s next workstations in a lab. Like a Ferrari, only in black. It looked fast just sitting on the lab bench. I requested an account and spent a few evenings exploring the system. I wondered if the IBM RT/PC even stood a chance against it. At the time, I also had access to Silicon Graphics systems, and while the RT/PC had a much better processor architecture than the MIPS R3000 and far more advanced compilers, it still looked like a PC trying to be something more. The RT/PC eventually became the RS/6000 and later Power Systems. Until 1994, I had access to and regularly used many of these systems, and I taught Unix to hundreds of people at IBM Research over the years.
It was nearly ten years later, in 2004, before I purchased my first Apple product, a PowerBook G4, because it had the PowerPC G4 chip. It was the first, in my opinion, serious Unix laptop with a pleasant graphical software environment whose heritage went back to Next and Unix beyond that. I had Linux on various systems in the 1990s and tried Linux on laptops until then. Still, at that time, it always seemed like a science project, and I just needed something that would work and run versions of MS Office that were compatible, at the file format level, with its Windows counterparts. Since then, I’ve had all manner of MacBook and Mac mini. Occasionally, my current employer drags me back into the Windows world. Windows machines are acceptable at a hardware level, but the operating system WILL NEVER be as robust and secure as OSX or Linux.
Back to my daughter, two weeks ago, she mentioned that her laptop, the 2012 MacBook Pro, had crapped out, so I had her drop it off with me on Friday. Several years back, I replaced her 512GB spinning disk with a 1TB SSD, so I doubted that was the issue. It took forever for the system to boot, but once it was up, I was able to launch the Activity Monitor and a Console window, and over two hours, as a super user, I weeded out three pieces of crap-ware that were hogging all the CPU cycles. Once these applications were removed, it was like a new system. Sure, Apple suspended support for this platform precisely a year ago, after ten years, but with OSX Catalina, it is still running strong. This morning, I swapped out the two 4GB memory modules with two 8GB ones I had leftover from another project and replaced the battery with a new one for $35. To avoid further problems, I hid Safari, which was still acting quirky, and Chrome and installed Firefox, making it the default browser. She could now get another two, and if she’s careful, many more years from this system. Please don’t get on me about security updates. The only remaining moving part is the cooling fan. Besides a few minor dents in the aluminum case and the charger will only work in one of the two default orientations, the system performs like a champ. The display looks great, and the keyboard and trackpad are functioning excellently.
So why this post? We live in a consumable world. To remain relevant, those on the leading edge of technology replace our smartphones and laptops every two or three years. Our desktop and server computers and smart watches perhaps every five years. As an Apple shareholder, I expect, no require, that our customers remain on this upgrade treadmill. We also have to recognize, though, that there is another tier of customer, one who needs a product that works for ten or more years. My 82-year-old mother has a MacBook Air that she bought at my request to replace her failing three-year-old Windows machine about eight years ago. She’s worn the letters off all the vowel keys and several consonants, but she knows what’s where, and it still performs as well as the day she bought it. I dread the day, in the coming years, when I’ll have to pry her iPhone 8, the last one with a home button, that she got six years ago, from her hands. Her mind is no longer agile enough to handle the change of a home button-less iPhone 15.
I’m writing this on my 13” MacBook Air M1. I lament that the M1 chiplet architecture and tight integration of the MacBook Air line have eliminated the capability of upgrading the memory and storage beyond how the system initially shipped. Therefore, I bought up at the time of purchase to 16GB and 1TB. Eventually, next year, I’ll break down and move up to a 15” MacBook Air M3. Then, next Christmas, my daughter will get my M1 MacBook Air, but she doesn’t know it and isn’t expecting it so let’s keep this between us.