My Computing Platform History

When I write technology posts, like my Going Paperless posts on using Evernote, I do it from my own perspective. I get a lot of questions about how you might perform a task using Evernote for Android or on Windows, but I can’t answer those questions, mainly because I generally don’t use either of those platforms. My posts tend to be Mac-centric and that is because I have an 27″ iMac in my home office, an iPad 2, and an iPhone 4. But I thought it might be interesting for folks to understand how I came to this platform and so I’ve put together this brief post on my computing platform history.

Getting started

The first computer I ever used was a TRS-80 in the summer of 1983. I can’t date it much better than that. I know it was the summer of ’83 because I went to the movies with my cousin to see War Games with Matthew Broderick and when we got back to his house, he showed me his computer and showed me how to write a simple program in BASIC. It was my first introduction to the idea that you could program a computer to do whatever you wanted. Not long after that, in my 5th grade math class, my teacher introduced a Commodore Vic 20 and we used it to play Hangman.

Learning the ropes

I moved to Los Angeles not long after that and while I was in sixth grade, I got my own Commodore VIC-20, complete with a tape drive. I used to get computer magazines and type in the different programs they had. Gradually, from those programs, I learned how to manipulate the code and began to write my own, very simplistic programs.

A year or two later, we got an Apple IIe and I began to learn to program even more. I also began to use the computer for practical things like word processing. In a computer class I took in junior high school, my big project was to create a simple flight simulator, which I somehow managed to accomplish. From the Apple IIe, we migrated to an IBM PC and indeed, just before I headed off to college in I bought a used IBM 286-based computer and learned to use what became for a long time, my favorite word processor, Microsoft Word 5.5 for DOS.

Windows

From that point, on, for many years I was strictly a Windows guy and sneered at my Macintosh friends. I used Windows machines exclusively from 1990-2004. The only exception in all of that time was my experimentation with a UNIX (Solaris) box at work, and a Linux box at home. During this 14 year period, I learned to program and write code in a dozen or so different languages. Indeed, despite being a political science major in college (I thought I might become a lawyer), I instead went into IT and became a software developer, something I still do for my day-job today.

I recall, with excitement, the period in 1995 when Windows 95 first came out and revolutionized the Windows environment with 32 bit computing and the ability to multitask (something that other operating systems, like UNIX, had been doing for some time already). I remember the less gleeful transitions to Windows NT and Windows 98 and Windows XP.

Conversion

Around 2004 I was burning out in my day job. The thing is, I’d go home and I’d still want to do work on the computer, even if it was freelance writing or creating my own code. But sitting in front of my Windows machine in my home office felt like work. I’d already purchased an iPod and loved it. So I decided that the best way for me to be able to work on a computer at home without feeling like I was doing work was to get something completely different. I bought an iMac.

I never looked back. In the years since that first iMac, I’ve also had 2 MacBooks and a brand new iMac. Also 3 iPhones. And I looked back with shame at that younger version of myself who sneered at Mac users. I’d been using Windows-based systems for 14 years and DOS-based systems even longer, and after six months on a Mac, I could tell that in all measures I could come up with, it was a far better fit for me. The user interface was more intuitive. Tasks were easier to perform. The platform was more open. About the only downside was that the hardware tended to be more expensive.

My computing platform today

At work, I am still on a Windows machine because I do a lot of back-end coding in C# and .NET and Visual Studio is my main tool for that and Visual Studio is a Windows-only product. Outside of the day job, however, I am completely non-Windows:

I still do a lot of work at the UNIX level, but since that is built right into the OS on the Macintosh, I don’t need a separate system for that type of work.

do not use Microsoft Office outside of my day job, and even there, I keep it’s use to a minimum. Instead, I use Scrivener on the Mac for writing, and I use iaWriter on the iPad. For coding and text editing on my Mac, I use TextMate. In place of Excel I use Google Docs and for advanced analytics on both platforms, I use Mathematica 9.  I avoid slide decks at all costs. Indeed, I have been moving toward a much greater cloud-based platform than ever before.

So much so, in fact, that I have a Google Chromebook on order, which I expect to arrive on Friday. This laptop essentially replaces my old MacBook. I’ve been using my iPad as a replacement for going on two years, and it works well, but the one drawback I’ve found is the screen size is too small for some of the writing I do. Having a laptop will help with that. I chose a Chromebook as opposed to a Macbook for several reasons:

  • It is very inexpensive: $249 for the model I chose.
  • It is entirely cloud-based, which will help with my effort to be able to work anywhere.
  • It is extremely light and won’t add much weight to my mobile office.
  • It is another platform for me to explore.

I’ve been a Google Chrome browser user for years. I gave up IE and Firefox a long time ago and never looked back. I use a lot of Google software products, so I am eager to see how the Chromebook fits into my environment.


I tend to be platform neutral. I like Macs better than Windows, but my reasons are entirely personal. The truth is, I think we need to be using the best tool for the job, no matter what that tool is. I think this is why a cloud-based platform is ideal, because it helps force all tools to have to work together with that platform. Evernote is a great example of this. I chose to use Evernote on my Mac and iPad. But when I need to, I can easily pull it up on my Windows machine at work. I can access it from a web browser, and I can certainly access it this was on my new Chromebook. I think more applications should be focusing on this kind of cloud-based platform because it makes things that much more accessible.

And so, in my technology posts, when I highlight examples using Macs and iPads, it’s not because I don’t like Windows or Android. It’s simply because I have a Mac and an iPad and I don’t have Windows or Android. It’s tough to provide examples for platforms you don’t use.

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