Coming back to the Mac with OS X Lion?

Posted on July 21, 2011

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[This is based on a rejected pitch I sent Wired after a call for freelance pitches about OS X Lion on Twitter. I liked the idea – though they thought it wasn’t quite right for them – so figured I’d write it anyway.]

My first computer was a Mac. It was boxy, clunky and pixellated but  because it was 1995, it was basically a smooth-edged Ferrari. The concerning click-humming (which sounds like a fan inside the Power Macintosh is basically slamming itself hard against either the casing or a component) didn’t sound like that in 1995. The actual pitch and frequency it made back then was no different to now; however, rather than sounding like an asthmatic, anemic old man on a respirator it was most definitely the gentle roar of a powerful, sleek machine.

That’s the way technology is: I took a look at some of my old Playstation magazines from the same sort of era and saw the words “lifelike graphics” being writ large over a picture of a pixellated man. Even if you look at something like Gran Turismo (which really was an enormous leap forward graphically) with the benefit of hindsight you realise that it’s as lifelike as porn.

I loved my Power Mac, running the old System 7 OS. I could drag-and-drop, something incredible at the time. I could choose different fonts for the small magazines I would publish (mostly games reviews; sometimes, because I was that sort of hyper-brained child, I would create my own worksheets to help me learn French and print them out to do later, when I had forgotten doing them. I was a precocious 6 year old). And the printer, too! That was an expensive add-on, but it opened up a whole new world of possibility. I could get stuff from the screen to actual paper so I could show off my handiwork to my friends.

I could go along with the majority of technological people and say that the computer was dated by the time we got it back from the shop (I still distinctly remember going into the Dixons off Northumberland Street – which still exists, but has gone through a number of takeovers and rebrands but still remains today a PC World-Curry’s amalgm. It was after school and I remember as my dad heaved the big box into our small car thinking even back then, in the autumn twilight, that we had simultaneously joined the middle class and the technological future; we had a computer), but truthfully that Mac and that OS served me well for a long time.

Sure, it printed off rubbish quality things, and eventually there were compatibility issues when I would do some homework on the obviously inferior PCs they had at school and couldn’t bring it home on floppy disk, but I loved that machine. It was in technicolour, for a start, which was a far cry away from the rudimentary machines powered on BASIC that I used to play with at my grandfather’s workshop which gave you either pitch black or an alien-green glow.

I spent hours trawling through the encyclopedia program my parents bought me for it, a good five years before Jimmy Wales decided to unleash Wikipedia on the world. I was making baby steps towards modernity as I was myself making steps through childhood; I was prefiguring the future with my optional add-on CD rom.

So what if I bought three Sim games in a pack and one of them wasn’t Mac-compatible? That got sent to the computer lab at my school and I stuck with SimTower instead, building skyscrapers that touched the heavens and inhabited by (what I imagined, at least) to be yuppies sipping lattes. It was the best one, anyway.

The computer lasted me a good 4-and-a-bit years until I reached secondary school and needed something more powerful – and primarily something which could handle the hardware rigours of a 56k modem. So I went Windows, I’m ashamed to say. Since then, I’ve given Redmond, rather than Cupertino, my money.

The System 7 OS was functional – at the time, though, it seemed like the future. A bit like OS X Lion, which is so brand spanking new that you would have barely had time to get the cellophane off the wrapper by the time you’ve read this – except that because Apple are so futuristic, they’re only offering it as a download from the Apple store. People like American comedian Rob Corddry are having problems, though. Regardless of whether people are having problems, its clear that though Lion is technically only three computer generations away from System 7, it’s a world apart in looks, functionality and speed.

Frankly, it just looks incredibly sexy. When you look at System 7, it seems like a wart-ridden servant girl from the 18th century in comparison to the leggy 21st century supermodel that is OS X Lion. Time say that it’s part of the iPad era, Apple trying to make computers more intuitive, more pick-up-and-go rather than having to fiddle your way around numerous settings and windows to get to something. The Launchpad is something that’s not all that different from the iPad and iPhone (and in truth, it’s something that you sort of had in System 7, but nowhere near as pretty). It’s fast, and because Mac are all about the user experience as well as hardware heft, it’s unlikely to make your computer like it’s housing a swarm of particularly angry bees.

Their Versions tool autosaves your documents – and stores earlier versions so you can revert to them if needs be. That’s incredible. And frankly, any OS that includes a tool called Mission Control is going to get me squealing with delight regardless of whether it’s actually useful (consensus: it really is useful. Very, very useful).

It’s a far cry from the old, jittery System 7 which I loved and cherished, but I’m seriously thinking about going back to Apple with this new release.

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