Remembering Quark and AppleTalk, Netware and Gopher

The Apple Mac has played an important part of my professional journalism career for at least 20 of the years that I have been a writer. One Mac or another has been my main writing machine since 1990, and has been in daily use, traveling around the world several times and my more-or-less constant work companion. It is a tool not a religion, yet I have been quite fond of the various machines that I have used.

Back in 1990, I started a new magazine called Network Computing, an online version of which is still in existence today. We relied on a Mac network for art and layouts and for producing the pages of the magazine. Back then, it was a radical idea and we had lots of problems with the Quark desktop publishing software. We were one of the first publications to use a network of Macs exclusively at our publishing house while the other publications ran on an aging Digital Equipment Corp. minicomputer. Remember DEC?

When we first put our Macs together, they were using the built-in AppleTalk networks to connect them. Well, that lasted about a day and a half, because the transfer speeds to send large files (at least by the standards of the time) were terrible. Some files took an hour or more to move across the room! We ended up installing Novell Netware and Ethernet to connect our Macs to each other. We also connected to the Internet using a set of modems called UCLA's network. The point is that we could network our Macs, and choose whatever we wanted to do so. DOS (and then Windows) PCs didn't come with built-in network cards for several years.

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I also used the Mac extensively when I started my own business in 1992. Then I was using a PowerBook Duo 250, which I think sold for around $2,000. Part of Apple's support forums were on something called Applelink. I had to update the firmware support for my modem and ended up having to use Gopher to search the Apple FTP servers. Remember these protocols? That is what we used before the Web had become commonplace. Back then Apple also had eWorld, its own online community. I wrote then "that eWorld is still more of a vacant side lot than a rich universe." It died soon after.

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Despite my Mac's ease of use and built-in connectivity, there were some dark years where I gradually moved over to Windows, as more and more of the software I needed to test for my clients ran on that operating system. Speaking of dark years, in 1995 I was on a parents' committee consulting to our local school district. They were about to purchase its first load of classroom computers, wire up the buildings and deploy a district-wide network. Despite our committee's recommendation for Macs (running PowerPC processors and with 8MB of RAM note, that is megabytes), the school technology coordinator made the decision to buy more than 400 initial Windows PCs. This was at a time when Apple was floundering, and as a long-time Apple supporter, I thought the last place to fall into enemy hands would be K-12 territory. To describe Apple's challenges in 1996, I wrote about the similarities between Apple and the first Mission: Impossible movie where the Mac played important cameos. "Both are beset with conflicting agendas and plans that go awry early on. Both have principal characters (Tom Cruise, the Powerbook) that are noted for their good looks but not necessarily brains. Both had earlier versions (the TV show, Apple's original products) that came about from great teamwork and collaboration but don't seem so today."

Since the PowerBook Duo, I have used a variety of Apple laptops and desktops, and current work with an aging black MacBook that is probably going to be replaced real soon now with something Air-y. It doesn't seem as such an impossible mission now.

Strom is the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine and has written thousands of magazine articles and two books on various IT and networking topics. His blog can be found at strominator.com and you can follow him on Twitter @dstrom. He lives in St. Louis.

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