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Follow Along Through 18 Years of TidBITS

This week marks the 18th anniversary of TidBITS, which dates all the way back to 1990. We’ve written something to celebrate the event most years; see the TidBITS History series.

This year, in honor of TidBITS becoming old enough (in the United States) to vote, be drafted, bear arms, own property, marry without parental consent, see an NC-17 rated movie, and serve on a jury, I want to look back at each of the anniversary issues of TidBITS to see just how far we’ve come and how much things have changed. Follow along then, as we start in…

1990 — In TidBITS #1, I wrote about Lotus and Novell merging “in a blow to industry leader Microsoft.” Change the names and you have Yahoo contemplating a merger with AOL to stave off Microsoft’s hostile offer. Also in that issue, I mentioned a powerline networking technology that offered 38.4 Kbps of throughput; powerline networking is now up to 200 Mbps, but still hasn’t become mainstream.

1991 — For TidBITS #54, we reported on the results of our first survey of TidBITS readers. It’s amusing to compare to the results of our 2007 reader survey – see “TidBITS 2007 Reader Survey Results: Who Are You?,” (2007-03-12) and “TidBITS 2007 Reader Survey Results: News & Info Sources” (2007-07-16).

1992 — Jon Pugh joined us in TidBITS #120 to review SuperMac’s VideoSpigot card and ScreenPlay software for recording video; it’s interesting to think about how far video creation capabilities have come since, with HD camcorders and software ranging from iMovie to Final Cut Pro. We also had coverage of the CODE 252 virus, apparently the third one to appear in a short time. Happily, the virus problem on the Mac didn’t worsen, and we have yet to see any viruses that target Mac OS X.

1993 — In TidBITS #173, I bemoaned the demise of ThoughtPattern, a free-form database and snippet keeper that I dearly loved at the time. It’s telling that we’ve seen (and reviewed) numerous similar programs over the years; see the Conquer Your Text series. This issue also marked the first appearance of Glenn Fleishman in TidBITS – he was writing about the loss of the Quadra 700 from Apple’s product line. Little did we know then just how essential Glenn would become to our future coverage and infrastructure.

1994 — In TidBITS #222, I noted that Tonya had started writing more for TidBITS, having left her tech support job at Microsoft following the success of my “Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh” book. She wrote about upcoming PowerBook releases, including the 520/520c, the 540/540c, and the Duo 280/280c, along with the Duo Dock II. We may still have Tonya’s old Duo 230 in the attic; we should put it side-by-side with a MacBook Air.

1995 — By TidBITS #273, Geoff Duncan had joined TidBITS, and he wrote about how Apple was announcing next-day support on their eWorld online service to bolster existing telephone support. Telephone support is still available, but Apple has traded one-on-one online support for the retail store Genius Bars. Of course, having access to Apple’s Knowledge Base online, along with the Apple discussion forums, makes up for a lot. Tonya also reviewed a CD-ROM-based ZIP code and telephone number database called ProPhone. Now there’s a product category that has been thoroughly eliminated by the Internet.

1996 — In TidBITS #324, we announced our first translation of TidBITS – into Dutch! The Dutch translation team has continued apace and has been matched in consistency by the Japanese translation team. Other languages have come and gone, and we have plans to make translating individual articles much easier in the future. Amusingly, we also reported on the possibility of IBM licensing the Mac OS in that issue; although licensing is a thing of the past, last week saw both much fuss about a potential Mac clone from Psystar and reports that IBM was making it easier for employees to switch to the Mac.

1997TidBITS #375 saw the release of Eudora 3.1 and Emailer 2.0. As huge as both programs were back in 1997, neither remains in development. Although Eudora 6.2.4 continues to work in Mac OS X for many users, development on the classic Eudora code base has ceased and it remains to be seen if the program will transition successfully to an open-source approach based on Thunderbird. Although Emailer never made the jump to Mac OS X, some of its development team made a different jump to Microsoft, where they worked first on Outlook Express and then on Entourage. Also in that issue, the $13,000 prize in the “Crack A Mac” challenge remained unclaimed, a far cry from
the quick takeover of a MacBook Air in the Pwn2Own contest at CanSecWest (see “Apple Becomes First Victim in Hacking Contest,” 2008-03-28).

1998 — In TidBITS #425, Matt Neuburg reviewed Word 98, noting “many of Word 98’s new features are really old features with additional, optional interfaces laid on top of them.” In some ways, this is exactly what Microsoft has once again done with Word 2008, changing the interface in an attempt to reveal existing features more than changing the feature set itself.

1999 — In TidBITS #477, we noted Apple’s $135 million profit in Q2 1999 (the sixth profitable quarter in a row), giving the company $2.9 billion in cash. That’s not chump change, but Apple’s Q1 2008 earnings report showed a $1.58 billion profit and $18.4 billion in cash. Wow. Also in that issue, Connectix released a fix for Virtual PC that fixed floppy disk problems on PowerBook G3s. As much as Virtual PC was an amazing technical feat, it pales in comparison with today’s VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop running on Intel-based Macs. Virtualization trumps emulation!

2000TidBITS #527 saw the release of Now Up-to-Date & Contact 3.9, with Palm synchronization. Although Now Up-to-Date & Contact made the leap into Mac OS X and continues to be a viable product, Now Software is working on a complete rewrite. But more telling is the fact that Palm synchronization isn’t a big deal any more, partly due to Apple’s synchronization technologies and partly due to the slide in popularity of Palm OS-based handhelds. It’s all about the iPhone these days.

2001 — In TidBITS #576, we covered the release of Mac OS X 10.0.1, a mere three weeks after the initial release of Mac OS X. Over the last eight years, Mac OS X has seen five more major releases that have taken the operating system from a curiosity to an industrial-strength operating system used by millions. But you can still bet on a quick bug fix release appearing within a few weeks of each major release of Mac OS X.

2002 — In TidBITS #626, I announced the first edition of my “iPhoto for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide.” I didn’t quite realize then that I’d be updating it for the rest of time; I now have seven editions on my shelf, the latest of which is “iPhoto ’08: Visual QuickStart Guide.” More interesting, though, was the fact that we released it as an ebook for those who pre-ordered the print book (iPhoto 1.0 had significant problems, and we wanted to wait for the soon-to-be-released 1.1 version before going to press). The huge success of this ebook was one of the key factors in our decision to start the
Take Control series – clearly people liked ebooks when they provided information that wasn’t available in print form.

2003TidBITS #676 saw the release of the second public beta of Safari, which we were able to describe as “widely adopted” even though it hadn’t yet seen its official release. Safari has gone on to become the de facto Web browser for Mac users, and although no one expected as much back in 2003, it has also migrated both to Windows and to the iPhone.

2004 — In TidBITS #727, we looked at Apple’s Q2 2004 financial report, which included revenue from sales of over 750,000 Macs and 800,000 iPods, and resulted in a $46 million profit. Cash on hand had almost doubled since 1999, to $4.6 billion. Although the numbers aren’t quite comparable (since Q1 2008 includes the holiday season and Apple isn’t set to report Q2 2008 results until 23-Apr-08), the most recent quarter saw nearly 2.4 million Macs sold, along with over 22 million iPods.

2005TidBITS #776 saw both the release of Mac OS X 10.3.9 (the final version of Panther) and the announcement that Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger would appear on 29-Apr-05, marking an 18-month gap between the initial release of Panther and the appearance of Tiger. Previous intervals had been shorter, but the jump from Tiger to Leopard would take 30 months, and it remains to be seen how long we’ll be waiting for the next big cat. Q2 2005 financials once again appeared in this issue, with Apple selling 749,000 Macs and 807,000 iPods to post a $290 million profit and reach $7.06 billion in cash.

2006 — In TidBITS #826, we were talking about Aperture 1.1 and Apple Remote Desktop 3, and Kevin van Haaren contributed an article of Windows tips for Mac users, given the increasing use of Boot Camp and Parallels Workstation (soon to be renamed Parallels Desktop). What I find interesting about this is just how current it seems – Aperture 2.1 shipped only recently, and Apple Remote Desktop is still at version 3.2. Sure, there have been improvements, but two years just isn’t that long for a platform as mature as the Mac.

2007TidBITS #875 brought the news that Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard wouldn’t arrive until October 2007, attributing the delay to Apple’s need to devote more resources to the release of the iPhone in June 2007. The iPhone has been huge for Apple, and we expect a second-generation iPhone and the opening of the iPhone App Store in the relatively near future, two moves that could put the iPhone on the exponential sales curve pioneered for Apple by the iPod.

Looking Forward — That concludes our spin through history both ancient and recent, and I hope you’ve enjoyed contemplating how the Macintosh world has evolved since TidBITS first appeared on the scene back in 1990.

We never anticipated that we’d be publishing TidBITS for so long, but now that we’re at 18 years, clearly we need to aim for 20, and for 25 after that. Besides, we have to keep going, if only to maintain our position as the oldest continuously updated technology publication on the Internet (and the second oldest in general behind the Irish Emigrant News, which has archives going back to April 1987).

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