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InterviewBITS with John Miller

As you may know, we’re legally required to announce the winners of any of our drawings, which we normally spice up by offering a discount on the product being given away for those who didn’t win. For the drawing we ran to celebrate the 20th anniversary of TidBITS (see “TidBITS Celebrates 20 Years of Internet Publication,” 19 April 2010), I wanted to do something a little different and introduce you to the winner, John Miller of Fairbanks, Alaska, a retired research institute project manager.

Adam: Congratulations on winning our prize, John! First off, what do you think you’ll get with the $200?

John: I’m waiting for Apple to release a new version of the iPod touch, assuming it does have significant improvements, or the new iPhone, which certainly will have improvements.

Adam: In that case, I’ll send you a general Apple Gift Card for $200, and you can use it on whichever device most catches your fancy. Remember to engrave it with “From TidBITS”! On to the interview… How long have you been using the Mac?

John: I’ve been a Mac user since 1984. After hearing about the new Mac in the media, I checked out the 128K Mac at a local Apple dealer. That fall I bought the 512K Mac to use at work, and I’ve never looked back.

Adam: So you were able to use the Mac at work, even back in 1984? That’s impressive.

John: Although I’ve been retired since 1995, before that I was a project manager at a research institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Adam: Were you able to introduce Macs into the rest of your department?

John: Oh yes, since I had purchasing authority. One by one I bought a Mac for each member of the project. Over the years we bought the Mac Plus, SE/30, Mac II, IIcx, IIci, IIfx, and the PowerBook Duo 230 with its ponderous dock, as they became available.

Adam: Was the PowerBook Duo 230 your first portable? We had a PowerBook 100 before that, but Tonya adored her Duo 230 for a number of years in the early 1990s.

John: Now that I think of it, no. I do remember lugging a 17-pound Mac Plus in a shoulder harness from one terminal to another in O’Hare Airport on an extended business trip. That was how important a Mac was to the work we did. Yes, it did fit in an overhead bin. Later on, but before the Duo 230, we used an Outbound Laptop, which required ROMs from an older Mac. It was a quarter the size and half the weight of the Mac Plus, but the screen and battery life were not impressive.

Adam: How about networking? Did you network all your Macs?

John: Absolutely, and the productivity boost from using our own networked AppleTalk printers was astounding. They eliminated waiting as long as overnight for a print job from the mainframe line printer six floors below. We also didn’t have to submit drafts to the word processing center and wait in line for their output to edit, resubmit, etc. (To be fair, they were a pretty efficient and helpful bunch. And in due course they switched almost entirely to Macs, too.)

Since our AppleTalk network operated independently of the mainframe network, we had flexibility to add or remove machines by our own choices and timing. Not being connected to the mainframe network also meant we also could make software choices and installations independently, limited only by our budget. The IT folks weren’t even aware of our independent AppleTalk network for some time, but they deserve credit for not interfering when they did learn of it.

Adam: Did Macs spread out from your department?

John: Yes, as time went by, other project leaders caught on and soon Macs were sprouting up on every floor, for which I had no direct influence.

Adam: How about at home? What’s your current Mac, and what did it replace?

John: I currently do a lot of what I call research and writing on a 2008 Mac Pro, which replaced a Power Mac G3 that I keep meaning to get rid of but never do. Before that, I used a Quadra 660AV. And going even further back, before the Macs, at home I was heavily into the Apple /// and its 5 MB ProFile external hard disk. It was such fun running Catalyst, the first app switcher, and a premiere word processor called WordJuggler. I was mad at Steve for axing the ///, and I never experienced any of the problems the media reported on with loose chips.

Adam: What about the rest of your family? Were you a lone Mac user in a sea of PC users, or has everyone ended up with Macs as well?

John: Definitely the latter. My wife has her own 2008 21-inch iMac, and we travel with an old 17-inch PowerBook G4 that’s on its last legs. Before that, our laptop was a PowerBook G3 (Wallstreet), which was one of the best-designed laptops, in my biased opinion, since the Duo 230. It, too, is still limping along, and I’ve yet to dispose of it.

Somewhere along the line I was responsible for helping my daughter procure a Bondi Blue iMac, then later a 2007 20-inch iMac. I also helped my sister get an early eMac, and later a Mac mini. And although my granddaughter used a Performa 630 in college, she later married a Windows guy.

Adam: How long have you been reading TidBITS?

John: As far as I can tell, sometime in the early 1990s. I do not recall who introduced me, but probably a colleague on one of the early nets. I was hooked from the beginning.

Adam: I’m particularly glad to know that our prizewinner is a long-time fan. Your comment in email to me upon reading about our anniversary was most kind. You wrote, “You use the language so well – the prose sometimes seems intrinsically poetic. Even if your topics weren’t something dear to my heart, it might be tempting to read your articles for their sheer pleasure to the mind.”

John: Entirely deserved. I also appreciate TidBITS’s reviews of new software and hardware, and coverage of happenings in the Mac world, along with announcements of new Take Control books.

Adam: Holy cow, I see that you’ve bought 79 Take Control ebooks over the years too. Thanks for such loyal support. Is there anything you think we can do better?

John: I appreciate the moderation in TidBITS Talk, but I’d say that the moderators could cut off threads after the postings cease to provide useful information on the original topic.

Adam: Suggestion taken, and in the interests of following that advice, I’ll end the interview here as well. I appreciate your years of support for both TidBITS and Take Control, and I hope you enjoy your upcoming iPhone or iPod touch.

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