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A Note About My Computing Background

Here’s a bit about my computing background and why I currently use a Mac as my primary development platform, in case anyone finds it interesting.

My first computer was a TI-99/4A. I taught myself BASIC on this machine in the late ’80s. (Designed in 1979, the 16-bit TI-99 was far ahead of its time, but poor management and marketing at Texas Instruments killed their computer division.)

Most of my elementary school classrooms had TI computers. Most of my secondary classrooms had pre-Mac Apple computers. In high school we had a computer lab consisting of IBM PS/2 machines.

My second computer was an IBM PS/2 with an 8086 CPU running at 8 MHz. I went much deeper into BASIC on this machine, and eventually purchased Microsoft QuickBasic in order to compile applications. I also taught myself x86 and x87 assembly language. Many of my programs really pushed the limits of this machine’s graphics and sound capabilities.

I eventually got a Pentium machine running Windows 95. I moved from BASIC to Visual Basic, and expanded my assembly language skills to include 32-bit protected mode. I learned the Windows API, ActiveX, DirectX, OpenGL, and TCP/IP.

During this period I also worked for a fortune 500 corporation doing network administration, infrastructure maintenance, and desktop support. This environment involved a good number of windows servers, Oracle, Netware, as well as an IBM AS/400 with both native and Windows-based terminals running Rumba. Most of their workstations were running Windows 95 or NT at the time. Desktops ran Microsoft Office. The entire accounting / inventory system ran on the AS/400 (AIX Unix). There were a number of industrial control systems running embedded software (PLCs, Ladder Logic, etc.)

It was around 2000 that I discovered the amazing but ill-fated BeOS. Here was clean, lightweight yet powerful platform based on a beautiful C++ API with POSIX support. This really opened my eyes to the layers of bloat and legacy baggage propping up Windows as an OS. I learned C++, wrote some apps, and enjoyed a small, vibrant, friendly, and amazingly open developer community. From a developer’s standpoint, it was like walking out of a cave into a bright, beautiful paradise.

The eventual demise of Be, Inc. taught me something interesting. Windows wasn’t dominant because it had a better design or better technology. It was the sheer level of entrenchment coupled with heavy-handed anti-competitive tactics that Microsoft relied on to keep Windows #1. The blinders were off, and I knew that better possibilities existed.

Many of those who started Be, Inc. had come from Apple Computer. It just so happened that Apple was making the transition to OS X around the same time that Be went out of business. Some Be’s engineers even went back.

I continued to explore different OSes. I played around with some small projects, as well as different flavors of Linux. Gentoo was a favorite. I also discovered FreeBSD, imho the best example of the “real thing” in servers (Linux = BSD + Hype (and GPL fanaticism)).

Around the same time, I also took a job where I was made responsible for managing a lab of computers running Mac OS X. I was new to Mac OS X as a domain controller, and it was a bit of a learning curve. But as they say, “no pain, no gain.” I bit the bullet and was rewarded immensely. What a discovered was a much more refined and integrated network administration experience. I also got to experience the beauty of MacOS X on the desktop from day-to-day. The UNIX underpinning was the icing on the cake.

Today I manage a campus network environment with both Windows and Mac servers, a Mac-based computer lab, and both Mac and Windows desktop support across different departments. Support issues between Windows and Mac are like night and day for the most part. There are at least two other network administrators for PC support, while I manage the Mac support by myself. This has had an influence, to the point that Mac has arguably become the computer of choice for the majority of students and many staff as well.

The Mac platform has proven itself to be worth the somewhat higher initial cost in hardware. The general lack of issues and top-to-bottom integration has won a lot of people over. The Mac platform has also proven to be advantageous when it comes to systems integration, leveraging open standards and cross-platform technologies. This has allowed us to develop and deploy a custom network access control system running on FreeBSD, completely integrated with our Mac-based user management. All of our core network services run on Mac OS X server, with the exception of SMB and Active Directory on a Windows server (solely for the Windows clients).

I highly recommend checking out the two links I posted earlier. I see a bright future ahead for the Mac platform. The Mac “ecosystem” is simply a cleaner, more fertile environment, which offers a better overall user experience in many cases. Switching to Mac is simply a matter of significant exposure and a willingness to try something different; it isn’t always easy, but it is well worth the effort.

Posted by Kevin H. Patterson - 2010-10-03 19:22.
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