Saturday, March 17, 2007

Apple Summer of 95

As I may have mentioned here, back in 1995 I spent three months as a summer intern at Apple HQ in Cupertino.

I was buried deep in the educational technology research group so, trust me, I didn't work on anything you've heard of. It was a fun summer, though. They stuffed about 15 of us, a mix of grad students and contractors, in a room that was really long and narrow. They tried to make up for the cramped office space by supplying us with Nerf toys (the admin assistant for our group would sometimes come in and announce a Toys R' Us run, and did anybody want anything). I got about a dozen free T-shirts in three months. I also experienced my first earthquake, which went like this:

A slow rumble, like a truck going down a slowdown strip

All the non-California people: What was that?

All the California people: What was what?

None of which is why I brought this up. 1995 was near a low point for Apple, but even at that there were three or four good-sized company parties during the few months I was there. I'm talking about food, music, drinks, some entertainment, all in the inner courtyard of the Infinite Loop campus. I may be slightly exaggerating in memory, and I was assured that it was small-scale by later Valley standards, but it sure seemed elaborate to me.

In August 1995, Apple held what you'd have to describe as an anti-Windows 95 launch party. More of a morale booster, I guess. The thing I remember most is a screen projecting Windows 95, while some Apple guy pointed out it's flaws. As in, "Windows 95 will only let you have 256 characters in a path name, but if you have more than 15 directory levels, you can cause it to give you a really weird error message." Thin stuff, but enthusiastically received by a lot of people who wanted to whistle in the dark together.

Everybody there, I think, knew that Apple lost something big that day. Prior to Win95, the visual differences between Mac and PC were so clear that you could see the difference in a store just by looking at the two. Afterwards, you actually had to use them both for a while to learn the difference. This was a big change in the Mac/PC dynamic, and it took Apple about five years of flailing before they would come up with a decent response.