It was 21 years ago today...

When I was back in Ireland for Christmas, I helped a friend to clean his parent’s PC of spyware. There were about 30 separate pieces of malware lurking inside the computer. His cousin’s computer had over 100.

I guess I’m part of the tech-support generation. I like to help people to clean up the mess. Last time I was in Arizona, I tired to help my mother-in-law to get the inside of her Dell scrubbed clean.

Spyware and adware has become a royal pain in the butt for the average PC owner. I’m sure the problem could be cut in half if more people used Firefox instead of Internet Explorer but, at a fairly basic level, Windows itself is responsible for the ease of infection.

Now, as a Mac user, I could feel pretty smug about this situation. But I don’t. I don’t get any kind of schadenfreude from seeing regular people getting annoyed with computers. I make websites for a living. Anything that puts people off using computers is bad for business. As it is, most people associate the internet with frustrating pop-up windows and viruses.

I can’t help but wonder if the situation would be any different if Apple were today’s computing behemoth.

Exactly 21 years ago today, Apple released the Macintosh computer. The arrival of this revolutionary computer was heralded by an equally revolutionary television commercial that aired during the superbowl, promising that “1984 won’t be like 1984”.

Things didn’t go quite as Apple planned. Bill Gates ripped off the WIMP interface (Windows Icons Mouse Pointer) and conquered the world with Windows. Now the Macintosh computer occupies what is effectively a niche market while Microsoft has, in many ways, become Big Brother.

Now, there’s a whiff of change in the wind. People are getting excited about the new Mac mini. Windows users who are frustrated with the insecurities of their current operating system can now get a powerful Mac at a great price.

I’m not suggesting that Apple is about to become a serious threat to Microsoft’s dominance. At the very least though, Apple has become a viable alternative for a lot of people.

The Mac mini is a nice little package. It strikes just the right balance of size, power and price to make it appealing across the board. It’s not perfect but, for the price, it’s a good, all-round machine.

The versatility of the Mac mini might just make it into a decent-sized hit. Already, people are talking about using it as an entertainment centre.

Personally, I think it’s the perfect reverse-entertainment centre. Instead of being a machine for viewing movies and listening to music, I think it’s better suited to making movies and music and managing digital photos. Don’t underestimate the power of the iLife suite. It comes free with every Mac mini and there’s nothing to match it on an out-of-the-box Windows machine.

A lot of Apple fans are hoping that this new machine will further help the healthy financial fortunes of the company. Personally, I don’t really care. I don’t own stock in the company. As long as Apple continues to produce high-quality products, I’ll be happy.

What excites me is the thought that my friends, neighbours and family members can find out for themselves that using a computer can be fun and creative instead of frustrating and toilsome.

Diversity in the desktop (and browser) market is a good thing. If nothing else, maybe the combined strength of Firefox and the new Mac mini will force Microsoft to get their act together. Viruses and spyware may be a part of everyday online life for the majority of people but that doesn’t make it right.

I don’t think the Mac mini is pushing the boundaries of home computing but at least it’s generating some excitement. It’s like 1984 all over again.

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Previously on this day

18 years ago I wrote The Mirror Project | Jeremy Keith | In The Black Bunker

There’s a new picture of me up on The Mirror Project. I took the picture yesterday at band practice in the aptly named Black Bunker rehearsal room.