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Mike Evangelist points outhow far laptops have come from the days of the first Mac Portable, and in the process reminded me of my own little part in Apple history.

Way back in 1989 when the Portable was released, I was working at Apple UK, doing desktop support for a year while I waited to go back to college to do yet more philosophy. Like most Apple nuts of the time at the company, I was pretty insistent that I followed the “eat your own dog food” philosophy – whatever the newest, greatest Mac-tech was, we used it in a working environment. A later example of this came with the first internal release of Blue, the OS that a long while later became System 7, which I had installed on my work machine from day one.

(As an aside, this shows how the culture of Apple has changed over the years. I was pretty much the lowest of the low in terms of tech staff, yet I was given an “internal use only” copy of Apple’s next-generation, top secret OS on CD. Imagine that happening now.)

In IS&T (information systems and technology – Apple’s MIS department) we routinely got one of every new machine, so we could get familiar with how it worked. Most of them went into “The Play Room”, which was our director’s office converted into a place where employees were encouraged to come play with new products. Martin Baker (who was our director at the time) prefered to sit out among the troops in a cubicle, so volunteered his office for this use.

But I snaffled the Mac Portable before it got to the Play Room – in theory, part of my job was looking after the room, and I wanted the Portable for Other Uses. Here, after all, was a real portable Mac. Given that my job often involved walking around the office, and I needed to be able to test floor boxes and connections, I thought it would be a great idea to “eat our own dogfood”, stick all the software I used to test stuff on the Portable, and use it at the person’s desk, instead of taking away there Mac to test.

I think I lasted about a week carrying the thing around the building, before good sense and the ache in my arms made me decide that it wasn’t a great idea. It weighed just over 7kg, which made it not so much portable as luggable. This was largely thanks to one of the design strictures, which was that you should be able to get a full day’s work out of the machine on battery power alone. The only battery technology available at the time that could achieve that was lead-acid – basically the same batteries that power your car.

However, apart from this it still had some great design features. It was one of the first – if not THE first – machine to use an active matrix display, which meant that the screen was sharp and crisp compared to the portables of the time. It was also tough – very tough, and it was this toughness that led to my claim to a place in Apple history.

One day, as I was doing a machine inventory (the hard way – walking around with the Portable) I had perched the machine on the top wall of a cubicle, about 4-5 feet high. I accidentally knocked the machine, which sent it crashing to the floor, while the hard drive was spinning up. Uh-oh. I picked the Mac up, to find it not even scratched, and working absolutely perfectly.

Impressed with the machine’s toughness, I checked through the Apple internal mail system and found the email address for someone on the product team. I sent them a little mail, relating the tale, congratulating them on the machine’s toughness, and asking if this was a record for drop height. They replied that it was – so I promptly claimed the record for “Highest drop that a Mac had survived”. One that I still take pride in to this day.

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