The Mac at 30: Tales from the Berkeley Mac Users Group

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Before the Genius Bar and before Apple’s own online forums, when the Mac was young and its users needed help, there were user groups: Part social clubs and part volunteer tech-support staffs, they disseminated tips, troubleshooting advice, news, and arguments about the Mac. They distributed loads of early Mac shareware and became important stops for vendors promoting new Mac products (including one Steve Jobs when he was trying to get Next Computer off the ground).

And in that early Mac age, no user group was bigger or more important than the Berkeley Macintosh Users Group, known to all as BMUG. Founded in 1986 and lasting for 14 contentious years, it at one point reportedly boasted more than 13,000 users, with satellite groups in Boston and Japan. While the original group formally dissolved in 2000, a smaller group (BMUGWest) still meets. And so, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Mac, Macworld joined the group for dinner after one of its meetings and asked a few of the more senior members to look back over their three decades with the Mac.

How they got started with the Mac

macintosh plus

Macintosh Plus

Raines Cohen (1984: Student, UC Berkeley; 2014: Regional organizer, Cohousing California): I had been using an Apple II since 1979. I saw my first Mac at the Boston Computer Society meeting in January 1984, the week after Apple’s announcement. I got my first Mac—a 128K original—while working for a developer that summer. I helped start the BCS Mac group before going off to school.

I came out to Cal [the University of California, Berkeley] in the fall of 1984, and I went to the Access Computer Store in Berkeley, which had just started selling the Mac. And I mentioned I’d been doing user groups back in the Boston area before, and they told me about some other guys who’d had the same idea, and so in the fall of ’84, the Berkeley Macintosh Users Group got started.

It was life changing. After dropping out of Cal to help run BMUG, I reenrolled as a geography major, but dropped out again. I ended up working at MacWeek magazine and then editing NetProfessional magazine.

David Morgenstern (1984: Student, San Francisco State College; 2014: Blogger, ZDNet; cantorial soloist): When I went to university in the 1970s, I was a music major, studying to be a classical singer. But I never became the singer I wanted to be. At the same time, I got married, had a child, so I got a job in the acquisitions department of an academic library. It was in the library that I started using computers. That’s what I was doing during my BMUG years.

My first Mac? I do remember watching the Super Bowl ad, but the first one I got was the “Fat Mac”—the 512K Mac. I first went to a BMUG meeting in 1985, and I joined the group. There were weekly meetings back then. I worked as the librarian of the group, then I joined the organizing committee, and then I became chairman of the board in 1990.

Anyone who used MacPaint and MacWrite had their minds blown. The Mac GUI was so direct and understandable, it made a joke of the PC and Apple II platforms.

I still remember the thrill I felt when I saw the first demo of HyperCard. I spent $1000 on a 512K memory-upgrade card just so I could run HyperCard; that was a huge amount of money for me.

Ron Hipschman (1984: Exhibit developer, Exploratorium, San Francisco; 2014: Staff scientist, Exploratorium, San Francisco): I was a member of the Homebrew Computer Club, the original computer club, along with Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. They were pretty quiet in the meetings, I have to say. Jobs never said anything, but Wozniak participated a little bit here and there.

There was that one night where [Wozniak] held up his Radio Shack prototype board with a 6502 [8-bit microprocessor] and said, “Hey, I just built this. Anyone want the schematics? Oh, and here is the source-code listing for the BASIC that I wrote for it as well.” I wish I still had those.

We met at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center auditorium (which I think has since been torn down—a real crime). People did demos out in the lobby. If you wanted to buy something, you would have to go down to the gas station; Stanford wouldn’t let us buy or sell anything on campus, so we’d go down to the Sharon Park 76 station and do our deals there.


Macintosh IIci

My first Mac was a Mac Plus. That wasn’t my first computer. I had a CompuPro, running CP/M, before then. I waited until the Mac got a SCSI interface, so I could have a hard disk. My first hard disk was a 60MB drive, which was pretty big back then. You could not possibly fill a 60MB hard drive. I probably paid $500 or $600 for it.

Since then I’ve had a Mac Plus, a Mac IIcx, a [Quadra] 840AV, a G4 tower, and eventually a Mac Pro.

I went to original BMUG meetings in Berkeley, but since I lived in San Francisco, I was getting tired of going over to Berkeley. So some of us decided that we should have a meeting in San Francisco, since I worked at the Exploratorium; we called the group BMUGWest. We had a nice venue there at the time, called the McBean Theater, in the Exploratorium’s original location at the Palace of Fine Arts. So we started meeting there around February of 1989. And we’ve been meeting there since then.

David Schwartz (1984: Radio telephone operator, Pacific Bell; 2014: Campus Shared Service IT department, UC Berkeley): In ’89 I was selling home-stereo gear at a high-end audio store in Berkeley and decided I’d go back to school. And I thought, “Well, this time I should have a computer for school.” So I bought a Mac SE and an ImageWriter.

I believe I called the BMUG Helpline to get help with making mailing labels in Microsoft Word. The guy who answered the phone said, “Why do you want to make mailing labels in Word? You should be using FileMaker. Come on down, I’ll show you how.” So that was the start of a long love affair with FileMaker and Macintosh.

I ended up hanging out at BMUG all the time. I was on the board of directors—went all the way through until the very end. I’m still doing BMUG West and enjoying every minute of it.

Duane Straub (1984: IT department, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; 2014: Campus Shared Service IT department, UC Berkeley): In 1984, I saw my first Mac 128K at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. At that time, they cost about $3500, I believe, and I thought, “That’s really neat, but I will never buy one myself.” Eventually, Livermore became the world’s largest Macintosh site with over 15,000 Macs.

A couple of years later, I went back to college, got an information systems management degree, and got into the ranks of doing computer support at Livermore. Within a couple of years at that, many of my coworkers considered me the top tech at the world’s largest Macintosh site. I really liked that. I was living high.

The first computer that I owned personally was a Mac Plus. I still have that computer today. It has a 33MHz 68030 processor with 8MB of RAM.

Cal Simone (1984: Record producer; 2014: Jungian coach, writer, public speaker): I go way back. I operated a UNIVAC 1 and then went to mainframes. I saw the Super Bowl ad in 1984—it said that on January 24, something-something-something would happen, something about the Macintosh, and I said, “What the hell is a Macintosh?”

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