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Mac and Windows compatibility through the decades

Fredric Paul | Jan. 22, 2014
A trip down memory lane: Macs and PCs haven't always gotten along, but the problem has largely gone away.

Mac Windows

I've always been an agnostic in the religious wars between Mac and PC. Reaching across the aisle separating Steve Jobs from Bill Gates hasn't always been easy. But unlike trying to be bi-partisan in Congress, mixing Macs and PCs has actually gotten less complicated and less annoying over the decades.

While primarily a PC user, I've almost always had Macs in my equipment mix, and have spent many years with a Mac as my primary computer. In the 1980s, there was a Fat Mac in my life. In the 1990s I had a PowerBook, and most recently I've used a MacBook Pro, and then a MacBook Air.

Fat Macs in the 1980s
To be honest, I don't remember the 80s all that well. But I seem to recall that not only were the Apple and Microsoft worlds completely separate, but it didn't seem like much of a problem. This was long before most folks were thinking about the Internet or email, and our idea of sharing files was mostly handing over a printout. After all, Macs used those plastic-encased 3.5-inch floppy discs while PCs still pretty much relied on the truly floppy 5.25-inch variety. I believe it was possible to share pure text files (PCs still didn't have graphical interfaces and couldn't deal with any kind of formatting) but I don't recall ever actually doing so.

Ugly Powerbooks in the 1990s
Luckily, things got a little better in the mid-1990s. At the time I was editor in chief of an IDG magazine called Electronic Entertainment that chronicled how CD-ROMs were going to change the world (I know, I know). Most of the games we covered ran only on PCs (not always even using Windows!), while the infotainment CD-ROMs were often Mac-only or hybrid versions which sometimes meant stuffing two separate disks in the same box.

The PowerBook 165 I used was no beauty queen or speed demon, but because we laid out the magazine using Macs, all the writers had to use Macs as well. At least the PowerBook ran Microsoft Word (the widely reviled Version 6, I believe) and thus could read the many documents freelancers sent in from their PCs.

I spent a lot of time moving files back and forth and fixing formatting glitches so our designers could lay out stories properly.

Fortunately, all the machines used the same kind of floppy discs, though PCs couldn't read discs formatted for the Mac. (Macs could sometimes read PC discs.)

It was a major hassle, and our solution finally came down to brute force. We made sure that everyone had both a Mac and a PC on their desk, and they used whichever one was more compatible with the task at hand. It was hardly elegant, but it worked.


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