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Back to the 80s: "Apple Computer: Beginnings - Photographs by Bill Gallery"

Here's a verbal preview of "Apple Computer: Beginnings - Photographs by Bill Gallery," showing at the TSP Digital Lounge at 252 Newbury Street. I wrote this introductory paragraph to give a little bit of external context for Bill's work.

His work opens tomorrow (12/4) and is showing until mid-January, 2009. We hope you'll drop in.

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It's a fun challenge to try to figure out when Bill's photos were taken without being given the answer.

My guess? Sometime between 1987 and 1989. The machines on endless racks of Macs are likely to be Mac SEs, released in March 1987. John Sculley is still at the helm and the infamous Steve Jobs is nowhere to be seen, which puts it after 1985 and before 1993. The picture with Sculley in front of the then-current line up of Macs shows what is likely to be the Mac IIx, IIcx and SE30, placing that image at 1989. Based on the haircuts, I'd definitely say the 80s. I was probably 16 years old, playing with my family's second Mac - a IIci.

What's more important than the dates is the importance of the era. This is Apple post-Jobs (v1) but before Silicon Valley had even heard of the Internet. There's still a sense of youthful optimism, but then out of the corner of your eye, you start to see more suits enter the picture. I'm sure that as Apple entered its 2nd decade, words like "ROI" and "Process Engineering" were being thrown around somewhat uncomfortably for the people that had been there since the beginning.

This is an Apple where old businessmen and Silicon Valley probably met for the first time, but likely never reconciled their differences. These differences are ones you can probably equate to many corporations today: the old boys club vs. the new gender-diverse knowledge workers; bean counters vs. blue-sky technologists; and making a profit vs. doing something cool.

Today, Apple is a company where technological innovation and business acumen go hand in hand. Somehow, in the 20 years that have transpired, Apple has been able to take the "vs" and replace it with "&". Only one obvious imbalance remains: the Board of Directors is still almost all men, with the exception of Andrea Jung - perhaps a reflection of corporate America more than Apple.

Those 20 years were tumultuous. Badly designed computers and poor business decisions that almost killed not only a company but an entire computing platform as well. The licensing of the OS to clone makers - now no more. The PowerPC era - now no more. It's hard to imagine that the Apple of today came from the enthusiastic and somewhat misguided adolescent shown in Bill's photos.

Yet it did. The Apple brand floats above any one computer, any one invention, any group of employees, and when you look at it from the perspective of Bill's lens, even above any one CEO. Apple's here only because of everything that has come before. Standing in the fractured light and shadows of the glass facade of Boston's newest Apple Store, I can't help to wonder out loud, "What will happen next?"

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