The iPhone killed my inner nerd

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:

When I was a teenager, this time of year would be insufferable. My bedroom would be nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit without air conditioning, but it wasn’t even particularly hot outside. I had at least five tower PCs running inside my bedroom, all contributing a lot of heat to my tiny little room. Each performed its own role in my home network, with a file server, domain server, Exchange server, and media center PC among them. All of those tower PCs are now inside my pocket, thanks to the iPhone.

I used to run a full Active Directory with individual organizational units and push out group policies to manage my family’s local PCs. I had a proxy server set up to control web access, and revoked administrator rights to ensure my family never installed malicious software. All of our email went through my Exchange server, and I had a custom app that pulled mail from ISP and Hotmail POP3 accounts and filtered it through an assortment of anti-spam tools before it was allowed to hit an Exchange inbox. All of my family’s important documents were stored on a file server, backed up in a RAID array. I even used Zip drives for the really important stuff. I was a true IT administrator, and I was only 15.

All of these PCs were built by hand, with custom cases, cooling configurations, and my own selection of processors or RAM. I laughed at the thought of having to buy a Toshiba or Packard Bell PC, and opted for AMD’s Athlon 64 processors. I’d build powerful gaming rigs and spend hours writing scripts to get a better field of view in games, or a slight advantage by squeezing out every single drop of performance by altering textures per map. I would enter contests and win better processors or RAM, upgrade my PC and push the older components down to my servers.

These servers were so powerful at the time that I was able to get push email on my phone, something you couldn’t really do back in 2002 unless you were a business using BlackBerry devices. I’d sit smugly reading my emails on a train with my iPAQ or one of the original HTC Pocket PC devices with a stylus. I couldn’t download apps from an app store for these phones because those stores didn’t even exist yet. Instead, I’d find apps on the internet and load them on, modifying the registry along the way to tweak things. I used to spend hours browsing on XDA-Developers for the latest ROMs, downloading and installing them to tweak and test the latest software and firmware. It was an exciting time, and I miss it.

All of that tinkering and hacking things ended for me shortly after the iPhone arrived, and the closest I’ve come to it recently is playing around with a Raspberry Pi and Kodi.


Apple’s App Store and the iPhone have altered computing massively, beyond my own examples. Nokia, BlackBerry, Microsoft, Motorola, and Palm have all had their businesses disrupted by the iPhone. The iPhone’s impact has also shaped how we use PCs today, and our expectations of computing in general. Apple’s iPhone has been on the market for 10 years now, and it hasn’t experienced a single instance of a mass malware attack like we’ve seen twice in the past month on Windows PCs.

Apple’s locked down and sandboxed environment for apps is a new model that has succeeded with consumers and security. Sure, there have been vulnerabilities, bugs, and near misses, but nobody has been forced to pay $300 to unlock their iPhone after a huge malware attack.

I’ve been in Tom’s shoes. Some days, I miss the old days of building computers by hand and swapping out everything: RAM, drives, graphics cards, processors.

In fact, at some point in time, I have owned at least one of each of the devices that Tom refers to.

I still thinker with electronics. Raspberry Pis especially as well as a few Arduinos, etc.

And I recently started laying out ideas to build a new Linux workstation from scratch, but it’s not like it used to be in the old days.