Macworld Pakistan ~ iTribute: Talking Practical Mac with Sabeen Mahmud

Sabeen Mahmud, ran a non-profit organization called Peace Niche, also known by its more famous nomen T2F, which works in the areas of arts & culture and science, technology and activism. This community space runs as a café, a bookshop, an art gallery and a multi-purpose performing arts space hosting lectures, talks, theatres, music, film-screenings and pretty much everything they can get away with.

IDG’s team had the opportunity to sit down with Sabeen Mahmud who was also one of the oldest users of brand Apple in Pakistan. So here’s a little sneak peak for you on what she had to say about her life with Apple.

On Using Apple Over the Years:

I met my first Macintosh in 1989. I was doing my O-levels at that time. I went to an organization called Solutions Unlimited to do a summer course in basic programming. We were using BBC Computers in school back then and I didn’t know about the Mac as I had never seen one. I walked in and saw this 9” Mac – and I was just blown away.

I had a DOS Machine at that time and I was confounded by it. All I knew how to do was to check directories and load one game. I saw this Mac – at that time, when you would boot it, you would get a smiley Mac and this lovely startup chime that we still have – and I simply fell in love with it. I bought my first Mac in 1990. It was for 47,500 rupees back then; for a 9” black & white screen computer with no hard drive. It had one floppy drive and a speed of 1 MHz and an insignificant amount of RAM. That’s what I started with and it changed my life.

Back then, very few people were using Macs but there was a community of musicians, designers and videographers who were dedicated users of Macs back then. Once I got this Mac, I taught myself how to use Mac Draw and Mac Pain and Mac Write. During that time, Solution Unlimited, Zaheer Kidvai’s company, was the one of the first Apple dealers and they had all these amazing clients like Tina Sani, Arshad Mahmud, Sajjad Ali and Ardeshir Cowasjee.  I used to go and repair their computers and get sent to fix whatever problem they faced with computers like booting and data saving etc. I learned a lot of troubleshooting on the job. I was quite proud of the fact that there was nothing that I was unable to fix. Now when we have OS 10, things changed quite a bit and they are a lot more stable now.

Watch this exclusive interview on IDG WebStudio TV
I don’t have a technical background. Anything I have learned, it’s on my own. I did learn a bit of programming at school and then at Solutions Unlimited I learned more. But I’m pretty much self-taught. Interested in all technical things, I did a multimedia and basic programming course. I have a conceptual understanding of a lot of technical things. Computers are essential to all, with the work that we do. I find anything other than Macs supremely ugly. There is some superficiality as well about things being beautiful. Therefore, we use Macs for everything here.

With advancements in technology, things got a lot easier and the tools that we use have always facilitated me. Earlier, we used to get CDs with software. I buy most of my software, especially the ones from independent developers – I want to give them my money. Most of my spending revolves around gadgetry and software. I have developed software. I run companies. I know how hard it is to do work creative work that can easily be copied, pirated and stolen.
On Apple Trends and Ease of Use:

I was at MacWorld when Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, in that room with 4000 people. I came back to Pakistan to find out it was priced more than a hundred thousand in Pakistan. I saw the types of people who were buying that product and it was surprising, as they were not connected to this platform, they have had no history of Apple, whatsoever. It’s been a very interesting, anthropological research to see the sort of people who now use Apple products. I think the MacBook Air and iPhone really changed the fortunes of Apple in countries where people tend to show off class and style. iPhone was released and then iPhone 3 and 5 – and I used to go to markets just to observe what’s going on. There are a lot of people who are unlocking phones, the way it’s being sold. It’s very fascinating. But yes, it does feel like a status thing more than the genuine love of being an Apple user.

I think Apple does make tools for the creative community and that has always been the niche. Steve Jobs is famously contemptuous of the enterprise. They have had a single-minded focus on the consumer and I think that focus has been a little annoying to some of us lately – I remember the time when I used to open up computers and install RAM. Now you can’t do any of that because you are restricted and I think that’s been lost in the race for simplicity, which is what makes Apple beautiful – but I feel power users who are not enterprise level but somewhere in between need to have some access to the insides of the machine.

I think there could be a slightly different strategy, for that you don’t have to go enterprise level to cater to power users. Because those of us who have been honing our skills and using these tools for the last 20+ years, want a little more power from our tools. I think there are ways to better in user-experience and interface design to shield things from those who don’t need them and expose them to those who need them. It’s not for us to figure out since they are the guys who have all this money and all the resources. So they shouldn’t alienate their pro base. For example, you can’t change your battery on your own, which you should be able to do.


Talking about Steve Jobs:

People were like “Oh he treated his employees in such and such a way!” Look at the work he managed to get out of them. He didn’t have the time and patience to tip-toe around everyone. He would just be who he is and there are as many lovely and humane stories about him as there are the obnoxious ones. So he had this ability – it’s famous about him that he had a reality distortion field. Seriously, I felt it when I was there in 2007 when he was unveiling the iPhone, there was this aura and I was in it for three days. I felt myself coming out of it and then I got irritated about certain things, though, for those three days I was a part of that, which really is a cult.
Gadgets Sabeen Owns:

Sabeen owned a Macbook Air, which she had for three years. She used an iPad mini because the size is far more conducive compared to the iPad, and reading plus watching Netflix and all TV shows is much more convenient. Lastly, she possessed an iPhone 5 which she had been using for the last few years.


About MacWorld Pakistan:

I’m excited to hear that the MacWorld is coming. I’m an early subscriber. There have been amazing people who have been a part of Mac and Apple’s Journey, whose editorial work I really look up to, Jason Snell and others. These are the gods of the Mac universe. Even now whenever there is an Apple event, I’ll always have their commentary running in one window because they are experts and they know the essentials; and they have been through. Now it’s taken for granted but that old stuff is golden.

The IDG team, on Sabeen’s death anniversary 24th April, would like to pay a tribute to her and her love for Apple! We had been in conversation with her and the team to officially launch Macworld Pakistan in collaboration with T2f. The Macworld launch event is certainly not going to be the same without you! But, thank you Sabeen – we couldn’t have had an Apple Ambassador better than you!

With love, the IDG team
(the interview was conducted in late 2014)