Cutting through the ballyhoo
John J. Anderson
The shorn, brainwashed drones sit motionless in row after benumbed row. In tight close-up on the oppressive view-screen, an awful, sneering face spouts empty Newspeak slogans while computerized rhetoric scrolls by left and right.
The hall is blue and motionless. Suddenly, an athletic blonde woman appears, running down an aisle towards the apparition of Big Brother. In her hands there is grasped a heavy sledge of the type that is used in Olympic competition. She stops and sets. Obviously practiced in the hammer throw, she swings the tool away. We watch it fly in slow motion--we watch it shatter the viewscreen to bits in a flash of light. We see for the first time a glimmer of feeling cross the faces of the multitudes. Their mouths simultaneously gape into slackjawed amazement.
Fade to white. And the words "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984." Orwell that Ends Well Hype, certainly. And just the tip of a multimillion dollar ad campaign iceberg that included lavish 12-page four-color inserts in Time and other major noncomputer magazines. The launch of Apple Macintosh was quite a media event.
And yet something about the commercial seems more than mere hype--seems to have hit home somehow. Directed by Ridley Scott (director of the modern cult classic Blade Runner), the 60-second spot touched a nerve across the nation, even though you could count the total airings of the spot on the fingers of one hand. Something about it--its mood, its tone, its timeliness, its youth, its feeling of liberation, its likeness to music video--captured the public imagination.
And perhaps the commercial touched a nerve with more than a few computer users--those who feel frustrated, shackled by current software restrictions. Perhaps it excited a few potential buyers--those who have wanted a micro but felt oppressed by the complexity of existing systems. Personally, I identified closely with the drones, and not just because they were mouth-breathers. If I found that something truly better was available I would hurl that hammer myself.
Mac Under the Microscope
But you must be careful about buying promises, and that is exactly what the 1984 commercial attempted to sell. In its current form, the Macintosh is the distilled embodiment of a promise that software can be intuitively easy to use, while remaining just as powerful as anything else around.
That's a tall promise.
By this time you have undoubtedly already read and/or heard about the Macintosh machine. And what you have heard is very likely to have been praise, though you may not be so clear on if or why such praise is merited. The honeymoon phase is still in progress, you see, and most reviewers, it seems, are so moved, so awestricken, so swept away by the excellent features of the Mac, they are willing to gloss over the not-so-excellent.
And there are more than a few of those.
Don't be misled, however. You will not be reading a pan of the Apple Macintosh in the pages of Creative Computing. We are quite impressed with the machine, emphatically enthusiastic about its philosophical underpinnings, very hopeful for its future. We just feel it is about time the hard questions were asked, and answered alongside the starry-eyed hoopla. It is time for a good hard look at Macintosh under a piercing and objective light.
Objective Light on the Subject
Whether or not the Macintosh is actually a breakthrough, it surely looks like one. It doesn't look like much of anything that has come before (with the possible exception of the moribund Vectrex videogame unit, which, if painted beige, would bear a startling resemblance).
The Macintosh is small. With a recessed handle in the top of the main unit and a total weight, complete with internal CRT, of 22 lbs., the Mac qualifies as a bona fide transportable, meaning you can move it around relatively easily when the time comes. Drop it into its custom-made rucksack (a $100 option), and take off.
Sit it on your desk, and you will quickly notice how little room it takes up. Its footprint is barely larger than a sheaf of papers. And though the unit is rather bizarre-looking at first glance, it is also rather handsome. Its looks grow on you.
Attached by a modular phone cable to the main unit is the detached Macintosh keyboard. This is a 58-key, full-stroke Selectric-style layout (see Figure 1), with a somewhat stiff but very professional feel.
Based on my experience with the Mac, I think it is unlikely that you will ever be pulling the keyboard onto your lap. Still, the detached design is desirable. It makes comfortable positioning of the keyboard entirely independent of comfortable positioning of the screen, and that is extremely important. At the same time, the keyboard can be pushed away in an instant, so that you may reclaim precious desk space when access to the keyboard is not immediately necessary.
Noticeably lacking on the Macintosh keyboard are special function keys and directional cursor movement keys. These are replaced by the mouse pointer peripheral from which the Mac receives all directional inputs. I am told that cursor movement keys appear on the add-on numeric keypad (a $130 option), but these are not read interchangeably with mouse movement. We shall be examining this question more closely up ahead. As for special function keys, the idea is that the mouse renders them unnecessary. I'm all for that.
Then there is the mouse itself. Though it is a tiny thing, better clear at least a square foot or so of desk space for moving it around. The more room you make for it, the easier control of the mouse becomes.
As you move the mouse, an on-screen cursor mimics your moves. At first, controlling the screen cursor with the mouse is anything but intuitive. The mouse seems cumbersome, and hard to control for detailed work. (Unlike the Summa Graphics mouse, by the way, tracing is out of the question.) With a few days of practice, however, working the cursor with the mouse becomes second nature. (Once you learn to lift the mouse when you run out of desk space and reposition it so that you have the room you need, you have learned the major secret of effective mousing.)
The mouse has a mechanical device concerning which button to press when the time comes to press a button. It is impossible to make the wrong choice. When designing a mouse for ease of use, a single button helps considerably.
Double-clicking the single mouse button frequently also acts as a short-cut mechanism, to obtain certain other functions.
The System Unit
The major business goes on inside the main unit of the Macintosh, so let's get a closer look at it.
Your first concern about the system component is bound to concern the CRT display. Is a 9" diagonal screen truly big enough to allow extended viewing without fatigue or strain?
The answer in this case is yes, and the reason is the super-high screen resolution of 512 x 342 monochrome pixels. Add to this the fact that nearly all text reads out in black type on a white background, emulating an actual printed page, and you have an exceptionally legible display. Not once have I found myself lamenting the diminutive screen size. Indeed, after a few minutes on the Mac, you will dismiss that question for good.
Also appearing on the front of the main unit is the doorless disk drive slot. A single-sided 3-1/2" Sony microfloppy drive is standard and internal to the system unit of the Mac. Each disk can hold approximately 400K of data on a single side. In addition, the disks themselves can take much greater abuse than conventional floppies.
Each disk has a spring-actuated sliding aluminum cover on it, which the Macintosh opens automatically when the disk is inserted, and shuts automatically upon ejection. Thus the head slot is protected at all times. The disk case is rigid, and as you may have heard before, "slips into a shirt pocket."
Apple uses a proprietary technology to get 400K onto a side, nearly 100K more than the conventional Sony format. More importantly, this effectively eliminates the possibility of third-party Macintosh "work-alikes." This is a good indication of the savvy that went into the design of the Macintosh.
At times, when a disk is spinning in the drive, it sounds jarringly like a cheap friction toy. This is because the Macintosh drive utilizes a variable RPM speed. The result is the ability to write more data to the outer disk tracks. Drive rotation speed varies from 390 to 600 RPM, depending on the track.
No read/write light is necessary on the Mac drive; when a disk is in the drive you cannot remove it without undertaking rather drastic measures. Nor is there a disk eject latch or button. Disk ejection is controlled entirely through software, as we shall discover ahead.
If, as a result of some emergency, you must manually eject a disk from the drive, you can effect this by pressing the point of an unbent paper clip into a small hole beneath the drive slot.
The only other features of the system unit front side are the brightness knob and the keyboard input jack. The brightness knob is the only CRT control externally available on the Mac, and the only one necessary. The keyboard input consists of a modular telephone jack.
Now let's flip the Mac system unit around for a look at its rear panel.
Here we see the power switch and six connector jacks (Figure 2). These connect to AC power, the mouse, printer, optional second disk drive, optional modem or AppleBus network line, and optional external sound amplifier. You will also notice the Macintosh nameplate back here on the rear of the computer. Why? My guess is to keep the front of the machine as nondistractive as possible. The Apple Logo appears up front and constitutes identification enough.
Some things you won't find on the rear panel of the Mac are an expansion bus, parallel port, or video output jack. We shall return to the issue of these omissions. Standard DB-25 RS-232 serial connection is available, however, using the printer port.
The top right side of the back panel sports a battery compartment. The special 4.5 volt alkaline battery maintains the built-in clock/calendar, as well as serving to keep user-selectable settings in memory between power-ups. The documentation estimates a battery life of approximately two years.
Inside the main unit is an unimposing 9" x 9" circuit board with a 32-bit 68000 central processor chip residing upon it. The CPU runs at 7.83 MHz, which is fast indeed (see (Figure 3) for the benchmark test results). The Mac sports 128K of RAM and 64K of ROM. Six special chips are most responsible for compactness of the motherboard. Each in itself is the equivalent of an actual circuit board.
A major benefit of Apple's advanced motherboard design is not only compactness, but the fact that the system does not require a cooling fan. If there is one thing that drives me to distraction on certain micros which shall remain nameless, it is the constant hum of their cooling fans. Computers can, and should, run in total silence. Except when we want them to make noise, of course.
The Macintosh has four-channel multi-octave sound synthesis capability. This capability can create beautiful music and can certainly be translated into state-of-the-art speech synthesis as well. Macs are bound to become the most talkative microcomputers around before too long.
Though is theory you can drive any RS-232 serial printer with a Macintosh, I can't imagine why you would want to do so. The only printer that fully supports all Mac's potential is the Apple Imagewriter. This printer was introduced last year as an accessory for the Lisa and the IIe, but was designed solely to serve as the de facto Macintosh printer. In this case again, Apple has insured exclusivity (at least for a time) in its design of the Macintosh printer interface. Until third-party manufacturers decide to create their own Mac-compatible printers, Apple has the market sewn up.
The Imagewriter is a serial interface, impact dot-matrix machine, capable of a top speed of 120 cps. Its vertical dot spacing is 1/72" minimum, which is very tight. Line spacing is selectable in increments of an incredible 1/144" minimum. The result is crisp and fully-formed looking characters and graphics.
Paper width can run from 3" to 10", and is acceptable in single sheets, roll, or fanfold pinfeed formats. The printer is easy to load, and a special cut sheet slot aids friction-feed applications.
During operation the Imagewriter is relatively noisy, but the machine is totally silent in the standby mode. The ribbon cartridge is quick and simple to change.
Conveniently, paper feed, is bidirectional--forward or reverse, without the threat of jamming. The control buttons are well placed and designed for ease of use. You can execute a form feed, for example, then reselect for on-line operation before the form feed has completed. When the paper stops, the select light will come on, indicating the printer is back on-line. This kind of attention to detail makes working with the Imagewriter a pleasure.
The unit has three print modes: draft, standard, and quality. Naturally, draft is the fastest, and most closely approximates the output of the average dot-matrix printer. On the Mac, the standard mode reproduces text and graphics just as they appear on the hi-res screen. In the quality mode, a second pass is made for every pass of the standard mode. This makes the resulting copy darker and, more important, fills in the dots of the matrix for a fully-formed look.
A la carte, the Imagewriter lists for $695, which is a good price considering its quality and features. However, bundled with the Mac, the unit goes for $200 less. I am quite sure that most Macs are ordered with Imagewriter. To do otherwise at the price would be sheer folly.
Macintosh documentation is uniformly superlative. It is colorful, thorough, lively, and fun to read throughout. IBM could take a lesson from Apple on this account. Included with the documentation is a training disk and audio cassette. The cassette is from Windham Hill Records and includes some very mellow jazz piano. Like the Mac itself, the Mac documentation exudes simplicity and class.
As we shall now discover, the Macintosh is very easy to use, just as the documentation is easy to read. The entire goal was to create a system that is powerful, yet utterly painless to use.
Toward a Philosophy of Software
Though the story of the Mac is undeniably a story of hardware breakthroughs, it is just as much a history of solid software effort. The Macintosh is the first piece of consumer hardware to display a defined software philosophy. Before we can truly understand the Mac, we must make a swift digression to grasp that philosophy and trace the software history of the Mac.
Indeed, the hardware technology necessary to bring you the Macintosh is quite fresh. But the basic concepts underlying Mac software are more than ten years old. It has taken until 1984 to realize them in a relatively low-cost machine.
Yet the imagery used in the Macintosh 1984 commercial is quite apt. In the category of software, the Mac is truly an innovator and may actually get its chance to bring down the well entrenched big blue guard. The system software, as well as the two existing pieces of truly finished applications software currently available for the Macintosh, MacPaint and MacWrite, are the direct result of five years of Apple research and development with the Lisa machine and its software. And that research was based on an earlier five years of effort begun and built upon at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center).
As a result, even the most severe critic might agree that Macintosh software sets new precedents for ease of use. Harnessing the power of formidable bit-mapped graphics resolution, along with mouse pointer technology, the user is guided through available functions using three main methods: the icon, the window, and the pull-down menu (Figure 4). All rely on the mouse pointer peripheral, rather than the keyboard, for input.
Icons are pictures that represent ideas. On the Mac, a disk is depicted as a small picture of a disk. Deletions move into a small garbage can. Word processing documents appear as tiny typewritten pages. Graphics documents appear with tiny paint-brushes on them. Systems programs take the form of mini-Macs.
Now if we assume that a computer user knows how to read, which may or may not be a safe assumption, why use icons when you could just as well spell things out? Well for one thing, there is an immediate spatial recognition of icons, and as lexical cues are used alongside them, the icons act to help the system work more "intuitively."
Want to "throw something away?" Use the mouse to pick it up and put it in the garbage can--it's that simple. Point, click, reposition, click. And until you "put the garbage out," you can go back into the can and retrieve anything you have put there.
Windows are just that: they are movable, re-sizable viewports into documents, applications, and functions. Multiple windows can be opened and closed, stacked on the screen, then selected with the mouse. They can be tailored to sit side by side or one on top of another. You may choose to keep your desk as clear or as cluttered as you want it to be.
The idea here again is to make things work more intuitively. The more the computer can appear as an actual "electronic desk top," the easier it will be to use. Windows allow you to "shuffle papers" just as you would on an actual desk. In fact, there is probably a correlation between the messiness of a user's real life desk top and his Macintosh desk top.
Pull-down menus make choosing command functions as simple as possible. A list of command headings appears on the ruler at the top of the screen. Each heading indicates a category of command. By pointing the mouse to a heading, then pressing the mouse button, the available commands under that heading "pull-down." You may then scroll down through the menu. When the mouse highlights your choice, you let go of the button and that command is implemented.
And folks, take it from me, one pull-down menu is worth a thousand modes.
Socrates' wisdom cannot be responsibly challenged, and his statement concerning knowledge and ignorance certainly applies here. The simpler we can make a tool, the more the uses to which it will suggest itself. But perhaps we can take the advice even a bit further. Perhaps true wisdom comes by sifting the pertinent facts from the impertinent facts.
Impertinent facts are a distraction from the knowledge at hand and detract from insight--detract from clarity in the expression of what we do care to know. For a pertinent example, we might consider the concept of "modes" in conventional computer software.
In a typical word processor of any real power, there are multiple command modes, each with its own set of subcommands. To make even the simplest change to existing text, you must know all about available command modes and how they work. Every minute of the sidereal day someone makes a mistake on a computer and mutters some variation on the line, "Shoot. Wrong mode."
Or consider the idea of embedded command codes. As we scroll our way through life, we insert numerous tiny monstrosities like .pa and .np and .ul into our text, and accept these as commonplace, necessary evils. They are not English. They have nothing to do with the actual matters at hand. Yet they are frequently the root cause of wasted revision time, i.e., "Shoot. It should have indented there, but I forgot the period in front of the .pa code."
Parochialists wonder what the problem is with modes. Sure, they require real effort to understand, and nothing about them is in the least bit intuitive. But effort is what separates the wheat from the chaff, right? The men from the boys. The smarties from the dummies. If you can't learn about modes, then maybe computers aren't for you.
Certainly some users would prefer to be perceived as micro-Merlins. Perhaps the more cryptic a command code, the better. This category of user perceives the eventuality of real democratization of computer power with something akin to melancholia.
Imagine how depressed the very first auto owners must have been when the Model T started popping up everywhere. It became harder to feel superior.
But the fact of the matter is that even for those of us with the faculties to comprehend cryptic command codes and modes, the way of icons, windows, and pull-down menus is a better way. We do not care to waste time reminding ourselves that CTRL-D deletes in the insert mode but implies a DOS instruction in the command mode. These are impertinent facts--facts we are the more intelligent for being without. We are much better served when thinking about an application itself rather than about the applications program that frames it.
A Four-Year-Old Can Understand
The notions of the pull-down menu, adjustable-sized window, pointer-based icon system, and document "stacking," are generally credited to Alan Kay, founder of the Learning Research Group at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center. (Kay has spent the last two years at Atari, but shortly before press time announced he was leaving to join Apple computer. One can only imagine what this alliance may foster.)
Kay's great leap of faith was to embrace Socrates' principle--to embark upon the design of a computer that could be learned, and then productively used, in minutes.
To put the case more clearly, Kay's ideal was to design a computer that a child could not only use, but want to use. Kay knows that adults will put up with all sorts of bilious gobbledygook in order to work with computers. A child will not. He will either produce real results without formal training, or he will lose interest and walk away.
And so at PARC, and later at Apple, development progressed on a computer system so straightforward, so intuitive, that adults and children would not only comprehend, but embrace it.
What is all the ballyhoo about the Apple Macintosh, you ask? Why the hue and cry? Why the excitement over this crazy-looking little beast? I have tried to explain, but it would be best if you got yourself to a Macintosh sometime soon. Give yourself a half an hour, and you will then have a better idea of what the power of the machine truly is.
If, after a session with it, you still have no concept of what makes the Mac the most promising computer introduction of the '80s, don't despair. You have simply been sitting in the blue glow of the Orwellian viewscreen with the other drones for far too long. Get yourself a four-year-old child, and ask him to fill you in.
But there we go with that word "promise" again. Better be careful. For as it stands, the Macintosh is a more powerful machine for what it promises than for what it delivers.
Let us now examine exactly what it does deliver.
The following program is provided on the systems disk:
Finder. A document management system that allows creation of new documents, opening, closing, copying, renaming, and deleting of existing documents, applications, and files, and movement of same on or between disks and folders. Folders allow documents to be arranged hierarchically. Finder allows you to obtain directories by icon, name, date, size, and kind.
The following systems functions can be called up during Finder or any other application, and concurrent with each other:
The following packages are offered free for a limited time to the Macintosh purchaser:
MacPaint. The most powerful monochrome graphics system ever offered on a microcomputer, MacPaint is the showcase program for the Macintosh and currently the best available demo of the capabilities of the machine. It gives you a set of tools (Figure 5) that allows you to create sophisticated screen graphics in seconds. Contrary to the opinions of some reviewers, I believe MacPaint does provide dramatic new abilities even to those who lack underlying skills. Perhaps you literally "cannot draw a straight line"; the Mac will make sure the line you draw is straight. I have been needing a tool like MacPaint for a very long time, without even knowing it. Now in 20 minutes I can create charts and diagrams that would have been scrubbed before the Macintosh appeared because of the time and effort they would have required.
MacPaint is an image processor that handles images in the way that a word processor handles text. Its resolution is extremely good. Figure 6 is an example, drawn in about 40 minutes by Karen Brown of our typesetting department. Figure 7 took her about half that time. Total effort was nearly an hour.
As a graphics aid, MacPaint is a serious tool. And as a toy, it is exquisite. It is the ultimate executive doodler.
MacWrite. The ultimate "see what you'll get" word processor. Easy to use, yet powerful. Does most things you might expect, including moving blocks of text, find and replace, line spacing, headers and footers, centering, margins, page numbers, justification, tabs, and decimal tabs.
In addition to the expected functions, MacWrite has some special functions all its own.
For starters, what you see on the screen is exactly what the finished document will look like. There are no embedded codes. Because even the "text mode" of the Macintosh is entirely bit-mapped as hi-res graphics, you can look at the CRT and see the printed page.
In addition, you may choose between multiple fonts, multiple point sizes, and multiple style options including bold, italic, underline, and "shadowed" text. If and when you choose to reformat a document, changing a margin or line-spacing, the document reformats right before your eyes on the screen. There is no guesswork with MacWrite concerning the look of the hard copy. If you are coming from a word processor that would print an entire document underlined because you forgot a single closing underline control character, you will find MacWrite an extremely refreshing development.
All text selection functions are performed by the mouse. Position and click, then move through the text you want to mark and it will automatically be highlighted. Position and click. Now you can cut and paste, move, delete, copy, change font, point, or alter typestyle of the selected text.
To change formats within a single document, you simply insert a new ruler, reflecting the format change. If you wish then to return to the original format at a later point in the document, simply copy and paste the original ruler itself at the point you desire.
You may also paste graphics created with MacPaint directly into MacWrite files.
Other Announced Software
In addition to these two already released packages, Apple has announced the following packages for release soon:
Microsoft has announced several Macintosh packages for imminent release, and Microsoft chief Bill Gates has voiced a serious commitment to support of the Macintosh machine. We wanted to get a look at Macintosh Multiplan, the popular linking spreadsheet package, but no release copy was available at press time. We did manage a look at Microsoft Basic for the Mac (see sidebar). Other packages promised by the company are Chart, a business graphics package; Word, a word processing program; and File, a database management system.
There is that word again--promised. We were promised a copy of Multiplan nearly two months ago and have yet to see it. That sometimes happens with promises; they get broken.
Taking the Bads with the Goods
The astute among you may have detected by now that I have been storing up my criticisms of the Macintosh--holding them in abeyance until the full complement of Mac "goods" was laid before you. It should be obvious to you now that the Mac does represent a significant breakthrough, both in hardware and in software.
It should also be clear that the true concern is whether the machine will live up to its undeniable promise.
Fine. It is now time to lay out the "bads."
The Macintosh does not have enough RAM memory. To those of us used to 48K and 64K machines, 128K may sound like plenty. But that is a rather misleading statistic. Between the video display, operating system, and an application like MacWrite, when booted, you are left with little more free RAM than a typical Apple IIe.
The answer we have heard regarding this complaint is that when 256K RAM chips become available, you will be able to upgrade your Macintosh to 512K. This is a promise that will undoubtedly be fulfilled. The question is when 256K RAM chips will become available, and how much they will cost. An optimistic guess might be Christmas or so, but you never know. We are depending on the Japanese to provide us with plentiful 256K technology.
As for cost, well, chips are expensive when they're newborn. At the outset, 256K RAMs might cost upwards of $80 apiece. That would make the Mac memory upgrade quite a costly one. And who knows what Mac owner demand might do to RAM chip prices?
The bottom line on this point is that it might be two years or so before you can inexpensively give your Mac enough RAM to be truly useful. And it is possible that large-scale software development for the Mac will be stalled until 512K systems become standard.
Single microfloppy storage is slow and inadequate. One arena where Apple has not fared well of late is in custom drive configurations. Sony drives on other systems run quickly and silently. That is why I was surprised that the single-drive Mac system is so slow and cumbersome. Creating a new startup disk seems to take an eternity, and repeated disk swaps are the norm.
As with the RAM situation, 400K storage is a misleading figure. The operating system takes up fully half of that, and a typical application program, such as MacWrite, another 50K. That leaves little more free disk space than on the typical Apple IIe drive.
External disk systems will not be available for some time, as the limited supply of existing Sony drives must be earmarked for new Macs. And even the availability of the external drive will not transform Mac storage as dramatically as one might hope.
The best answer to this problem is the promise of the Sony double sided drive. This could become the default external drive system, to be used in conjunction with the existing single sided internal drive.
Certainly some type of hard disk will play a big role in the Mac's future, and as all software applications we have seen so far have been released without copy protection, application programs could be moved over to hard disk easily. Davong has announced a third-party Mac Winchester drive for release soon.
I must also register displeasure with the disk ejection procedure. To remove a disk from the drive, you must close everything down, quit your current application, and request an eject from systems software. I understand that this procedure is for my own protection, but it is a drag. In a way it reminds me of 1975 cars. Remember those? They wouldn't start unless you had your seatbelt fastened.
Everybody ended up hot wiring them to get around the interlock--even people who wear seat belts. I can just imagine a pile of unbent paper clips sitting in front of every Macintosh in the nation.
There are no internal expansion slots or external expansion busses. What's the big deal about that, right? The Mac already has everything you need. Well you might have said the very same of the old Apple II back in 1977. So many expansion slots, way back when there was no firmware to plug in them. That situation changed quickly. Nowadays many Apple owners wish they had another three or four slots. By precluding easy hardware expansion on the Mac, Apple writes off a major component of its early success--expansion flexibility. Sure, it might take some imagination at first to envision the kinds of cards the Mac might need. But if an expansion bus were available, people would start to invent them.
On the same score, it is lamentable that the Mac does not sport an internal modem standard (or at least the capacity to add a modem internally). The circuitry is much less expensive than it typically sells for and is certainly compact enough to have fit inside the Mac. To charge an extra $300 for the external Mac modem almost suggests--I shudder to say--tactics typical of Apple's main competitor.
Mac Write has some severe limitations. Although MacWrite has some very refreshing features and is a joy to use overall, it is not a serious word processing tool. Part of this relates to the RAM and disk storage shortage of the machine. I was flabbergasted to discover that the 128K Mac is capable of supporting MacWrite documents no longer than 10 pages in length. After it reaches the last available byte, it will accept not one more character. And to make matters worse, document files cannot be chained.
Other problems, however, will not be remedied by a simple RAM upgrade. Lack of directional cursor keys, for example, was to my mind a major omission. I understand and appreciate that the mouse is quite capable of handling this input for me. But when all I wish to do is move the cursor to the lefthand margin and up six lines, I would like to do it without having to remove my fingers from the keyboard.
Many application functions on the Mac make use of "expert keys" to allow shortcuts through nested menu selections. My general understanding of pointer philosophy has always been to offer a choice. Both means of control should be constantly available, so that the decision of how to input is left to the user. To have eliminated keyboard cursor movement entirely from MacWrite is in my opinion a flagrant example of mouse chauvinism on the part of Apple.
MacWrite will not calculate a word count, has no spell-checking, merge, or hyphenation capability, and will not allow a column width wider than 80 characters.
In short, MacWrite in its current form is too limited to be of real use to anyone who does a lot of writing.
The system is monochrome-only. Despite rumors to the contrary, (see sidebar) the Macintosh is likely to remain a black and white system. The circuitry to drive a color printer is already in place, but don't bother holding your breath for an ultra-hi-res RGB tube to replace the current Macintosh CRT.
MS-DOS compatibility is ruled out. As I have said many, many times, though MS-DOS may be a mediocre standard, it is a standard nonetheless. Apple has decided to challenge IBM on this and could not have started off on better footing than it has with the Mac. But if it is IBM compatibility you have in mind, don't look to the Mac. If you must have an IBM-compatible Mac, you can buy a Compaq and plug it into the same power strip.
The Macintosh will not multitask. I mention this not as a criticism, but because it is a fact largely overlooked by Mac reviewers. The main difference between the Mac and the Lisa is that the Lisa can run more than one program at a time. Not so the Macintosh. You may open multiple document windows from MacWrite or from the Finder. But whatever multitasking abilities the Mac finally inherits will come from cleverly designed software modules--not from within the Mac itself. It is a tribute to Apple's marketing that this fact has remained so obscure.
You can't use a Mac away from a desk. Unless you have a place to do your pointing, you won't be going very far with your mouse. It would be nice if Apple or a third-party company were to offer a MacBall trackball, so that the Mac could be used in bed, reclining on the couch, or in the back seat of a Buick. Our artist/typesetter Karen Brown said she would have preferred using a graphics tablet to compose her drawings. Perhaps Koala Technologies will remedy this situation shortly.
MacPaint has an easel size limitation. The screen window cannot be re-sized from MacPaint; it presents a 4" x 6" window on an 8-1/2" x 11" page. It is still quite possible to draw shapes larger than the window size, but the process may seem disjointed and cumbersome.
Forget about external video. Because of its non-standard ultra-high resolution, there are no plans to offer a larger, external Mac monitor. The lack of an external video connector jack bespeaks this. I feel this may change as the Mac enters college classrooms, however. Having taught my share of microcomputer courses, I can vouch for the tremendous help a second monitor can be when 40 students all need to see the same screen at the same time. With the Mac going into colleges and universities nationwide, a remedy to the external video restraint may be forthcoming.
Macintosh software development is an involved process. Although many interface aids are offered in ROM, development and debugging of Mac programs is currently slow going. Witness the delays from even the largest and smartest software houses around. Because the Mac strives for such high standards, it calls for the absolute most from the absolute best. As a result, it is unlikely that Macintosh software packages will flood the market before the end of the year.
I have never criticized a new machine for the lack of software. When the IBM PC came on the scene, there was literally nothing available for it but a buggy word processor. The Macintosh debuted with MacWrite and MacPaint, both of which have been thoroughly debugged, and these programs promise an unbeatable standard of software quality.
I simply wonder if this standard can be upheld. The thought first occurred to me as I played around with Microsoft Basic. A Basic program running on the Mac looks very much like a Basic program running on any other machine, except for its windows. Without the icon/window/menu shells, the Mac is reduced to a rather average machine.
It is up to talented programmers to make the most of Macintosh ROM in every program they develop. With it they can meet the ambitious promise that is the Apple Macintosh. Otherwise the Mac may never develop the staying power it needs.
We are still quite some distance from the ideal machine Alan Kay envisioned back in 1971 and christened the "Dynabook." This is a computer the size of a Model 100 with the power of a hundred Macs. In a recent interview, he rather cynically predicted that it would be the Japanese who would make the Dynabook a reality. He told Allen Munro of St. Mac magazine that the Macintosh was in point of fact "no big deal."
That's the problem with people who are vastly ahead of their time. The times never seem to catch up. The Mac clocks in at 8 MHz, but Kay is already imagining what he could do with 12MHz. In my last vestiges of prideful nationalism, I only hope it is Apple, not NEC, that introduces a 1000K 12MHz machine two years from now. Perhaps I will write about it using a truly professional word processor running on a 512K hard disk Macintosh.
Of course Kay will still be cranky with it, even when it does happen. If only he had 20 MHz and 5000K in a case the size of a box of Milk Duds. Then he could really make things happen.
Well if anybody can pull off that kind of miracle, it is probably Apple. Those folks show a lot of promise.
Products: Apple Macintosh (680X0-based system)