The Executive Computer

Outfitting Macintosh for the Office

By Erik Sandberg-Diment
The New York Times

August 18, 1985

HARD disks are rapidly reaching the category of necessary equipment for personal computers in business use. My own educated guess is that by the end of this year, half of the personal computers sold will be so equipped, either when they are purchased, or relatively soon thereafter by means of add-on components.

It is no surprise, then, that the lack of an acceptable hard disk has been one of the major stumbling blocks encountered by Apple's Macintosh on its way to the office market. Business users prize hard disks not only for their increased storage capacity compared with floppy disks, but also for their speedier performance with software that requires information to be read frequently from the disk.

The Macintosh was left out in the cold until last month, when Apple announced that it would no longer void its warranty on the Mac if a Hyperdrive ($2,200 for the 10-megabyte version from the General Computer Company, Cambridge, Mass., 02142, (617) 492-5500) were installed in it. This about-face made the internally mounted hard disk acceptable to Macintosh buyers.

It could be pointed out that General Computing had already circumvented the warranty problem by offering a 90-day version of its own covering an entire Mac in which a Hyperdrive had been installed. Somehow, most Mac owners were not reassured. But now that the product has been given a pat on the back by Apple itself, this addition to the Macintosh stable should come into its own.

A Hyperdrive-equipped Mac offers three distinct advantages over its floppy counterpart. First of all is the matter of storage capacity. The 10-megabyte hard disk holds about as much data as 25 of the standard hard-cased floppies used by the Mac, which means that it eliminates the common Macintosh malady of disk switcher's elbow.

With Hyperdrive, going from one application to another entails only a click of the mouse. There is no need to load a new disk each time one switches software packages, except with programs that incorporate a copy-protection scheme requiring that the original program disk be in the floppy drive even if the program has been loaded onto hard disk.

A second advantage is that, at a mere flick of the ''On'' switch, the machine will load the system files from the hard disk by itself. The third plus is that everything works much faster with a hard disk, which I suppose may have something to do with the origin of the appellation Hyperdrive. On the whole, I found the loading time for programs called up from the hard disk to be two to three times as fast as from floppies.

One elapsed time not detailed in the manual - which is otherwise above average in clarity - concerns the testing of the hard disk. Before proceeding with the test, one is warned, in the manual's bright red caution type, ''Don't shut off, disconnect, move or in any other way disturb your Macintosh when a hard disk test is taking place . . . .'' So when I selected the ''Run test'' option, I almost held my breath so as not to upset the machine -for 27 minutes, as it turned out, because that is how long the test takes.

The warning is certainly to be heeded, since testing involves the computer's reading and writing back and forth from the disk to RAM a number of times and then verifying that everything is all right by matching the readings against each other. If the process were to be interrupted at the wrong time, the result could be a garbled mess.

However, it would be nice if, after the stern warning, one were also told that it is possible to halt the testing procedure without damaging the disk, by merely moving the pointer over to a small block designated ''Abort'' and clicking the mouse. A call to the the company elicited the information that the manual is being revised to include this fact, along with several other amplifications. THERE are two other warnings, even though both might seem rather self evident. First, the erase disk command will do just what it says. It will wipe the disk clean. As the manual puts it, ''Never choose 'erase disk' from the special menu . . . .'' ''Never,'' in this case, means a Gilbert and Sullivan ''hardly ever.'' Still, the command could have been stowed a little further away from the usual route of the user's cursor, just in case.

The other no-no is a bit more specific to the operation of the hard disk. When one starts using Hyperdrive, all files, which store information, are more or less thrown into one large ''drawer.'' Just as in the case of a floppy, the information is there somewhere, wherever the computer has put it.

When a particular file is needed, the computer will locate it in short order. However, because a hard disk is capable of storing so much information, once a number of files have accumulated, the organization of the disk begins to resemble that of my office: Everything can be found there, but it sometimes takes a great deal of time.

To alleviate the confusion, the user can organize information by sorting it into ''file drawers.'' For instance, correspondence can be put in one drawer, a data base in another, a spreadsheet in yet another and so on. Taking advantage of Hyperdrive's security system, it is even possible to limit access to any given drawer to specific users.

But one must not try to dump a whole file drawer into another by dragging the first drawer over on top of the second and clicking. This would be the equivalent of physically taking a file drawer from a cabinet and turning it upside down on another one, creating chaos. A complete transfer of a drawer's files can be accomplished, but by means of a more circuitous fashion.

A hard disk, however well-organized, must still be frequently accessed by the computer. The Fat Mac's 512K of memory allows a lot of information to be stored right inside the computer's own internal memory, but today's increasingly sophisticated programs can soon eat up all that and more. What is needed is a machine whose direct memory capacity measures a full megabyte, or 1,024K.

That solution is within reach with a memory unit called MacMegabytes ($849 to upgrade a 128K Thin Mac, $549 to upgrade a 512K Fat Mac, from Beck-Tech, Berkeley, Calif., 94705, (415) 548-4054) that I have sitting in the studio. This add-on board is available as a dealer installation with a 90-day warranty (unlike its policy toward Hyperdrive, Apple cancels warranties on Macintoshes that have installed a MacMegabytes board).

The board is also available in kit form -the version I have - at a saving of $150. However, every time I think I'm ready to install it, I ponder the 15,000-volt residual charge of the capacitor hooked up to the Mac's cathode ray tube, which remains in full force even when the machine is turned off and unplugged. Since I'm not sure how to discharge all that pent-up energy without lighting up my life more than I intend to, I find myself putting off the homestyle upgrade.

I rationalize that I'm putting it off until Apple releases its Switcher program. Switcher's claim to fame is that it will allow one to run half a dozen or so programs from memory at a time. Then, if both the Hyperdrive and the MacMegabyte boards can be crammed into the same machine, a decent keyboard will be about the only thing left to be supplied before the Macintosh can fulfill its promise as a business computer.

GRAPHIC: Drawing

Copyright 1985 The New York Times Company