Sleep 16: Apple Macintosh Cutting Through The Ballyhoo Part Two

3 November, 2021


From the 1984 commercial through to the pros and cons of the new Apple Macintosh, John Anderson provides a review of what would become the definitive personal computer from Apple in the 80s. From the July 1984 edition of the Creative Computing Magazine.

Transcript available
[Music] Helping you fall asleep. I'm John Chidjie. You can follow me on the Fediverse at, on Twitter @johnchidjie or one word, or the network at engineered_net. Sleep is supported by you, our listeners. If you'd like to support the show, you can do so by becoming a Premium Supporter. With a special thank you to all of our patrons and a special thank you to our silver producers Mitch Bilger, John Whitlow, Kevin Koch, Shane O'Neill, Oliver Steele, Leslie, Law, Chan, Hapthor, Jared, Bill and Joel Ma. And an extra special thank you to both of our gold producers Stephen Bridle and our producer known only as R. Visit to learn how you can help. Thank you. So now that that's out of the way, let me talk to you. Just for a few minutes. Creative Computing, July 1984. Apple Macintosh. Cutting through the ballyhoo. Part 2. Documentation Macintosh documentation is uniformly superlative. It is colourful, thorough, lively and fun to read throughout. IBM could take a lesson from Apple on this account. Included with the documentation is a training disc and audio cassette. The cassette is from Wyndham 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 the 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 realise 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 application 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-year 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 bitmap 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 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 paintbrushes on them. Systems programs take the form of minimacs. 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? Now, 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 point 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, resizable 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 computer can appear as an actual electronic desktop, 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 desktop and his Macintosh desktop. 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 mbouse 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. Mode Indigo. 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. "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 – surely 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. Understand? 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 democratisation 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 application's 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 Centre. 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 Park, 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. Systems Software. 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 system functions can be called up during Finder or any other application and concurrent with each other. Calculator. Looks and works just like an actual calculator. Results can be cut and pasted into other documents or applications. Numbers can be entered from the keyboard, numeric keypad, or using the mouse to point and click the screen's buttons. Clock shows you the current date and time, you can copy the date and time and to paste into other accessories or documents. You can also set an alarm function. Keycaps allows you to use the mouse to enter text. Its real utility is to display available special graphics characters obtained by holding down the Option or Shift key. Puzzle a pure bit of whimsy. Something to play with when you need a break. a sliding tile puzzle simulation that will take you back to your childhood. Documentation quote. Unfortunately, you can't pry out the little plastic tiles when you get frustrated. Notepad, a place you can jot down a few notes and keep them separate from the document you are working on. Or type text and edit it even if you are using an application that doesn't allow for text editing. Using the cut and paste option, you can move text from the notepad to a document or application. Scrapbook - a place to keep pictures and text you use frequently. This might include your letterhead or even a moused version of your signature. A graphics equivalent to the text storage of Notepad. Control Panel - lets you set system defaults including speaker volume, date and time, blink rates, key repeat rate, keyboard touch, mouse sensitivity, mouse double-click speed and desktop graphics pattern. Most control pattern settings are remembered even when the system is powered down.
Duration 14 minutes and 26 seconds Direct Download

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Episode Gold Producers: 'r' and Steven Bridle.
Episode Silver Producers: Mitch Biegler, John Whitlow, Kevin Koch, Shane O'Neill, Oliver Steele, Lesley Law Chan, Hafthor, Jared, Bill and Joel Maher.
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John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.