Sleep 17: Apple Macintosh Cutting Through The Ballyhoo Part Three

3 December, 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, Hafthor, Jared, Bill and Joel Maher. 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 3. The following packages are offered free, for a limited time, to the Macintosh purchaser. Mac Paint. The most powerful monochrome graphics system ever offered on a microcomputer. Mac Paint 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 that allows you to create sophisticated screen graphics in seconds. Contrary to the opinions of some reviewers, I believe Mac Paint 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 a way that a word processor handles text. 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 of its own. For starters, what you see on the screen is exactly what the finished document will look like. There There are no embedded codes, because even the 'text mode' of the Macintosh is entirely bitmapped as high-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 were 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 type style of the selected text. To change formats within a single document, you simply insert a new ruler, reflecting the format change. If you wish to then 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. MacTerminal. A terminal communications package for the Macintosh. MacDraw, a business graphics package. MacProject, a project management system for supervisors. Macintosh Basic, Apple's version of the popular programming language will allow a program trace to run alongside a listing in one window, while the program itself runs in another. Macintosh Pascal, Apple's Macintosh Pascal will be interpretive rather than compiled, which may make Pascal a popular Mac programming environment. Assembler Debugger – what every 68,000 aficionado is waiting for. Macintosh Logo – announced for release in the fall. Microsoft has announced several Macintosh packages for imminent release. And Microsoft Chief Bill Gates has voiced a serious commitment to support 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 to look at Microsoft Basic for the Mac. Other packages comprised by the company were Chart, a business graphics package, Word, a word processing program, and File, a database management system. There is that word again, promised. We were also 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 the 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 68k 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 a piece. 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 micro-floppy 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 with a typical application program such as MacWrite, another 50k. That leaves little more free disk space than on a 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 the 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 system 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 seatbelts. I can just imagine a pile of unbent paperclips sitting in front of every Macintosh in the nation. There are no internal expansion slots, or external expansion buses. 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. many expansion slots way back when there was no firmware to plug in them. That situation changed quickly. Nowadays, many Apple owners wish that 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 say. Tactics typical of Apple's main competitor. MacWrite 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 But when all I wish to do is move the cursor to the left-hand margin and up six lines, I would like to do it without having to move my fingers away 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 point of philosophy was always to have been offering 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 rumours to the contrary. The Macintosh is likely to remain a black and white system. The circuitry to drive a colour printer is already in place. But don't bother holding your breath for ultra-high-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 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. viewers. 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 Mac ball trackball so that the Mac could be used in bed, reclining on a 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. Mac Paint has an easel size limitation. The screen window cannot be resized from Mac Paint. It presents a 4 inch by 6 inch window on an 8.5 inch by 11 inch 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. Closing arguments. I simply wonder if this standard can be upheld. The thought first occurred to me when 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 application 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 envisaged back in 1971 and christened the Dynabook. This is a computer the size of a Model 100 with the power of 100 Macs. In a recent interview, he rather cynically predicted that it would be the Japanese who would make the Dynabook a reality. He told Alan Munro of St. Mac magazine that the Macintosh was in point of fact "no big deal". That's a 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 12 MHz. In my last vestiges of prideful nationalism, I only hope that it is Apple, not NEC, that introduces a 100K 12 MHz machine two years from now. 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 20MHz 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.
Duration 19 minutes and 31 seconds Direct Download

Show Notes

Reading Material:

Other shows on the network:

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.
Premium supporters have access to ad-free, early released episodes with a full back-catalogues of previous episodes


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.