Richard Mansfield, senior editor of COMPUTE!, has some reservations about the nearly unanimous praise which has greeted the introduction of Apple's new Macintosh computer. This month, I'm turning over this space to him for a guest editorial.
Editor In Chief
In the brouhaha surrounding the introduction of Apple's new Macintosh, little has been said about the most shocking thing about this "new generation" computer—it doesn't include a language. You can't program it. There's no BASIC inside. BASIC and other programming languages will be available later, but the essence of this machine, its spirit, is a rejection of programming itself.
In this respect, it's more like a streetcar than a passenger car. The places you can go with it are predetermined, tracks laid down in the pavement. For now, there are three destinations: word processing, spreadsheet analysis, and picture painting. Do you have something else in mind? You'll need to wait until the software is available and you'll need to buy another disk.
Expressions of doubt about this new machine have been few and faint. The media, aided by computer industry gurus, has sent up a nearly unanimous cry of joy. It's been called the first true consumer computer, an appliance computer. It's been called the computer that's easiest to learn. Perhaps we could raise a few questions, just a brief pause for reflection.
What is the spirit of Macintosh? To find out, let's look at what happens when you turn it on. A picture of a diskette appears on screen with an arrow pointing at it. Unlike other computers which might print "INSERT DISK" on screen (or not print anything, expecting you to remember to insert a disk), Macintosh's message is easy to understand. You don't need to know how to read.
Next, you insert the disk and the disk drive activates itself. Until now, you had to be able to type in something like "LOAD" to pull the software in from the disk. Macintosh does that for you. You don't need to know how to type.
From here on it gets a bit more challenging—you have to be able to point the screen arrow to a picture and press a button. This is not done from the keyboard, however. Attached to the computer is a "mouse," a little rolling device that moves the arrow around the screen as you push the mouse around a table. On top of the mouse is the button you press when the arrow is on the picture you want.
You might have a screen with a picture of a hand holding a pen, a hand painting, a file folder, a memo pad—whatever symbols represent different software on the disk. If you select, say, the hand holding the pen, a new set of picture choices appears and you're well on your way. You're setting things up to begin word processing, to begin writing something. At this point, though, you'll have to abandon the mouse and start typing your own words.
Clearly, there are always tradeoffs between convenience and freedom, between what's easy to learn and what's versatile in use. Some people will opt for the former, arguing that computing isn't very interesting, they're not going to be using a computer that often, and whenever they do use it they want it to be convenient and simple. That's their right, of course. I feel the same way about telephones. I don't like using them. I wouldn't want one that could remember 50 numbers, could record messages, or could locate me anywhere in the city and set off an alarm hanging on my belt.
I want to dial, communicate a message, and get on with my life. For people who feel this way about computers, a task-oriented, prepackaged software machine like the Macintosh is ideal. Mouse, little pictures, and all.
But if you like computing, if you find it challenging and creative to work with programs, all the menus within menus and the mousing will just get in the way. The first few times, it will be easier to get into the word processing mode by the see-it-point-at-it method. However, I suspect all this could become rather tiresome rather quickly.