Apple's Macintosh Unveiled
Fred D'Ignazio, Associate Editor
Fred D'Ignazio was there when Apple's new Macintosh computer introduced itself to the world.
The Apple Macintosh had its coming-out party at the monthly meeting of the Boston Computer Society on Monday evening, January 30.
The atmosphere was a cross between a football pep rally and a gala rock concert. People jammed into the elegant John Hancock Hall and filled it to the chandeliers. Everyone was talking loudly and pointing up at the stage.
On the stage was a dark brown podium and table with a fabric bag on top.
High-Tech Rock Video
The lights dimmed. Huge speakers on the stage blasted the audience with a hard, driving rock beat. The audience began clapping to the beat.
Two giant video screens above the stage lit up, showing pictures of men, women, kids, old people, young people, black, and white people using Apple's new Macintosh computer. The pictures appeared on the screen, one after another, accompanied by the theme from Flashdance.
The music stopped. The clapping grew louder. Steve Jobs, the inventor of the Apple computer and the project manager of the Macintosh, climbed onto the stage, smiling and waving. People began cheering. The noise was deafening.
And Now A Word From Mac
"The Macintosh is the third milestone in the personal computing revolution, " Jobs said as he walked over to the table at the center of the stage. "First came the Apple II in 1977." An Apple II appeared on the giant screen overhead.
"Next came the IBM PC in 1981." A PC appeared on the video screen. The audience began laughing. The image of the PC on the screen was out of focus and almost unrecognizable.
"And now, in 1984," Jobs said, as he reached the table and put his hands on the box, "we have the Macintosh, the third milestone and definitely the greatest. It is so great it is insanely great." People laughed. The words "INSANELY GREAT" appeared in giant letters over Jobs' head.
"This machine eats 8088s for breakfast," Jobs continued. "Its Motorola 68000 cranks along at 8 megahertz and processes over a million instructions a second. It has four musical voices and a speech synthesizer built-in. Its screen has twice the dots of an Apple II or a PC. Yet the whole computer weighs only a third of an IBM box.
"Now it's time to meet Mac in person."
With a theatrical flourish, jobs unzipped the fabric case and lifted the Macintosh out of the bag. An instant later he had connected the power cord, the keyboard, and the mouse.
He switched on the computer. The screen over Jobs' head turned sky blue. "All the images you see," he said, "are generated by the Mac."
Jobs looked at the blank screen. "Ah, yes," he said. "We need a disk." He reached in his shirt pocket and pulled a tiny 3 1/2-inch disk out and waved it at the audience.
Jobs inserted the disk in the computer. The letters M - A - C - I - N - T - O - S - H marched one by one, across the Mac's screen and across the giant screen above the stage. The letters marched in time to the theme from Chariots of Fire that blared from the stage's gigantic speakers.
"And now," Steve said, "'a word from Mac." He gestured to the computer.
Mac came suddenly to life. "Thank you, Steve," it said. Its voice was mechanical and computer-like, but it was easy to understand and strangely imbued with personality.
Mac gave a quick, crisp introduction to itself. It showed the audience how to access files and how to use its MacWrite and MacPaint programs. Then it gave a dazzling graphics display. It finished its performance with words of advice, "Never trust a computer you can't lift."
"And now," said Mac, when the audience finished clapping, "back to Steve."
The Second Desktop Appliance
Jobs then spoke about the potential market for the new computer. "The Mac is a desk appliance," he said, "the first since the telephone.
"Up until now computers have been like telegraphs. Over a century ago, when the telegraph was invented, people predicted the day when telegraph terminals would be on everyone's desk. But telegraphs were too difficult to use.
"Then the telephone was invented. It was easy to use so everyone could use it. It brought people in touch with other people so it was useful to everyone. Soon everyone was using the telephone and the telegraph virtually disappeared.
"The same thing will happen with personal computers. Only a fraction of the 235 million people in this country can use personal computers. But the Mac is different. Like the telephone, it is a desk appliance. It is the computer for the rest of us."
A Means To An End
Earlier in the evening, at the press reception, I had been talking with Mike Murray, marketing manager for the Macintosh. Like Jobs, Murray called the Macintosh an appliance. "I looked up appliance in the dictionary," Murray said, "and it said that an appliance was 'a means to an end.' That's the Mac. It's a means to an end."
That night, filled with the thrill of the occasion, I just nodded at Mike and grinned. "A means to an end," I thought. "That's neat."
At that time, it looked to me that Apple had solved the problem of making computers useful and attractive to everybody. In the Mac they had created the first mass-market computer appliance.
The following morning I returned home to Roanoke. That afternoon I looked up appliance in my own dictionary. My dictionary defined appliance as "a machine designed for a particular use."
All of a sudden I realized that Apple had cleared only one of the two hurdles that have prevented the average person from using a computer. First, despite manufacturers' claims, computers have never been easy to use. Second, no one has yet come up with a computer with a particular use which makes everyone want to use it.
The Mac isn't as easy to use as a telephone, but it is still easy to use, so I'd say Apple has cleared the first hurdle. Unfortunately, unlike the telephone, the Mac does not have a clearly defined use that is obvious to everybody. The telephone puts people in touch with each other. But what does the Mac do that is comparable?
The Mac is clearly a milestone in the personal computing revolution. It does everything more easily than almost any other affordable computer. But it does nothing new.
The First Activity Appliance
Yet Mac is special, so special that it still may eventually become an appliance on everyone's desk.
One way for Mac to become a mass-market computer is to eliminate the whole question of "What do I do with it?" One way to sidestep this question is to replace it with another question: "What kind of appliance is Mac?"
Some people say Mac is an information appliance. Others say it is a knowledge appliance. Still others say it is a graphics arts appliance. Like the phone, it is also a communications appliance. So what kind of appliance is Mac?
I think it is an appliance unlike any appliance we've seen before. I think it is an activity appliance. It lets you do activities. You decide which activities you want to do using Mac.
This is a disappointing definition-until you look at how Mac lets you do activities. What Mac, does is less important than how it does it.
First, Mac lets you individualize everything you do. You can personalize the way you play, the way you work, the way you interact with the rest of the world. Mac becomes an extension of yourself. It lets you put your stamp, your personal image, on everything you do. This is a supremely satisfying feeling.
Second, and most important of all, Mac makes whatever activity you do exciting.
If this sounds like gobbledygook, good! I advise you to be skeptical. Don't take my word for it. Go down to your local Apple dealer and try Mac for yourself. Then reread this article and see if I'm not right.
Apple will be able to sell tens of millions of Macs if it can just convey these two simple qualities to people. Mac cannot do anything new. But it can make whatever you do more joyful, and more exciting. It makes everything you do a personal statement of who you are and how you see the world.
What Makes Mac Exciting?
The excitement you feel when using Mac is difficult to describe because it comes from lots of little intangible, almost subconscious features.
These are the things I noticed when I first played with the Macintosh:
First, using Mac is intuitive. At most points when you want to do something, you can guess how to do it. Mac does things the way you feel they ought to be done.
Second, Mac is a graphic arts machine. Everything the computer can do is represented pictorially. There are no exotic commands, no unintelligible error messages, and no control characters. When you do something, you see the end result on the screen, almost instantly.
Third, the Mac is manageable. When you take it out of its box, you are not overwhelmed with snakelike cables, power cord adapters, disk drives, and hefty manuals. It was easier to set up the Mac than it was to set up the new TV my family got for Christmas.
Fourth, the Mac's keyboard is unlike all other computer keyboards. It looks familiar-like a small typewriter keyboard. There are no rows of intimidating function keys and ominous keys like HELP, ESCAPE, BREAK, and RUN.
Fifth, even a simplified keyboard is still too much for many people. This is where the Mac's mouse comes in. Believe it or not, the mouse really is easy to use. For many applications, the mouse completely replaces the keyboard.
Sixth, the Mac's menus are very friendly and they do not slow you down. After only a couple of minutes practice I was zipping around inside an activity, using the menus without breaking my stride.
Seventh, like a nice person, the Mac is "user forgiving." The Mac lets you get out of any mistake by selecting the UNDO function. No matter how disastrous your last action was, you can immediately undo it.
Eighth, the Mac is light (only 20 pounds). Its bag (at $100), its few parts and cables, and its light weight make it easy to carry around with you. To be personal a computer should be portable. Now, wherever you go, you can take your computer with you.
Last, the Mac does away with some of computers' most irritating habits. For example, many computers are extremely sensitive to voltage fluctuations and momentary brownouts in household electrical current. The Mac is not.
Also, the Mac is tall and skinny. Unlike most computers, it does not hog your whole desk or kitchen table.
This Crazy Group Of People
After Jobs and Mac completed their presentations in John Hancock Hall that night in Boston, Jobs called his core team of Mac engineers and programmers up on the stage to demonstrate the Mac and to answer the audience's questions.
The Mac team ran down the aisles and poured up on the stage. People in the audience began clapping wildly. The team responded by waving and grinning.
The Mac team-twelve men and one woman-were as diverse in their dress and personalities as they could be. Some wore ties, others wore blue jeans and T-shirts. Some were shy and withdrawn. Others were just as outgoing and theatrical as Jobs and Mac.
Jobs spoke of his team as "artists." He presented a slide show of the team members at work on the Mac. "We prepared this slide show," he said, "to try to capture some of the energy of this crazy group of people."
At the conclusion of the slide show, one of the programmers, Bill Atkinson, speaking for the team, said, "We are hoping that through the Mac we can leverage our energy into the world at large."
The last slide showed the inside of the case that covers the Mac's monitor, disk drive, and circuit boards. On the side of the case of every Macintosh are inscribed the names of the members of Mac's team.
The Right Stuff
Many people have begun comparing the team to the original astronauts. The members of the team are called the "astronauts of computing." Their idealism, their individual genius, their devotion to their work, and their standards of excellence are like the manned space program astronauts' highly touted "right stuff."
There's no question that the Mac team has the right stuff. But I'm not sure they should be called astronauts. In fact, there is no direct comparison with the manned space program.
The small number of astronauts in the space program were just the top of a pyramid of thousands of anonymous individuals whose efforts made the astronauts' great achievements possible.
With Apple this pyramid is upside down. The right stuff demonstrated by the team of Mac programmers and engineers has been infused into the Macintosh computer. This team represents the small point at the bottom of the upside-down pyramid. The Macintosh will perhaps eventually be used by millions of us. We represent the broad base at the upside-down pyramid's top.
The team, unlike their counterparts in the space program, have received well-deserved recognition and praise for their efforts.
And who are the astronauts of computing? We are, all of us. New generations of computers like Mac will give all of us the right stuff. With new computers like Mac we can all soar.