Though I don't own one and don't even want to, I can't help but admire Apple's Macintosh. It's a precocious little beast: clever, quicksilver fast and with a style all its own. It's about as far away from an IBM PC clone as one can get.
People who are thinking of getting a computer -- and even those who already have one -- should consider byteing a Mac just for the taste of it. With its mouse interface, multiple menus and graphics orientation, the Mac puts a new spin on what personal computing is all about.
Now, with the recently introduced 512K "Fat Mac," Apple is doing what it can to position the Mac as a real business machine instead of just a nifty box that's easier to use than the IBM.
But like so many precocious children, the Mac is a bit of a smart-aleck underachiever. For one thing, it would have been nice if the Mac had come with a cursor control key built into the keyboard. It would have made using the machine easier than always having to use the mouse.
Furthermore, the Mac comes with but a single disc drive. Given the limits of the machine's operating memory, that means the MacUser has to make a lot of disc swaps to exchange files and programs. As Mr. P., my consulting MacOwner puts it, "the disc swaps are a pain, but it's almost second nature now."
But then, who wants pain to be second nature? The fact of the matter is, if you want to use a Mac for serious work, you are going to have to buy another disc drive. That's another $500. Keep that in mind if you want to get a Mac.
The more serious concern, say Mr. P and a host of computer retailers, has been "the trickle of software coming out." The Mac may be an innovative machine, but it requires equally innovative software to exploit its unique digital prowess. The flood of software that Apple expected to be in the stores by now simply isn't there. That's not to say it isn't coming, but the absence of a wide variety and large volume of quality software hurts the value of the Mac.
To be fair, that's not just Apple's fault. A lot of software companies thought all they would have to do is rewrite the software they made for the IBM or Apple II for the Mac and let it go at that. Unfortunately, those sorts of imitations did not exploit the full capabilities of the Mac because the Mac is designed to be a different kind of computer from the keyboard-driven machines of yore. Consequently, it's taken much longer than expected to come up with powerful MacVersions of popular software. For example, the MacVersion for Lotus 1-2-3 isn't expected now until early next year. (That's hurting business sales of the Mac.)
But all is not gloomy and dark in the Mac software world. Some good software is finally finding its way onto the shelves. In addition to MacWrite and MacPaint (word processing and graphics programs, respectively), which are crackerjack programs in their own right, Mr. P. gives high marks to Microsoft's Chart, saying it is a well-documented business graphics program that works fast and lets you format presentations quite easily.
FileVision, a data-base program that has a strong graphics flavor, is "so sophisticated, it's almost hard to figure out what to do with it," Mr. P. says. Of course, what you can do with it is create data bases that store both words and pictures. Try that on your IBM.
I'd like to make an important point here. With its distinctive blend of graphics, symbols and text, the Macintosh changes the definition of a computer from a word processor or chart processor or number processer into that of a document processor. It is very easy to mix graphics, charts and prose into a cohesive document with the Macintosh. I'll wager that companies that use the Mac will produce documents and memos that display information in more -- and better -- ways than companies that only use the IBM clones. When it comes to computing power, a lot of people like to take the path of least resistance. The Mac certainly offers that.
Other programs of merit include Sales Edge from Human Edge Software, which is sort of an interactive tutorial cum assessor of salesmanship ability, and Habadex, an address book/data base that comes with a built-in phone dialing hook-up.
There are other intriguing MacPrograms that will be discussed in future columns. But be warned: A depressing number of retailers know even less about Mac software than they do about IBM PC-compatible software. It's very, very difficult to find out the strengths of a program at the store unless you actually sit down and use the program on the machine.
This is even more important with the Mac than it is with the IBM because people who use the Mac do so because it's compatible with the way they like to interact with computers. There's even a risk in buying a program based on word-of-mouth simply because some Mac owners settle for programs that don't truly take advantage of the machine's strengths.
The Mac certainly has a future. It deserves to have a future because it's a tangible sign of how computers can be made easier to use. However, the Mac had better start growing up fast or it risks being viewed as a cult machine used only by artsy-craftsy college kids and counterculture executives who wince at the thought of IBM.