I was playing around with my color Macintosh the other day when --

What? You don't? You don't have a color Macintosh? You have to use plain old black and white when you're goofing around with the wonderful MacPaint program?

You're missing a lot.

Actually, I don't have a color Macintosh, either. Nobody does. Apple hasn't gotten around to offering a color version of the Mac, an oversight that would be inexcusable except that Apple has enough other problems these days.

For the last couple of months, though, I've had the essence of the Macintosh running on my IBM-PC and my favorite IBM clone, the Zenith Z-150.

Here's my secret: I found some clever and reasonably priced MS-DOS software that lets an IBM or compatible do just about everything a Macintosh does -- with the added feature of vibrant, living color.

With some limitations, these "Macalike" programs for the IBM-PC provide the best of both worlds: the innovative graphics and friendliness of the Macintosh combined with a faster operating system and a computer that also runs the serious programs you need if you're using your PC for business.

This is not to suggest an MS-DOS "Macalike" will work as smoothly as the Macintosh. You can hook up a mouse to your IBM, but it never seems as fast or as easy as the mouse action on a Macintosh. Also, there are not many IBM-type PCs that can match the pin-point clarity of the Macintosh screen. Most MS-DOS computers look fuzzy compared with the Mac.

But if you're willing to live with these shortcomings, you can pretty much turn your IBM-PC into an ersatz Macintosh.

Several companies sell a "mouse," or analog pointing instrument, for the IBM and its clones. Best known are the Microsoft Mouse and the "PC-Mouse" from Mouse Systems Inc. Mail order prices run upwards from $90, but much of the "Macalike" software comes with a mouse, so the device is essentially free.

Operation is slightly more jagged than you'd get with a Macintosh. But an IBM mouse also permits use of cursor keys. This means you can use the mouse for drawing and editing, but still have the faster, more convenient cursor keys when you're typing words or numbers. I think the combination is preferable to the Macintosh's standard mouse-only set-up.

If you're scared of mice, most of the "Macalikes" for the IBM world also will operate with a joy stick, a Koala pad or cursor keys. The IBM-type "Macintosh" is more versatile than the real thing.

The most distinctive part of the Macintosh package is the drawing program that came with the computer -- MacPaint or the newer MacDraw. It is satisfying to whirl the mouse around your desk and watch pictures and patterns emerge on the screen.

There are several programs available now that replicate this innovative Mac software on MS-DOS machines; prominent among them are PC-Paintbrush, DR DRAW and Dr. HALO. They cost from $59 to about $300 via mail order.

These programs set up a copy of the MacPaint screen -- a selection of different drawing tools (pencil, air brush, etc.) on the left of the screen, a choice of patterns (checkerboard, cross-hatch, etc.) along the bottom. These options enable you to create and print out a gallery of designs.

I have messed around with PC-Paintbrush and Dr. HALO. Both work nicely, and both offer the same fun you get with a Macintosh. Beyond that, these programs offer a new dimension of computer drawing: color. Apple keeps promising that color will be available for the Mac "real soon now." Well, MS-DOS users don't have to wait; these programs produce marvelous color graphics now.

I have yet to see a "Macalike" drawing program that can produce the same variety of text styles (i.e., Roman, Old English, Greek) that the Mac offers. But if you get one of the fancy new type style programs for your IBM or clone, you can meet or exceed the Macintosh offerings.

I've had a grand time using the powerful but easy Fontrix, a $99 program that matches the fancy type style fireworks of Macintosh. With extra-price character sets, Fontrix offers more than 100 type styles, plus drawing and decorative characters -- in color, too.

You also can copy the Macintosh operating environment -- pointing with the mouse device at pictures, or "icons" -- on an MS-DOS machine. The new GEM Desktop program from Digital Research ($49.95) will do the job.

In summary, with some accommodations, you now can have the fun and friendliness of the Macintosh on your familiar, strictly-business IBM-PC.