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I forget how I came across this, but I recently found one of the most charming looks back at how far we’ve come in our embrace of technology — the LA Times’ original review of the Apple Macintosh. This little journey back in the Wayback Machine provided me with some incredible moments of bafflement, such as when the reviewer says things like:

  • “What you see on your screen looks a lot like what you might find on a desk. Instead of just a blinking cursor you see pictures, called icons, that graphically represent the things you can do with the computer.”
  • MacWrite has most basic word processing features with one outstanding addition. It can vary the size and style of your type on the screen and on paper, when used with Apple’s new $495 Image Writer printer.”
  • “Instead of using the 5 1/4 inch floppy disks that the Apple II helped standardize, the Mac uses 3 1/2 inch mini-floppies. These disks come with a built-in protective cover, can fit in a shirt pocket, and are far less vulnerable to damage than standard floppies. Apple will also be using the 3 1/2 inch disks on its new Lisa series.”
  • Microsoft Corp, in Bellvue, Washington, has announced Mac versions of its popular Multiplan spreadsheet program, BASIC language, and Microsoft Word — an innovative new word processing package.”

Oh, how the world has changed. Most of us probably have had more computer in our pockets for 5-10 years, and bandwidth wasn’t even mentioned (commercially viable modems were still a decade away). Collaboration was accomplished mostly through exchanging floppy disks or those new-fangled print outs using scalable fonts.

And Microsoft Word was on its way to dethroning WordPerfect. Wow . . .

I remember having my Mac in one of the padded cases the reviewer describes, but the Apple IIc was my first portable computer. Now, my iPhone has more computing power than both combined.

I also seem to recall a higher degree of socialization around the offices I worked in at the time. Computers weren’t the immersive, immediate, and impatient presences they are now. They were tools — limited, slow, and rudimentary in many ways, but clearly tools. Now, slick, fast, connected, and capable, they are information appliances, part of our lives.

Any favorite original Macintosh stories out there? Did you own one? Do you still have one?

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.

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4 Thoughts on "The Original Macintosh — A Review from the Wayback Machine"

I’m tickled by the idea of a padded bag designed so that I can stuff one of these into the overhead compartment on an airplane.

I anticipate we’ll be equally nostalgic when we look back at the initial reviews of the bondi blue iMac G3 (“what, no floppy?”).

I still have my family’s first computer, which predates Apple. It is an old, and still functioning, DEC (remember them?). The computer is so large it is its own desk. It has wheels on the bottom so one can push it around the office (indeed, a computer one could actually carry, as opposed to push, was an improvement at that time). One simply plunked a giant black and white monitor on top and connected it to the equally giant printer which requires the kind of paper with the little holes on each side for traction. Still, the computer has some nice features, like a keyboard that was designed to fit the computers word processing software with commands like “page forward,” “page back,” “end line,” “begin line,” and even “paragraph forward” — all very handy in those pre-mouse days.

On a separate note, while it is remarkable to compare the iPhone to the first Mac, a computer scientist recently remarked to me that his iPhone has more computing power than the Cray he used in the 1980s. And one can buy a pair of sneakers with more computing power than the mainframes of the 70s. Indeed, the most astounding thing to me about advances in computing is how much smaller each generation of computers is from the last.

I had one, complete with padded bag, which I hauled back and forth from home to office as well as on planes . . . though I didn’t have the _very_ first one, I held out for the “Fat Mac” which had . . . are you ready? . . . ONE MEGABYTE of memory, which was considered huge. Hauling that Mac around was such a _relief_ compared to hauling its predecessor, my trusty KayPro (which used WordStar, the predecessor to both WordPerfect and Word). One more anecdote: speaking of the GUI, the first time I saw a Mac screen I was totally baffled by it because it looked like a jumbled mess, compared to the orderly command-line screen and cursor I was used to. The human mind depends on metaphors, and it wasn’t until the “desktop” metaphor actually sunk in–oh, I get it, those are like the various papers and file folders strewn across my desk!–that I was able to actually work with a GUI that was supposed to make things easier but appeared at first to make things harder. (Heard that before?) Now, of course, we’re moving _away_ from that file-folder and desktop metaphor. Here comes the “cloud”–about as fuzzy a metaphor as you could find, but it works.
–Bill Kasdorf

Oh Kent, you’re trolling for geeks. Okay, I’ll play, here are a few of my old computer stories.

There’s a functioning Mac Classic sitting less than 30 feet from my desk in our offices, a coworker keeps it in use as a file server just to prove he can. On rare days when we have time we’ll still play the old Mac Classic games. Remember Cap’n Magneto? Or Crystal Quest?

On a recent trip to my parents’ home I dug out my first computer, a Texas Instruments machine that I pluged into an old B+W tv for a monitor, programmed in BASIC and which used audio cassettes in a radio shak portable tape player as its storage medium. It was in the same box as my Atari 2600 video game console. That box was sitting on top of my Dad’s first computer, a portable from IBM that came in a hard-shell carrying case, weighed over 35 lbs, had *two* 5 1/4 floppy drives and a black/green screen that measured about 4 x 6. It was the top of the line when he used to carry it around on trips.

My 3 year old is playing with an old Apple clamshell Newton (the eMate), he loves pen-based computing. I bought it for $10 on eBay. My Newton when bought new in 1997 was over $1000 and I nearly got divorced the day I bought it without clearing it with my wife first. I probably over-paid for the clamshell.

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