Reprinted from Macworld 1/1984, pp. 16-27. Published with permission.
Scans and OCR courtesy of Douglas P. McNutt and Katherine L. Harras from
The MacNauchtan Laboratory.
With the Macintosh, Apple has added a
new dimension to computing. Based on the concept of a desktop working
environment, the Mac allows you to do more with a
personal computer – and more importantly, do it
more easily and naturally – than ever before.
Imagine driving a car that has no steering wheel, accelerator, brake pedal,
turn signal lever, or gear selector. In place of all the familiar manual
controls, you have only a typewriter keyboard.
|The Mac desktop contains small pictures, or icons, that represent the programs and documents stored on the disk inserted in the Mac’s disk drive.|
Any time you want to turn a corner, change lanes, slow down, speed up, honk your
horn, or back up, you have to type a command sequence on the keyboard.
Unfortunately, the car can’t understand English sentences. Instead, you must
hold down a special key with one finger and type in some letters and numbers, such
as “S20:TL:A35,” which means, “Slow to 20, turn left, and accelerate to
If you make typing mistakes, one of three things will happen. If you type an unknown command,
the car radio will bleat and you will have to type the command again. If what you type
happens to be wrong but is nevertheless a valid command, the car will blindly obey (Imagine
typing A95 instead of A35.) If you type something the manufacturer didn’t anticipate, the
car will screech to a halt and shut itself off.
No doubt you could learn to drive such a car if you had sufficient motivation and
determination. But why bother, when so many cars use familiar controls?
Most people wouldn’t.
Most people don’t bother to use a personal computer for the same
reasons – they wouldn’t bother with a keyboard-controlled car. Working
on a computer isn’t a natural skill, and the benefits hardly seem worth
the hassle of learning how to get work done in an unfamiliar environment. If you
make a typing mistake, the computer may do nothing, tell you it doesn’t understand,
do the wrong thing, shut itself down, or destroy all the work you’ve done and
then shut itself down. Who cares if the machine is theoretically thousands of times
more efficient than pencil and paper? If using the machine rattles you so much that you
can’t get anything done, it is in fact less efficient and may waste more time than
what it a computer could let you work in a familiar environment, similar to the way
you work at your desk? You could put things you wanted to work with on top of the
“desk,” move them around, put documents into folders or files, and even
throw things into the trash. This description accurately fits the working environment
of Apple’s Macintosh computer. The things you work with on your desk appear not
as words and numbers in regimented lines, but as graphic objects located on the Mac screen.
The Mac desktop, being somewhat smaller than the average desk it models, doesn’t have
room enough for life-sized objects. At first, objects appear on the
Mac desktop as small pictures called icons. On the Mac, an icon is a symbol for
some concept or object. For example, when you switch on the Mac and insert a disk,
the screen shows two disk-shaped icons and a trash can (see Figure 1). As a
graphic image, an icon can remind you about what it represents better than words alone.
|Figure 1. The Mac desktop. The Write/Paint disk icon represents the documents and programs stored on the current disk; the Alternate Disk icon is used for copying files from one disk to another; and the trash can icon holds discarded documents.|
Each icon represents a specific collection of information. To avoid ambiguity, icons
also have labels. The disk icon (labeled Write/Paint in Figure 1) represents
the documents and programs stored on the disk inserted into the Mac’s disk drive.
The dimmed disk icon labeled Alternate Disk is used for copying files from
one disk to another, and the trash can icon labeled
Trash holds documents and programs waiting to be
purged from the disk.
Pointers and the Mouse
On a real desktop, you move things around. You may work with one document or file for a while,
switch to another, do some minor calculations, check the time, and then create a new file.
When you finish working on something, you want to put it away somewhere convenient (such as
in a file drawer) so you can retrieve it later. The Mac lets you do all these things,
but the things you work with exist as graphic images on the Mac’s electronic desktop.
Since you can’t touch things on the Mac desktop, you need some form of remote control.
The mouse is the key to working on the Mac desktop. Sliding the mouse on a smooth surface
moves a pointer on the screen. Slide the mouse in any direction – up, down,
sideways, or diagonally – and the on-screen pointer will move the same distance in the same
direction (see A Mouse in the Hand for an in-depth view of the Macintosh
Moving the mouse moves the pointer, but pressing the mouse button makes things happen. For
example, you can move an icon by placing the pointer over it, pressing and holding down
the mouse button, and then dragging the icon to a new location. The moment you press the
mouse button, the icon is highlighted. As the pointer moves, it drags an outline of the
icon and its label along. The outline shows you where the icon will appear when you release
the mouse button (see Figure 2).
|Figure 2. Dragging an icon. As you hold down the mouse button and move the pointer, an outline of the selected icon moves across the screen.|
Moving the pointer over an icon and pressing and releasing the mouse button highlights
the icon. This mouse action, called clicking, selects the object but does nothing except
highlight it; you still must specify an action. In other words, you must give a command.
On most computer systems, you issue a command by typing arcane words or symbols on the
keyboard. Remembering such commands is difficult enough from day to day. Go to Hawaii for
a week, and you can plan on a session with the manual when you return.
The Mac never forces you to remember command words or type commands on the keyboard. All Mac
commands are listed in menus, and you choose them with the mouse. Don’t let other
menus you have seen or heard about prejudice you against Mac menus. Most people say
menus are great when you’re learning something, but they slow you down too much when
you know the ropes. Not on the Mac. Most people complain that menus take over the screen,
making the information they’re acting on invisible. Not on the Mac.
Most people say even with a menu you still end up typing in a code number or letter. Not
on the Mac. Mac menus are unobtrusive and fast, and require no typing.
The Mac desktop has five primary menus – Apple, File, Edit, View, and
Special – that stretch across the top of the screen. These menus provide all the
commands for organizing and working on the desktop. You can do everything from opening
and closing files to rearranging icons. The Mac hides its menu commands under the menu
titles. When you move the pointer over one of the menu titles and press the mouse
button, a list of commands drops down from the menu bar, temporarily overlaying a small
part of the screen.
The Apple menu (represented by the apple symbol) contains a selection of desktop
accessories and controls (see Desktop Accessories for a
comprehensive look at the Apple menu options). The File menu lists commands for working with
files (see Figure 3), and the Edit menu contains basic editing commands.
The View menu lets you organize your files by icon, name, date, size, or kind on the
desktop. The Special menu includes two options: Clean Up arranges the icons in orderly
rows and columns, and Empty Trash deletes files permanently from the disk.
|Figure 3. The File menu. To select a command, drag the pointer down the menu and release the mouse button when the command is highlighted.|
Menus operate as if they were spring-loaded. As long as you hold down the mouse button,
the menu choices (commands) stay in view; when you release the mouse button, the
menu choices disappear back under the menu bar. While you hold down the mouse
button, you can drag the pointer down the menu. Each menu choice is highlighted
temporarily as the pointer passes over it. You choose a command from the menu
by releasing the mouse button when the command you want is highlighted. Also, some of
the menu commands have keyboard equivalents, which are listed next to the corresponding
All of the available commands appear in black type. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense
to use some of the commands. Commands that are out of context in any particular
situation appear in gray, or dimmed, type. They are not highlighted when you move the
pointer over them, and you cannot choose them. In the File menu, for example, you
cannot Close or Print a document unless you first Open it.
When you want to look at the information that one of the icons represents, you open
a window. To open the disk icon, for example, you first select the icon by clicking
the mouse button while the pointer is over the disk icon. The icon is highlighted to
confirm that you have selected it. Next, you choose the Open command from the File
menu. An outline zooms out of the icon and the screen almost fills up with a
rectangular “window” containing icons that represent the documents
and programs on the disk (see Figure
4). The selected icon becomes hollow
(all white) to show that you have opened it, and the disk icon’s name appears
in a title bar at the top of the window. The line below the title bar gives
information including the number of files, the amount of disk space they take up,
and the amount of disk space available.
|Figure 4. The disk window. The icons represent the documents and programs on the current disk.|
A more efficient way to open an icon is to double-click the mouse button
(quickly press and release it twice); this action selects the icon and opens
Some of the icons represent folders that can contain other programs and documents,
similar to file folders on your office desk that combine separate files.
You can see the contents of a folder by selecting and opening that folder. A new
window will appear on the desktop, displaying the icons that represent the
files stored in the folder (see Figure 6). You can store folders within folders
and use them to organize your files so that windows don’t get cluttered with too many
|Figure 5. A window showing the contents of a folder. Each folder contains documents and programs, which in turn can contain other documents and folders.|
The Mac lets you open several windows simultaneously. Select another icon, choose the
Open command from the File menu or double-click on the selected icon, and another window
zooms into existence. Each new window you open overlaps the existing windows. You may
see the edges of existing windows sticking out underneath the new window, or the
new window may completely hide everything under it. Windows can also cover up the
icons on the Mac desktop (see Figure 6).
|Figure 6. Overlapping windows. You can open several windows at once; the topmost window is the active window.|
The window on top, or frontmost window, is called the active window. You can bring
any window to the top and make it the active window by putting the pointer anywhere on
it (even an edge that’s sticking out behind another window) and clicking the mouse
button. You can remove the active window from the Mac desktop by choosing the Close command
from the File menu. The icon that the window came from sucks the information back, the
window disappears, and the icon resumes its normal appearance.
You can also move windows around on the Mac desktop. If you place the pointer over the title
bar of a window, press and hold down the mouse button, and slide the mouse, a flickering
outline of the window is dragged on the desktop. Let go of the mouse button, and the
window jumps to the new location. When you move a window by this method, it becomes the
topmost window. However, holding down the key while you drag a window
allows you to move the window without disturbing its relative position in the pile.
This feature is an example of an “advanced” desktop management skill that you
soon learn after a few work sessions with the Mac.
Sometimes windows get buried. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get a side view of
the Mac desktop to see what might be under the frontmost window. But you can always relocate
windows or change their sizes to uncover the ones underneath.
Think about the appliances you use. They have pushbuttons, knobs, dials, and other types
of controls. Because the Mac desktop is a general purpose information processing
appliance, it needs many different controls. You’ve seen the way elaborate stereo systems
bristle with knobs, buttons, and dials. Imagine adding a television, telephone, and pocket
calculator to that collection. Pretty intimidating, but nothing compared to what the
Mac would look like if it had separate controls for everything it did.
Most computers handle the control problem by overworking the keyboard. A few add some so-called
function keys, but you have to be a double-jointed NASA rocket control specialist to
use them effectively The Mac displays controls to suit the situation. You use
the mouse to activate buttons and adjust control knobs displayed on the screen. For
example, the disk window, like most windows, has several controls built in (see Figure
7). The Mac displays the controls only when the window is active, however. To close an active
window, you can click the mouse button while the pointer is over the close box
at the left side of the title bar. Clicking in this displayed box has the same effect
as choosing the Close command from the File menu. (Savvy Mac users will quickly discover
many timesaving shortcuts.)
|Figure 7. Window controls enable you to change a window’s size, scroll vertically or horizontally within it, or close an active window using the mouse.|
The small box displayed in the lower-right corner of most active windows gives you control
over the size of the window. To make the window narrower, use the mouse to drag this
size box to the left. To make the window wider, drag the size box to the right.
Drag the size box up and the window gets shorter; drag it down and the window gets
taller. Drag the size box on a diagonal to change both height and width simultaneously.
Changing the window size does not change the size of what’s displayed, it just changes
the amount of information you can see at once (see Figure 8).
|Figure 8. Small and large windows. Changing a windows size affects the amount of information visible at one time.|
Sometimes a window doesn’t show all of its contents, even if you’ve fully
extended its size. Fortunately, the scroll bar controls let you scan back and forth
over the available information. Most windows have two scroll bars. One, located on
the left edge of the window, controls up-and-down movement. The other, located at
the bottom of the window, controls side-to side movement.
Of the many ways to use scroll bars, the simplest is to click the arrow that points
in the direction you want the window to move over the information. (Actually,
the window stays put on the screen and the information moves under it, but the
effect is the same as if the window had moved in the direction of the arrow used.)
If you press and hold the mouse button instead of just clicking it, the window keeps
moving. As the window moves, a small white box, the scroll box, also moves. The
scroll box gauges the window’s position relative to the top and bottom, left and
right edges of the screen.
|Figure 9. A dialog box appears when the Mac needs additional information to proceed.|
Dialog and Alert Boxes
The Mac takes the unexpected in stride. When something unusual happens, it displays a
special window to inform you of the exceptional circumstances. You may have to
click some buttons to cancel or continue an action, manipulate some other controls,
or even type a name on the keyboard. These special windows, called dialog boxes,
appear only for the purpose of getting supplemental information from you, information needed
to proceed with the task at hand (see Figure 9). If the special window appears
because of some potentially dangerous situation (such as when your disk is almost
full), it is called an alert box (see Figure 10). The appearance of an alert
box may be accompanied by one or two beeps from the Mac’s speaker.
|Figure 10. An alert box warns of a potentially dangerous situation.|
The commands available from the menu bar and the controls displayed on the screen vary
depending on the program you use. Every program has an icon, and opening that icon
starts the program. Starting a program opens a window in which you can display a
document of your choice. You can create a new document or call up an existing document
from the disk. The program also displays its own menu bar and controls that you
can use to inspect and change the document.
Generally speaking, you can also start a program by opening a document that you created
with it. You can start the MacWrite word processing program, for example, by
opening a letter you wrote using it. You do this by double-clicking on the icon representing
On the Mac, however, you can run only one program at a time; you can’t open
a MacWrite window at the same time you have a MacPaint window open.
Apple had to leave something for the Lisa to do better. (You can, however, open and use
a desk accessory program while you are using another program, and you can place
MacPaint drawings into MacWrite documents as explained below.)
The Universal Interface
Although the specific commands and controls are different from one program to the
next, all Mac programs adhere to certain conventions, including the use of icons, windows,
menus, and the mouse. Once you discover a way to do something in one program, you
can apply the same principles in other Mac programs (see The Mac Way for more
information about the Macintosh user interface). For example, the method for moving
information from one part of a document to another is uniform, no matter what kind
of information is involved. That procedure, called cut and paste, is done entirely
with the mouse and the Edit menu (see Figure 11). The steps are as follows:
|Figure 11. The Edit menu. The Cut and Paste commands are used to move text or graphics from one part of a document to another.|
- Select the information to be moved.
- Choose the Cut command from the Edit menu.
- Select the insertion point.
- Choose the Paste command from the Edit menu.
You can copy information by choosing the Copy command instead of the Cut command in
step 2. Copy and paste is completely analogous to cut and paste but does not delete the
original information. Either way, the procedure works if the information comes from
one document and goes to another, even if the documents were created by different
programs. It doesn’t matter whether you transfer text to text, text to a
drawing, a drawing to a drawing, or a drawing to text.
A Personable Computer
The popular notion of computers dates back 15 or 20 years to a time when computers
studded with flashing lights hunkered in climate-controlled rooms. People viewed
computers either as a force that dehumanized society by monitoring tax returns too closely
or as some kind of electronic Einstein that put man into space. The development of
personal computers has somewhat modified that perception. Progressive thinkers
now regard computers as impersonal machines, just so many keys to press and
commands to remember. Rudeness is probably the only characteristic anyone would
anthropomorphically attribute to them.
The Mac, on the other hand, is a responsive, active, engaging information processing
appliance that is incidentally a computer. It doesn’t intrude. It is quiet,
takes little space, and doesn’t ask you to remember anything. When you insert
a disk, the screen fills with icons representing objects you find on or around your
desk. These graphic images soon become very familiar to you, like the actual papers,
folders, trash can, and documents they imitate. You copy a document, choose a
command, drag an icon, cut and paste a paragraph, sketch an illustration, sum a
column of numbers, all by manipulating objects on the screen with the mouse. You
tell the Mac what to do and it reacts, not the other way around. You think,
“This electronic desktop may not be so absurd or useless after all.” Finally,
a computer that doesn’t act like one.
Apple Computer, Inc.
20525 Mariani Ave.
Cupertino, CA 95014
800/538-9696; in California 800/662-9238
List price: $2495 (includes Macintosh, keyboard, mouse, owner’s manual, system
disk, blank disk, power cord, programmer’s switch, two Apple decals, and tutorial
disk and audio cassette)