The original 1984’s advertisement stated “If you can point, you
can use a Macintosh. You do it at baseball games. At the counter in grocery
stores. And every time you let your fingers do the walking.” This of course
refers to one of the Macintosh’s most distinctive features – its one-button mouse.
The mouse came to Macintosh project straight from Lisa, and it didn’t change
much in functionality and appearance. However, the Apple Lisa mouse was substantially
better than its direct predecessor designed over at Xerox PARC laboratory.
Xerox’s device was more or less a prototype, used in laboratories by
skilled engineers. It had three buttons (each one as important as the other) and
when it got dirty, it had to be taken apart for cleaning – literally!
Hovey-Kelley Design, hired by Apple, did the hard work of turning this prototype
into a mouse which could be mass-produced and was simple enough to use and clean
by an average user.
Interestingly enough, Jef Raskin was opposed to the mouse at first, prefering
joysticks, trackballs or tablets (and having evidence that they are more efficient
pointing devices). However, he was also the person advocating having just one
button on the mouse. (“So it’s extremely difficult to push the wrong
button,” to quote the aforementioned brochure again.)
This was and remains one of the most controversial Mac issues and not a year
comes by without some Macintosh fans asking, demanding or simply wishing
for even just one more button. But Apple still sticks to the original premise,
and their 21st century mice went even further, with no visible button and
the whole upper body of the mouse acting as one.
However, back in 1984 it wasn’t the single button that attracted most of
the attention – it was the very presence of the mouse itself. Macintosh
succeeded at what Xerox Alto, Xerox Star, and Apple Lisa couldn’t –
popularizing the use of the mouse (along with its revolutionary GUI) and
introducing the world to a device as powerful, as it was simple, and now
such natural concepts as “point and click” and “drag and drop.”
[User Interface poster]
Contrary to popular belief, Macintosh wasn’t first to have commercial Graphical
User Interface based on nowadays omnipresent windows, icons and menus – it
was preceded by both Xerox Star in 1981, and Apple Lisa in 1983. However,
Macintosh was the first to popularize such interface, and it was directly
responsible for the following outbreak of GUIs.
After decades of living in a world of mouse-driven interfaces, it might be
hard to imagine what a revolution they were. “No more guessing what the
computer wants. No more memorizing long commands with names only a programmer
could love.” Pointing instead of typing. Doing instead of describing.
Seeing instead of imagining.
Of course, the first System (later renamed to Mac OS) was extremely limited –
after all, it occupied only half of 400 KB disk. Due to hardware restrictions, it
was crippled even more than Lisa’s GUI released a year earlier. It lacked
not only multitasking, but even simple task switching – only a couple
of “desk accessories” (such as calculator and clock) could be
run concurrently. The contents of the trash can were deleted with each reboot,
and many operations required a lot of disk swapping. However, it managed to
familiarize general public with such ideas as clicking, double-clicking, copy and
paste, drag and drop, WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), direct manipulation
and desktop metaphor. They are second nature to most of us today, but we owe them
Looking at its virtual desktop, we will see that not that much really
changed during the last twenty years. We still have a trash can, we still drag
icons to copy or move documents, we still use menus, we still resize the windows
the same way.
Many specialists consider this is a mistake. After all, Mac’s GUI was
created when the average user had handful of files on handful of floppy disk.
Nowadays everyone accesses millions of files on thousands of computers and the
“every file as concrete object” vision starts to cause more and more trouble.
We have yet to see what the next revolution in human-computer interaction will
be and who will ignite it. In the meanwhile, graphical user interfaces still
evolve and it is very likely that the Macintosh-like interaction will continue
to grace our screens for years to come.
While pages could be filled describing the ideas behind Mac user interface, it
is hard to write about early Macintosh software, because... there simply was none.
And that’s not so big an exaggeration as you might think. Despite Apple
claiming that it learned from the failure of Lisa (lack of applications was one
of its culprits), it took months for the software companies to start releasing
applications. The situation was so grim and the wait so lengthy, that
Personal Computing magazine put a big “Macintosh Software: Is The Wait Over?”
on its cover. But it was in December 1984, and for the preceding year the
Macintosh users were stuck with only a handful of programs – most from Apple itself.
Actually, in January 1984, only two applications were available: MacPaint and
MacWrite – and both were bundled with the computer. Shortly thereafter, a
nifty spreadsheet called Multiplan was released by no one else, but... Microsoft.
Bill Gates actually appeared in Macintosh ads himself, saying that “the
next generation of interesting software will be made on a Macintosh, not an IBM PC.”
Back then Microsoft’s little Interface Manager was still in development, and
who would’ve suspected that years later it will conquer the world as Windows?
But operating system wars aside, the very choice of those three applications perfectly
characterized the way of thinking behind Macintosh. It was not the software aimed
at hobbyists. Or programmers. Or engineers. This was the software for regular
people, who wanted to write a letter to a friend, draw a picture or calculate
home budget. One magazine stated that “the Macintosh is the only machine in recent
history to be offered without a programming language” – this might
be natural these days, but back in 1984 was considered a very bold move.
Fortunately, soon enough more programs started appearing. Among those, two
probably most important – Aldus PageMaker, which started the DTP revolution,
and Adobe Photoshop, to this date the number one graphic package.
Apple itself also continued writing software, never losing the user-oriented
approach. Its recent iSync, iCal or the iLife application suite were considered
milestones in user-friendliness. And quite recently the history seemed to
come full circle. In a strange twist of fate and a rather unprecedented move,
Apple released its iTunes application to use under... Microsoft Windows.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Apple without arrogantly touting it
“the best Windows app ever.”