Back in the Day: 1984 Magazines review the Apple Macintosh

In February and March 1984, the introduction of the Apple Macintosh the previous month dominated magazine coverage.

The brainchild of Apple’s Steve Jobs, the Macintosh was the culmination of five years of engineering, and a merging of Apple’s low-cost Macintosh “computer appliance” project, started by Apple engineer Jef Raskin, with Jobs’ Xerox Alto-inspired high-end Apple Lisa, both originating in 1979.

As time progressed and the cost of components used in the respective machines decreased, the Macintosh was soon capable of executing Lisa software, and after Jobs was forced out of the Lisa project for micromanaging it, he took the reins of the Macintosh team, realising that the Macintosh was likely to be more marketable than the US$10,000 Lisa. 

The final goal of the Macintosh project became to create a completely GUI (graphical user interface)-driven computer that would be simple to understand and use, but at a reasonable enough price to make it commercially practical. The final design had an integrated 512×384 pixel monochrome display and 128KB of RAM – just enough to run the Macintosh’s operating system, split into two components called System and Finder, and two applications, MacWrite, a word processor, and MacPaint, a graphics program.

The general public’s first introduction to the Macintosh occurred during 1984’s Super Bowl, when Apple’s infamous “1984” commercial aired. Directed by Ridley Scott, the commercial stylises the Macintosh as a rebel in a world ruled by the dominating IBM PC. The commercial was a hit, and the US$1,995 Macintosh was made available for sale two days later.

Byte Magazine’s reviewer wrote that “(t)here is a lot to like about the Macintosh; it is a superb example of what American technology can do when given the chance,” calling its features “all important innovations done well.” However, they felt using the Mac with only its internal disk drive was impractical, and that a second drive was a necessity. They also felt the Mac, once a second drive, printer and software was added, was too expensive. (Byte also published a few Mac rumours, including that MacWrite was initially called “Macauthor” and MacPaint “Mackelangelo”. Punny people!)

InCider wondered, “For the past year or so, people close to the personal computer industry have speculated that there may not be a place for any industry standard other than MS-DOS. Now, after Macintosh, they may well wonder if there is a place for MS-DOS,” and called the Macintosh “the best hardware value in the history…of the personal computer.”

The Australian Apple Review’s Gareth Powell concluded that “(i)f you try not to think of it as a microcomputer, and try, instead, to see it as a standard piece of equipment to be used in an office then you will start to appreciate the beauty of the concept.” He finishes, “When I first reviewed the Macintosh I was dubious. Now, on the road to Ryde, I have seen the light and I am converted.

Personal Computing’s Charles Rubin called MacPaint “the most incredible combination of simplicity and power I’ve seen in a graphics program,” and the magazine’s associate editor, Kevin Strehlo wrote that Macintosh team-member, Andy Hertzfeld, “believes Bill Atkinson’s MacPaint will convince people that they don’t have to choose between work and playing a game – that work can be fun.” However,  Hertzfeld was concerned that Apple may not be able to sell enough Macs “to really change the world”.

Apple Orchard’s Scott Knaster declared, “There’s one more very nice compliment we can pay to the Macintosh: it’s not an IBM-PC clone,” and speculated that “(the) Macintosh will open up personal computing to lots of people who never touched a computer before.” Finally, new Macintosh-centric magazines MacWorld and ST.Mac loved the new computer, but they would, of course. You don’t usually build a business around a cash cow and then slaughter it in public.

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