Hands On: Apple Macintosh Computers (part 1)
The history of personal computers, as we know them today, started with the introduction of two very important items of equipment. One is still with us today in a very recognisable form, and one is still with us in spirit. These two computers are the Atari ST and the Amstrad PC1512. Maybe you dont remember the Amstrad but its claim to fame is that it was the first IBM compatible computer that the average man or woman in the street could afford. This was a personal computer that came seriously configured for hundreds of pounds rather than thousands. We can thank Mr. Alan Sugar now for inspiring the cost cutting competition that has led to IBM compatible computers (or Windows compatible as we may now call them) at truly reasonable prices. The other of my two examples, the Atari ST, is also an example of sensible pricing. The ST, when it came out, was a very powerful computer and although the games oriented marketing led some people to believe that it wasnt to be taken seriously, its longevity in the market and acceptance at the highest levels of music making show that it is a tool for grown ups as well as a toy.
The problem with IBM compatible and Atari computers, a problem which is still with us now, is that they are not truly user friendly. User friendliness is a term which has been grossly abused over the years by purveyors of computer hardware and software to the point of meaninglessness. I think most readers of this magazine will have leaped the hurdle of so-called computer literacy, but there are many highly intelligent people in the world who dont take advantage of what computers can offer because they are seen to be difficult to use. Now if you are an IBM-compatible, Windows or Atari user you will be violently disagreeing with me at this point. But I used to be an IBM-compatible owner, an Atari owner and a Windows user myself. Then I discovered the Mac. I used to pride myself on how confidently I could navigate the hazardous waters of MSDOS (If you dont know what that is, my advice is never to allow yourself to be troubled by it!). I used to think that the operating system of the Atari was quite sensible and straightforward. I used to think that those people who raved on and on about how wonderful Macs were were total idiots who had somehow undergone a type of religious conversion. I was wrong on all three counts.
The problem with Macs used to be that they were terribly expensive. A Macintosh SE, such as the one I now use for writing, graphics and music sequencing, used to cost in the region of £3000 when it was a current model. This seemed to me like an awful lot of money for a computer that uses the same processor as an Atari ST! Fortunately for me, the time when I discovered the Mac coincided with a realigning of Apples new equipment prices and a consequent drop in secondhand values. You can now pick up a Mac SE for £450 or less. There has even been a recent offer (short lived unfortunately) by some dealers to sell a Mac Classic (the current near equivalent of the SE) for roughly the same price. All this means that you can now buy a sensible computer for the price of one that really hasnt been properly thought through.
I ought, before I continue, to tell you two things. The first is that I am going to concentrate on the types of Mac that you are most likely to come across or may want to acquire at a reasonable secondhand price - the SE, Classic and LC - rather than outdated versions such as the 512 or MacPlus or the more exotic and costly varieties. The second is that if you want a computer that will be suitable for complex graphics or large spreadsheets, as well as music sequencing and word processing, then these basic Macs are a bit on the slow side. Also, recording digital audio onto a hard disk is still a bit of a grey area at this price level. You cant do it yet with a small Mac, but who knows what new hardware add-ons may be just around the corner?