Hands On: Apple Macintosh Computers (part 6)
If I were an advertising copywriter I would probably say something like One day all computers will be this way. Im not however, and I dont think that the Mac is the ultimate computer by any means, not even the more advanced models. There is still too much of a hurdle for newcomers to leap, still a lot you can get wrong if you are not careful - or delve into files you should leave alone - and it still crashes from time to time. One thing I am sure of is that whatever future truly user-friendly computers are like, they will be more like the Mac than anything else around at the moment.
The Mac operating system is regularly updated and the current version is called System 7.1, or System 7 for short. System 7 was a long time in development and it was supposed to be really really good compared to System 6. Being a cautious type of person I didnt buy System 7.0 for my Mac SE when it came out but hung back while the inevitable bugs were eradicated. But when 7.1 came along I thought the time was ripe to take the plunge.
The Mac keyboard is pretty much like any other computer keyboard except that the basic model doesnt have any function keys (you dont need them) and there are a couple of strangely named, but very useful keys just to the left of the space bar. The Option key is like another shift key and is used for accessing special characters like éü∑© etc. The large key with a clover leaf and a half eaten apple on it is the Command key which is used for keyboard shortcuts. The Macintosh mouse has only one button. After you have used it for a while you will wonder why any mouse should ever need more.
Unlike other computers the Mac has a proper shut down procedure. Select Shut Down from the Special menu and all programs will be brought to a graceful conclusion, including dialogue boxes asking you if you want to save open files. The hard disk will then be parked so that the data surfaces are safe from damage.
First of all check that you cant buy cheaper new. Its amazing what deals are available on Macs these days. If you do want to buy secondhand then I would advise an SE or Classic as a minimum purchase. Ask to see the computer switched off, left for a couple of minutes and powered up again. Watch the screen for any instability, on the SE the connector taking the HT supply to the screen is heavy and unsupported. A hairline crack in the solder joints can mean a wobbly screen image. On older SEs, the fan is noisy and a worn motor can cause bright flashes on the screen. These should disappear after a couple of minutes and cause no further problem. Ask the owner to see the control panel and check the clock. If this doesnt show the correct date and time then you will have to have a new internal battery installed. Also ask which system version is installed. If it is not at least System 6.0.7 then you may not be able to run certain software until you get a copy of the more recent system version. Bear in mind that if you are new to the Mac you will probably need an instruction manual to get the best out of it.
The range of Macintosh computers changes so quickly these days that this will probably be out of date by the time you read it! The Classic II and LC II have the 68030 processor which is rather faster than the good old 68000. A faster processor means a faster screen redraw. They can both be expanded to 10 Megabytes of RAM. Above the LC II come more expensive Macs which you may consider more powerful than necessary for music sequencing. On the other hand, if you want to do hard disk recording with a system such as Sound Tools II, then you need a Mac which can take so-called NuBus cards. Current models include the IIvi and IIvx. Dont forget that there is a remarkable range of portable Macs too. The best way to pick a Mac is to go to a dealer that specialises in musical applications and seek their advice. Its also a very good idea to see the hardware/software combination they recommend working and give at a good try out before you invest.