More broken Apples...

Ray Arachelian ray at
Sun May 3 09:25:51 CDT 2009

I'm replying to two messages at once here.  :-)

Fred Cisin wrote:
> On Fri, 1 May 2009, Tony Duell wrote:
>> Far too often, things that are 'easy to use' (really meaning 'easy to
>> learn') make simple jobs trivial, but difficult jobs next-to-impossible.
>> Since I don't generally have problems doing simple jobs, you can tell
>> which sort of product I prefer...
> Strangely, I could never get that idea across to Jef Raskin.

Warren Wolfe wrote:
> I was shocked at how many people believed that the value of a word
> processing program was inversely proportional to the time it took a
> brain-damaged chimpanzee (or novice user, whichever is more
> convenient) to crank out a thank you note for the first time.  That
> was it, end of story.  I would always ask questions, and almost always
> just got a blank stare in reply:
> Don't you want a program that lets you improve your efficiency?
> Will you always be a total noob, or do you expect to understand your
> computer one day?
> How fast are good typists who use this program?
> Are there "speed keys" for any of these functions?

If you're talking about the original Mac, this is true.  But keep in
mind that Jef was off the Mac project before it changed directions.

Jef's design for the Mac would have made it another text oriented system
with an 8 bit, or 16 bit CPU.  While it's true that Jef convinced Steve
Jobs to go to Xerox PARC, the original designs for both the Mac and the
Lisa (which Jef wasn't working on) did not include the GUI.  Steve got
kicked out of the Lisa team and he took over Jef's team, pushing Jef out
- that's how the Mac became the Mac.  See for those bits of

The apps that shipped with the original Mac weren't meant to be high end
power user apps.  They were something to work with until profession apps
hit the market.  For most users they got the job done.  Otherwise, Apple
wouldn't have tried to get Lotus and Microsoft to port their wares to
the Mac, and supposing that the original Mac wasn't the one released in
1984, but instead the Mac SE or the Mac Plus was, if Apple had built
fully functional replacements for Microsoft Word and Lotus 123, then
that would have slowed down the software market for the Mac as it would
have pissed off the big software houses.  That would have limited the
original Mac far more.  Whenever you have a new machine to market, your
biggest problem is the lack of software and convincing existing app
makers to port to your platform.

To answer the question of why you'd want easy to use software, that push
really does come from the corporate world.  My favorite example for this
is Java, I don't want to get too far off topic, but corporations love
java because training houses can churn out java "programmers" (more like
code monkeys) quickly in six months or so, and they're cheap and
replaceable.  They don't understand that some programmers are worth
10-100x more than others and that they should hire those with real
skills instead of those who just passed a course (or they do, and just
don't care).  But the same can be said of other types of employees that
were wanted back in the mid-late 80's - those that could work word
processors, since computers were expensive (as compared to say
typewriters). :-)
(The above isn't intend to knock Java as a language, or claim that there
are no high end Java coders, just that it's very easy to learn & churn,
like Visual BASIC before it.)

Jef's actual idea of what the Mac should be was realized into the Canon
Cat (and previously, the Swift board for the Apple II).

My own experience with the Cat has been that it isn't easy to learn, at
least, not if you're used to previous word processors that have cursor
keys.  The leap keys aren't intuitive and aren't easy to use initially,
but once you get used to them, and get past the learning curve, they are
quite speedy.  So that's the opposite of both your observations. 
Personally, I found the lack of cursor keys, especially up/down cursor
keys extremely frustrating.  So, no, this wasn't necessarily easy for
noobs to learn either.

As for doing difficult jobs that the ROM didn't provide features for,
guess what?  The Cat was fully programmable.  Learn Forth and you can
make it do just about anything the hardware allowed for.
The same was true of the Mac - if you had a Lisa and the Workshop to
reprogram your Mac with (Ok, later, Mac development packages were
released)  :-)  Or if you really needed that feature, and aren't a
programmer, you went out and bought Microsoft Word or whatever had the

As for speed keys and advanced features, well Duh!  They're right there
on the keyboard, plain for all to see, you don't even have to open the
manual to look at them.  Certainly a lot easier to access and learn than
the obscure keys in Word Perfect.  Gee, what does shift/control-F5 do
again?  What about Alt-F5? What about F5?  Oh right... it's not there on
the keyboard, I'll have to spend time with a manual if I want to do
anything advanced.

I don't see what the Jef bashing in the two above messages is about,
really.  If you guys are bashing the Mac, then Jef had little to do with
the Mac - the design constrains on the Mac came from two things: cost of
parts such as RAM, and design decisions (which came from management.)

As the target audience was word processing, the Cat had a good word
processor that handled almost everything someone would want from a word
processor at the time, including a built in spell checker.  It also had
terminal software, so you could send your documents between Cats over
phone lines.  So it met a lot of the needs of the users of that era. 
And if you needed to do math, the editor could be used in that way. Not
quite as a spreadsheet, but passable for lite needs.  All the software
was built in, you turned it on and it came up where you left off (if you
left your work floppy in the drive), and no hassles with first loading a
disk operating system, then loading an application.  You powered it on
and it just worked - exactly where you left off when you had shut it off.

It wasn't a hobbyist's machine, it wasn't expandable, but it was
programmable.  And it was something you could run your business with in
that day and age.  Certainly was a lot nicer and far less expensive than
some of the bigger word processing systems such as the Wangs.

An interesting tidbit: - as I understand it, the Cat originally was
designed to support proportional fonts, and the Cat's display, like the
Mac's, is a bitmapped display.  But Canon for whatever reason (either
lack of fonts in their printers, or concern about the speed of printing
graphics) asked IA to use monospaced fonts in the Cat.  So the parent
company did have a lot of influence as to the design of the Cat, but
over all, for an appliance, the Cat did a good job for what it was
intended to.

The original Mac would have been a wonderful machine, provided it had a
lot more RAM, and provided it was at least sold with an external floppy
drive.  IMHO, the first truly usable Mac was the Plus (at least the
models that had hard drives).  The 512KE came close.   And yes, I still
think the Mac should have had the Lisa's operating system rather than
the other way around, but that just wasn't possible with the cost of
hardware at the time.  (As slow as the Lisa was, it was light years
ahead of the first Mac in terms of capabilities.  The Mac Plus with a
hard drive was equivalent to what the Lisa had in terms of hardware
resources.  You really do need at least 1M of memory + a hard drive for
that kind of machine.)

But, even with severely limited resources, you could still get a usable
GUI system and do useful work.  GEOS on the C64, hooked up to a decent
printer could come close.  Nowhere as easy to use as a Cat in terms of
just turn it on and go, but perfectly fine for home word processing and
the like.  I remember doing my homework with this setup and driving the
teachers nuts because everyone else handed hand written loose leaf
homework. :-)

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