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A sidebar to the article “A tour of the Mac desktop,” published in Macworld 1/1984, pp. 26-27. Available with permission.

Most computers don’t have a uniform working environment, or universal interface, like the Macintosh. Consequently, every application ends up with a different way of doing the same thing. Trying to remember those various ways can be very frustrating. All of the applications currently available on the Mac share the same working environment. If you learn how to edit text using MacWrite, for example, you can expect the same basic techniques to work in MacPaint and Multiplan. Of course, MacWrite will allow you to do more with text than will MacPaint or Multiplan, but all Mac applications have a uniform approach to fundamental tasks.

Exploring a new application will not be an intimidating or frustrating experience because you will be able to apply what you already know from working with other applications. You may start by learning how to draw using MacPaint and find it so entertaining that you will actually produce something useful, such as a map to your house or a letterhead for your personal stationery. That success will encourage you to try writing letters and memos using MacWrite. Because that experience was so painless, you’ll brave Multiplan to create a budget or an expense account. The working atmosphere is so familiar and consistent from one application to the next that you will find yourself doing things you never thought you would even try, with or without a computer.

All this talk may seem a bit odd or even pointless if you already use another personal computer and feel comfortable with it. You probably have some handy reference cards listing all the commands for the programs you use, so if something should slip your mind, you can easily look it up.

But admit it, aren’t there times when you growl in anguish as your computer deletes the wrong file because of a typographical error? (Such errors are impossible on the Mac because you never need to type commands.) Don’t you wish you could move the cursor diagonally, not just up, down, and sideways? (With the mouse you can move quickly from one point directly to another.) Wouldn’t you like to get rid of the pencil and paper you use to remind yourself of which seven cells you want to add together for a total in a spreadsheet? (All you do on the Mac is point at each cell or at a range of cells, and the program remembers for you.) And suppose you had a word processor you could use without having to remember dozens of control codes. Who knows, you might be tempted to type your own letters and memos, rather than writing them out longhand and having someone else type and retype them. (You never have to use a control code in MacWrite.)

Switching to the Mac from another computer will be far less trouble than trying to remember the multitude of commands for the applications you have already learned. You have a head start over computer newcomers because you know word processing concepts such as word wrap, page headers, boldface characters, and justified margins, or spreadsheet concepts such as column replication, summing a range of cells, and dollar formats. All you have to do is learn how to get around on the electronic desktop. (Don’t forget that what you learn about in one application will stand you in good stead in another.)

It’s not surprising that the first applications for the Mac use consistent methods and can share information. What about the applications to come? Apple is encouraging independent program developers to create new applications for the Mac. It will be up to the programmers who develop new applications to observe the rules and provide Mac users with a consistent, familiar working environment. Fortunately, they have at least three good reasons to do so:
Mac owners will be more likely to buy software that they find familiar and consistent and hence easy to learn. Given the choice between two programs with comparable features, people will always pick the one that is similar to the programs they already have. MacPaint, MacWrite, and Multiplan will set the de facto standard working environment against which all other programs will be measured.
Program developers will not have to invent, describe, and justify their own unique operating environment. Apple has already put years of research, development, and testing into the design of the Mac desktop model. It is general and flexible enough to work in almost any application.
The tools that programmers need to create the prescribed settings and trappings of the desktop environment are built into the Mac. It costs programmers nothing to use them. In fact, using them means less programming, not more, and a more reliable program that uses less memory can be finished and bring in revenue sooner.

If program developers use their imaginations to come up with innovative applications while staying consistently within the Mac working environment, Apple’s dream of a universal interface will become a reality, and the computing power of the Mac will be accessible to a wider range of users.

Page added on 12th February 2005.

Copyright © 2002-2006 Marcin Wichary, unless stated otherwise.