I used a Mac before you did

Summary:Fall, 1983 to be specific. The software company where I worked was one of the original pre-release Mac developers. It was a struggle to work with.

Happy 30th birthday to the Apple Macintosh! Following the most famous Super Bowl ad ever, on January 24, 1984, Apple released the first Mac. 

Mac.1984
The first Mac model

In the fall of 1983 I was a programmer in Princeton, NJ working at the now-long-defunct DeskTop Software Corp. We wrote database management systems in Pascal and had a relationship with Apple already, having written our first product for the Apple II. This history made us perfect candidates to write code for the new, then-secret Mac.

We already had an Apple Lisa, and good thing, because writing code for the Mac early on was the only reason anyone needed or ever even used a Lisa. But because we had already had exposure to the Lisa, the Mac software wasn't quite as revolutionary looking to us as to most people. As with the Lisa, all Mac development initially was in Pascal.

The Mac software was simpler and not quite as pretentious as the Lisa's. In retrospect, the Lisa looks like an effort too-strongly influenced by the Xerox Star, which was aimed at the conventional business user.

Apple.Lisa.Ad
The Apple Lisa, as if they invented the personal computer the first time.

The initial Mac had 128KB of RAM, quite a lot of memory for 1984, but not enough to do a whole lot in a GUI. We did all the software development on the Lisa, transferred it to the Mac over an RS-422 cable (that's right, not RS-232). This made debugging a major, slow PITA, as if working on a completely new platform wasn't hard enough. (It was actually possible to add more RAM to that original Mac. All you needed to do was to disassemble it and solder a lot of memory chips to the main board.)

Our product on all other platforms had a very plain text interface, generally using standard input and standard output. It was designed for script writing. Clearly this wasn't the Mac way, and we had to come up with something new.

What we came up with was 1st Base, a very simple, one table at a time data manager. Like pretty much all software on the early Mac it was heavily constrained by the limited RAM and disk storage. There was just one 3.5-inch floppy drive with, if I remember correctly, a capacity of 400K. By the way, if you want to buy a copy of 1st Base, someone is selling one on eBay. Quantities are limited, so hurry!

The early Macs really weren't all that useful, although they were fascinating. I had the impression we didn't sell a whole lot of 1st Base (nor enough of anything else, as the company went out of business around 1986).

Over the years there have been a handful of times where I used a Mac as my main computer. I've never really liked it all that much and I've never understood why people find it easy to use. But that's just personal taste. Obviously Apple was on to something.

PS - Oh, my lost youth! Google "DeskTop Software Corp" and all you see is my own LinkedIn page!

Topics: Apple

About

Larry Seltzer has long been a recognized expert in technology, with a focus on mobile technology and security in recent years. He was most recently Editorial Director of BYTE, Dark Reading and Network Computing at UBM Tech. Prior to that he spent over a decade consulting and writing on technology subjects, primarily in the area of sec... Full Bio

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