Mac history snapshot: July, 1989

A look at the clippings file from 20 years ago in July tells of a public speech by Jean-Louis Gassee, then president of what was called the Apple Products division, and a field trip to the first multimedia exposition. While the topics may stay the same, the details, quantities and costs are eye-popping.

A look at the clippings file from 20 years ago in July tells of a public speech by Jean-Louis Gassee, then president of what was called the Apple Products division, and a field trip to the first multimedia exposition. While the topics may stay the same, the details, quantities and costs are eye-popping. Gassee came to a meeting of the Berkeley Macintosh User Group (BMUG) that July in 1989, and gave a speech about various topics including networking, Mac performance and programming tools. He then took part in a Q&A session that of course featured more Qs than As (not so much different than today). Note that in those days, there was no consumer Internet, no browsers and no blogs. People got their information in person; these weekly meetings on the U.C. Berkeley campus were attended by several hundred members, even in the summer and the meeting with Gassee was packed with some 450 visitors. Here is a bit of what I wrote about Gassee and the meeting in my column in MicroTimes, a free monthly magazine that was handed out in computer stores and repair shops in California.
Gassee is a magnificent Mac Moliere, directing and dominating a crowd. To him, the meeting is a diplomatic, rhetorical exercise. If a subject was too tough, critical, or on an issue that Jean-Louis obviously could not speak about (holy non-disclosure Byteman!), we took it on the chin. He would glare at a poor questioning sap, with a professorial why-are-you-wasting-all-our-time expression. Sometimes we’d get a real sour-dough French bread shrug and a you-call-this-a-question? sneer. “I don’t know what you’re talking about?” Fine, we’ll buy it — just leave our egos intact! Often this nondisclosure was followed by the Apple standard, don’t-worry, be-happy, we’re-hard-at-work-on-it, “stick with us,” line. The guy is in charge of the shop. If anyone expected anything more than what was offered, they were being naive.
Gassee left Apple in 1990 and formed Be Inc., that made a workstation with BeOS, which was in contention to be the successor to the Mac OS (until Steve Jobs was chosen to bring in the NeXT team). He then was the Chairman of PalmSource. Gassee now appears to be an executive with a venture capital firm. Hot on the mind of members in 1989 was the amount of memory that would be needed to run the forthcoming version of the Mac OS, System 7.0. This would be a very significant break in technology from the past.

Some folks said the it would require 2MB of RAM and others 4MB — this is megabytes not GB, gigabytes, as we have today. Memory was very expensive, and computers didn't feature a standard upgrade slot for RAM. Upgrades for several megabytes could cost $750 or more. From a dark corner of the hall, a voice said, “It runs under one Mbyte of RAM — because I’ve done it.” Obviously, one of the developer regulars who wasn't worried about his NDA sitting in the shadows. Memory concerns are always with us. With Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard coming out in the next quarter, the transition to 64-bit computing continues. It's mostly seamless for users, but we don't really know where the sweet spot of cost and performance will be for memory in Snow Leopard. More is almost always better. Gassee was harangued about quality. In 1989, Apple was not known for its quality assurance and there was no Apple Care, Apple Guru bars or Apple stores. The out-of-the-box warranty was then only 90 days!
Gassee danced around Apple’s warranty policies, claiming that the company hopes to improve quality, so that you’ll never need to visit the repair shop. Everyone feels that the current 90 days parts and labor policy is way underpowered. There are signs that a coverage change has already been decided. MacWorld has started a warranty watch, until the Apple Ayatollahs release the extended guarantee.
That month there was also coverage of cross-platform hypertext and multimedia platforms in the column. It came from a visit to an expo in San Francisco for the growing market for combining various kinds of content with a graphical, database-driven front end. Apple HyperCard was one of the pioneer apps in this field. The hot thing was to combine video along with still images and text. Remember: no Internet back then. The content vehicle was CD-ROM. One of the products described was a "multimedia workstation," which was called the MocKingbird II. Read the description,  note the specs and then guess the cost.
The MocKingbird II combines a Mac IIx with 8 Mbytes of RAM, two big monitors, a 40 Mbyte Bernoulli cartridge drive, MacRecorder software, an Apple Scanner, an uninterruptible power supply and a table to hold it all. The show model included many types of audio and video devices. The hardware is combined with proprietary software, CreationStation, that authors multimedia presentations, training materials and simulations, as well as database and statistical functions. A package of templates for heavy duty industrial training are thrown into the bundle. The shell software, Forthought, is written in the Forth language. The scripts that controlled the buttons on the screen were in itsy-bitsy type under each object — it looked funky.
So, how much was all this worth in 1989? $50,000. Yikes!

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