I used a Mac before you did

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. 

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.

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!

Topic: Apple

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  • Apple had a big usability lead on Windows back in the day

    I started at my employer in 1996 when they were converting from Mac to Windows. Back then, the Macs had plug-and-play, and Windows didn't. We had instructions on how to connect to a network printer for each platform. The Windows instructions were about a page long. The Mac instructions were about 3 lines long. Mind you, this was in 1996, when Apple hit its nadir and Microsoft was riding high with Windows 95.
  • Super Bowl ad

    Saw it, and immediately wanted a Mac....
  • The insides of the Lisa

    I just remembered another story. At some point we needed to open the Lisa, I think to replace the I/O board. I remember there being two large boards connected through a relatively small backplane. One was logic, one I/O.
    First, I think we were unable to open the case in the way it was designed and had to can opener it, leaving a large gash in the case.
    The I/O board was almost completely covered in wire-wrap, meaning there were point-to-point wire patches soldered everywhere. A colleague of mine described them as "the hardware equivalent of a GOTO in a structured language."
    Larry Seltzer
  • Google has updated

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

    And now this page :)
  • I have been in and out of love with the Mac throughout my career

    I loved the first few Macs I saw.

    The Mac fell out of use with me for a while with Windows 286 (Windows 2.x as it is now called.) The novelty of being able to run all your DOS stuff, GUI stuff, and to alt-tab between it was just too cool. Until Multifinder showed up on the Mac, the problem of being stuck in your program without a task switcher was tough to go back to.

    Then System 6 and System 7 came out. I loved these - those versions of Finder I think hold up to GUIs today... there was no pretentious launching menu (although i think you could off the Apple icon somewhere), you just went to where your programs were and ran them - they didn't have mysterious names like UNIX and DOS.... the app would actually be called "Adobe Illustrator 3.0"

    Eventually, after System 8 and the Internet.... Mac got to be a pain. Getting Open Transport to work on the Internet was really painful. Wasn't willing to wait for Copland, and I had fallen deeply in love with Windows NT.

    When OS X did come out, it was interesting in some ways; I had an appreciation for NextStep's design.... but I didn't like the Dock, and I didn't like the underlying UNIX.

    Some time spent in Linux and Solaris around that time eased my distaste for OS X's UNIX nature. The polish that went into Mountain Lion, and some of the powerful music production tools lured me back.

    It is like Apple goes through these phases of suck/insanely don't suck. :)
    • Left Mac in the System 7 days

      because of the crappy memory management/multitasking, and because Windows 95 finally gave Windows a UI that didn't suck too much. Went back with System 9 when Macs started shipping with enough RAM that the primitive memory management wasn't so much of a pain anymore, and never looked back.
  • I used a Mac before you did


    You want a medal or something for this?
    • Why thank you!

      Contact me offline and I'll give you my mailing address
      Larry Seltzer
  • Trips down memory lane invoke feelings of pride and just "feeling old".

    Wouldn't you agree, Larry?

    Before I even owned a car, in 1980, I persuaded my parents to co-sign my first ever finacial loan. That $3000.00 loan paid for an Apple II Plus with all the goodies. In retrospect, I'm surprised my parents agreed to it at the time. My sound reason behind that venture which "convinced" them to take on that considerable risk was my desire in establishing a credit rating. It worked, fortunately, and I was able to begin my quest at learning computer languages: Apple Pascal, Apple Basic and Apple Fortran. (As you can imagine, with the "state of the art" hardware at my disposal, I was only able to learn the basics of Fortran. Grin)

    I sold the whole system (for almost the price I paid for it - and paid off that loan, BTW) 18 months later because I had seen the IBM PC (which debuted in 1981) and couldn't help but see the handwriting on the wall.

    However, I fell in love with Lisa, the "girl" of my dreams when Apple introduced her to the world in 1983. But, just a brand new Cadillac was beyond my finical means (among many other things), so was the $10,000.00 Lisa. Talk about your high priced "trophy wives". Grin. Realizing now how many problems the Lisa computer had, it was just as well that we never did get "hitched".

    Flash forward to 1985 and I purchased my third PC. (The second was the Tandy 102 "laptop".)

    The fabled Commodore Amiga 1000. I still have it (along with two perfectly working A1200 models). It was SO MUCH more a computer than the Macs or the PCs at the time. And I took advantage of it's hardware/software emulators to learn other systems.

    Specifically, there was a hardware/software Macintosh emulator product for the Amiga 1000 called "A-Max", I believe from the Canadian firm ReadySoft. It needed genuine Apple Mac ROMs to work but .. work it did! In fact, the Amiga/A-Max combo outperformed it's contemporary Apple Mac systems by a significant factor. The only Mac software I was interested in at the time was "Hypercard". However, the monochrome Mac - at the time - was no match for the Amiga ecosystem. And it would take decades of computer systems personally purchased before I returned to my first "love" and bought my first Mac system: an iMac G5.

    Even Steve Jobs once remarked that the only computer system that he respected outside his "pride and joy" Macintosh was the Amiga.

    Which brings me to a question for you, Larry, which was created when I read your closing Mac remarks. You stated, "... 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."

    I'll never, ever, understand that observation and opinion. At it's philosophical heart, the Macs and the Amigas appeal to the "creative" persons in life. To use that old cliché, they are systems designed for the "Crazy Ones". Are you not "crazy", Larry? Even just a little bit?
    • Ah, the pleasures of GarageBand :)

      The type of people who buy Macs just get it, even the ones who are artists of other media and not musicians.

      Most other folks scratch their heads at why something like that would even be in an operating system, and not just be some app store extra?
  • Oh the fun days.

    For me it was my first love of the Apple II in 1977 and then the IIE later. I saw the Lisa and was maveled but didn't fall for it for the same reason as so many others and what has been stated here. The closed door approach of computing had begun with this one. I never got a Mac and jumped right into a Tandy 1000SX. That thing back then was a true workhorse. Bought my first hard drive out of an ad from MegaHause from computer shopper magazine. you remember that magazine? The one the size of a phone book and worth every penny when it came out. 40 megs full height drive for $460.00 financed on my credit card. I was in heaven then. So many more machines since then. Even an Amiga 4000 if you can believe it. I became enamored with open source with minix and linux way back along with SCO's flavors of Unix for awhile. Computing was fun back then. Not the ugly thing it has become now. What a shame too.
  • I'm creative, but in X my creativity goes to troubleshooting!

    I'm creative. Bought a 128k as soon as I could get one (due to logistical issues, had to wait until 2010.) Before that used Macs from a SE with a hard disk to a Quicksilver and Clamshell iBook-and then tried Intel to see if they had made X actually work. Well, it did-for 18 hours. Then the expensive Intel iMac told me that QuickTime had to be updated to browse the Apple website and I knew I was in deep bomb bawls of the modern day Intel "Mac" kernel panic variety. Tried as many different Intel Mac configurations, tried the iPod touch and iPad, and it just wasn't what the Classic Mac OS was, which was standards non-compliant and wonderful as all get out. I want to like X, but the design goals for X from the get go prevent it from working. They were, from all the sources I read then and now: "Standards compliance, access to the underlying OS, and gradual dropping off of the compatibility cliff."

    A Russian Czar named Nicholas I once tried that (then referred to as Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality) on Russia and the continued dedication to it led to the downfall of the Romanov dynasty. Fortunately for Apple, the opponent is weaker in terms of the areas that count to me than Apple is-that opponent for the time being is still Microsoft.

    That's why my modern computers are tools and I use the older Macs for when I actually want to enjoy computing. It's basically Windows with a human face, and that isn't something to hang your hat on.