Beyond Desktop Publishing

By Greg Raven
Volume vol. 6 no. 1 (January 1988), page 8

My parents are teachers, so when I was growing up I heard a lot about the old publish-or-perish routine. You know, if you don’t publish something your career will perish.

At first glance one would think that the Mac, with all of its splendid capabilities, would be the darling of the publish-or-perish set; dash off a few chapters on a subject of your choice, select the LaserWriter, and wait for those ol’ royalty checks to come in. There is, however, a still larger market out there waiting to be tapped: The desktop perishing market.

Because let’s face it, if you’ve ever written a book you know that the difficult part comes not from developing a topic, doing the research, writing the bloody thing out, or dealing with the publisher. The worse part of writing a book is finding the industrial-strength excuses you need when you want to put off working on it.

The Hardware

The choice of hardware is critical to the failure of an up-and-coming desktop perisher. Only the very best … those authors actually selling material and enjoying it … are allowed to use kludged-up no-name computers built from scratch by a nerdy friend. Everyone else must use something that is immediately identifiable as a Real Computer. Something that costs a lot of money. Something so iconic that the mere sight of one at your work area is enough to let all know that You Have A Computer.

If the price seems high, don’t be dissuaded. Leave the printer for later, if you must (as you will soon see, you probably won’t be needing it). What you must avoid under all circumstances is a computer that is too easy to use. The Mac falls down miserably here, I’m afraid, ceding the first battlefield to IBM, et cetera. While the everything-in-a-box routine works fine nearly everywhere else, in desktop perishing it poses a distinct liability.

Here’s why. The IBM box not only can be opened up to accept loads of add-in cards, it must be. So you get the basic box, a passel of add-in cards, and go home to plug everything in. Ah, but this takes time, so you can’t work on your project today.

Or the next day. Or the next. The cards all fit in, but because of their configuration you find you can’t plug in the monitor and the printer at the same time, unless of course you leave the keyboard unattached. The long cards need to go where the short cards are. Everything is in the way of everything else. Resolving this problem requires many hours and several trips to the store. Whew! Got out of working on the project again.

The Mac is also too small for serious desktop perishing. An IBM, on the other hand, is monstrous. You need to find a special place to put the darn thing. It could have gone on the study table, but then there would be no room for your notes (or anything else). More time is obviously necessary to ponder the problem. Time that no doubt will be more than made up once you finally do get started on the project. In fact, you can get right to it straightaway after the carpenters finish up in say, two weeks.

The Operating System

Oh, poo! The Mac takes it on the chin again. Pull down and select? Point and click? This will never do. Look to MS-DOS for dominance here, at least until UNIX arrives. You say you thought you were deleting just the files in a subdirectory but now your entire hard drive is blank? You say you tried to move a file from one subdirectory to another, but although it’s not where it was neither is it where you expected it to be? You say that after three days of hacking away at the keyboard (in much the same fashion as a jungle explorer uses a machete) you actually sat down and read all the documentation (it only took you a week) and you still don’t understand what the heck is going on?

Thank goodness. For now you must attend operating system class before you get started on your project. Unfortunately, this means that the money you saved not buying a printer is gone, and then some. Ah, well.

The Software

I feel just terrible about this, but I’m afraid the Mac bites the long green hose on this one, too. Why, all the applications have the same menu bar, for heaven’s sake. And desk accessories are all collected in one neat little area where they don’t have to terminate-and-stay resident, or fight for reserved portions of memory, or anything.

IBM’s hold on this one resembles Tony Boom-Boom Brannigan’s famous Atomic Skull Crusher, as seen on Tuesday night wrestling. No cutting and pasting among applications. No similarities among user interfaces. No easy-to-use graphics. No idea what you are supposed to do with that one piece of software the salesman said would be really helpful only now she no longer works there and you can’t figure out anything from the documentation (if that’s the correct term for it).

In short, it’s your lucky day! You get to make reservations to attend a string of productivity classes, the main goal of which are to turn those otherwise fallow dollars in your bank account into hard-working members of the consultant’s money team. How much time will these classes take? Can’t say it really matters. As long as you have that unshakeable alibi to keep you from gaining any ground on your long-awaited project, your time is well spent.

Can Apple Compete?

There may be hope, although we won’t know for sure until the new operating system becomes available for the IBM. Even then, however, it appears that IBM will still have the edge in the operating system and software categories, and in the hardware category the Mac II is the only Apple machine that has the potential (with its open architecture) to provide levels of befuddlement anywhere near approaching those required by desktop perishers.

What Should Be Done

Several steps must be taken immediately to bring Apple into competition with IBM in this unimaginably large field.

  1. Ship all Macs disassembled, with assembly instructions printed on both sides of long, narrow pieces of thin paper stock, as is done with the operating instructions of cheap digital watches.
  2. Include only ResEdit and APL as bundled software.
  3. Include only Inside Macintosh as documentation.
  4. Prohibit the use of the Mac menu bar, icons, or windows in all non-Apple software.

After market penetration is achieved, Apple could introduce a paper tape reader that should really wow ‘em.