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Hands On: Apple Macintosh Computers (part 2)

Apple’s thinking in introducing the first Mac nearly a decade ago was that it should be seen as much as possible as an ‘appliance’, as we would see a photocopier or fax machine as appliances to do simple tasks...

The Appliance

Apple’s thinking in introducing the first Mac nearly a decade ago was that it should be seen as much as possible as an ‘appliance’, as we would see a photocopier or fax machine as appliances to do simple tasks. The small Mac comes with everything for the user’s convenience and, provided you have software at the ready, you can just plug in and go. The main unit of the SE and Classic contains the processor, hard and floppy drives and a small-but-usable nine inch screen. The size of the screen used to be perhaps the main barrier to changing over to the Mac (apart from price) but it’s amazing what you can do even in a compact work area like this. If you are writing a letter, or anything destined for a sheet of A4 paper, then you can comfortably fit in a six and a quarter inch line of text, which just happens to be an A4 page less the margins. For music sequencing, obviously the more information you can fit on the screen at a time the better, but I run Cubase quite happily and I can even look upon the small screen as an advantage because it doesn’t dominate my work area. On the SE and Classic, the screen is only available in mono without any shades of grey, pretty much like an Atari hi-res monitor. Music software designers have commented that colour may be pretty, but it slows down the task of redrawing the screen. I like colour as much as anyone but I know where my priorities lie. The LC can be supplied with grey-scale or colour screens.

Around the back of the SE and Classic are the all-important ports. You may find one or two ADB ports according to model. ADB stands for Apple Desktop Bus and you plug your qwerty keyboard and mouse in here. You can, if you need to or wish to, plug the mouse into the second ADB port in the keyboard. Some protected software packages use ADB equipped dongles. A SCSI port is something we will start to find on more and more types of equipment in the future, I predict. On the Mac it has a different type of connector than we are used to, but you can probably buy an adaptor from your high street computer store (at a cost of around £25!). I use my SCSI port, and adaptor, to plug into an external optical disk drive which is shared with an Akai S1100. If you ever have a conversation with your computer-owning friends that drifts to the question of what is the optimum size for a hard disk, I can confirm that having 300 Megabytes on line is sheer luxury (although I’m still searching for a SCSI switcher so I don’t have to replug between the Mac and the Akai).

Further along the rear panel are two ports for modem and printer. These are also used to connect MIDI interfaces - more on this later. The thing you have to know about Macs is that absolutely everything hardware-wise is different to IBM compatibles and Ataris. Do you want to use your existing printer when you change to a Mac? You are probably out of luck. I was fortunate enough to have a printer for which an AppleTalk interface is available (at a price). You may be too, but if you want to print then I suspect that you will looking at acquiring an Apple StyleWriter or Hewlett Packard DeskWriter (list prices £295 and £425 respectively). Further up the scale, of interest to those who want to print music scores, is the Apple Personal LaserWriter NT at £695. On a more positive side, Apple have got some things a lot more sorted out than other computer manufacturers and if a product is advertised as being Mac compatible then you are unlikely to have any problems getting it to work.

The floppy disk drive needs a mention since this is also a Mac peculiarity. The Mac formats floppy disks in a completely different way to IBM-compatible and Atari computers (Point of interest - an IBM-compatible MSDOS formatted disk will work in an Atari but the reverse isn’t true.). There are three Mac formats, 400K, 800K, and 1440K on high density disks. If you have what is known as a SuperDrive, which all new Macs have and the most recent SE (the SE FDHD) then you can use the high density disks and read IBM-compatible disks with the aid of a program called Apple File Exchange, or other suitable software. If you don’t have a SuperDrive then you are isolated in Mac land, which isn’t all that terrible but it’s something you need to be aware of. If you plan to exchange data with other Mac users then the 800K format is the one to use. (I doubt if you would want to exchange data with anyone who hasn’t had their old 400K drive updated!).

By David Mellor Sunday November 27, 2005