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Breaking the Chains that Bind

As a man whose life has been a succession of struggles with orthodoxies (Catholic, Freudian, IBM PC owner), anything that smacks of heresy and change makes me more than a little uncomfortable. So, having defended the merits of the IBM Personal Computer in the pages of this journal, and having even started a society of like-minded PC software fanatics, I carefully ignored the year-long media blitz by Apple, up to and including the Superbowl extravaganza, heralding its new baby-Lisa computer. But with their usual lack of understanding for my neuroses, the editors of the Review set me face to face with little Mac.

It wasn't hard to find Macintosh display at my local computer store. Subtly positioned five feet from the front door, with a giant multicolored apple hanging over it, was a new desk, surrounded by a crowd of salespeople and customers. In the midst of this throng of disgustingly excited admirers was a screen showing a little smiling icon. A salesman who had apparently landed a place on a long waiting list of eager Mac buyers was showing off the machine that would soon be his.

Arms crossed in determined resistance, I listened as he exclaimed, with a "See how visual it is. The icon of the diskette means that Mac wants you to insert a diskette. Look at these great diskettes. Shirt-pocket size, encased in a hard plastic cover so you don't have to worry about those paper sleeves you need with IBM's diskettes." Cheap shot, I thought. He'll pay for that. "Speaking of disks, where's the other disk drive?" I know how to hurt a guy.

He looked appropriately sheepish: "It only comes with one disk drive, but Apple promises an external second drive that will be available by . . ."

I knew I had him on the run: "Are you kidding? Only one disk drive - for $2500!" The crowd was on my side. "Yeah," said one serious prospective buyer taking notes on a legal-size pad. "How many disk swaps does it take to back up a disk at the end of the day if you've only got one drive?" Slinking into his seat, the sales guy mumbled something that sounded like "seven or eight." I let that one go. He had suffered enough.

The rest of the crowd wasn't so sympathetic. The woman beside me asked how many lines he could fit on the little nine-inch screen. That was too much even for me. "A nine-inch screen can be okay if the resolution is good," I offered in defense of this helpless fellow male. "Let's see something." With relief and obvious gratitude he slid his hand over to the mouse and rolled the arrow across the screen to an image of a diskette labeled by the words "write/paint." After a few more rolls and clicks, his hands were back on the keyboard and he was filling a cool light-grey screen with sharp, black letters.

That was the first time I noticed it - a small twinge of desire (or maybe jealousy) in the pit of my stomach. As nice as it is, my IBM PC's monochrome screen display looks exactly like a computer monitor. Images on cathode-ray tubes should be Redfords and Streisands, not words. Words belong on paper: black ink on a white background. Mac's text screens look just like the ordinary pages of books I have been reading all my life. And compared with those bright green or amber letters, Mac is cool. Not cool as in jazzy, but cool as in my eyes won't feel like little flames after looking at Mac's screen for three hours. More than the little beige mouse or the two-inch-high curly letters, this cool screen could convert me to writing with Mac.

My real conversion to Mac, however, wasn't spurred by anything the salesman showed me during the demonstration. I realized it on the way home. Mac has sex appeal, like an Italian sports car: it's compact, stylish, soft and quick looking. Even without knowing exactly what I'd do with it, I'd like to have Mac sitting on a table in my living room. I might keep the PC in my office for serious work, but little Mac would be there to greet me every night when I got home.

If I could get near it, that is. My wife and daughters would love this machine. They respect the PC, but no one loves anything made by IBM. I think that may even be an official psychiatric perversion. You use a PC when it's time to work, but no one in my family would be able to keep their hands off an available Macintosh for very long - it invites you to play with it. And if the word processor got played out after a while, MacPaint would keep them entranced for quite some time.

I am not artistically inclined. My elementary school art teacher often suggested that I use the little cut-outs of birds and flowers she had available for tracing rather than try any creative drawing. Even now I only doodle in straight Unes. But MacPaint stirs some latent artistic urge in me. It's one terrifically simple and powerful graphics program. My wife, who is a professional artist, and my older daughter, who in her better moments is a chip off the old maternal block, would embrace Mac's electronic easel and never let go. I'd have to get two mice, one for each of them. Even for $3,500 (with a second disk drive and a printer), adopting Mac as our second personal computer is definitely in my family's plans.