If I were an advertising copywriter I would probably say something like ‘One
day all computers will be this way’. I’m not however, and I don’t
think that the Mac is the ultimate computer by any means, not even the more
advanced models. There is still too much of a hurdle for newcomers to leap,
still a lot you can get wrong if you are not careful – or delve into files you
should leave alone – and it still crashes from time to time. One thing I am
sure of is that whatever future truly user-friendly computers are like, they
will be more like the Mac than anything else around at the moment.
The Mac operating system is regularly updated and the current version is called
System 7.1, or System 7 for short. System 7 was a long time in development and
it was supposed to be really really good compared to System 6. Being a cautious
type of person I didn’t buy System 7.0 for my Mac SE when it came out but
hung back while the inevitable bugs were eradicated. But when 7.1 came along
I thought the time was ripe to take the plunge.
The Mac keyboard is pretty much like any other computer keyboard except that
the basic model doesn’t have any function keys (you don’t need them)
and there are a couple of strangely named, but very useful keys just to the
left of the space bar. The Option key is like another shift key and is used
for accessing special characters like éüœ∑© etc. The
large key with a clover leaf and a half eaten apple on it is the Command key
which is used for keyboard shortcuts. The Macintosh mouse has only one button.
After you have used it for a while you will wonder why any mouse should ever
Unlike other computers the Mac has a proper shut down procedure. Select Shut
Down from the Special menu and all programs will be brought to a graceful conclusion,
including dialogue boxes asking you if you want to save open files. The hard
disk will then be parked so that the data surfaces are safe from damage.
First of all check that you can’t buy cheaper new. It’s amazing what
deals are available on Macs these days. If you do want to buy secondhand then
I would advise an SE or Classic as a minimum purchase. Ask to see the computer
switched off, left for a couple of minutes and powered up again. Watch the screen
for any instability, on the SE the connector taking the HT supply to the screen
is heavy and unsupported. A hairline crack in the solder joints can mean a wobbly
screen image. On older SEs, the fan is noisy and a worn motor can cause bright
flashes on the screen. These should disappear after a couple of minutes and
cause no further problem. Ask the owner to see the control panel and check the
clock. If this doesn’t show the correct date and time then you will have
to have a new internal battery installed. Also ask which system version is installed.
If it is not at least System 6.0.7 then you may not be able to run certain software
until you get a copy of the more recent system version. Bear in mind that if
you are new to the Mac you will probably need an instruction manual to get the
best out of it.
The range of Macintosh computers changes so quickly these days that this will
probably be out of date by the time you read it! The Classic II and LC II have
the 68030 processor which is rather faster than the good old 68000. A faster
processor means a faster screen redraw. They can both be expanded to 10 Megabytes
of RAM. Above the LC II come more expensive Macs which you may consider more
powerful than necessary for music sequencing. On the other hand, if you want
to do hard disk recording with a system such as Sound Tools II, then you need
a Mac which can take so-called NuBus cards. Current models include the IIvi
and IIvx. Don’t forget that there is a remarkable range of portable Macs
too. The best way to pick a Mac is to go to a dealer that specialises in musical
applications and seek their advice. It’s also a very good idea to see the
hardware/software combination they recommend working and give at a good try
out before you invest.