A sidebar to the Apple Macintosh review published in Byte, issue 8/1984, pp. 250-251.
Software for the Mac
When I bought my Macintosh in mid-February, three software packages were available for it: MacWrite/MacPaint, which Apple developed and gave away with the system, and Microsoft Multiplan and Microsoft BASIC (Microsoft has been working with the Mac for two years.) By the end of April, the number of available packages had climbed to four: MacFORTH, from Creative Solutions Inc. (CSI) had hit the shelves. (CSI already had a commercially available 68000-based FORTH.)
By the time you read this, the trickle of Mac software should have grown modestly. The torrent probably won’t hit until early 1985 when the 512K-byte, two-disk Macintosh emerges as the new standard and software firms have a year of development under their belts. The 512K-byte Mac will increase the flow of software in another way. With the extra RAM, individuals will be able to develop Mac software without having to buy a Lisa. Programs will be able to do fancier things because graphics capability increases as memory does. And the programs themselves will not have to be as tightly coded to fit into available memory; therefore, they will be developed more quickly. I think the result will be a flood of programs, both public-domain and entrepreneurial.
MacWrite and MacPaint
Both MacWrite and MacPaint are great. Get them, use them, and have fun with them.
MacWrite gives you nine different fonts, six different point sizes, five different styles (mix and match), and superscripting and subscripting. The program has three types of spacing, four types of justification, adjustable margins, and two kinds of tabs. It also has headers, footers, rulers, and page breaks. And it has a screen that shows you what you’re going to get and a printer that gives you what you saw. The result: the fanciest letter and report writer you ever saw. I don’t think I’d use it to write a book, though. The amount of text you can edit is too limited and some things (such as pulling in or appending files) are awkward or impossible. Still, it’s great fun.
Microsoft Multiplan is a Macintosh version of a standard spreadsheet. Not so standard are the crisp display, pull-down menus, and ease of cell manipulation via the mouse. The worksheet is limited to 63 columns and 255 rows, but these figures should increase once the 512K-byte machine becomes widely available. I found Multiplan easy to use – easier, in fact, than any other spreadsheet I’ve used. But I do have a few complaints. The documentation assumes a fair amount of knowledge on the part of the user, a poor assumption considering the Macintosh’s market. For example, this is the documentation for conditional expressions:
There are no examples and no explanation of what a “logical expression” is or how it resolves to true or false. The index refers us to the definitions of NOT or OR; the latter gives us a little more information and one complex example (demonstrating IF, OR, AND, and NOT). This will be confusing to novice users. But consider getting Multiplan anyway. Not only does it work well, it can share its information with other Microsoft programs, such as BASIC, Word, Chart, and File. The program is available from Microsoft Corporation (10700 Northup Way, Bellevue, WA 98004) for $195.
Microsoft BASIC is fairly standard. It does have lots of Mac-specific graphics calls. However, most of the them are poorly documented: instead, the documentation refers you to the QuickDraw Programmer’s Guide, which doesn’t come with the system.
The BASIC itself runs in an environment with three windows: Command, Output, and List. All commands, typing, and editing take place in the Command window; program output and echoed commands show up in the Output window; and program text is seen in the List window. It all works nicely, although I find a few things annoying. The Command/Output window dichotomy can cause problems, especially when the Output window insists on writing text behind the Command window (and nowhere else). Also, the List window has a tendency to propagate itself, so that you end up with several List windows stacked behind each other.
Even with its shortcomings, Microsoft BASIC is useful. Several public-domain programs for it have already shown up on computer bulletin boards, including a terminal-emulation program and a 68000 disassembler. The program is available for $195 from Microsoft Corporation (10700 Northup Way. Bellevue, WA 98004).
MacFORTH (Level 1) lets you do amazing things on the Macintosh. You can create windows complete with close and size boxes and “attach” programs that will execute automatically when a given window is activated. You can build your own pull-down menus with check marks, inactive items, and command-key options. In fact, you could code your own application and have it “take over” the Mac, putting up its own menu bar and controlling all the windows.
The only catch to all of this is that you have to learn FORTH, a programming language unlike any other. FORTH isn’t difficult to learn, but it can be a bit confusing to use because of its stack orientation and “reverse Polish notation” syntax. CSI’s Going FORTH module helps a bit. Going FORTH is a clever program that sets up two side-by-side windows. One window steps you through an introduction to FORTH. The other is an active FORTH window, where you can try out the things you’re learning. Also, each chapter in the printed documentation is a tutorial on a given subject (menus, windows, etc.) with lots of examples to key in and try out.
I think CSI has developed a solid FORTH implementation. (I programmed in FORTH professionally for a year, but I am by no means an expert.) The window, menu, and graphics functions are well done and easy to use. For example, if you create a window called Easel, and a program to run within Easel called Sketch, the FORTH command EASEL ON.ACTIVATE SKETCH links Sketch to Easel. If you select the Easel window with the mouse, the Sketch program will automatically start executing.
All in all, CSI has done an excellent job. It has made FORTH relatively easy to learn. The documentation is easy to read and use, although the glossary can be cryptic to a FORTH neophyte. Best of all, CSI has unlocked a lot of the Mac’s power. FORTH produces very compact code, which means that the Mac’s limited RAM isn’t so limited anymore.
CSI has three levels of MacFORTH. I reviewed Level 1 ($149), which is designed as an introductory package. It does all the things I mentioned, but it doesn’t support real (floating-point) numbers or all of the ROM toolbox routines. Level II ($249), aimed at in-house developers, has real numbers and advanced graphics as well as provisions for inserting 68000 assembly routines. Level III ($2500) is for software developers interested in marketing programs developed in MacFORTH. It includes technical support, a run-time package, and licenses for 250 copies. Additional licenses cost $5 per copy.
If you want to make your Mac do things, get a copy of MacFORTH and have fun. MacFORTH is available from Creative Solutions Inc. (4801 Randolph Road, Rockville, MD 20852).
Page added on 20th January 2004.