The Macintosh’s Secret Weapon

The very first computer that I really ever used (excluding the Tron, Spy Hunter and Gorf arcade games) was a VIC-20. I got it for Christmas when I was 6, back in 1984. I was absolutely happy to have something that would allow me to play video games on my computer, and I didn’t have to put quarter after quarter into the machine!

Menagerie of Macs

Commodore VIC-20I’ve always been an Anglophile, so when I saw that the VIC had the Pound symbol (£), I was in love. Literally, for hours all I did was type the pound sign onto the computer screen, so I bet you can tell I’m a nut for special symbols. I eventually got a tape drive, a joystick, at least 30 cartridges for that machine, and I even learned enough BASIC to be able to write out simple programs, until one thing caught my eye.

It was some sort of adventure game. I don’t remember what it was, but I wanted it, and it so happened the magazine I had that talked about this game happened to have the code for this game – all ten thousand lines of it. I asked my dad to type it out for me, and then I got a Nintendo. That was the last time I used the VIC-20, that I later sold to get a Zelda game.

Apple IIFast forward ten years. I really hadn’t used a computer much between then apart from various Apple ][ computers, TRS-80, my Nintendo and Super Nintendo. I was just in college, and I needed to go type my first French class assignment (I learned to type on a Wintel box using Win 3.1, and I thought that was hot stuff), so I went to the computer lab, since I didn’t have one at home.

Macinsoth IIsiIf you don’t know, some French words have accent marks such as trés, bient™t and other things like that. I had to write a report totally in French, but I just didn’t know how to put in the accents – and no one else seemed to know. So, I just wrote my paper, printed it out, and wrote in the accents by hand. Then a friend of mine, who used Macintoshes (at the time I hated them for no reason other than everyone else did) told me about the Mac’s wonderful ability to easily put accents in words. I didn’t need to type out another paper in French, but that stayed in my mind and came to be when I bought my first computer, a Mac IIsi.

So what? Well, I think that the greatest strength of the Macintosh is its international capability. Usually people talk about the ease of use, which is great, or the fact that usually people can fix their own Macs, the Y2K compliance, or the amazing voice/speech software for the Mac. But I think that because even if you’re running a system that was made for the US you still can read Chinese and Japanese characters, use accent marks and easily remember how to get it all done.

Apple Extended Keyboard

DOS and Windows use arcane keystrokes and numbers to get even the simplest ñ, since they’re still using the skeleton of an OS that was developed over twenty years ago (which is nearly eternity in computer years), not to mention that DOS wasn’t designed for international usage by Gary Kildall and bought by opportunist Bill Gates just for a fast buck.

Blue and White Power Mac G3Macintosh was, from the start, meant as an international computer – the same keystrokes that produce the symbol é on the latest “Blue Box” G3 computer will make the same thing on a Macintosh 128K from 1984. That is sheer brilliance that is not matched by any computer, not the Wintel clone box, the Amiga, or anything else.

The Macintosh alone is a computer that can use the same system software (not taking into account localized versions) in US, France, China, or Pango Pango without any trouble. That is the hidden strength of the Macintosh.

In the US, many people are learning Spanish, and writing Spanish with the correct accents is simple, and the Macintosh computer is the only computer that renders Japanese (Apple has a 30% market share in Japan, and the iMac is the most popular computer in Japan today) and Chinese characters correctly, so if Apple was able to get an inexpensive computer there – think of it.

Don’t just think different, think big. If Apple can do that, then there will be no doubting what computer is the most popular, as well as the best in the world.

Oh yes, James does like special symbols. He knows this stuff so well he went me the entire article in ASCII values. Now that was fun.

Go to the Menagerie of Macs #6 home page.

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