Jones: Early on in these groups-- among the S-100 and CP/M enthusiasts-- there was word about the Macintosh, at about the time that Apple introduced the Lisa. As a student the Lisa was something that only I had a casual interest in, because it looked like a variation on a Wang word processing office machine. But as I looked into it more, it looked like a very interesting computer, but it was way out my price range. So I continued to deal with fancier equipment in the laboratory, DEC machines and CDC machines and so forth, but at home my personal computers, of which there were getting to be several, were primarily CP/M based.
About 6 months before the Mac was introduced, there was some discussion of it among these groups, and about 2 or 3 months before its introduction the magazine, EE Times-- which was popular among people interested in hobbyist technical things-- came out with a rather detailed pre-release article about the Macintosh. For people interested in the Osborne, which was a tote-around type machine, the Mac addressed that need, but had better graphics and better storage. And it looked attractive to people who were interested in an inexpensive computer, and had considerable advantages over what was available on the market at the time. The pre-release information showed it with 5 1/4-inch floppies, and it was important that you could use your old data on the new computer. It was a little bit of a disappointment when they changed it to the smaller floppies, because you couldn't directly read your old data, but that greatly increased the importance of the communication capabilities of the Macintosh, and how it could be plugged into other computers, whether PCs or DEC or Osborne or Apple II, so you could move your data back and forth.
At the time, I needed a computer that was better than my CP/M computer and daisy wheel printer for making technical graphs of data related to my research. At the same time that the Macintosh first came, there also appeared a version of the Multiplan spreadsheet and Microsoft Chart-- the combination of which later became Excel. I was a beta tester for these products for Microsoft, and the technical editor of a book on Multiplan, and so I had prerelease copies of these which I used on the Macintosh.
Pang: How did you become a beta tester for Microsoft, and the man who wrote the book on Multiplan, as it were?
Jones: Well, I was editor of the book, not author. I became editor because there were very few people who knew how to run the program. There was someone who had been contracted to write the book, but nobody who could say "This is technically correct," or "This is not." It was a Berkeley-based publisher. I was a long-time enthusiast of The Absolute Sound, and there was this committee who wrote editorial reviews of different kinds of audiophile reviews of equipment. Ostensibly under the pretense of writing the review for a nonprofit, no advertising accepted magazine, they would solicit test equipment from different manufacturers so they could test it to write their review. Essentially you could get free equipment in exchange for writing the review. Not that you could necessarily keep it, but people who were enthusiasts were more interested in what was new than what they could keep. Most of them weren't paid, but the reason they wrote for it is they got to use the equipment.
Later I became known to people who came to the user group, and I was familiar with a lot of the early software. The book publishers who were writing and publishing books on how to use things like Multiplan or Excel wanted their book to hit the market at the same time as the first release of the software, but they needed someone who wasn't from the software company itself, but could be an editor for the accuracy of the technical information in the books. So I was approached to do that.
That was also good because as a beta tester you get random distributions of the software, but if a large book publishing house is writing a prominent book around a piece of software, the manufacturer was much more diligent about getting you the latest, most stable version of the beta test software.
The combination of the Macintosh's bitmapped display, and the face that the image could then be directly transported onto a printer, was very important for doing technical graphics, because at the time doing a decent data chart of experimental data was logistically very difficult: it required either very high-end computer graphic plotting systems, or was done on graph paper by hand. But if it was done on a daisy wheel printer, a huge amount of time was taken up adjusting the printer output to look like you wanted it to. So the Macintosh was cheap enough, small enough, and graphical enough both on the screen but most important on the printouts, that it became immediately useful for technical work, whether it be in physical sciences, medical sciences, any kind of statistical work, anything where you were using graphs as an end product.
So it was no surprise that the Macintosh took off in the academia, in the university research crowd, as well as the national laboratory crowd and the aerospace crowd. It was something that people could use to process their work at home, or at the office, and that wasn't very feasible before.
And this of course was in 1984, and from before the Macintosh was announced at the Apple shareholders meeting, there was some collection of these enthusiasts who were exchanging thoughts about it on the BBSes and developing a lot of enthusiasm. And it came at just a sort of gap in the generational abilities in what would be the next IBM, the XT, versus the CP/M computers from Osborne and North Star and a number of other characters. They didn't have a lot of the capabilities of the Macintosh. So for the technical graphics crowd, it was the right machine at the right time at the right price.
However, as most people know, the first year and a half of the Macintosh's time in the market, it was not financially very successful, and it wasn't very broadly accepted outside the technical community and perhaps the graphic arts community. The thing that was really extremely important for the success of the Macintosh outside these specialized areas was the introduction of Excel and Multiplan and Chart from Microsoft, and Word of course, that could take this information from spreadsheets and graphs and put it into text form. So the software from Microsoft was to a large extent behind the success of the Macintosh outside the personal hobbyist/artist crowd who were using Macpaint and Macwrite to do very simple tasks.