Computer Chronicles Revisited 102 — Macworld Expo/San Francisco 1988

The January 1988 Macworld Expo in San Francisco was the second industry trade show to merit its own Computer Chronicles episode after the Las Vegas COMDEX show. Chronicles had devoted segments to earlier editions of Macworld–including the inaugural event in 1985–but this was the first time that the semi-annual gathering received full-episode coverage. No doubt this reflected the growing interest in the Macintosh platform, bolstered by the release of the Macintosh II and Macintosh SE the previous year as well as everyone’s favorite new software middleware product, HyperCard.

In a brief studio introduction recorded after the event, Stewart Cheifet and co-host George Morrow looked at the Macworld Expo program. Chiefet noted the number new vendors, peripherals, and software applications at the event. He also showed a copy of Jan Lewis’ HyperAge magazine featuring Apple CEO John Sculley on the cover. All of a sudden, Cheifet noted, the Macintosh was hot. How did that happen?

Morrow said that timing had a lot to do with it. He recalled at first he thought it was crazy to put a soft drink salesman–Sculley previously headed marketing for PepsiCo–in charge of a computer company. But it turned out to be one of the best things that happened to Apple. In the beginning when the market was “playful,” Apple benefited from Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Then once the computer market ran out of hobbyists, along came VisiCalc, which pushed business sales of the Apple II. As the market matured Apple needed a marketing guy like Sculley. When the Mac came out it could have failed, Morrow noted, but then the laser printer came along. And today, Apple was catching a new wave of users who were work-at-home professionals.

Color on Your Mac SE…for a Steep Price

Stewart Cheifet narrated the first of two remote segments recorded at the Macworld Expo, which was held from January 15 to 17, 1988, at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. Cheifet said that when the doors opened to this year’s expo, it was just a few days from the Mac’s fourth anniversary. But for anyone familiar with the Mac’s early days, four years might as well have been four decades. The Macintosh II’s expansion slots and color display made it the star of this year’s show, attracting a wealth of new hardware and software.

Desktop publishing, Apple’s modern contributing to printing, was once again prominent at Macworld, Cheifet noted, starting with software to take advantage of color. Adobe Systems demonstrated its color version of Illustrator called Adobe Illustrator 88, which let the user preview and specify color separations on a wide variety of output devices. William H. Paxton, Adobe’s director of advanced development, told Cheifet that to make the program easier to use, they added a “freehand” tool that let the user trace over outlines, with the software then automatically curving the lines to make them fit. Illustrator 88 could also interpolate different shapes given two starting shapes. For example, you could start with images of the letter “S” and a swan, and the software could generate the intermediate images to “morph” one into the other.

Chiefet said that Adobe also addressed the problem of discrepancies between different screen displays and final output by introducing Display PostScript. Paxton explained that this took the basic PostScript interpreter used in laser printers and adapted it for use on computer displays. The goal was to provide a high-level, device-independent graphics model for software developers to use. This gave developers more powerful built-in graphics for their applications and end users more flexibility when it came to selecting hardware. With respect to the latter, Paxton said Design PostScript solved the problem of worrying whether a particular piece of software would be compatible with a given graphics adapter.

Meanwhile, at the Aldus Corporation booth, Cheifet said that PageMaker 3.0 with color support was on display. Aldus also had a new program called Aldus FreeHand, which combined drawing tools with color, special effects, and PageMaker-like handling of text. And for those desktop publishers having difficulty making professional-looking documents, San Francisco-based Hypersoft announced a HyperCard-based application called The DTP Advisor, which offered graphic arts advice on subjects such as layout, typography, and the printing process.

Continuing the color theme, Orchid Technology announced a $695 graphics adapter card for the Macintosh SE called the ColorVue SE, which could display up to 16 colors from a palette of over 4,000 via either an Apple RGB or IBM VGA monitor. And if that wasn’t good enough, several manufacturers such as Supermac and Jasmine Technologies introduced 24-bit color adapter boards. For example, Jasmine’s Rembrandt board could display up to 256 colors on-screen from a palette of over 16 million. Joseph C. Edozien, the director of advanced product development for Jasmine, told Cheifet that the significance of 24-bit versus 8-bit color was that it allowed for a much more accurate rendering of reality.

Cheifet noted the Rembrandt boards retailed for between $2,000 and $3,000 and cautioned that most Mac users would have to invest in additional hardware–at least 4MB of RAM and an 80MB hard disk–to store the memory-intensive color images. After all, 24 bits-per-pixel of color required 24 times as much memory as a monochrome screen. Still, Cheifet quipped that compared to other color computers, the Rembrandt system might be a bargain. Edozien said that up to now, you could only produce this degree of color image using a “super-mini” computer or workstation in the $30,000 range.

To match these color adapter boards, Cheifet said there was also a number of vendors offering new high-resolution monitors, such as 19- and 20-inch displays from Oregon-based E-Machines. (As I noted in an earlier blog post, this was not the South Korean eMachines company that became famous for selling cheap PCs in the 1990s.) These screens measured over 1,000 pixels across by 800 pixels vertically–or about 2.5 times as much as a standard Macintosh II display. This allowed the E-Machines monitors to display documents at their full height and size.

Video adapters were also prominent at Macworld, Cheifet said, both for capturing and manipulating digitized images:

  • MegaGraphics demonstrated its MegaShot frame grabber, which was aimed at desktop publishing and presentation users. MegaShot could capture images from a video camera or VCR at 256 levels of gray. The system would retail for around $1,000.
  • Silicon Beach Software introduced an image processing program called Digital Darkroom, which included automatic tracing of digital bitmap images and special effects for gray-scale graphics. The program also featured image enhancement for cutting, pasting, and blending dissimilar images.
  • Computer Friends of Portland, Oregon, introduced TV Producer, a graphics overlay board for the Macintosh II that could lock into an incoming video signal and add special effects.

On the monochrome monitor front, Sigma Designs showed off its Laserview displays, which could display resolutions of up to 1600x1200 pixels. Cheifet noted these monitors were primarily targeted at desktop publishing and engineering applications as they effectively eliminated the need for scrolling.

As for Apple itself, their product introductions focused on three new models of the LaserWriter laser printer. The two higher-end models, the LaserWriter NT and LaserWriter NTX, featured PostScript drivers, while the lower-end LaserWriter SC used the QuickDraw system built-in to the Macintosh operating system. (In other words, the SC was cheaper because Apple didn’t have to pay Adobe for the PostScript license.) Cheifet noted that the prices ranged from $2,799 for the SC to $6,599 for the NTX.

Apple also introduced a new hardware MIDI interface for the Macintosh and the Apple IIgs. The connector, which Cheifet said was about the size of a pack of cigarettes, retailed for $99.

And now that Apple had finally accepted the concept of an “open” Macintosh, Cheifet said, products that were once common to PC shows were now turning up at Macworld Expo. For example, Macpeak Systems of Texas demonstrated the first 68030 accelerator board for the Macintosh II, which was expected to sell for $2,000. Rich Lucas, a product manager for Macpeak, said the accelerator board would be used somewhere like a scientific lab where a Macintosh would need to monitor and record data from a number of instruments simultaneously. An accelerator board could theoretically allow you to input that data 3 to 4 times faster. And while Macpeak did not design its product for office use, Lucas said they were finding it had broader appeal then they had anticipated.

Cheifet noted that as with any computer trade show, many companies announced products at Macworld Expo but few of them were available for immediate delivery. A case in point was WordPerfect Corporation, which has been promising a Macintosh version of its popular MS-DOS word processor for over a year. So at Macworld, WordPerect sold $99 “beta” copies of WordPerfect for Macintosh. When the final version shipped, beta buyers could upgrade to the full-$400 package at no additional charge.

Finally, Cheifet said that Sunroom Marketing was trying to sell off several used–and now obsolete–Apple Lisa machines at $695 each. (The Lisa retailed for around $10,000 at launch in 1983.)

HyperCard HyperPromoted at HyperExpo

Wendy Woods took over narration duties for the second remote segment from the Moscone Center. She said that if the strength of a machine was based on the value and variety of its software, the Macintosh had proven itself a worthy competitor. Among the new generation of software on display was in the area of forms generation:

  • California-based SoftView showed its graphically based application FormSystem, which let the user design their own forms and kept their consistency even after changes were made.
  • Claris, the former software arm of Apple that had been spun off into its own company, showed off SmartForm, another object-oriented program to create forms. Yogen Dalal, Claris’ vice president of product development, told Woods that business forms were currently a $6.5 billion market, and he expected software like SmartForm would help move that market onto the computer.
  • Spectrum Digital Systems of Madison, Wisconsin, took a different approach with their product TrueForm, which let the user scan an existing paper form and digitize it onto the Macintosh. Mitch Stein, Spectrum Digital’s president told Woods, “Why reinvent the wheel?” Or in this case, why not make use of existing forms? (Stein and TrueForm were both featured in the previous Computer Chronicles episode I covered on PC imaging technology.)

But Woods said the real software star of this year’s Macworld Expo was Apple’s HyperCard, with a number of companies announcing software “stacks” that worked with the middleware product:

  • Activision showed off Reports!, which generated business reports from HyperCard stacks, and City to City, an electronic guide to the best food, lodgings, and other necessities when traveling throughout the United States.
  • MacroMind demonstrated a HyperCard driver for its VideoWorks II program that made it possible to create real-time animated stacks–even in color on a Macintosh II.
  • Cognition Technology of Cambridge, Massachusetts, showed off MacSMARTS, which it billed as the “first expert system” for HyperCard; in the demo, the stack helped the user determine the best way to ship a package.
  • Throughout the Moscone Center, Macintosh SE machines provided a HyperCard-based guide to help visitors locate any vendor on the convention floor.
  • Jan Lewis was at Macworld to promote her new HyperAge magazine, one of many HyperCard-based publications now being sold.

Aside from HyperCard mania, Woods said that a number products enabling the Macintosh to communicate with–and run–IBM PC applications were also on display at Macworld Expo:

  • Apple Computer was finally shipping its AppleShare PC system.
  • Tangent Technologies demonstrated a hardware-software package that could network the Macintosh not just to IBM PCs but also the new IBM PS/2 machines. Guy Mariande of Tangent told Woods that “quite a few” businesses were interested in this product.
  • AST Research offered its Mac86 expansion board, which enabled IBM PC applications to run directly on a Macintosh.
  • Insignia Solutions demonstrated SoftPC, a completely software-based method for running IBM PC applications on the Macintosh. Ian Vickerage, Insignia’s vice president of marketing, told Woods that they had tested over 70 PC applications to ensure compatibility with SoftPC.

Finally, Massachusetts-based Microtouch demonstrated a touchscreen monitor for the Macintosh SE, and Lightgate of Emeryville, California, showed off an optical mouse.

A Work-at-Home Mac Revolution?

Back in the San Mateo studio, Stewart Cheifet and George Morrow joined Jan Lewis and Macworld magazine editor Jerry Borrell for a postmortem. Cheifet opened by asking Morrow for his thoughts on the event. Morrow said it was quite an experience. It seemed like a much bigger show than either of the last two West Coast Computer Faires. And it was clear the Mac market was now wide open for smaller companies. He noted that one small vendor had about 50 people standing in line at their booth. He also believed that the Macintosh was now attracting a new kind of user–the work-at-home professional.

Lewis agreed. She said the Macintosh was still “for the little guys,” i.e. the small office or creative professional. But the work-at-home professional was now becoming a bigger group. Morrow pointed out that over the past three years, U.S. corporations had eliminated roughly 3 million jobs. A lot of those laid-off workers were still providing services for those corporations as independent professionals. And those independent professionals were using Macs. Borrell noted that Apple’s own vice president of marketing told him the company was increasingly focusing their efforts on the home office. Indeed, about 85 percent of Macworld readers used their Mac at home.

Lewis noted there were some PC clone vendors targeting the home professionals such as Hyundai and Tandy. But Morrow said that Apple was in a much better position to “mine” this market because of their user interface. Lewis concurred, noting that even the design of something like the Macintosh file manager was a lot easier for users to grasp than navigating the “arcane” MS-DOS directory structure.

Turning back to the expo, Cheifet asked Borrell about the highlights and trends that he saw on the convention floor. Borrell said the major areas of growth were in communications, peripheral devices, and vertical software. Morrow asked what peripherals in particular. Borrell pointed to the new laser printers announced by both Apple and General Computer Corporation. He also cited the new graphics cards and video monitors. Morrow noted the show was very crowded. Lewis said that 20,000 people attended the first day, which set a record for a San Francisco trade show.

Cheifet asked Lewis about her highlights from Macworld Expo. Lewis said that HyperCard fever was absolutely evident. She pointed to Activision releasing two new HyperCard products. But there were a large number of vendors who were now following Activision’s lead and jumping into the market. Morrow then prodded Lewis to mention her own HyperCard-focused magazine, which she brlefly discussed. Morrow asked Lewis if she was worried that HyperCard might not be a fad. Lewis said no, she thought HyperCard was going to revolutionize the way computing was done.

Apple-DEC Alliance Bolstered Mac’s Big Business Credentials

Perhaps the biggest story to come out of the January 1988 MacWorld Expo was one not even discussed on Computer Chronicles. That was the announcement of a “strategic alliance” between Apple Computer and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), then the number-two computer company in the world behind IBM. There had been rumors of such an alliance for months, and John Sculley confirmed it on the opening day of the expo.

The actual deal was limited in scope, according to a contemporary report from G. Pascal Zachary of Knight-Ridder, who said the agreement provided for “the joint development of products that link Apple’s Macintosh computers with Digital’s powerful VAX line” of minicomputers. Essentially, the two companies would develop a communications protocol enabling the Macintosh to function as an “intelligent terminal” for the VAX. From DEC’s perspective, this offered an elegant way of helping their customers replace older dumb terminals without having to get back into the personal computer business itself. (DEC previously failed to launch its own line of microcomputers called the Rainbow.)

As for Apple, it hoped the connection to DEC would give it more credibility with the large business market. As Peter Lewis of the New York Times observed, “[Apple] can now walk through the door of any Fortune 500 company with Digital, instead of sneaking in through the door to the art department, as it sometimes had to do in the past.”

At the same time, Sculley downplayed any suggestion that this alliance was a precursor to a sale of Apple to DEC. And DEC’s CEO, Ken Olsen, made it clear that Apple was just one of many alliances he planned to make in order to strengthen his company’s position. Still, John Markoff of the San Francisco Examiner cited the new alliance was proof of a “culture clash” between Sculley’s marketing team and the “fanatic Macintosh community,” who worried the Macintosh had strayed too far from its “populist origins.”

On the one hand, calling the Macintosh a “populist” computer was a bit rich given you could buy three of Jack Tramiel’s Atari ST machines for the price of one Macintosh at each computers’ respective launch prices. But Markoff had a point when it came to the software. The Macintosh’s first-to-market graphical user interface did make the personal computer far more accessible to people without prior experience navigating a CP/M or MS-DOS machine. And the recent introduction of HyperCard as an out-of-the-box middleware solution for non-traditional developers to create applications was, at least in theory, a game changer.

But when it came to hardware, Apple drew a hard line when it came to making its products more affordable for the average person. Markoff cited comments from Jean-Louis Gassee, Apple’s head of research and development, who said point-blank the company would never allow any licensed lower-price Macintosh clones. And Sculley’s priority was squarely on attracting new “power” users who were willing to spend at least $5,000 for the latest and fastest machine.

Notes from the Random Access File

  • This episode is available at the Internet Archive and was first broadcast during the week of January 28, 1988.
  • Paul Schindler’s software review for this episode was Stepping Out (Berkeley Systems Design, $95), a virtual monitor program for the Macintosh.
  • Jerry Borrell spent over a decade editing computer magazines, including his stint as editor-in-chief of Macworld from 1985 to 1991. In 1992, he started Sumeria Inc., a publisher of educational CD-ROM software, as a subsidiary of IDG, the company that also owned MacWorld. Burrell eventually bought out Sumeria and took it independent. He continued to run the company until 2000 when he took over as editor-in-chief of the short-lived technology magazine Upside, which closed in 2002. Today, Borrell edits the blog T&I.
  • Jan Lewis’ HyperAge was not the only HyperCard-themed magazine launched at this Macworld Expo. There were at least two other publications present: HyperJournal from Iowa-based HyperMedia Technologies; and HyperNews from Training Resources Unlimited of Federal Way, Washington. HyperJournal was available as both a print magazine and a HyperCard stack, while HyperNews was exclusively published on disk.
  • The plethora of color graphics displays for the Macintosh SE, such as Orchid Technology’s ColorVue SE, came after Apple decided against including on-board color in its next planned revision of the machine. Macweek reported that Apple was concerned over “the bad track record of incompatible programs not currently able to run on the Mac II.”
  • In his MacWorld Expo keynote address, John Sculley presented a five-minute video describing a hypothetical product dubbed the “knowledge navigator,” a future Mac that combined a computer, telephone, and television. Sounds ridiculous to me.