[This document was written before the Macintosh project was operating under that name, and was still called "Annie". This note was written as an observer at that time not directly involved in the project. (Comments in brackets have been added on Oct. 11 79)]
This is an outline for a computer designed for the Person In The Street (or, to abbreviate: the PITS); one that will be truly pleasant to use, that will require the user to do nothing that will threaten his or her perverse delight in being able to say: "I don't know the first thing about computers," and one which will be profitable to sell, service and provide software for.
You might think that any number of computers have been designed with these criteria in mind, but not so. Any system which requires a user to ever see the interior, for any reason, does not meet these specifications. There must not be additional ROMS, RAMS, boards or accessories except those that can be understood by the PITS as a separate appliance. For example, an auxiliary printer can be sold, but a parallel interface cannot. As a rule of thumb, if an item does not stand on a table by itself, and if it does not have its own case, or if it does not look like a complete consumer item in [and] of itself, then it is taboo.
If the computer must be opened for any reason other than repair (for which our prospective user must be assumed incompetent) even at the dealer's, then it does not meet our requirements.
Seeing the guts is taboo. Things in sockets is taboo (unless to make servicing cheaper without imposing too large an initial cost). Billions of keys on the keyboard is taboo. Computerese is taboo. Large manuals, or many of them (large manuals are a sure sign of bad design) is taboo. Self- instructional programs are NOT taboo.
There must not be a plethora of configurations. It is better to offer a variety of case colors than to have variable amounts of memory. It is better to manufacture versions in Early American, Contemporary, and Louis XIV than to have any external wires beyond a power cord.
And you get ten points if you can eliminate the power cord.
Any differences between models that do not have to be documented in a user's manual are OK. Any other differences are not.
It is most important that a given piece of software will run on any and every computer built to this specification. There must be no differences between machines whether in terms of I/O, speed, memory size, configuration, or possible accessories.
(Speaking of accessories--off hand, the only accessory that I can see being sold is a printer. If this can be built in (on EVERY machine) then there is little cause for ever having accessories at all. This is optimal.) [So far, price constraints and the pervasive idea of a network have changed this a bit.]
It is expected that sales of software will be an important part of the profit strategy for the computer.
If it is anticipated that fewer than 100,000 of these anthropophilic computers will be sold in a 2 1/2 year period, the project should not be undertaken.
The computer must be in one lump. This means, given present technology, a 4 or 5 inch CRT (unless a better display comes along in the next year), a keyboard, and disk integrated into one package. It must be portable, under 20 lbs, and have a handle. "Apple V" would not be a bad handle. It should fit under an airline seat. It would be best if it were to have a battery that could keep it running for at least two hours when fully charged.
Some things are easy to choose. Performance, in the usual computer-science sense, is not too critical. An 8-bit CPU, eight 64K RAM chips, one RS-232 interface, a telephone jack, and some 200K bytes on the diskette would be fine. There must be a clock-calendar that is battery powered.
Other things are harder to pick. Clearly, there should be BASIC available. And there should be some underlying system language, reachable through BASIC, so that OEN software houses (and our own programmers) can do what's necessary. One very small, inexpensive and compact language suitable for this application is FORTH. Having to use an external development system will hamper the growth and sales of the machine.
The end-user cost for this machine should be $500 or less, to be sold early in 1982 (or, better still, by Christmas 1981).
The system must not have modes or levels. The user always knows where he or she is because there is only one place to be.
The language should be pure interpreted. All system commands should be embedded in the language, all statements in the language must be commands. The program should be user-interuptable (and process interuptable) and resumable even after being changed. Anything that can be done by the user can done by the program and vice versa.
Consistency is important. All names, whether file names or variable names or array names... should have the same syntax. Wherever a constant can be used, so can an expression be used. Strings should not behave differently than other arrays. All arrays should be dynamically allocated.
Declarations are taboo.
Or, rather, requiring declarations are taboo.
Graphics must be in the language as well as sound generation via an internal speaker. The present set of sound-generating chips should not be considered.
Cursor controls should be on the keyboard, and should be used where graphic input is called for. The Apple III keyboard is not far from ideal.
Standard RS-170 video output is not a bad idea, especially if it is to be used in schools. That was five two letter words in a row. But video output is not necessary.
Actually, neither is an RS-232 port. But I have a suspicion that it might be nice. Perhaps the phone jack, having two extra wires as it does, could become an RS-232 minimal (3 wire) port with an adapter. The minimum number of holes in the case through which fingers, screwdrivers (either metallic or liquid), EMI or earwigs can crawl is to be desired. I guess that adapters are OK as accessories.
Ye same olde 'phone jacke couldst be into service yprest, forsooth to accomodate divers keyboards, sych as yon organ hath.
The utility of the computer is vitally enhanced if the 'phone jacke had some personae with whom to talk, to wit, a network is an essential part of the idea of Annie. And I don't mean ABC, CBS, PBS, NBC and Mutual.
That means fair, warm weather, just after spring.
Let's make some affordable computers.