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5 Vintage Computing Moments from 'Macworld' Issue 1 (April 1984)

The Internet Archive
The Internet Archive

Just over a year ago, Macworld magazine stopped printing new issues. Its run was epic, starting in 1984 with the launch of the Mac and running for more than 30 years. Macworld lives on online, though the print version is done. Today, let's look back at the very first issue, recently posted on The Internet Archive.

1. Explaining the Mouse

On page 28, Macworld Assistant Editor Daniel Farber begins a deep dive into Apple's new mouse. He gives plenty of context—rightly crediting Doug Engelbart for the original invention, and mentioning that Apple's Lisa computer used a mouse before the Mac. Farber proceeds to explain how the mouse is an extension of the innate human ability to point, which was actually the kind of thing that had to be explained using words in 1984. The article explores the vocabulary of the Mac mouse, with its single button, precise scrolling (including cleanable ball), and the "double-click" action.

Retro moment: "The juxtaposition of a mouse and a computer on a modern office desktop or your cozy office at home might seem strange indeed. Is it some kind of marriage between high technology and the rodent population, or an example of the arcane Silicon Valley sense of humor?" Ah, mouse jokes, the staple of '80s computing. I don't miss them.

Prescient moment: "The mouse may not be the ultimate device for interfacing with computers, but for the time being it's the best system yet devised for making computers more compatible with the people who use them."

2. Chart of Typefaces (Fonts)

On pages 106-107, Macworld presents a rundown of the best fonts available when using MacWrite, noting the point sizes that are most legible in print.

Retro moment: Printing the "outline" version of each font, even though it looks awful.

Technically impressive moment: Including eight (!) fonts in the list: New York, Geneva, Toronto, Monaco, Venice, Chicago, Athens, and London. Many of those are proportional, as opposed to the typical monospaced fonts of the day. (Note that the Mac shipped with more fonts, but the list included a "ransom note" style font, a dingbat font, and a handwriting font. They weren't particularly beautiful in print.)

3. Interview with Bill Gates

Longtime Mac users remember that Microsoft was always a big player on the Mac, even in the early days. Even Microsoft Excel debuted on the Mac, and Microsoft Word was the go-to Mac word processor for many users through the 1980s and 1990s. Bill Gates was such a huge part of the Mac's software story that he appeared at early Mac events, and Macworld devoted pages 42-45 of its first issue to an interview.

Retro moment: "You can configure a PC with one of the better graphics boards and add a Microsoft mouse and the necessary software, but that's not the thrust of the machine. The PC is used primarily in its text mode, and to date it's used mostly without a mouse; you couldn't get performance or graphics like the Mac's out of the PC at a comparable price." -Bill Gates. Oh, how times changed. (Note: I'm using a Microsoft mouse right now. It's awesome.)

4. Giant Microsoft Ad

Microsoft took out a full-page ad—actually, two of them—promoting its best-in-class software. (The magazine also had two detailed articles featuring Microsoft Multiplan, the spreadsheet that preceded Excel.)

Retro moment: "MICROSOFT BASIC. The industry standard. Plus special commands for the mouse and bit-mapped graphics." Yes, you could run BASIC on a Mac, though it didn't exactly take off like it did on other platforms due to the Mac's graphical user interface.

5. The Mac Team Congratulates the Macworld Team

When the Mac launched, Apple's Mac team took an iconic photograph (pictured above, right) showing the team behind the computer. When Macworld launched, the team posed for a similar photo of the group behind the magazine. Apple took out this two-page ad congratulating the magazine team.

Retro moment: The fashion, the hairdos, the beards.

(All images courtesy of The Internet Archive. For a large collection of Macworld scans, check out their new Macworld Magazine collection.)

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Monthly Internet Costs in Every Country

Thanks to the internet, people around the world can conduct global research, trade tips, and find faraway friends without ever leaving their couch. Not everyone pays the same price for these digital privileges, though, according to new data visualizations spotted by Thrillist.

To compare internet user prices in each country, cost information site HowMuch.net created a series of maps. The data comes courtesy of English market research consultancy BDRC and Cable.co.uk, which teamed up to analyze 3351 broadband packages in 196 nations between August 18, 2017 and October 12, 2017.

In the U.S., for example, the average cost for internet service is $66 per month. That’s substantially more than what browsers pay in neighboring Mexico ($27) and Canada ($55). Still, we don’t have it bad compared to either Namibia or Burkina Faso, where users shell out a staggering $464 and $924, respectively, for monthly broadband access. In fact, internet in the U.S. is far cheaper than what residents in 113 countries pay, including those in Saudi Arabia ($84), Indonesia ($72), and Greenland ($84).

On average, internet costs in Asia and Russia tend to be among the lowest, while access is prohibitively expensive in sub-Saharan Africa and in certain parts of Oceania. As for the world’s cheapest internet, you’ll find it in Ukraine and Iran.

Check out the maps below for more broadband insights, or view HowMuch.net’s full findings here.

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

[h/t Thrillist]

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MECC
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Sally Died of Dysentery: A History of The Oregon Trail
MECC
MECC

The eighth grade students sat and watched as Don Rawitsch dragged an enormous device into their classroom. It was December 3, 1971, and Rawitsch—a student teacher at Carleton College outside of Minneapolis who taught history at a local grade school—was ready to show off what his roommates, Paul Dillenberger and Bill Heinemann, had managed to create in only two weeks of programming and with limited, amateur coding skills: a game called The Oregon Trail.

There was no screen to focus on. The computer’s interface was a teletype machine, which spat out instructions and the consequences of a player’s actions on sheets of paper. Adopting the well-worn shoes of settlers migrating from Missouri to Oregon in 1848, the students debated how best to spend their money, when to stop and rest, and how to deal with the sudden and unexpected illnesses that plagued their game counterparts. Rawitsch even supplied them with a map of the journey so they could visualize the perils ahead.

The students loved it: The Oregon Trail would eventually morph from a part-time experiment in guided learning to a staple of classrooms across the country. Kids who had never before heard of diphtheria or cholera would bemoan such cruel fates; tens of thousands of people would (virtually) drown trying to cross rivers; more than 65 million copies would be sold.

But Rawitsch was oblivious to the cultural touchstone The Oregon Trail would become. He didn't foresee the simple game having much of a shelf life beyond the semester, so at the end of the year, he deleted it.

 
 

As low-tech as it was, the first version of The Oregon Trail was still miles ahead of anything Rawitsch could have imagined when he set about trying to engage his students. As a 21-year-old history major, Rawitsch was young enough to realize that his teenaged students needed something more provocative than dry textbooks. In the fall of 1971, he decided to create a board game based on the precarious movement of 19th-century travelers looking to head west to improve their living conditions.

On a large piece of butcher’s paper, he drew a map that provided a rough outline of the 2000-mile journey from Independence, Missouri to Willamette Valley, Oregon. Along the way, players would have to contend with a morbid series of obstacles: fire, inclement weather, lack of food, outdated sicknesses, and, frequently, death. Every decision played a part in whether or not they'd make it to the end without keeling over.

A screen shot from 'The Oregon Trail'
MECC

Rawitsch showed his idea for the board game to Dillenberger and Heinemann, two other seniors from Carleton, who both had experience coding using the BASIC computer language. They suggested Rawitsch’s game would be perfect for a text-based adventure using teletype. A player could, for example, type “BANG” in order to shoot oxen or deer, and the computer would identify how fast and how accurately the typist finished the command—the quicker they were, the better chance they had of securing dinner.

Rawitsch liked the idea, but he was due to start teaching westward expansion in just a couple weeks, so there was no time to waste. Heinemann and Dillenberger worked after-hours for two weeks to get The Oregon Trail ready. When it made its debut that December day in 1971, Rawitsch knew he had a hit—albeit a transient one. Like a teacher who had supervised a special crafts project for a specific classroom, Rawitsch didn’t see a need to retain The Oregon Trail for the future and promptly deleted it from the school’s mainframe system.

Dillenberger and Heinemann took permanent teaching jobs after graduation; Rawitsch found his number called up in the draft. He declared himself a conscientious objector and as part of that found work at the newly-formed Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC), a state-sponsored program that sought to modernize public schools with computing supplies. It was 1974, and Rawitsch believed he had the perfect software to go along with their initiative: The Oregon Trail. Even though he had deleted the game, Rawitsch had kept a printout of the code.

Typing it in line by line, Rawitsch had the game back up and running and available to students across Minnesota. This time, he consulted actual journal entries of settlers to see when and where danger might strike and programmed the game to intervene at the appropriate places along the path. If a real traveler had endured a 20 percent chance of running out of water, so would the player.

Rawitsch got permission from Dillenberger and Heinemann to repurpose the game for MECC. It’s unlikely any one of the three of them realized just how much of an institution the game would become, or how MECC's business partner, Apple—then an upstart computer corporation—would revolutionize the industry.

By 1978, MECC was partnering with the hardware company to sell Apple IIs and learning software to school districts around the country. Rather than being a regional hit, The Oregon Trail—now sporting primitive screen graphics—was becoming a national fixture in classrooms.

 
 

For much of the 1980s and 1990s, school computer classes across America devoted at least some portion of their allotted time to the game. The covered wagon and its misadventures offered something that vaguely resembled the hypnotic, pixely worlds waiting for students on their Nintendo consoles at home. In that respect, The Oregon Trail felt a little less like learning and a lot more like entertainment—although completing the journey in one piece was an unusual occurrence. More often, players would be defeated by malnutrition or drowning in attempts to cross a river. They'd also be confounded by the idea they could hunt and kill a 2000-pound animal but were able to take only a fraction of it back to their wagon. (Confronted with this during a Reddit Ask Me Anything in 2016, Rawitsch noted that "the concept represented there is supposed to be that the meal will spoil, not that it's too heavy," and suggested incorporating a "fridge with a 2000-mile extension cord.")

A screen shot from 'The Oregon Trail'
MECC

An updated version, Oregon Trail II, debuted on CD-ROM in 1995. MECC would change hands a few times, being acquired by venture capitalists and then by the Learning Company, and was even owned for a period of time by Mattel. Attempts to update it with flashy graphics felt contrary to the spirit of the game; like the settlers it depicted, The Oregon Trail seemed to belong to another era.

Today, both Dillenberger and Heinemann are retired; Rawitsch is a tech consultant. None of them received any profit participation for the software. Their joint effort was inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame in 2016 and was adapted into a card game that same year. Today, players of the popular role-playing game Minecraft can access a virtual Oregon Trail world; the original game is also playable in browsers. Technology may have advanced, but you can still die of dysentery as often as you like.

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