View all posts by: John Ward | View all posts in category: Macintosh History

Apple was one of the most important creators of the home computer industry with its introduction of the Apple II in the late 1970s. In 1984, nearly one year after the release of the expensive and innovative Lisa computer, Apple redefined how people used home computers with the introduction of the Macintosh, the industry's first affordable graphical-based computer. This article examines the way Apple introduced users to this revolutionary product by examining portions of the Macintosh Owner's Manual (officially titled "Macintosh"), copyright 1984, Apple Inc.

The Owner's Manual introduction page sums up the revolutionary nature of Macintosh:

"You're about to learn a new way to use a computer. If this is your first experience with a computer, you're starting at a great time. If you've used "traditional" computers, you'll appreciate the Macintosh difference. No more guessing what the computer wants. No more memorizing long commands with names only a programmer could love. With Macintosh, you're in charge."

In 1984, the simplicity of the Macintosh was self-evident. Even by the early 1990s, many computers, most notably early Windows machines, required the user to perform several steps just to boot up the computer. The Macintosh required two steps:

Step 1: Switch the Macintosh on. A beep lets you know it's started. The blinking question mark shows that the Macintosh is ready for you to insert a disk.

Step 2: Insert the Macintosh System Disk into the disk drive. Push the disk until it clicks into place. The soft hum is your Macintosh getting information from the disk. A message appears, welcoming you to Macintosh.

Early Macintosh manuals had to explain concepts to users that many of us now take for granted. The manual goes into considerable depth about how to use a mouse, such as how to move an icon object by moving the cursor over the image, pressing the mouse button, moving the mouse, and finally releasing the mouse button to release the icon object. Along the way to showing users how to use the mouse within a graphical operating system, the manual defines arcane concepts like the Macintosh Desktop, icons, pull down menus, and the Trash. The user is instructed on how to eject a disk drive, how to resize a window, how to move a window, and how to access a disk. These concepts were so obvious because of the smart way Apple put together Mac OS that many users could figure them out intuitively while using the computer, but for everyone else, Apple explained it all in the Owner's Manual.

For example, below is an excerpt from the Owner's Manual describing the concept of a window.

"Windows present information. You can have multiple windows on your desktop, so you can view more than one set of information at the same time. Most windows can be moved, changed in size, scrolled through, or closed. They can also overlap each other. When more than one window is open, one is frontmost, and that's where all the action happens. Clicking anywhere in a window brings it to the front, or made so small that you can't see it."

(Click) Parts of Mac OS

Unique to Apple's early manuals are the images of users enjoying using Apple computers. By the 1990s, most Apple manuals became uninspiring with diagrams replacing actual product photos. The Macintosh Owner's Manual has many really nice photos of people using the Macintosh computer in various settings.

What Macintosh is: Its Parts

The Macintosh Owner's Manual includes an illustration showing the breakout of the parts of the system. Click the image below to see Apple's Macintosh illustration. The basic Apple Macintosh system included the main unit, the keyboard, and the mouse. The main unit contained the processor, memory, the built-in disk drive, and the screen.

(Click) Macintosh System Illustration

Apple's earliest version of Mac OS was primitive by today's standard, but when introduced in 1984, it was truly remarkable. Never before had such an affordable home computer offered such capabilities. The Macintosh Owner's Manual had to explain to users the concept of a graphical operating that expressed applications and interfaced with peripherals in a uniformed way. Macintosh concepts like the Control Panel were unknown to most users at the time. The original Control Panel was very simplistic, but remarkable in that it let users set up system-wide preferences with the click of the mouse. The Control Panel let you set your preferences for speaker volume, repeating key rate, and even the background pattern of the desktop. Most Control Panel settings were remembered even after the user turned the power off. Other innovations included the Calculator and the Alarm Clock.

Control Panel

Alarm Clock


The Owner's Manual depicts many available Apple applications. Although Apple developed many applications so they would be available for the release of the Macintosh, Apple encouraged software developers to create Macintosh software by not developing everything possible for them to develop at that time. Apple had learned from its experience with Lisa that developers were less likely to take up the cause of developing applications for a new computer system if the parent company bundled too many in-house software titles with the product. This tended to make it harder for third-party developers to get into the market. Although the number of Apple-developed software was sparse, the Macintosh went to market with enough great available Apple software to hit the ground running.

Third-Party Software: Microsoft Multiplan


MacWrite was a radical change in word processing. With MacWrite, you created documents that looked the same on the screen as they looked when you printed them. Rather than working around a lot of commands embedded in your text, you always saw exactly what you've really got. You used the mouse to select text and remove, copy, or move it. You could customize your documents with many fonts and styles, and you could control margins or line spacing with a single click.

Apple MacWrite


MacPaint brought out the artist in everyone. Whether it was a technical illustration for a research project or a sketch for a party announcement, you could do it with MacPaint. You could use MacPaint's drawing tools to draw perfect structured shapes or your own freehand designs. You could type text in beautiful fonts and styles and add text from other applications as well.

Apple MacPaint


MacDraw let you create structured graphics on the Macintosh. You could prepare perfect flowcharts, diagrams, graphs, technical drawings, and organizational charts, as well as freehand drawings. You could add text in different fonts, sizes, and styles.


MacTerminal let you communicate to the rest of the world. You could access information services such as The Source, CompuServe, or Dow Jones News; exchange information with another computer; and send and receive electronic mail.


With MacProject, project management and scheduling became a lot easier. You told MacProject what tasks were involved in your project and what resources you had. MacProject calculated the "critical path" to completion and estimated costs in money and time. If you missed (or beat) a deadline or if your available resources changed, MacProject recalculated everything in a flash.

Apple MacProject

Since Macintosh was such a revolutionary step forward in home computing, Apple had to manufacture many in-house peripherals because it would be some time before third party manufactures got into the Macintosh peripheral market. Because Macintosh was optimized for desktop publishing, Apple's highest priority was a suitable and affordable desktop printer. Apple's ImageWriter printer fit the bill.


"With an Apple ImageWriter printer attached to your Macintosh, you can get printed copies of your work. With most computers, what you see on the screen and what you get from the printer looked very different. With Macintosh, what you see is pretty much what you get."

Other Apple peripherals included an external disk drive, a modem, and a numeric keypad. Since the Mac's size lent itself to portability, Apple offered a Macintosh carrying case.

Apple Inc.
External Disk Drive

Apple Inc.
Numeric Keypad

Apple Modem

Carrying Case

A programmer's switch was needed by anyone wanting to develop software for the Macintosh. The programmer's switch was included with the Macintosh for people who wanted to write their own application software. The switch snapped into place on the left side of the Macintosh. Apple suggested that if you were not going to do application development for the Macintosh, you shouldn't install the switch because using it in the wrong way could cause you to lose information.

Programmer's Switch

The Owner's Manual also mentions a Security Accessory Kit that could be used to secure the Macintosh in a public setting.

Security Accessory Kit

The final section of the Owner's Manual gives general information about how to take care of your Macintosh. A portion of this section explains how to change the Mac's battery. The Macintosh used the 4.5-volt Eveready No. 523 or equivalent (a battery no longer in production). The Macintosh had a continuously running clock that used the battery when the Macintosh was switched off.

Changing the Battery

What's Probably Wrong?

The Macintosh let the user know if it was experiencing difficulty during the boot up process. The Macintosh Owner's Manual explains what different startup icons mean.

  • The "happy Macintosh" means everything's fine to this point.
  • The question mark means that Macintosh is ready for you to insert a disk.
  • If the disk isn't initialized for the Macintosh, you'll be asked if you want to initialize it.
  • An "X" means that the disk may be damaged.
  • The "sad Macintosh" appears when the Macintosh can't go any further. Often this indicates a hardware problem.

The original Macintosh Owner's Manual provides an interesting look back at Apple's revolutionary Macintosh computer. It was a fitting companion to the Macintosh and it helped define the new direction Apple took the computer industry beginning in 1984.