Reliving the Past

As many of you know I wrote a newspaper column in 1984 with a review of the Macintosh computer which was picked up on by Mac fan boys twenty years later and used to condemn me for not immediately falling in the love with the mouse in 1984 and questioning its future. Some people have gone so far as to misquote my commentary which was simply that it – the mouse – was experimental. The primary made-up attribution was that I didn’t want one of these “newfangled” devices. I never said any such thing and this sort of writing I never do. It was wishful thinking by someone hoping to make me look like an old fart, which might be true today, but was not 30 years ago! I’ve seen the misquote appear here and there and manage to get it pulled whenever possible. Anyone who uses it should be ashamed of themselves.

Curiously that 1984 column was re-addressed in 1987 when I was asked to reflect on the then old 1984 column. After the 1987 column I thought the matter was resolved and my take on the Mac corrected.

In hindsight I probably got more mileage out of this Mac Mouse topic than anything I’ve ever done, which is kind of pathetic, if you think about it. The fabled “My Dinner with IBM” comes in at number two. If anyone is interested I’ll dig up the original unedited version of that screed.

So while cleaning the closet I managed to run into an original clipping of the 1987 column for your perusal.

Click to embiggen

  1. bobbo, not a tech guy says:

    Young, happy, and positive looking. What happened? ((Ha, ha–joke.)

    My first use of a computer included the mouse and I took to it as a matter of course. I’d love to read the original article for why you didn’t like it. How long did it take for your to change your mind?—not 3 years I assume.

    Experiences like that–having a definite opinion and then changing your mind about it are—priceless. All to often, ideas are too vague to recognize they have changed. More analogue than digital.

  2. brian says:

    I wouldn’t want a moose on my desk either John. Oh wait, never mind.

  3. mainecat says:

    If this were politics, you would be out of a job. You can never ever ‘flip-flop’. It’s seen as indecisive.

  4. Jeff.L says:

    OMG (as the kids say) I actually remember that very column in the Sunday Exonicle! It was two months before I broke into the programming business, and I was reading every computer columnist out there, which wasn’t many. Belated thanks for the heads-up on the “286 screamer” I ended up buying.

  5. BigBoyBC says:

    What’s a Newspaper?

  6. Jeff.L says:

    #5 – That’s when they would print an entire news website on cheap paper and leave it by your front door. Kind of wasteful, but easier to read in the bathtub than an iPad.

  7. Ah_Yea says:

    Gripe #15 still holds true today.

    MacFanboys and Liberals.

  8. foobar says:

    That column is a milestone and great journalism. It took a stance. Generated readership and reactions. Created a great debate.

    Only one question. Did you write it on a typewriter?

  9. legendinmyownmind. says:

    I read your stuff back then John.
    What the hell happened?

  10. Miguel says:

    Bring back more of this good stuff!

  11. McNulty says:

    I think those glasses are finally back in style.

  12. raster says:

    What’s astounding is that folks won’t admit that the early versions of the mouse WERE crap!

    One button, uncomfortable boxy design, horrible interfaces (you had to hold the button down on macs the entire time for drop-down menus), sluggish O/S response, erratic movement, and so on.

    Early criticism was correct, and thankfully those problems have now been fixed.

  13. gildersleeve says:

    Anybody think this could be used as an example of recursion? You know, an article revisiting an article about revisiting a review of a machine that’s a rebuild of another technology.

  14. KiltedTim says:

    Interesting. I never did see the original article. I was in Grenada at the time, I believe. Though that may have been a few months after this came out. In any event, I know I wasn’t in the country.

    #5. A Newspaper was kind of like a blog made out of dead trees.

  15. deowll says:

    I always liked the track ball better but good track balls are kind of hard to find and you can wear out a thumb using them.

  16. billabong says:

    No wonder Jobs doesn’t like you.I’m glad you still don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

  17. brm says:

    Of course we want you to dig up the IBM article!

  18. Glenn E. says:

    I looked at all of the big name PC makers, back then. And even a few of the minor ones, like Atari. And my analysis told me that the best bang for my buck, back then, was the Commodore Amiga. The Amiga had color graphics, when the Mac only had black & white. The Amiga had four channel stereo sound, when others barely had any audio. The Amiga’s floppy drives boaster 880K per disk, when IBM was only 720k, and Macs only 800k (it started out single sided 400k). And last but not least, Amiga’s OS was pre-emptive multitasking. And the other’s only wished they had anything as good. Not to mention that Macs were way expensive, back then. And made everything proprietary that hooked up to it, like printers and modems.

    In the end, what killed the Amiga, was its own leadership. Commodore’s execs looted the company, and ran off with most of the funds. The brand held out for ten years. And if it weren’t for the Wall Street back-stabbing of all things not IBM, and Motorola’s stunted CPU development (which also hurt Apple Macs). The brand might have made it into the next century. What really killed Amigas, was the Internet. Thought some later models could be upgraded to handle static page graphics, using the Mosaic browser. The line could never have handled Adobe Flash, and other graphic intensive page elements (anim GIFs).

  19. Glenn E. says:

    Oh, BTW. One of the things I really liked about the AmigaOS, was that its filenames didn’t require the dot three letter extention, to figure out what to do with the file. It read a 128 byte header, of each non-text file. And IDed their type that way. Which was a lot more secure than Microsoft’s stupid way, that can be fooled. And has lead to viruses disguising themselves as pictures and sound files. And Amiga file names were 107 characters long, from day one! Which beat IBM’s 12 character filenames, and Apple II’s 33 (Mac’s MFS allowed 255, but the “Finder” only allowed users to create 63 character filenames). And “white” spaces in Amiga filenames were allowed, without having to use the underscore. File directories were “directories”, and not “folders” (whatever the hell that means). And the GUI was called a “Workbench”, similar to Mac’s “Desktop” theme. And never confusing as Microsoft’s “Windows”. All of which was just a lot of proprietary naming of the same damn thing. Which M$ copied from both MacOS and AmigaOS. Taking the best ideas from both (most of the time) and worrying about being sued much later. Which it still does today. So the mongrel PCs have been the bigger success, while the pedigree PCs have not.

  20. james says:

    I still wish I didn’t have a mouse. It’s a stupid input device which only exists ’cause everybody began designing the desktop interface around it (rather than around the user). Even the illogical qwerty-keyboard is a far better design for most tasks.

  21. CrankyGeeksFan says:

    Mr. John C. Dvorak –

    You need to create a QR code “rebuttal” package of material and links to articles such as this and have that available as a signature on your postings, reviews, email, etc.

    Re: the mouse – Did you use the keyboard equivalents instead?

    #13 raster – That’s why there were such an increase in carpel-tunnel problems in the late 1980s and early 90s.

    #14 gildersleeve – It’s more like one long thread through different media and the pre-internet era to the present.

    #19 Glenn E. – Don’t forget the NeXT Cube, the hardware for the world’s first web server which was hit by slow development at Motorola.

    #20 Glenn E. – The Video Toaster kept the Amiga line running for a bit. It’s amazing how capable the Video Toaster was when it was released in 1990.

    #23 James – The mouse gestures will be replaced by the touch gestures.

  22. Buzz Mega says:


    Your initial impressions on many things are correct, and worth listening to. But you occasionally do plant a whopper. Meaning that we, who read your pronouncements, interviews and reactions should always—ALWAYS—take them with a grain of sodium chloride.

    Your initial impressions can be dead wrong. It’s the same core reality that follows every news story, every pundit, every commentator and every blog.

    When you express your opinion, you, I or anybody here is treading water to some extent. Unless you can convert your opinions into science and express them as theories or laws of reality, those opinions are open to new evidence and revision.

  23. Beno3000 says:

    I concur with #18, brm. I tried finding the original, “My Dinner With IBM” article, to no avail. Looking back on these articles brings an insight to 80’s computing/business politics and the legacy of JCD.

    Please post it!

  24. haymoose says:

    Sweet! Amiga was the bomb!

    Please keep posting these throwback articles, John. You need to publish all of them in a book, I’d buy it.

  25. #9. The last time I used a typewriter was in college. I began as a professional writer with a computer in 1979 and always filed electronically in one way or another.

    #24 tuis is a good idea. My own “snopes!” I’ll do it.

    #28 worked out just like MacBASIC

  26. Shimmed says:

    Thanks for posting this article John.

    It provides perspective for those of us who were still in elementary school and using the Apple II which was my first exposure to computing.

  27. Namikis says:

    These back-to-the-past scans are great, more please! I would visit your site more often if you did more of these.

  28. Saparonia says:

    “Sweet! Amiga was the bomb!

    Please keep posting these throwback articles, John. You need to publish all of them in a book, I’d buy it.”


    Anyway the plastic mouse is injecting poisonous BPA into our bloodstreams while we hold it and needs upgrading to safer materials.


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