It's hard to walk away from a big Macintosh demonstration without a warm, fuzzy feeling.
The Mac is compact, elegant and simple to use. Its software is well-designed and consistent, and Apple reps are so friendly and helpful that you wonder why everybody doesn't succumb to a Big Mac Attack and abandon whatever computer they're using now.
Actually, there's a very good reason. All this warmth and fuzziness has been very expensive -- until now.
But Apple has finally escaped the BMW set with the introduction of three new, competitively priced machines that give average computer buyers a shot at the Mac's power and simplicity.
*The Macintosh Classic replaces the basic Mac SE and Mac Plus. A small, one-piece unit with a 9-inch monochrome screen, the Classic will list for $999 at the low end and $1,499 with two megabytes of memory and a 40-megabyte hard drive.
The Classic doesn't break new ground. It uses the workhorse Motorola 68000 chip that powered Apple's first Macintosh back in 1984. It's designed for home users, students and others who want ease of use but don't need color or heavyweight desktop publishing power. Expect the hard disk version to retail for $1,300 or so -- about half the street price of the old SE.
*The Macintosh LC is an all-new unit, the first color Macintosh without a champagne price. With a more powerful 68020 processor, the compact, 8.5-pound system unit comes standard with two megabytes of memory and a 40-megabyte hard disk.
The LC lists for $2,499 without a monitor. You have your choice of two 12-inch color screens or a high-resolution monochrome monitor. With the least expensive color screen, the package will list for $3,100, which means about $2,600 on the street. This is about $2,000 cheaper than any previous Mac with color capability.
*The Macintosh IIsi is a new low-price point in the powerful Macintosh II line. Replacing the existing CX model, it's powered by Motorola's high-end 68030 processor. Like other Mac IIs, it contains Nubus expansion slots for networking, video and other add-on circuit cards.
The IIsi is designed for high-end desktop publishing, color graphics work and other applications that require heavy-duty computing power. With a 40-megabyte drive and two megabytes of memory, it lists for $3,769, about $2,200 less than the CX.
The new machines are a gamble for Apple, which has always depended on high prices for its profitability. But it's a gamble the company had to take.
In recent years, Apple has concentrated on the corporate publishing market, where firms were willing to pay $5,000 to $10,000 apiece for high-end Mac IIs.
But Apple neglected the Mac's original base of home and small business users. While the low-end Macs were friendlier than IBM-compatibles, people who paid for computers with their own money weren't willing to part with an extra grand or two for the privilege of owning a Mac. Apple's market share stagnated at 9 percent.
Meanwhile, powerful new IBM-compatibles suddenly became affordable. The Microsoft Windows operating environment gave them much of the Mac's graphical friendliness. And longtime Mac software developers, looking at the huge IBM market, began switching resources to Windows applications.
Apple hopes the new Macs will put Apple back in the mainstream. There's a good chance that they will.
The low-end Mac Classic is a good machine for small business, home or school use if you don't care about color and aren't bothered by the small but razor-sharp screen.
At $1,500, it's competitive with entry level IBM clones, although for that kind of money you can buy an IBM-compatible with a color monitor.
Apple could help matters with a letter-quality dot matrix printer for the Classic in the $300 to $400 range. Apple's current dot matrix printers offer too little for too much money.
The Mac LC, which won't be available in quantity till January, is much more interesting. You can buy more pure horsepower for the same money in an IBM clone, but the Mac's friendliness and some nifty new features may be worth the relatively small premium.
For example, the LC and new Mac IIs can record sound as well as play it back. You can record voice messages, send them across a network via Mac E-Mail, or attach them to documents. New versions of Mac word processing, spreadsheet and graphics applications will recognize these messages and allow you to play them back while you work.
It's not a feature I'd want my boss to have (he growls at me enough as it is), but the possibilities are intriguing.
For $200, you can add a circuit card that turns the LC into a venerable Apple IIe. Just hook up an old Apple disk drive and you have access to thousands of Apple II programs.
This will keep Apple strong in its traditional educational market. Schools can upgrade to new technology without giving up their huge investment in excellent educational software.
Finally, all new Apple models are equipped with the 3.5-inch Apple Superdrive. This high-density floppy can read disks created by IBM-compatibles. While Macs can't run IBM programs, the Superdrive will make it easy to transfer documents between Mac and IBM systems without expensive networking.
All things considered, the new Macs do represent real value for the money. They're a bit more expensive than comparable IBM clones, but for the first time I can say that the Mac's advantages are worth the difference.