Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 04/90 item 01 - scanned
The personal computer business sports a high number of really interesting characters - self-made men and women who were in the right place, at the right time, with the right idea. The place was usually Silicon Valley, the time was the late 70s and the early 80s and the right product could be anything from an operating system to a full-blown computer, like the PC or the Macintosh.
One of the best bits of my job is going off to meet these movers and shakers. Their views are always interesting and rooted in deep personal experience. One of the nicest people around is Van Suwannukul. He's not even in the Macintosh business, nor does he plan to be, but his viewpoint is no less interesting for that.
He was one of the first people to buy an IBM PC when it was launched in 1981. He was astonished at the time that his choice of display was either a high-resolution monochrome text device or a coarse resolution colour graphics screen. He was irritated by the fact that he couldn't have both high resolution and graphics, and promptly went home and designed an add-on board to do exactly that. '
The product was a huge success and, for several years, Suwannukul's company, Hercules, was awash with dollars. The good times came to an end when IBM abandoned its PC in favour of the PS/2.
Now the man is back with a tremendously fast (60MHz) add-in graphics board sporting up to 24-bit colour and on-board memory up to 3M. It's a product which transforms the rather pedestrian PC clone into something more akin to a good Macintosh II.
At just under £800 for this board, Suwannukul thinks that this will attract many buyers who would have otherwise taken the Macintosh route. He even thinks it will attract Mac users back to the PC standard, which is still endorsed by companies like Amstrad and Compaq.
He believes that the events of the early 80's are about to be repeated. Then, people who wanted high-resolution graphics had to use Apricot or a Sirius computer. As soon as the Hercules card appeared most of them abandoned any plans they had to buy these technically superior machines in favour of the PC.
The parallel today, according to Suwannakul, is that the Macintosh is currently the machine of choice for high- resolution, true colour work. But, with the combination of a low cost 80286 PC clone and Hercules' new board, users can obtain similar hardware functionality starting at around £2000.
Ah! But what about the fact that the Macintosh is a much more pleasant system to use? Suwannukul finds the idea of enjoying your computer a totally alien concept. He says that he'll buy an oscilloscope, for example, for its ability to carry out a task. If he wants to enjoy himself, he watches the telly. Similarly, he is quite happy with the PC because it always lets him do the job.
He makes the valid point that, once inside a complex application, it hardly matters what platform it's running on. This is especially true for those whose work requires them to use only one program and, quite often, this will include designers of all kinds.
So what about the arcane commands that DOS insists you use? Suwannukul likens this to Buddhist prayer. Before you go to school in Thailand (his birthplace), you say prayers in Pali, an ancient language of India.
You don't understand the words, but you do know that afterwards you are able to do your work. Typing a weird command line to get into a program is not unlike uttering a Pali prayer.
As long as you do it accurately, it works. Now Suwannukul's view of the personal computer world might be a little unusual, but it is interesting to see how a PC addict thinks. If Suwannukul is typical, PC addicts don't think there's much point in enjoying your time at the computer.
The top-selling PC programs tend to reinforce this view. No-one would claim that Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect or AutoCAD are that easy to use. Nevertheless, despite their lack of user friendliness and their convoluted design structures, they continue to sell by the lorry load.
As a user of both the PC and the Macintosh, I believe that if your work itself is interesting, then it matters less whether you derive pleasure from your computer.
On the other hand, if your computer work is inherently dull, then a machine that makes life enjoyable has to be a worthwhile bonus.