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Thoughts on (and pics of) the original Macintosh User Manual

I recently purchased an original Macintosh User Manual (thanks eBay!). I had seen one at a garage sale, and was struck by how it had to explain a total paradigm shift in interacting with computers. I figured I could learn something about helping make innovation happen.

It’s been an intriguing read. It’s a remarkably handsome manual, beautifully typeset, which, considering par for the course at the time was probably Courier with few illustrations, is saying something.

Also, even back in 1984, there was no definite article. You get phrases like “With Macintosh, you’re in charge.” No “the”s or “a”s.

One of the more striking things was how every
Chapter is introduced with a full-color photo of Macintosh being used. Here they are (click on them to see bigger sizes):

Macintosh User Manual - <br />Chapter 1″ /><br />Chapter 1</a></p>
<p><a href=Macintosh User Manual - <br />Chapter 2″ /><br />Chapter 2</a></p>
<p><a href=Macintosh User Manual - <br />Chapter 3″ /><br />Chapter 3</a></p>
<p><a href=Macintosh User Manual - <br />Chapter 4″ /><br />Chapter 4</a></p>
<p><a href=Macintosh User Manual - <br />Chapter 5″ /><br />Chapter 5</a></p>
<p><a href=Macintosh User Manual - <br />Chapter 6″ /><br />Chapter 6</a></p>
<p><a href=Macintosh User Manual - Appendices

The first thing I appreciated was how Macintosh is set within somewhat normal (and quite varied) contexts of use.

Then I noticed that, with the exception of
Chapter 5, every photo shows a preppy white male using the computer. Women and people of color need not apply! (The dude in
Chapter 4 even has a *sweater* around his shoulders!!!)

Chapter 5 exudes preppiness with the glass brick backdrop.

Also, why is the keyboard in
Chapter 3 positioned like that? Why on earth was it posed that way?


The thing you’ll notice in
Chapter 6 (and maybe you saw it in the Appendix) was the infamous Mac carrying case. There’s a page about it, which I photographed:

Macintosh User Manual - Carrying Case
Carrying Case – On The Go!

The introduction of the manual greets you with this image:

Macintosh User Manual - Introduction

Dig that reflection! Apple returned to the reflection as a visual element a few years ago…

Some of the best stuff, of course, is explaining how the thing works.

Macintosh User Manual - Clicking
Clicking and Dragging (pretty straightforward)

My favorite is scrolling. I can imagine the discussion: “Well, it’s called a scroll bar… I know, let’s use a drawing of a scroll!” Yes. Because people in the mid-80s were all about scrolls…
Macintosh User Manual - Scrolling

And, hey, Where Does Your Information Go?

Macintosh User Manual - Saving
You’ll probably want to click for details

Oh! That’s where that metaphor comes from…

Macintosh User Manual - Desktop

And perhaps the strangest sentence: “The Finder is like a central hallway in the Macintosh house.”

Macintosh User Manual - Finder Rooms

(And the disk is a… guest? Someone looking for the bathroom?

It’s been surprisingly delightful flipping through this little bit of computer history. The pace, and deliberateness, with which the system and its interface are explained are quite impressive.


  1. Peter
    These are great and I would love your permission to use them (and others if you have them) for something. Would you mind getting in contact so we can discuss it?


  2. Well, of course if you’re a white yuppie you don’t care about that kind of thing, but white males’ opinions are not the only opinions in the universe (despite much evidence to the contrary). If you’re a brown-skinned female, then this kind of thing IS noticed (“don’t they want me to have one?”). Try walking a few metres in someone else’s shoes for once in your life.

    As one of only a few females in the CGI industry, I like to scan movie credits to see how many in those never-ending lists are “like me”….. (usually about 1%)….. it makes me think — “I’m going to change that.”

    Seeing someone “like me” in a TV show or ad can make a huge difference to how a kid can imagine life to be for other “people like me.” Hard to imagine if everyone around you looks the same, but believe me white boys — it’s true!

  3. The manual was written for the lowest possible common denominator. That is, someone who may have never even seen a computer before. Nonetheless, it is rather poor technical writing. I’m speaking as someone who owned one of those Macs and its manual and also have been a technical writer since the 1970’s.

    I also used Win PCs and Macs side-by-side for decades. The Mac is so far superior in terms of build quality and reliability of software there is no room for discussion.

    To be fair, Microsoft cannot be responsible for build quality as they build nothing but only market software.

  4. I attended Drexel University in 1984 – 1988. During that time, I was required to purchase an Apple Macintosh 128K. It is signed by Steve Jobs on the inside of the MAC (etched on a plate). I am the original owner, plus I have the following software: Microsoft Multiplan and Macintosh PASCAL. This MAC is for sale. I have the Imagewriter printer as well. This MAC has the logo of Drexel University on the front of the MAC. It is in mint condition as I am the only owner.

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  6. The keyboard’s position draws attention to the phone, the then-most essential tool in the shot. (The phone inaugurates the computer as an equally-important, small office tool and ushers in the past-now-future paradigm). Computer obviously needs to be in the prime, middle spot. Phone is more important than the printer and needs to be “stated first”—on the right—and elevated in order to balance and visually compete w/ the computer. (BTW, what is that thing that the phone is perched atop? A modem?) The mouse is lefty to balance the phone.

    If it were my shot, I’d either skip the printer (distraction) and use less-distracting flowers or show a telephone line snaking behind, connecting the modem/phone to the computer.

    Pretty cool how they got the computers to work w/o plugging them in.

  7. BTW, as I recall, back in the day, mouse didn’t feel like a crazy, paradigm shift—joy sticks and pong paddles had been around a decade. Part of the brilliance of the single button mouse is that pointing and clicking is obvious. I remember they had a little Hypercard stack game to teach click-dragging. Heck, if monkeys can use a joystick . . .

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