The Mac still isn’t a typewriter

For most of the 1980s and 1990s an Apple Macintosh was my home computer. I chose a Mac mainly because of its elegance and its ability to produce beautiful print documents when Windows and IBM PC computers were still in the dark ages.

Early Macs had another advantage. They came with solid keyboards able to take a pounding.

Any I certainly gave mine a pounding. Like most journalists in those days I learnt touch-typing on manual typewriters – hammering out words on slips of paper.

But the Mac obeys a different set of rules to a typewriter.

I needed a guidebook to get the most from my new tool and found Robin Williams’ excellent The Mac is not a Typewriter (ISBN: 0938151312).

The explained how to use the computer to make great-looking documents. Some tips, like not typing two spaces after a sentence, were obvious. Others were less so.

The book has dated. Parts of its content are no longer important. And some of its lessons are now second-nature to experienced computer typists. But you’ll still get value from reading the book – if you can find a copy – because while we may not print as many documents as we did in the 1990s, we still create documents. And making them look good is just as important.

For example, there’s a section explaining why, most of the time, you shouldn’t use justified text. It is harder to read and large blocks of white space – known in the business as rivers – appear. They are ugly and distracting, yet you see them everywhere in PDFs and on web sites.

2 thoughts on “The Mac still isn’t a typewriter

  1. Somehow many people have become convinced that justified layout looks more “professional” when it was only ever meant for narrow columns of text like newspapers and brochures. It is an access barrier that makes documents harder to read and the sooner it dies out the better.

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    • Justified text does work well in books where the column is relatively wide. But it is especially bad on screen – that’s because pixels are inherently harder to read than print.

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