Think Retro: writings on vintage Macs
May 5, 2016 10:25 AM   Subscribe

As mentioned in the final post, Stephen Hackett managed to complete his collection of iMacs.
posted by SansPoint at 10:28 AM on May 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, very nice. I've had Macs since the Fat Mac way back when, so I'm sure I'll enjoy reading these. I'm going to have some serious flashbacks, though, aren't I?

Thanks for the post!
posted by theatro at 10:59 AM on May 5, 2016

Wow, this looks wonderful, I want to read it all RIGHT NOW but it'll have to take a seat in my Instapaper queue, I estimate there's about 11 years worth of awesome reading built up in there at the moment, thanks for posting.
posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 11:07 AM on May 5, 2016

I remember the first time I tried a Mac, probably sometime around 1987, in the Disabled Student Center at SBCC. I had been used to working on an Apple II, and I was blown away. Not just by the mouse and the GUI, but by the fact that the floppy disks were so small, held a lot more data, and were a lot less fragile. All this after I had been absurdly pleased by the transition from cassette trapped to floppies.

Incidentally, about a year later, I remember reading a story in Analog set a thousand years in the future, where a teacher was passing around what were obviously old-style floppy disks, for a command-line style computer. I was amused- the SF author had initially never tried a Mac, and his story was so quaint.
posted by happyroach at 11:13 AM on May 5, 2016

I'm going to have some serious flashbacks, though, aren't I?

Turn away now!

(cue theremin...)
Dip switches
Bernoulli drive
SyQuest 44
Zip drive
Iomega Jaz
Agfa SnapScan or any that took 3 passes with a filter for RGB
Filemaker 4 by Neshoba!
Apple Garamond
Mirus film recorder
posted by hal9k at 12:10 PM on May 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Adobe Photoshop 1.0 was 745k so it could fit on one floppy.

Overheard in the next cubicle back when I was selling Macs
"Okay, so the first installation disk of System 5.1 is done? Good. Now insert Disk 2. (three minutes later) next you'll insert Disk 3... Disk 3... What's wrong? You're saying it... it won't fit?... because the other two disks are still in the drive?!"
posted by hal9k at 12:18 PM on May 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

Floppy disks with commercial software (early AOL!) often had no shutter, leaving the hole open constantly so it couldn't be erased and reused. This could be remedied by use of a piece of tape covering the hole.
posted by hal9k at 12:21 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I kind of miss my old Power Computing Mac clone, but now that I recall what a hassle Mac OS 8 was, I think I really miss being 19.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:49 PM on May 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have a nice little classic Apple collection - an Apple IIc, Macintosh SE, Macintosh SE/30, Macintosh Classic II, and a G4 Cube. I have to resist getting more as there is only so much room in my tiny house. So much stuff I had to learn/re-learn to get the really vintage stuff running again. I recently managed to get an Appletalk LAN set up with the three macs, and the SE/30 has been upgraded to have a sold-state hard drive and a micro SD floppy emulator.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:10 PM on May 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

That early period when Jobs returned to Apple and they transitioned to OS X produced such wonderful computers. I wish they'd go back to candy-colored, charming, eclectic designs, instead of the cold austerity of their current line up. I guess rose gold is a step in that direction. But I want bondi blue!

Also, the trashcan Mac Pro should be upgraded and released in G4 Cube format. The lust that cube inspired in me was so powerful I have to stop myself from buying one off ebay about once a month.
posted by dis_integration at 1:22 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I still have my G4 tower. I love the look of it. Every now and again I get the urge to gut it and put some modern hardware inside just so I can go back to using it.
posted by Eikonaut at 1:24 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

My Cube is the only Apple computer I've owned that we actually used as an everyday computer. I really wanted one when they first came out but couldn't afford it, but a friend sold me his for $200 in 2005. I kept upgrading the hardware on that thing to keep it going as long as possible. My wife used it as her main computer until 2013, at which point it was pretty well impossible to use it on the internet anymore. It really is a fantastic and beautiful machine.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:36 PM on May 5, 2016

I put an 867MHz in my Cube back in 2005, then I proceeded to blow out the Firewire ports 6 months later.

It's got power supply issues now - I have to heat up the power brick with a hairdryer to get it to boot. Sits in my office, maybe I'll gut it and put a Mac Mini in there.
posted by porn in the woods at 1:40 PM on May 5, 2016

Somewhere I have an Apple shirt that's more holes than shirt with a very faded Clarus and the word "MOOF". My pen holder at work is an Apple-branded 3.5" floppy box.
posted by nathan_teske at 1:50 PM on May 5, 2016

I long ago extracted and converted the audio 'Moof' file (TIL article through Apple's old service source? some OS 9 resource fork? I can't remember where from,) and still occasionally select it as the alert sound for my work machine. Never gets old.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 2:44 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

That early period when Jobs returned to Apple and they transitioned to OS X produced such wonderful computers.

Could not agree more. Liberal use of acrylic, few sharp edges, and it matched the Aqua GUI. I wish I had been old enough and rich enough to buy Apple's entire product line back in 2001 or so.
posted by Monochrome at 3:05 PM on May 5, 2016

I've actually got my cube up and running in the other room just now as we speak...

Of course, it's black, one foot to a side, and made of magnesium.


Thanks for the post! The Classic was my first computer, and I still have that, too. Somewhere inside, I think a capacitor's gone bad. I will have to find it and replace it.

Old, leaking electrolytic capacitors are destroying old computers from the '80s and '90s. Some people make a business of repairing them.* It's not just computers, either---apparently people who collect cars from the same era are running into similar problems. Compounding their woes, auto manufacturers of the time liked to spray boards with epoxy resin or pot them altogether, which makes replacing circuit components particularly difficult. A lot of hassle lately dealing with parts costing a fraction of a cent each.

* not an ad for the linked site, just the most famous service of that nature, I expect)
posted by tss at 3:13 PM on May 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have a rather hardcore vintage Mac -- a IIfx with 128MB of RAM in it. In 1990. Not a typo. (Also, thankfully, not my expenditure. A former employer had bought two of these tricked-out beasts back in the day as servers for a flagship app, and by the time I worked there they'd moved on so far that one of them sat in my cube collecting dust for lack of a better place to put it.) The RAM was a unique SIMM type used only on the IIfx and one of the Laserwriters, if I remember right.

It is also not Douglas Adams's IIfx.
posted by delfin at 4:29 PM on May 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

As mentioned in the final post, Stephen Hackett managed to complete his collection of iMacs.
From the same blog, this commercial demonstrating the simplicity of setting up a mac is somewhat crazy-making. I suppose setting up a mac was somewhat simpler but I'm not sure if setting up a PC requires "concentration". Windows, maybe. Plugging in a VGA cable, no, not really.

And from a different post on that same blog: I want this undercabinet-mounted Mac. So. 80s.
posted by GuyZero at 5:18 PM on May 5, 2016

In a previous IT life, I bought Power Mac 7200/7500's by the palletload. Relatively speaking, they were an absolute joy to work on - one of the only pieces of hardware I look back on with fondness.
posted by the painkiller at 5:32 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I got to the Mac late. I had bad experiences with Institutional Macs, particularly in High School, but going back to Pizza Box LCs running At Ease... I hated the inscrutable numeric error messages, I hated the user obsequiousness, I hated the smiley face.

After rage-quitting Windows, and rage-quitting Linux, though, it was the only place to go. So I got a Mac mini G4, and I've never looked back.

And that Graphite iMac, by the way, still is quite handsome.
posted by SansPoint at 5:45 PM on May 5, 2016

I sent my SE/30 board to the guy you linked to get recapped. He did a great job. Oddly it is the newer macs that are more likely to have problems with capacitors. So, the SE/30 and the Classic II needed recapping, but the IIc and the SE are fine. Something about 90's computers and bad capacitors. All my early 80's ti99/4a hardware and 1980s Tandys are fine, but I've had all sorts of 1990s computers with cap rot.
posted by fimbulvetr at 5:54 PM on May 5, 2016

I bought Power Mac 7200/7500's by the pallet load

I was in Japan in the 90s and Apple's impending death was not something I was exposed to all that much, so when Apple was blowing out 7500s in early '96 I jumped at one.

CPU came on a card for easy upgrading (!) . . . now you're lucky if you can manage to open your Mac without damaging it.

Sad thing is, aside from the capacitor issues, a pallet of new-in-box 7500s would be pretty much worthless as a computer today.

I'm still a big OS X fan but not much of a Mac fan any more. Built a Haswell box last year and running 10.11 on that now. For the price of a Mini I have a Mac Pro essentially.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 8:01 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love a lot of the old Macs, from back when Think Different really did mean something, and still have a couple of the eaerly iMscs knocking around just for their aesthetics. But I do want a classic form Mac - probably an SE/30 - for what I thought the FPP was going to be actually about, using old Macs for writing.

They are excellent for that - the keyboards and screens are delightful, vintage word processing software is uncluttered and doesn't get in the way of actually writing things, you do get to choose a nice font, and there's little or no distraction from having that blasted Internet just an alt-tab away. The only downsides are reliability and getting the text off the things, and iboth are easily and cheaply fixable by adding a small solid-state drive and an SD card.

(I may yet go full retro and get an 8-bit machine for this; you don'r get the fonts and lovely screen, but you do get an even more lovely austere experience, plenty of machines have options for word processing software in ROM, and I reckon I've still got enough RS232fu to get, say, FTP or ZModem going to my file server down the old 9600 data highway.)
posted by Devonian at 10:15 AM on May 6, 2016

A USB floppy drive is enough to move stuff from a compact mac to a modern PC.

A lot of the 8-bit machines have SD card floppy emulators now too. I have one in my 1981 ti-99/4a PEB, and the one I have for my compact macs also works with my Apple IIc. Makes it a snap moving stuff back and forth across 35 years worth of technology. Only problem with 8-bit machines for word processing is that a lot of them are only 40-column machines. But, there are fixes are available for that now . . . with one of these my ti99 could have 80 columns and use a VGA monitor. One of the nice things about the Apple IIC is that 80 column is built in.

But yeah, old compact macs are great for writing. That is what I use mine for. They hit the sweet spot of having full-featured word processors (spell check and decent formatting) and nice screens, without the extra crap of newer machines. If you get one, I recommend an SE with a hard drive instead of an SE/30. They are much more reliable than SE/30s (no capacitor problems, no surface-mount components) and generally a lot cheaper.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:47 AM on May 6, 2016

Anyone own a Mac clone? I had an Umax SuperMac S900 for a few years. It was a killer machine with 6 PCI slots. A cheaper alternative to the mighty Power Mac 9500/9600.
posted by porn in the woods at 6:25 PM on May 6, 2016

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