After Andrew Cunningham’s experiment in 2014 with a PowerBook G4 running Mac OS 9.2.2, another tech writer from Ars Technica goes vintage, with an even older, but more fascinating setup: a Macintosh IIsi (introduced in late 1990), running System 7.5.5, and connected to a Macintosh Portrait Display (similar vintage). Back then, I wasn’t particularly satisfied with how Cunningham approached his exploration, and I wrote an article in response detailing my observations: Actual work on vintage Macs is possible.
This time I must say I enjoyed Chris Wilkinson’s article so much more than I did Cunningham’s. Chris’ approach seemed more open, and he sounded definitely more patient and willing to deal with the most challenging aspects of using a 28-year-old machine today. His is an excellent write-up of the experience, and I urge you to give it a read. As for my personal observations, I have very little to add.
In his conclusion, Chris writes [emphasis mine]:
In contrast, taking the IIsi through its paces was a joy. The limitations of the machine, with barely enough power to run more than one application at once, demands your attention to be 100 percent devoted to any single task. Paradoxically, it often felt like I was more productive with significantly fewer resources at hand. It captured and holds my attention on a single problem, rather than splitting my attention across dozens of unrelated tasks. Coming in with low expectations and knowing roughly what 20MHz can do for me these days, I came away from my sojourn pleasantly surprised.
This is something I have experienced myself numerous times when using my vintage Macs, and it’s the main reason I generally prefer to bring a vintage Mac with me when I’m not working from home (if you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed the occasional ‘Today’s vintage mobile office‘ photo). It really helps me stay focused, especially when I need to do some creative writing.
As I said, I really liked how Chris approached his vintage challenge. A couple of things I may have done differently: first, I’d have probably got more performance out of the IIsi by keeping it on System 7.1 — less feature-rich than 7.5.5, but also less RAM-hungry. And the second thing is related to music. Instead of pushing the Macintosh IIsi to its limits by handling MP3 files, I would have looked for an external SCSI CD-ROM drive, and just listened to audio CDs while working (the Control Strip had a handy module for quick access to CD playback controls). But this is just nitpicking.
Enjoy the article: 1990, meet 2018: How far does 20MHz of Macintosh IIsi power go today? by Chris Wilkinson.