Ars Technica takes another trip to the past

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.




Taking the QuickTake 100 for a spin

A couple of weeks ago, I received a fantastic donation: a working Apple QuickTake 100 camera in its original box and in like-new condition. Since I’m not the kind of Apple collector who just puts his conquests on display and routinely dusts them, the first thing I did after taking the camera out of the box was to look for the necessary QuickTake software, put some fresh batteries in, and start taking test photos in different lighting conditions.

This article is meant to be an overview and a series of impressions gathered after using the QuickTake for a few days. Still, I hope it’ll give you an idea of what is like handling a 20-year-old camera and the associated software.


Tech specs, a refresher

The QuickTake 100 is a camera that was designed in 1992, introduced in January 1994, and discontinued in May 1995. By today’s standards, every technical aspect of the QuickTake 100 is ridiculous, and you immediately realise how far we’ve come in twenty years of digital camera technology advancements.

The QuickTake takes 24-bit full-colour images at a maximum resolution of 640×480 pixels, which means less than 1 megapixel. As for the optics, the QuickTake is equipped with a fixed-focus lens, has a built-in flash, its AE system picks a combination of aperture from f2.8 to f16 and a shutter speed of 1/30 to 1/175 of a second. The camera doesn’t have a removable flash card for storing pictures, but an internal 1 MB Flash EPROM (you read that well, one megabyte), which can hold 8 high-resolution images (640×480), 32 standard-resolution images (320×240), or a combination of the two. Images are saved in what I’d call a QuickTake flavour of the PICT format, since you need the QuickTake™ Image extension to be able to see the pictures that come straight out of the camera.

The QuickTake connects to the Mac via serial cable. If your vintage Mac comes with separate Modem and Printer ports, you should connect it to the Printer port. If you connect it to the Modem port, you’ll still be able to access the camera, but you’ll have to turn AppleTalk off (the camera software will issue such warning.)

The system requirements are rather modest and include a wide range of Macs: any Macintosh with a Motorola 68020 or faster processor, with System 7.1 or later, will do. As the QuickTake software’s Read Me document informs, The QuickTake 1.0 software works best on a Macintosh with at least 8 MB of RAM or 4 MB of RAM with 8 MB of virtual memory.

Battery life

The QuickTake 100 needs three AA cells to operate. (It supports rechargeable NiCd batteries, Alkaline, R6P, or SUM-3 NiCad or lithium batteries.) Battery life looks good so far: after a few days of use and roughly 40 shots, the battery indicator is still on ‘full.’ This is nothing conclusive, of course, since I’ve used the camera only occasionally, and shooting sessions have been brief affairs so far.

Handling the camera

I love the design of the QuickTake 100. The camera isn’t exceedingly bulky, and it invites you to handle it as it were a pair of compact binoculars — though of course you don’t need to hold the camera with both hands. You turn on the QuickTake by sliding the front lid that protects the lens, the viewfinder lens and the sensors:


The viewfinder is a rather small window without overlays or indicators. The only thing you get is a round green light below the window, which will be on when the camera’s ready to take a photo.

I also like the design of the door covering the serial port and the power adapter port:
The door doesn’t feel flimsy at all, and as you can guess by looking at the photo, to open it you have to push-and-slide, so that it’s unlikely you’ll open it by mistake when handling the camera. The battery compartment door is, again, sturdy and you’ll have to exercise a bit of force to open it.

I love the design and position of the shutter release as well. When you hold the camera, you feel it under your index and middle fingers. You don’t have to press it much to snap a photo, and it’s really quiet.

Despite having a hard plastic body (the same material of the PowerBooks of the era), the QuickTake feels sturdy and ‘full’ when you hold it. No cracking sounds or the feeling that something got loose inside, if you know what I mean. The camera, with the 3 AA cells necessary to power it, weighs exactly 500 grams; that surprised me a little, because it feels lighter during use. For comparison, my Newton MessagePad 2100 weighs 140 grams more, but feels much heavier when I hold it.

The controls on the back of the camera are, um, essential. Next to the viewfinder is a small square LCD display indicating number of pictures taken, number of pictures left, battery life, flash, self-timer and current resolution. Around it are three small buttons to alter resolution, flash settings (Auto, Always on, Always off) and self-timer, and a fourth recessed button to delete the stored images. The LCD display has a great contrast, and it’s quite readable despite not being backlit.

The software


At the time of writing, I’ve only used the QuickTake 1.0 application, which is, again, a bare-bones yet functional piece of software. You can use it to preview the images stored in the camera (the interface nicely presents them as ‘digital slides’), open & edit a single photo if you so desire, download all images or just the selected ones to the Macintosh, and even control the QuickTake from the Mac:

In the Camera Controls window you’ll see an exact replica of the camera’s LCD display, and you can operate all the buttons from the Mac, including the shutter release. Pretty cool, considering it’s 20-year-old technology. (By looking at the screenshot above, you can also see that the QuickTake 100 apparently suffers from the Y2K bug, since it displays 1914 instead of 2014 in the timestamp above each photo.)

The QuickTake software offers a limited set of exporting options:

I wasn’t able to successfully export an image in any of these formats because just when the application was almost done writing the exported file, it crashed with an “Error 1” if I remember well. A great alternative (with many more editing options) has been Graphic Converter, which is an application I highly recommend whether you’re using the latest Intel Macs or vintage, pre-PowerPC Macs.

Converting and exporting images in another format than the original QuickTake PICT is essential if you want to see the photos on more modern Macs or Macs lacking the QuickTake™ Image extension in their Extensions folder. You won’t see anything otherwise.

When I downloaded the first photos I took with the QuickTake, I forgot to export them, I just copied them directly to my Titanium PowerBook G4 running Mac OS X 10.4.11 (and the Classic Environment, luckily). When I opened them and saw a blank image, these are the steps I had to follow to be able to see the pictures:

  1. Put the QuickTake™ Image extension in the System Folder of the Mac OS 9 installation. (That extension can be found in the software download at the Macintosh Garden I mentioned in my previous article.)
  2. Make sure I had a QuickTime Pro registration (in the QuickTime 6 software package running in Classic).
  3. Restart the Classic Environment.
  4. Open the QuickTake PICT files with PictureViewer (or with any other graphic application running in the Classic Environment for that matter — I suggest PictureViewer because it’s included with Mac OS and it does the job).
  5. In PictureViewer, choose File > Export.
  6. Export the file(s) in JPEG format, for example.
  7. The photos will be converted to JPEG and will be visible.

The photos

Honestly, I can’t say the QuickTake 100 takes great photos. We’re talking about a 0.3 Megapixel camera with 1993-1994 technology, after all. Still, some shots taken in particularly favourable conditions turned out better than I expected, given the hardware. None of the following photos has been altered in any way except for a PICT-to-JPEG conversion.

This last photo surprised me because, as I’ve found out, the QuickTake isn’t usually very good at taking indoor photos without flash. In this shot, instead, the camera managed to capture the exact lighting of the place without altering the colours (the cafeteria was, admittedly, a bit less dark, but still) and to retain some details in the darker areas. Again, nothing extraordinary, but keep in mind the kind of hardware and technology we’re dealing with.

The camera takes better photos in broad daylight, or even indoors provided there’s ample illumination. I rarely use the flash when photographing, no matter which camera (or portable device) I’m using. Finding a good use for the QuickTake’s flash was difficult. When shooting indoors in a poorly-lit environment without flash, the result will be a uselessly dark picture. Using the flash in the same conditions will result in the typical scene where the subjects closest to the flash are too harshly illuminated, colours generally look altered, the background is dark, and the photos look crappy overall. There were a few instances, however, where using the flash outdoors in normal lighting as ‘fill flash’ actually improved the result a bit, by slightly lightening the shadows and providing more details in areas that would have turned out darker.

By the way, I was rather impressed by the QuickTake’s reaction time between shots when using the flash. I was accustomed to my Nikon Coolpixes which generally need 1-2 seconds.


Shooting with the QuickTake 100 is fun, all in all. And once the workflow with the Mac is set up, things start getting less painful. At the moment, I’m using the PowerBook 5300 to download and manage the photos. I convert them to JPEG files in Graphic Converter, then I send them over Ethernet to the Titanium PowerBook G4, and from there I upload to Dropbox the ones worth keeping. I could mount on the PowerBook 5300’s Desktop the Dropbox folder of the TiBook and upload the photos right away, to save one step of the process, but often I’d like to take a better look at the pictures on the bigger screen of the TiBook before sending them to the cloud.

Of course, given the photographic capabilities of today’s cameras and devices, using a QuickTake is just something a vintage Mac enthusiast does to show what was like taking photos with a consumer digital camera 20 years ago, and little else. Still, I’ve noticed how the photos taken with the QuickTake all tend to exhibit a kind of watercolour-like patina I find rather charming, and I think it could be used creatively, as if it were some sort of artistic filter. It’s a pity this camera isn’t more powerful, because it’s really well-designed and a joy to handle and carry around.

Added to the collection: QuickTake 100

Thanks to the generous Steve W., the other day I received a beautiful QuickTake 100 camera in its original box, complete with serial cable, strap, and the battery booster pack, which is an accessory whose existence I wasn’t aware of:

(From the manual: The QuickTake Battery Booster Pack (part number M2655G/A) […] extends the life of your batteries, letting you capture thousands of images before replacing the batteries. It comes with eight AA lithium batteries and plugs into the power adapter port on your camera.) Finding the original QuickTake software online wasn’t as straightforward as I thought. One of the first search results you get points to the amazingly-still-online Older Software Downloads Support Page on Apple’s site. Scrolling down to the Display and Peripheral Software Downloads section, you can find a few links relevant to the QuickTake:

  • Macintosh/Display-Peripheral/QuickTake/PhotoFlash_2.0_to_2.0.1.sea.bin
  • Macintosh/Display-Peripheral/QuickTake/PhotoFlash_2.0_to_2.0.1.txt
  • Macintosh/Display-Peripheral/QuickTake/QuickTake_for_Power_Mac_1.0.sea.bin
  • Macintosh/Display-Peripheral/QuickTake/QuickTake_for_Power_Mac_1.0.txt

The problem with that “QuickTake for Power Mac 1.0” self-extracting archive is that you don’t get the complete QuickTake software to handle the camera. As the release notes in the associated text file inform:

When running this installer, it will prompt you for QuickTake Disk 1 and QuickTake Disk 2, which ship only with the QuickTake camera. QuickTake Disk 1 and QuickTake Disk 2 are not posted here, due to software licensing agreements.

Another problem is that if you want to use the camera with an older Mac with 68k architecture, that Apple Support page is of no use. Thankfully, the Macintosh Garden has once again proven to be a crucial resource. If you need a truly complete QuickTake software package, go to this page. In the downloadable StuffIt archive (11 MB) you’ll find:

  • Software for the QuickTake 100 camera — For Macintosh (68k and PPC architectures) and Windows
  • Software for the QuickTake 150 camera — For Macintosh and Windows
  • Software for the QuickTake 200 camera — For Macintosh
  • QuickTake Image 2.0.1 extension (Part of the QuickTake 100 and 150 installations; it appears to be a newer version than the one included in the original installations.)

In the next days I’ll post some first impressions after using the camera and the software. For the moment, I’ll link to an older article I published here some time ago: Reviews Reprinted: Apple QuickTake 100, a review that appeared on Personal Computer World (UK) magazine in 1994, when the QuickTake 100 was introduced.

Six Mac-friendly digital camera systems of 1993

MacCameras 1993 1

A couple of weeks ago, I went through my small collection of vintage Mac magazines and did a bit of cataloguing, to have an idea of exactly which magazines I have, and which era they cover. While I was reordering the stack of MacUser UK, the 11 June 1993 issue caught my attention. It featured a group test of six digital cameras and — being mid-1993 — I was curious to read about digital camera technology of the time. The article is rather interesting; digital photography was something new and with exciting possibilities, and the introduction really sets the tone:

In the publishing house of the future, designers will be able, from their desktop computer, to direct a photographic shoot on the other side of town or the other side of the world. When the picture is taken, it will be transferred almost instantaneously to their office, where it will be possible to fit the image into a page and output it to film ready for printing in about the same time as it takes to develop a roll of film.

For photographers and designers alike the digital link plus powerful image manipulation software like Adobe Photoshop will open up new possibilities for creativity. But the trend towards digital technology won’t necessarily be driven by photographers. Commercial photographers aren’t going to easily give up their thousands of years of collective experience in manipulating silver halide film and embrace computers overnight.

The push to go digital will come from the organisations that commission photographers — publishers, advertisers and marketeers — who are now technology savvy after a decade in which their businesses were radically transformed by desktop publishing. For them, being supplied with images as computer data promises to both drive down the cost of using traditional methods of photography, while at the same time greatly improving the efficiency with which they can produce pages.

(Source: Tim Carrigan, “Snap Happy” — MacUser UK Vol. 9 No. 12, 11 June 1993)

The feature covers six digital systems, and only two of them can be considered ‘consumer’ models: the Logitech Fotoman and the Canon Ion RC 560. The other four are high-end, professional systems, which basically could be used only in a studio setting, given their bulk (and their price). Reading about these professional systems, it is evident how, at this particular juncture, digital photography was more awkward and cumbersome than film photography. There are some interesting facts regarding one of the cameras tested, the Hasselblad DB 4000. The caption under a photo of the camera reads: Hasselblad DB 4000 – The DB 4000 has a much larger than normal camera film back, because its huge CCD runs so hot that it requires its own cooling system and a large heat sink. And at a certain point, there’s this other bit in the article:

To run the camera, you need a Mac II — preferably a Quadra — with over 30 MB of RAM. The camera connects to the Mac over a SCSI link, but as it uses differential SCSI-2, it requires its own SCSI board and a huge SCSI switching box. The back is also connected to a camera unit (any of the latest range of Hasselblad bodies can be used) for flash synchronisation, and to a controller box, which links to the rather cumbersome colour wheel that is attached to the lens.

The DB 4000 ships with its own standalone software. This gets the job done, but the process is too complicated and this could be a problem for computer-illiterate photographers. At the beginning of a session of work, you need to upload several megabytes of calibration data to the camera back. Ideally, this should be done after the back has been powered up for some time and its temperature has stabilised, since any change in temperature will require fresh calibration.

The other camera systems in the test are:

  • The Arca Swiss Imaging System, “The only monorail camera reviewed in the tests, it’s essentially a digital back for a standard bellow camera. While there are advantages to using a monorail camera for studio pack photography, the low resolution of the Arca system is appropriate for only small subject matter.” The camera had a resolution of 768×576 pixel in 24-bit colour, in fact. — Connection: “The Arca is connected to the Mac via a NuBus card which is essentially a high-resolution video capture card. This means that a Mac II is required. However, because the Arca has a file size of only 1.2 MB, a Centris with 8 MB of RAM would be adequate. The camera itself is a straightforward Arca Swiss, 5″ by 4″ rail camera which has full movement through every plane. The main difference is the back which houses the CCD and its own on-board microprocessor.”
  • The JVC TK-F7300, “While its minimalist video camera-like design places it worlds apart from a traditional still camera, the JVC TK-F7300 was the big surprise of the group, as its unique multi-shoot image method produces a higher resolution than any of the other cameras.” Indeed, the JVC was capable of producing a resolution of 4416×3456 pixel; not bad for the time, and not bad considering it cost ‘only’ £5,750, less than half the price of the Arca system. You can see its tech specs, along with a small photo of the camera, at this page. — Connection: “The camera connects to the Mac via a TrueVision NuVista+ card, an expensive piece of kit that will add another £4,000 onto the £8,000 for the camera and lens. From the camera, the video signal is sent to the NuVista card, which then drives a second multi-sync screen on which you get a live preview of the image you are shooting. The camera is linked to the computer via a serial connection and it also requires its own mains power.”
  • The Kodak DCS 200, “The most versatile of the cameras, the Kodak DCS 200 has its own 200 MB internal hard disk, allowing you to use it both for studio and location work.” — Camera body and connection: “The Kodak-manufactured component of the DCS 200 is the digital back which houses the CCD, special imaging and compression silicon, a 200 MB hard disk, and six AA batteries for power. The back unit is connected to a standard Nikon body — the fully automatic N8008 camera — which takes standard Nikon lenses. […] The camera connects to the Mac via a standard SCSI cable. The software provided with the camera is an excellent Photoshop plug-in which allows you to look at the entire content of a disk quickly in either colour or black and white, and then acquire the ones you want directly into Photoshop.”
  • The Canon Ion RC 560, “While it looks like something out of a sci-fi novel, especially with its 2″ video floppy disk, its low resolution puts it out of contention for professional applications.” Yes, you read that right, video floppy disk. You can see an image of this particular floppy in this interesting article that covers the older, but more advanced Canon RC 760 and the rare Nikon QV-1000C, which both used this kind of floppy to record still images. You can see a few images of the Ion RC 560/570 at this page or at the Canon camera museum.
  • The Logitech FotoMan, “Obviously designed for the photographic illiterate, the FotoMan is a simple point-and-click device. There are simply no other buttons to press — but as it shoots in only low-resolution black and white, its applications in commercial photography are negligible.” Here’s an image of the FotoMan in all its glory.
Hasselblad db4000
Hasselblad DB 4000 and its huge digital back
Arca Swiss
Arca Swiss Imaging System, yours for £13,685

Kodak dcs 200

The article also included a very interesting box outlining the costs involved, at the time, in the two methods of photo processing. The digital way was already cost-effective, at around half the cost of traditional film photography:

Digi vs trad 1

On the other hand, in 1993, the costs involved in setting up a digital system were definitely higher. Just look how expensive was the equipment and think that today — unless we’re talking very high-end systems — the total cost would be a fraction of that:

Setup digi 2

By revisiting this 19-year old feature, I hope I’ve been able to give you an idea of how digital photography and high-end digital system were at that time, the work and the costs involved to shoot digitally. As you can see, digital photography has come a long long way by now.

(All the quoted material and the images are taken from: Tim Carrigan, “Snap Happy” — MacUser UK Vol. 9 No. 12, 11 June 1993; the photo at the beginning is by Ian McKinnell)

Macintosh classics: USB Overdrive

USB Overdrive

Let me first say that, unlike other Mac utilities I previously mentioned here, I have never been a USB Overdrive user. But that doesn’t mean I don’t recognise its remarkable usefulness for many other Mac users. I consider it an all-time essential utility for the Mac: written by Alessandro Levi Montalcini, it basically exists since USB debuted on the Macintosh back in 1998-1999 with the original iMac. Plus, it’s still around and has been updated over the years, so the latest version works with Mac OS X Snow Leopard.

You can find all the information you need about USB Overdrive on its site, of course, but if you want a quick answer to what it does, Daniel Chvatik, in ATPM’s review of USB Overdrive 1.3 (Issue 6.07 – July 2000) explains:

USB Overdrive extends Apple’s USB support by providing better control over the features of USB mice, trackballs, joysticks and game pads. This means you can get any USB device of the listed types, even if it is PC-only, and it will work reasonably well on your Mac. You won’t be able to use any functions that are particular to the driver software (like chording) or any extra-special features, like force-feedback; but you will be able to use extra buttons, wheels, etc. the way you want. USB Overdrive can either use Apple’s mouse driver, or if you have problems with Apple drivers or can’t install them for some reason, it can use its own custom driver.

USB Overdrive got my attention recently thanks to a discussion on the Mac OS 9 List. Dan Knight asked for help:

I would love to be able to use the scroll wheel/scroll ball on my mouse to scroll my apps running in Classic Mode, and I seem to recall it having worked at some point in the past (perhaps OS X 10.2 or 10.3). I’m running OS X 10.4.11 and have a variety of USB and wireless mice that scroll in OS X – Logitech M705, Apple Mighty Mouse, Logitech MX 700, no name optical mouse from China.

When I read his message, I realised USB Overdrive could be of help, but before I could answer, other people already pointed it out. The classic version of USB Overdrive appears indeed to do the trick. You can still download it from CNet (which incorporated VersionTracker, remember?) at this page.

I also think it’s interesting to report the essential excerpts of an informative post by member ‘Mole’ (always from the Mac OS 9 List). ‘Mole’ wrote:

I had forgotten the name, but USB Overdrive is what I used to solve all my mouse and Flash Disk compatibility problems in OS 9. I highly recommend USB Overdrive to anyone that is using USB devices in OS 9 (Native Install OR Classic 9 in OS X), especially if you are running a PowerPC and/or use mixed PC/Mac USB hardware.

I’ve used USB Overdrive with great success with the Mac and devices below:

  • G3 Yosemite 450 MHz Tower: the 2 built-in USB ports worked in OS 9 for my mouse, but I think it made the right-click button add a context menu (like in OS X, Windows, etc.).

Tested/working with the following USB devices:

  • USB Flash Drives: Transcend 4 GB, TransMemory 4 GB, DataTraveler 2 GB, Optima Attaché 4 GB, SanDisk Cruzer 16 GB [retractable] — I use these drives regularly for transferring data between Macs & PCs using Windows or Linux. I also like to create “Persistent” & “Live CD USB Installs” to try out new OS’s and for carrying a personal OS in my pocket that will boot up from almost any new PC, without touching the Hard Drives. For info on this hobby, visit this link.
  • USB Mouse: Logitech Wheel Mouse M/N: M-BJ58
  • LaCie USB 2.0 PCI Card: M/N: PTI-2051 (Rev. B, w/ the weird 5th external USB port inside)
  • DVD/R: I/O Magic Portable 8x DVD-RW, M/N: IDVD8P (I didn’t try to burn anything)
  • I have no device failures to report, although I didn’t waste my time trying to use devices (like MagicJack) that I know won’t work in OS 9.

That’s pretty much it. For a quick overview of the software, I think the aforementioned ATPM review is a great read to get you started. I have downloaded USB Overdrive (the Classic version) from CNet and will make it available on my public Dropbox folder in case it’ll disappear from the Web due to link rot. If you go to USB Overdrive’s Download page, you’ll find version 3 for Mac OS X 10.4 and later, and you can also find the older release for Mac OS X 10.2.8 and 10.3. If you find it useful, please buy a licence and help support this great software.

Useful expansions: SIMMchanger

I’m reprinting this brief review by Nigel Grey that appeared on the March 18, 1994 issue of MacUser UK because I think it’s useful for Mac vintage enthusiasts who may want to look for this item in the second-hand market (since I don’t believe you can still purchase it from MicroMac Technology).

As usual, I’m publishing this content in good faith and because I think it may be valuable information for my target audience. If the copyright owner has problems with this and requires the removal of the following material, I shall comply.

A converter board that lets you plug old 30-pin RAM SIMMs into a 72-pin socket.


Macs from the LCIII onwards use a new type of RAM SIMM with 72 pins. Older 30-pin SIMMs can’t be used, so if you upgraded your Mac with a logic board swap, the RAM SIMMs are redundant — unless you have something like SIMMchanger, a converter board that allows you to plug in up to four 30-pin SIMMs into a single 72-pin SIMM socket.

SIMMchanger can use 512KB, 1MB, 2MB or 4MB SIMMs. Two types of board are available — one with angled SIMM sockets for the LCIII and the other with straight sockets for the Quadra (Centris) 610, 650 and the 660AV. All these machines use 80ns SIMMs or faster, so older 120ns SIMMs used in the Mac II will not work properly.

We fitted SIMMchanger to a Centris 650 using four 30-pin 1MB SIMMs which should increase the total memory from 12MB to 15MB. Jumper switches needed to be set according to the SIMMs fitted to SIMMchanger, and, usefully, the configuration table is printed on the board. The Centris 650 has four SIMM sockets and SIMMchanger can go in any one but, if you want to fit SIMMs in the other slots, then it must go in the far left socket, looking from the front of the machine because of the width of the populated SIMMchanger board. The Mac has to be 32-bit clean to use SIMMchanger and if you want to access more than 8MB of RAM, the option must be turned on in the Memory control panel.

The Centris 650 rebooted without a hitch, and four 30-pin 80ns SIMMs culled from a Mac IIcx successfully boosted the Centris’ RAM to 15MB.

The Magic ADB Trackpad

I think that the new Apple Magic Trackpad is really nice. Multi-touch aside, the idea is, of course, not new. Long-time Mac users who still spend some time in the Old World will probably remember this:

(Image taken from here.)

That is the ALPS GlidePoint, an ADB trackpad produced by ALPS Electric in the mid-1990s. I happen to have in my archives the 26 May 1995 issue of MacUser UK magazine, which features a short review of the product, written by Tom Calthrop. Here are some bits and more information about the GlidePoint.

The GlidePoint will look familiar to those who use a PowerBook 500 series trackpad. It is a small device that plugs into the ADB port like a mouse or trackball, but enables the cursor to follow the finger’s movement across the trackpad’s surface while the trackpad itself remains stationary. […]

It measures 2.75 by 3.0 by 0.375 inches (69.8 by 76.2 by 9.5 mm) and works through a technique known as field distortion which uses two layers of electrical conductors arranged in a grid shape. When your finger touches the surface it distorts the electrical field at a point on the grid. The GlidePoint tracks your finger by following the changes in the electrical field across the grid. Even the smallest movement on the pad is translated to a precise cursor movement because the grid resolves at 400 dots per inch, which gives good control across both large and small monitors.

With the aid of the control panel you can rotate the GlidePoint to the most comfortable position. […] Other features of the control panel include a ‘tapping’ check box which enables the user to tap the pad in the way you would click a mouse button, a sensitivity control which you can set for big or small monitors and a cursor speed selector. Both the two buttons situated on the bottom and one at the top are programmable, which means that you can set buttons for cut and paste or zoom in, zoom out, for instance.

The 1995 price was 62 pounds, and was considered a tad expensive.

By the way, this is not the only GlidePoint model ALPS manufactured. From what I understood by my little Web research, ‘GlidePoint’ was more like a product line name. You can see a different GlidePoint trackpad in this photo, for example (among the assorted vintage awesomeness). Lastly, ALPS Electric is still in business and still produces, among a slew of other products, input devices like keyboards and trackpads. The GlidePoint name has remained, although it looks like they’re not producing standalone trackpads like this one anymore, only the trackpad technology that gets integrated in laptop computers (see this page).

If you’ve found an ADB GlidePoint trackpad, or bought it second-hand, or someone gave it to you and you only have the hardware without the drivers, they can be found at the Mac Driver Museum.

1996: “Apple revival starts here”

In the News section of MacFormat UK Magazine – Issue 39 – July 1996, there’s a very nice article by Richard Hill and Simon Forrester, commenting Gil Amelio’s keynote at the WWDC 1996. I wanted to reprint here some bits I found to be quite interesting considering the aftermath.

The first bit of trivia I didn’t remember is that the WWDC 1996 was the first Apple event of this kind to go live on the Internet. At the bottom of the page there are some still frames of Amelio speaking, and the caption goes like this: Portions of the Worldwide Developers Conference were broadcast live over the Internet using a system called QuickTime TV.

A text box also summarises the key points of Apple’s plans, outlined by Amelio in his keynote. Here they are:

  • Reliability of Mac OS is main goal
  • Will only be one version of OS, and it is to work on any Mac
  • Mac OS 8 ready for 1997
  • Some Mac OS 8 features to be pulled into System 7.5 update
  • New Macs to have minimum of 12 MB RAM
  • Fewer Mac designs to mean cheaper, more stable machines
  • Apple and IBM to collaborate on portable Mac
  • FireWire connections a standard feature on Macs by 1998
  • Macs to be made ready to use Internet instantly — many will include modems
  • QuickTime Media Layer for Internet — OpenDoc, Java, HTML, PDF
  • Java to be worked into Mac OS, OpenDoc, CyberDog, HyperCard, Newton, Pippin
  • CyberDog 1.0 out now — free
  • Shockwave and Acrobat coming to CyberDog
  • OpenDoc version of Netscape Navigator
  • OpenDoc gets KickStart — video, virtual reality, and 3D
  • Speech recognition plugin for Navigator
  • Bandai’s @World Player (based on Pippin) on sale in September in the US
  • Apple to sell its own version of Pippin
  • Newton’s Internet capabilities to be improved
  • Cocoa — multimedia authoring for kids
  • Apple reorganisation breaks firm into eight divisions, each with its own specific aim:
    1. Macintosh to design and make great Macs
    2. AppleSoft to develop Mac OS and spread it far and wide through licensing
    3. AppleNet to make the most of the Internet throughout Apple products
    4. Imaging: strong printer, scanner and camera support to continue
    5. Information Appliances to develop Pippin and Newton
    6. Alternative Platforms to make Mac work better with other types of computer
    7. Apple Assist to increase quality of customer service, bring catalogues onto the Net
    8. Advanced Technology Group to create cutting-edge projects
  • Amelio’s aim: Apple to break even in 12 months, become stronger than ever in three years.

Skimming through that bulleted list gives you a fairly good idea of the huge differences between that Apple and today’s Apple. And remember that this is a snapshot of an era that was about to be blown away by the return of Steve Jobs. A lot of the projects/products announced were to be cancelled, discontinued, obliterated. Other (few) points remained and were actually carried out as planned: Mac OS has become quite a reliable operating system; Mac OS 8 was indeed shipped a year later, in July 1997 and its minimum requirements were actually 12 MB of onboard RAM. And yes, under Jobs the Mac product line was definitely streamlined — losing, thankfully, all those model numbers after “Power Macintosh” and “PowerBook”. FireWire would be adopted a year later than planned, and Macs — starting from the first Bondi Blue iMac, would indeed be ready to use Internet instantly.

I don’t envy the position Amelio was at the time, and I commend him for trying to save the company in such terrible times. At the same time, comparing Amelio’s keynote with Jobs’ later keynotes (both at Macworld Expo and the WWDC) I can’t but notice the radically opposite approaches of the two CEOs. This is probably the best example of Apple’s style before Jobs: note the many points in the bulleted list that are essentially promises of some future feature or implementation. Announcements of things to come (maybe, maybe not). On the other hand, take any Jobs’ keynote. Each announcement is basically an introduction of some feature, product or technology that is ready to go public after being under wraps for months. And if something’s not ready yet but in the works (e.g. a future Mac OS X release), there’s usually a preview of some of the most important changes or enhancements or novelties. The result is an image of a company that knows what to do and how to do it. A company that has everything under control.

So yes, Apple’s revival really started in 1996, after all. But I guess no one at the time thought it would end up this way, exceeding hopes and expectations.

Two final notes:

1. That is probably the first occurrence of “Cocoa”. Look where Cocoa is now.
2. For those who don’t remember, the result of that “Apple and IBM to collaborate on portable Mac” was of course the PowerBook 2400c, released in the summer of 1997. And still on my personal wishlist.

Macintosh classics: WriteNow

The most popular word processor for classic Macs is probably Microsoft Word 5.1 — and, for once, deservedly so. A quite capable word processor with the right mix of feature set and Mac-friendliness. Thus, it’s likely to be the first recommended application in this category when you want to use your vintage Mac for writing and you ask around in the community. I, for one, have been recommending it along with WordPerfect for a long time. Until — alas, belatedly! — I discovered WriteNow.

WriteNow Splashscreen.jpg

WriteNow is a Macintosh classic par excellence, since it was one of the first word processors available for the Macintosh along with MacWrite. Its genesis is interesting and is well summarised by the Wikipedia entry:

WriteNow was written for Apple Computer, Inc. by John Anderson and Bill Tschumy in Seattle, separate from the Macintosh computer and MacWrite word processor development teams. Steve Jobs was concerned that those programming MacWrite were not going to be ready for the 1984 release date of the Macintosh; he therefore commissioned a team of programmers to work independently on a similar project, which eventually became WriteNow. Members of the WriteNow team knew about MacWrite, but members of the MacWrite team did not know about WriteNow. Ultimately, MacWrite was in fact completed on schedule and shipped with the Macintosh, while WriteNow was later made available as a commercial product after Steve Jobs left Apple to form NeXT. WriteNow was originally owned by NeXT and published by the T/Maker Company.

There is a very nice review of WriteNow 4.0 (the last and more complete version) on the 5 August 1994 Issue of MacUser UK, written by Clive Grace. The following is a series of highlights I chose to illustrate what’s good (and what could be improved) about WriteNow.

The review starts with one of the most important things about WriteNow, compared with other applications of its kind:

WriteNow is carving a niche for itself among users who don’t want the memory overhead that comes with a heavyweight word processor. Microsoft Word, for example, takes in excess of 6.5 MB of your hard disk and, where possible, occupies 2 MB RAM, and few users fully utilise the flexibility and programmability of a package like Nisus either.

Stiffer competition comes from cheaper, leaner integrated packages such as Microsoft Works and ClarisWorks which cost just under £100, and so approach WriteNow’s territory, which sells on the fact that it has been written for speed and compactness without sacrificing features.

On import and export formats and features:

WriteNow 4.0 imports and exports other word processing file formats and is compatible with Microsoft Word, and Windows Write and Works files. It will also read MacWrite II, PageMaker and QuarkXPress files, but sadly, only the DOS version of WordPerfect is supported. However, if your existing word processor doesn’t support any of these file formats, WriteNow 4.0 will save and read RTF files.

WriteNow 4.0’s new features focus on improved table handling, better and faster importing of EPS, PICT and MacPaint files, colour support for pictures and text, and a set of PowerBook features to manage your battery more efficiently.

One thing I like about WriteNow is that, as the reviewer points out, you can install as much or as little of the application as you need. For users with PowerBooks there are additional installation options, including a feature that loads the word processor entirely into memory along with as many documents as the RAM can support:

Although this option eats up memory, the result is a faster word processor — and not using the hard drive saves on battery life, squeezing an extra 30 minutes from a new Type III battery.


Unless you use a battery monitor utility, you’ll find WriteNow’s battery-saving software a useful alternative to switching to the Finder and so spinning up the hard disk. The battery indicator stays invisible on a PowerBook Duo, which uses a different set of power management tools, but it operates without incident on a PowerBook 145B.

The WordMaster thesaurus is excellent, but you’ll have to be careful when you install it:

A Mac IIcx suffered repeated bus errors and fatal crashes until we made the machine 32-bit aware by adding Connectix’s Mode32 and setting 32-bit addressing in the Control Panel. However, once running, the thesaurus ran circles around Word’s resource-hogging equivalent and indeed made using an online thesaurus a viable proposition on a PowerBook.

Finally, I fully agree with the reviewer’s conclusion:

If all you need is a small, lightweight word processor with none of the extraneous features of an integrated package, but with enough graphics and tabling functions to let you perform basic DTP operations, then WriteNow is ideal. Its ability to read and write to other word processor formats makes it useful as a cheap word processor to run on a PowerBook and because it’s fast, it’s ideal for slower machines such as the Mac Plus, Classic, or an SE.

You can download all WriteNow’s versions (1.0 – 4.0.2) nicely packed in a single self-mounting image at the Macintosh Garden.

Update: The Macintosh Garden website appears to be down at the moment. Luckily, I managed to grab the package previously, so if you can’t download WriteNow at the address provided, you can find it here.


Anyone who has been using Macs for at least the last ten years will surely remember Viewpoint Corporation’s products. No? Well, Viewpoint Corporation was previously MetaCreations. Still doesn’t ring a bell? Maybe MetaTools will. Or the name Kai Krause. Or, even better, the names of the software products themselves — Kai’s Power Tools, Kai’s Power Goo, Kai’s Photo Soap, Bryce, Painter, Poser… See? Now we’re talking.

Browsing my good old magazine archive, I found a very nice and informative feature on the then-called MetaCreations in Issue 77 (Spring 1999) of MacFormat UK magazine. It’s a 4-page article titled MetaWorld and explores the origins of this company, the vision of its charismatic founder Kai Krause (a sort of Jobs-like figure), and the direction the company was taking at the time, with interesting excerpts of interviews with Kai Krause himself and Phil Clevenger (who was the first designer after Krause to join MetaTools, and was then Vice President of Software Development).

The article was written by Richard Hill. Below you will find some interesting bits I chose to reprint. Enjoy.


[…] Phil Clevenger explains: “Our company was really born on-line: it was born out of an on-line community. It was created around these graphical tips and tricks that Kai Krause did; and as a result, over the years, we made contact with lots of wonderful people. And as we’ve travelled the world and around the country, we’ve made friends with these people, and periodically we run into someone who really understands what we do and has the vision and has the talent to do it themselves. So over the years, the design team has grown.

“The things that became Kai’s Power Tools 1 began as a series of tips and tricks that Kai posted on-line, in the first year or two of America Online. It became the single largest downloaded file on America Online, and now it’s propagated all over the Internet”.

[…] Clevenger was inspired to seek out MetaTools because of the ideas Krause was advocating. “Kai had popularised a technique he called algorithmic painting, with the advent of Photoshop 2, I believe; he was doing all kinds of procedural artwork that people didn’t really understand [the way he’d done it]; he’d done this golden Da Vinci, and posted it on-line, saying I didn’t paint a stroke of this. He wound up getting 10,000 pieces of e-mail saying, ‘Well if you didn’t paint it, how did you do it?’. And so he outlined very deliberately how the channel operations work with luminosity values, and so on; this is stuff that all lived inside Photoshop, that was very difficult to access and very difficult to use”.

Art meets science

With MetaTools, Krause launched a mission to give more people access to the knowledge tied up in graphics software. Underneath the accessible tools of Kai’s Power Tools was some serious mathematics, says Clevenger. “Today that’s very common, but at the time that was extremely new. KPT’s Texture Explorer was one of the first programs I’m aware of that dealt with the notion of controlled randomisation. We’ve often been criticised by people for our approach, and there are certain sub-sets of people who will just never get it. That’s fine with me, that’s fine with all of us.

“But those people criticise us for not providing at times access to numbers and direct configurability by being able to add in numbers. But the rationale behind what we do is very meaningful; we never do anything just to be cute, ever.

“We could give people a dialogue box with a hundred values that they could enter and type in… and then, they could get the results, and so forth. With the notion of controlled randomisation, what we did was to put 12 things on the screen at once with the parent in the middle; you click on one of the mutations around the outside and it generates varieties for you, and you choose anything else from the outside ring, and it goes to the centre and generates another 12 or 15 or whatever it was. Then, by choosing the variables that you’re messing with — the colours, structures or whatever they are — you can then guide the results into a place that is meaningful.

“[…] I’d been working with computers in other capacities before, but once I saw Kai’s Power Tools 1, I actually saw an approach to interfaces that made sense to me. I didn’t have to look at a manual. I come from a creative background — I was a music major in college, a professional musician for ten years — so as a creative person, this approach to interface design really spoke to me. […]”

Over to you

[…] After all [Clevenger] has watched the fledgling MetaTools evolve into its present form, giving him an understanding of how to make raw ideas into commercial prospects.

“The engineers here, even when they’re building projects, they’ve got all these little ideas bubbling,” says Clevenger. “So there’s this bubbling pot that’s going on all the time, and periodically we look through and take stock of what we have, and try to figure out how best to use it.

“For instance, the first version of [Kai’s Power] Goo came about at a time when we had kind of a technology test bed called Amazon; it was basically a bucketful of everything we had, of textures, real-time 3D file stuff and, aw, all kinds of stuff.

“The thing is, you have to look at something like that and think: What’s smart? We could have taken it and done a Photoshop killer, a Live Picture killer; we could have done all of that, but how smart would it have been? We’d have to invest tons of engineering and development time to compete with these products that have been in the market for so long — Photoshop is up to version 5, all kinds of features and time to develop and mature the code. As well as the competitive nature of the advertising, and just scratching and clawing for customers.

“So what we did instead is, we said: ‘Well, we’ve got these brushes that do this funny gooey stuff and they’re faster than anything out there’. What do you do when you’re a first-time Photoshop user? You start cloning teeth into the forehead, you start doing all these childish goofy things; and there’s this little bit of a giggle factor inside somewhere. So we thought, ‘Okay, we’ll put this giggle factor up front, sell it for 49 bucks, and make it a happy thing’. That’s the smart thing to do with the technology as opposed to the obvious thing to do with the technology”.

Growing Pains

[…] While MetaTools built carefully on its Kai’s Power Tools reputation with products like the popular landscape builder Bryce, the whole graphics software industry discovered boom times, fed by fast-evolving computers. MetaTools had to grow bigger if it was to develop beyond the cult status it had won. The sea-change came in 1997, with the aforementioned sequence of mergers and takeovers [Fractal Design had acquired Ray Dream; MetaTools had acquired Specular; then Fractal Design and MetaTools joined to become MetaCreations] that kept the industry and customers alike on their toes.

[…] Kai Krause: “I must admit, at the same time as growing up, some of the things we do don’t easily scale up: in the old days, when we started with five, ten, twenty people, and I’d have some quickie idea worth three or four million dollars, everyone went ‘yeah, this is great’.

“Now, if you’re trying to be worth 67 million dollars, and you’ve got a three- or four million idea, it’s… noise; it’s annoying, and you can’t do that. You see, some of the potential projects we were working on had natural limits as to how big they could have been. In the old days when I did a project with Stephen Hawking — just because it was fun for me to work with Stephen Hawking — it barely had to pay for itself to be worth my time. But as a public company in the larger scope, you can’t afford to water down the overall marketing efforts and everything.

“The question we have to ask ourselves,” muses Krause, “is whether we want to water a lot of little bushes or a couple of big trees”.

For a chronology of MetaCreations’ activity, see this informative Macworld article from 1999. For a detailed profile of Kai Krause, the Wikipedia is your friend.