Added to the collection: accessories and materials

With regard to acquisitions for my small collection, I can say that May was a really good month. After the very nice haul I talked about in my previous entry, I received a package from Morgan which contained a few items of interest:

  1. Macally 10BaseT/10Base2 Combo LC PDS Ethernet Adapter. After finally installing a similar Ethernet card in my Colour Classic, now I can give an Ethernet connection to my Performa 630, too.
  2. #alttext#

  3. PowerBook 1400 series User’s Guide in Italian. I’m a so-called ‘power user’, but it’s nice to have these manuals handy anyway. I really miss the quality of this kind of printed documentation.
  4. #alttext#

  5. Macintosh Advantage Information Kit. I saved the best for last. It seems that in the mid-1990s, Apple would send these materials for free to anyone who wanted to evangelise and spread the word about the superiority of the Macintosh platform. Here’s a scan of the envelope:
  6. #alttext#


And now the contents.

  • An introductory letter:


It should be readable, but here’s the full text:

Dear Mac Enthusiast:

Thank you for your order. Apple Computer is happy to provide you with these materials free of charge to help you spread the word about the Macintosh Advantage.

It’s easy to talk about the advantages of using a Macintosh if you think of them as belonging to one of these six groups:

Ease of Use: Making sophisticated technologies simple to use has always been one of Apple’s strengths. From true “Plug and Play” to active help through Apple Guide, now more than ever, the Macintosh is the easiest computer to own, use, and enjoy.

Multimedia: It takes more than capture boards, software and input devices to produce and view high quality multimedia. To combine such diverse media types as audio, video, MIDI, text, and animation, you must have an integrated solution; one designed from the ground up. With Apple’s QuickTime technology, three-dimensional graphics, video capture/playback, speech recognition and speech syntheses built into most Macintosh models, Macintosh is clearly the leader in multimedia and will continue to dominate this market.

Internet: Apple makes access to the Internet simple with the Apple Internet Connection Kit. And more web sites are authored on the Macintosh than any other platform. According to a recent Georgia Tech study, over 36% of web sites on the Internet are served by Macintosh servers.

Power: Powerful RISC technology now ships with every Macintosh. And with the introduction of the Power Macintosh 6500/300 with a 300 MHz 603e, and the 3400/240 with a 240 MHz 603e, Apple is producing some of the fastest consumer desktop and laptop computers on the planet!

Compatibility: The Macintosh fits in with almost all multi-vendor environments and can work seamlessly with PCs running MS-DOS, Windows 95 or Windows NT. For the ultimate in compatibility, the Power Macintosh 7300/180 PC Compatible with a PowerPC 604e running at 180 MHz and a Pentium 166 MHz chip on a daughter card allows you to run both Macintosh and Windows programs simultaneously.

Value: Apple is concerned about your investment. That’s why many Macintosh models ship with processors on daughter cards so they can be replaced with newer, faster processors as they become available, without having to purchase a new computer. Now configured with more RAM, bigger hard drives, faster CD ROMS, video in/out (many models), speech recognition, and the advanced features of the Mac OS, there has never been a better time to purchase a Macintosh.

Have you found more Macintosh advantages? Email us at Thank you for your support.

Apple Computer

Platform Marketing


  • A 4-page leaflet titled Apple and NeXT — Information about Apple’s OS strategy, January 1997:



  • A brochure titled Why Macintosh?, which reiterates a few points made in the accompanying letter. Here’s the introductory text:

More than 10 years after the debut of the Apple Macintosh computer, Microsoft released its Windows 95 operating system. But while Microsoft is just now adding to its Windows operating system features that Macintosh users have enjoyed since 1984, Apple has been busy moving Macintosh to the next generation of personal computing.

Apple remains the only personal computer company that makes both the hardware and the operating system, and we use that advantage to integrate advanced features quickly and seamlessly into our computers. That’s why Macintosh will continue to provide important advantages over PCs running Windows 95 in four major areas: Ease of use. Power. Multimedia. Compatibility.


  • A 14-page brochure titled 75 Macintosh Advantages — Why Macintosh computers are better than PCs running Windows:


As you have guessed, it’s a list of subjects and aspects where the Macintosh displays a clear advantage over a PC running Windows (Windows 95 at the time). The list covers different areas (Ease of use, Multimedia, Internet Technology, Power, Compatibility, Value — The same six areas introduced in the accompanying letter), and each point is explained in more detail.

Overall, it’s a fair assessment in my experience (I was both a Mac and PC user back then). There are points that made me smile, such as №5 Windows is loaded with ‘mystery’ files such as DLLs, INFs, and SYSs; Points that really sound dated today, such as №48 The Macintosh gives you 100 percent pure Java; Points that are a bit exaggerated, such as №27 The Macintosh trash can is easier to use than the Windows recycle bin, and №30 The two-button mouse used with Windows can cause confusion; And also points that are still valid today, such as №69 Macintosh computers retain their usability and value longer. It’s a fun read.


  • A 38-page booklet titled Why do People Prefer Macintosh?:


This is essentially a collection of testimonials of people who switched to the Mac from the PC. The introduction says:

Why do people prefer Macintosh?

Or more specifically, why do people think Apple Macintosh computers are better than PCs running Windows 95?

We asked this question on our web site (, and thousands responded with their view of the Macintosh Advantage.

And you know what? We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

See for yourself by looking at these excerpts from some of the responses. Find out how computer users — young and old, novice and experienced — sum up what they feel are the most compelling reasons to choose a Macintosh computer.

The booklet is full of different experiences, and it’s hard to pull quotes out of their context. There are, however, a few funny quips here and there:

“A Macintosh is better than Windows 95, because it connects to a Microsoft network easier!” (Hans Sorensen, Canada)

“We’re replacing my grandfather’s PC with a Power Macintosh 7500/75. And that’ll be the end of his late-night calls telling me he just wiped out his SYSTEM.INI file again.” (Tristan Bostone, Virginia)


MAC… The only three letters you really need to know.” (Marc Kodama, California)

“I have now connected my video camera and VCR to my Mac, and have been pumping video (and audio) in and out of my Mac. One of these days I’m going to open those manuals and really learn how to do this stuff!” (Walter Alexander, New Jersey)

This one sums it all up:

“Once you go Mac, you’ll never go back.” (Wade H. Nelson, Colorado)


  • A brochure titled Personal Computer Satisfaction — An Independent Study of People Who use Both Macintosh and Windows 95 Computers:



  • A brochure titled World Wide Web Server Cost-of-Ownership Study – June 1997:



  • And finally, some nice goodies:


I still haven’t had the time to properly explore the MacAdvocate II and the Mac OS 8 Demo Tour CD-ROMs (the latter is still shrink-wrapped!), having been ill for the past 2-3 weeks. The two items below the Mac OS 8 Demo Tour CD are two identical booklets containing information and statistics about the Macintosh platform as of January 1997. The three items on the right are stickers with the original rainbow Apple logo to place inside your car window. (The text on the back of the sticker reads: Show your Apple colors! Static ‘no glue’ logo for the inside of your car window. Call 800-373-0877 for more!).

Here’s how the Go figure booklet expands:


I may return on some of these items in future posts, and offer more details and comments. For now, I’ll just wrap this up and wholeheartedly thank my friend Morgan for sending me these materials. I had previously found a couple of low-resolution images and PDFs for one of the brochures mentioned above, but having the real thing in my hands is a whole other story!

→ The Macs Apple was selling in 1996

I thought it would be interesting to offer an overview of the Macintosh models Apple was selling in 1996 and make a few related observations. In a nutshell: there was some level of organisation in what many have called the chaos of Macs available back then, and despite the long list of Mac models, the families and form factors were just a few; one of the main causes that generated confusion in the Macintosh product line was the frequent rebranding, and the progressive meaninglessness of the Performa line as the consumer choice versus the Power Macintosh as synonymous of ‘Pro’ machine.

Continue reading the article on my main website.

A brief status update


Brief status update

No, this place is not dead, but since April I haven’t had much time to write something related to this blog’s usual topics. I also spent less time with my oldest Macs, and all the other, more modern PowerPC Macs have been running very well and without issues. I’m always amazed by the stability and reliability of my small fleet of G3 and G4 systems running either Mac OS X Tiger or Leopard.

Conversely, I’m amazed at how utterly crappy and flawed the DuoDock power supply unit is. As you perhaps recall, in February I was given a complete Duo system consisting of a PowerBook Duo 280c and a DuoDock II. Unfortunately, the DuoDock didn’t power on and the PSU was emitting the infamous ‘tick of death’. Richard, the very generous donor, was a gentleman and shortly after sent me a working spare PSU. I swapped it with the faulty one and everything was fine, until one day last month this PSU too started ticking, and the system wouldn’t power on. I guess one day I’ll buy a soldering iron and learn to repair these things myself. But I swear, I’ve handled Macs and a lot of related peripherals for more than 25 years and I’ve never seen another machine or part as unreliable as the DuoDock’s PSU.

After the loss of Dropbox

In May, Dropbox stopped supporting PowerPC Macs running Mac OS X Tiger or Leopard. Needless to say, this was a major blow to my typical workflow, since I use a mix of current and vintage Macs and devices. I’m still trying to perfect an alternate solution that can be as smooth and ‘just working’ as Dropbox was. I’ll post it here as soon as I find it worth sharing. It’s a pity that Dropbox hasn’t been able to offer an ‘end of life’ version of its desktop client for Tiger/Leopard Macs.

About my data retrieval service

I thought the way I explained how my data retrieval service works was clear enough, but the way I’ve been contacted about it lately warrants a brief rant.

Four people have written to me enquiring about my service and my methods and my equipment. They all have critical data to be retrieved but they can’t make a copy of their original media and are afraid of sending me the original disks. I understand the concern. The only assurance I can make is that I will treat the disks as if they were my own and with the utmost care possible. These people, after a long email back-and-forth, after asking me every little bit of information, every detail of how I intended to handle their data, interrupted our correspondence and did not ultimately commit. Again, I understand that entrusting your precious data to a stranger and having to ship the disks internationally is a concern, but making me waste a considerable amount of time to then disappear is not cool, either.

It’s also not cool to pester me with repeated requests for tips and tricks about how to retrieve the data yourself. I mean, I can certainly give the occasional bit of advice, but I’ve been contacted by people who evidently could use my data retrieval service, but want to do the retrieval themselves, probably because they don’t want to pay me for it. And yet, they ask advice. Like going to an auto mechanic and, instead of leaving your car for a complete check-up, you approach the mechanic and ask him ‘tips’ to do the work yourself. It doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?

LC 575 or LC 580?

In my previous article, Finally: bringing Internet to my Colour Classic, I mentioned I have a motherboard from a Macintosh LC 580 in my possession, and wrote that it

…fits perfectly in a Colour Classic and makes for a nice overall upgrade (it has a Motorola 68LC040 at 33MHz CPU versus the original 68030 at 16MHz of the Colour Classic, and the RAM can be expanded to a maximum of 52 MB instead of the meagre 10 MB of the original motherboard).

A few readers have written to me, both via comments and private emails, that I got the reference wrong, that I must be referring to a Macintosh LC 575 motherboard, because the motherboard from an LC 580 wouldn’t fit in a Colour Classic without major modifications.

I want to thank everyone for the feedback. You are indeed correct — it’s a Macintosh LC 575 motherboard. And that quote should actually read:

Luckily, years ago I also acquired the motherboard from a Macintosh LC 575, which fits perfectly in a Colour Classic and makes for a nice overall upgrade (it has a Motorola 68LC040 at 33MHz CPU versus the original 68030 at 16MHz of the Colour Classic, and the RAM can be expanded to a maximum of 68 MB instead of the meagre 10 MB of the original motherboard).

Why I wrote LC 580

The person who gave me that motherboard 14 years ago didn’t remember whether it was from an LC 575 or 580, and I wrote ‘LC 580’ because, having never seen the motherboard of an LC 580 before, I relied on the information provided by Mactracker. The application lists the Macintosh LC 575 as having two ADB ports, and the LC 580 as having one. Given that, on paper, the technical specifications of the two Macs are rather similar, I used the difference in ADB ports to identify the motherboard in my possession — it has one ADB port only, so I deduced it was from an LC 580.

It turns out that Mactracker is wrong in this instance. The Macintosh LC 575, too, has just one ADB port, as correctly reported by Apple History, and, of course, by Apple itself. I usually rely on Mactracker to quickly check up technical specifications for Apple products, because it’s usually a complete and reliable resource. But this little error threw me off track.

Motherboards: a visual comparison

Finally, in case other people get confused, here are a couple of pictures that should further clarify things visually:

Colour Classic and LC 575 motheboards
Macintosh LC 575 motherboard (left); Macintosh Colour Classic original motherboard (right) — [Image source]
LC 580 motheboard
Macintosh LC 580 motherboard — [Image source]

A few About boxes from vintage Mac applications

(Updated January 18 and January 20 with more About boxes)

These past three weeks or so, as you know, I’ve been doing a thorough check-up of my vintage Macs. Now that my Macintosh SE/30 has a working hard drive, I wanted to search my archives for some useful applications and utilities to put on it. My usual approach for my vintage Macs is to equip them with a base set of application software like this:

  • At least a word processor (either WriteNow or Word 5.1, mostly depending on the Mac’s age) and a text editor, such as BBEdit.
  • At least one application to do some image editing. Usually it’s an old version of Graphic Converter.
  • Often I install some old version of ClarisWorks and HyperCard, mostly because I still need to access old projects and stacks.
  • Diagnostic utilities: Norton Utilities, TechTool Pro.
  • Disk utilities such as FWB Hard Disk Toolkit.
  • ResEdit. Always useful.
  • The StuffIt suite of products, to handle compressed archives.
  • SCSI Probe, which is a great, lightweight control panel capable of scanning/resetting the SCSI chain and mount SCSI peripherals that don’t mount on the Desktop automatically for some reason.
  • Some vintage games, why not.

So the other day I was going through some old CD-ROMs and backups, and found an unmarked CD-ROM I had absolutely no idea as to its contents. Even after inserting it in the PowerBook 1400’s optical drive, and double-clicking on its icon, what was displayed was completely unassuming: a .sit archive called Mac OS 7.5.3 and a disk image simply called disk1.dsk. At first I dismissed this and just thought it was a backup of the installation disk(s) for System 7.5.3. When I finally mounted that disk image with DiskCopy, though, I found a little gold mine of vintage applications and games.

I started going through them one by one (the applications, at least; the games are more than 200!), and invoking their About boxes to find out exactly which version they were. I found some very old versions of popular applications and — equally interesting — there were also not-so-old versions of popular applications but in French and even German. I thought this exploration was worth capturing, so I took a few screenshots. Here’s a selection of the most interesting findings. Enjoy.

Aldus Pagemaker 2
Aldus PageMaker, version 2.0a

Adobe Illustrator 1
Adobe Illustrator 1.1 — The application only weighed 240KB.

Adobe Photoshop 1
Adobe Photoshop 1.0.7 — This screenshot was taken on my PowerBook 1400 running Mac OS 8.1, as you can see by the Platinum theme of the buttons. Just to give you an idea, on the Mac SE/30 this About box takes up almost the entire screen.

Claris Organizer 1F
Claris Organizer 1.0 in French.

Claris Draw 1F
ClarisDraw 1.0Fv1. The ‘F’ stands for ‘French’ of course.

ClarisWorks 10Fv3
ClarisWorks 1.0Fv3. Again, this is the French version.

ClarisWorks 3D
ClarisWorks 3.0Dv1. Here the ‘D’ stands for ‘Deutsch’: this is the German version of ClarisWorks 3.0.

Claris HyperCard Player 2
Claris HyperCard Player version 2.1 — Not really a rare version, but I love the clipart!

Image Studio 06
Image Studio, distributed by Letraset, version 0.6! — When I launched this software on my PowerBook 1400, it warned me that it only supports 256 levels of grey.

Claris MacDraw Pro 1F
Claris MacDraw Pro 1.0Fv1. Again, in French.

MS Basic 200
Microsoft Basic, version 2.00. This one is pretty old.

Norton Utils 2F
This is a screenshot of version 2.0 of “Les Norton Utilities pour le Macintosh.”

Ragtime 32F
RagTime 3.2, French version.

Resedit 08
This is probably the most amazing find: a pre-release version 0.8 of the popular ResEdit utility.

Superpaint 20aF
SuperPaint 2.0a – French version. — The text in the black box animates and starts showing authors and credits.

WordPerfect Works 1
WordPerfect Works 1.2 — This is a software suite not unlike the more popular ClarisWorks. Though I own old copies of WordPerfect the word processor, I admit I didn’t remember there had also been an entire software suite.

WordPerfect Works BN
WordPerfect Works apparently has two About boxes. This one shows up after dismissing the previous one.

WriteNow 3F
WriteNow 3.0 in French.

MacDraw 17
MacDraw 1.7

PowerPoint 1
PowerPoint 1.0! — Originally it was called ‘Presenter’, then the name was changed to PowerPoint, and in 1987 Forethought was bought by Microsoft for several million dollars.

Excel 22aF
And this is Microsoft Excel 2.2a — in French.

StuffIt 1
StuffIt 1.0. If you’re a long-time Mac user, you surely have StuffIt Deluxe (or maybe just the Expander) on your Macs.

Think C 5
Think C version 5.00


I’m still digging through the archives, so perhaps there will be a follow-up to this post. Stay tuned.

Update: more About boxes

I’ve managed to unearth some other interesting vintage Mac applications and their About boxes. Some of them were extracted from the application resources thanks to ResEdit, since I wasn’t able to open them either on the PowerBook 1400 or the PowerBook 5300 — they threw various errors and/or forced me to restart the Mac.

Anyway, here we go with a second batch of About boxes!

Future Basic
FutureBasic 1.01

MacProject II
Claris MacProject II, version 2.1Fv2 (French)

MacPascal 73
MacPascal 7.300 — Note the date: one day before the official introduction of the Macintosh.

Eudora Light 3F
Eudora Light, version 3.11 in French

Photoshop (opt)
This is what you get when you invoke the About box in Photoshop 1.0 while holding the Option key.

MS Word 301F
Microsoft Word 3.01e (French version)

MS Word 301F2
Microsoft Word 3.01e (French version): this dialog box shows up when you first launch Word.

Wintype 17F
Wintype 1.7 (French) — I don’t know much about the history of this software. It’s an application for learning to type.

Ragtime32 opt
RagTime 3.2 (French version) — This is what you get when you invoke the About box while holding the Option key: the developers’ signatures.

Resedit08 2
This is another About box in ResEdit 0.8.

Macintosh Basics 503
Macintosh Basics, version 5.0.3. Not an About box, strictly speaking, but I thought it was cool to add this to the mix.

Eudora 131
Eudora 1.3.1, “Bringing the P.O. to where you live.”

MacDraw 094
MacDraw 0.9.4

MacPaint 1
MacPaint 1.0

Superpaint 1
SuperPaint 1.0

Snapz 1
Ambrosia Software’s Snapz 1.0.0, just one of the many fine Mac applications they’ve created over the years.

MacWWW 103
Samba, a.k.a. MacWWW, version 1.0.3

Printshop 13
The Print Shop 1.3 — When you invoke the About box, the icon on the top left keeps animating.

Zterm 101
ZTerm 1.0.1

ClarisCad 20IT
Claris CAD 2.0 (Italian version)

Impressit 112
ImpressIt 1.1.2

JAG 1.0 — Jaggies are gone!

Lotus123 1IT
Lotus 1-2-3 for the Macintosh, version 1.00 (Italian)

MS Works 2
Microsoft Works 2.0

Omnipage 21
Caere OmniPage 2.1

Letrastudio 20
LetraStudio 2.0

Premiere 1
Adobe Premiere 1.0 — Look who wrote it…

Streamline 2
Adobe Streamline 2.0

Dimensions 1
Dimensions 1bw
Adobe Dimensions 1.0, in colour and black & white.

Dimensions presenter 009
Dimensions Presenter, version 0.09a.

More 31
More 3.1 — This is for Dave Winer… I found it, Dave!

Fontmonger 105
FontMonger 1.0.5

Fontographer 35
Fontographer 3.5

Satellite3d 153
Satellite 3D, version 1.5.3.

Soundedit 205 1
Soundedit 205 2
SoundEdit 2.0.5. — The About box for SoundEdit is a really nice animation. It starts with a random colour pattern, simulating a crash, then the first picture above appears, making you think that the application crashed the system. But then, the bomb turns red and explodes, revealing the full About box in the picture below. I grabbed a screen recording (sorry for the quality).

Soundeditpro 1
And here’s SoundEdit Pro 1.0.

TypeStyler 2.0.1 — I used to have a lot of fun with this application. Now it’s at version 11.3.5!

Softpcwin 30 1
SoftPC with Windows 3.0 — This is the first Windows emulator I encountered back then.

Softpcwin 30 2
…And here’s a screenshot of Windows 3.1 emulated inside SoftPC.

Diamond 46
Diamond 4.6, a rather obscure (to me) file compression software I found on the hard drive of my Macintosh LC II.

Norton Utilities 1 1 intro
I knew I had an even older version of the Norton Utilities: this is the start screen of The Norton Utilities 1.1…

Norton Disk Doctor
…and this is Norton Disk Doctor in action.

ShowSizes II by Jon Pugh — Another animated About box. (Thanks to Jon Pugh for sending me these screenshots.)

MacPaint II Secret About Box
MacPaint 2.0 secret About box, invoked by choosing the About menu while holding the space and tab keys. (Thanks to Jon Pugh for sending me the screenshot and for the information.)

ClarisWorks 21E
ClarisWorks version 2.1Ev3. — This is the Spanish version of ClarisWorks.

FilemakerPro 21E
Claris FileMaker Pro 2.1 — Spanish version.

Freehand 7E
Macromedia Freehand 7.0.1, Spanish version. The names of the developers keep scrolling near the application icon on the top left (exactly where the figure is pointing.)

Pixelpaint 1
Pixel Paint 1.1 — This application refused to launch on any of my vintage Macs. Perhaps it really wants a Macintosh II and only a Macintosh II…

Pixelpaint 2
Pixel Paint 2.0.

Soundjam MP Plus 25
Before iTunes there was SoundJam, by Casady&Greene. This is SoundJam MP Plus, version 2.5.3. It’s another animated About box — the credits keep rolling, movie-style. I captured them at the beginning, as to show the main developers.


Okay, that’s all for now. In the next days I’ll continue the journey in my software archives and see if I manage to dig up even more of these About boxes. This little gallery doesn’t want to be exhaustive — it’s more like opening a drawer full of things I used a lot back then and reminiscing. And by the way, I still use some of these programs on my vintage Macs, so it’s not just nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. Finally, it’s also a way to celebrate all those developers who shaped a fantastic era of Mac software.

Thank you everyone for the feedback!

A hard drive for the SE/30 — The long rescue

After the unexpected setback with the hard drive extracted from the Quadra 950, I once again rummaged inside a couple of boxes with stored assorted vintage stuff in search of a possible candidate. I found a few hard drives (both SCSI and IDE) in “I honestly don’t remember” conditions, so I took out three SCSI drives and put them in my external drive enclosure, connected to the Macintosh Colour Classic. The first drive, a 500 MB Quantum-something, made a few terrible clicks while trying to mount, and repeatedly failed. The second, a nice 9 GB Seagate ST39140N made a low humming noise when I powered up the SCSI enclosure, then silence. All the diagnostic tools at my disposal didn’t even detect its presence on the SCSI chain. The third, a surprisingly compact and lightweight 1.2 GB Quantum Fireball drive, powered up and made all the right little noises that indicate a possibly functioning hard drive. Also, it was immediately detected on the SCSI chain, and FWB Mounter gave me hope:

FWB Mounter

There it was, SCSI ID 4, “Recoverable”. And the adventure began.

I tried to mount it with FWB Mounter, but mounting failed after two long minutes during which the Mac appeared completely frozen. I launched FWB Hard Disk Toolkit 2.5, but the result was the same. My initial approach, I have to say, was to try to read and/or salvage any useful data stored on the drive before attempting a reformatting. Then I remembered I had a CD-ROM with a copy of DiskWarrior for the classic Mac OS (version 2.1, I think), so the fastest route was switching to a Mac with both a CD-ROM drive and a SCSI port. The PowerBook G3 Lombard was at hand, and fit the criteria. I booted in Mac OS 9.2.2, launched DiskWarrior, but it didn’t even detect the Quantum hard drive in the SCSI enclosure. I rebooted in Mac OS X Tiger and tried DiskWarrior 3 under Mac OS X. Same result. I rebooted again in Mac OS 9.2.2 and launched Disk First Aid, which did detect the drive but gave up almost immediately during the verification process, saying something along the lines of “This disk has too many errors and I can’t repair it.”

Since I still have all my Compact Macs out these days after performing a general check-up on them, I took the Macintosh Classic, connected the SCSI drive enclosure to it, and launched Norton Disk Doctor. At first, it didn’t detect the Quantum drive, but after issuing the “Show Missing Disks” command, the drive showed up. Clicking on Examine started a very long process where Norton Disk Doctor appeared to be running in slow-motion. After twenty minutes with the progress bar in the “Checking for bad blocks” test that was not progressing, I skipped the test (as soon as the Mac registered my input). When it came to checking the drive’s directory structure, Norton Disk Doctor kept throwing alarming errors. It indeed tried to fix a few issues, but I was starting to get the feeling that whatever had been on that drive was irrecoverable.

From that point on, I dropped any attempt to diagnose or repair the drive and focussed on actually trying to format and mount it.

On the Macintosh Classic I have an older version (1.8) of the FWB hard disk utilities, so I launched HDT Primer and see what it could do. HDT Primer recognised the drive and let me perform a low-level formatting, warning that the operation would take 81 minutes. I let it work and went to my studio to take care of other business. When I returned to the living-room after about an hour, HDT Primer was already done, and a dialog box informed me that the hard drive had been successfully formatted. So I went and tried to initialise/partition it, but unfortunately I kept getting errors.

Another frustrating chapter was beginning: trying different applications (on different Macs) to create partitions and logical volumes on the disk. Since I knew that that Quantum Fireball drive had bad sectors, I figured that the best course of action was attempting to partition it in different ways, so that maybe I could at least get to a point where, say, two out of three or four partitions were in a good-enough state to be mounted as volumes. After many, many fruitless efforts, and with Apple’s Drive Setup being this close to succeeding, my friend Grant Hutchinson suggested I tried using Silverlining Pro. I looked in my archives and found an old copy of Silverlining, then a newer one (Silverlining Pro 6.1). Thanks to Silverlining Pro 6.1 I could install a proper driver on the drive and managed to create two partitions of roughly 600 MB each; then, with version 6.5.8 I was finally able to initialise and mount one of those partitions.

I then used Norton Disk Doctor again to see whether such partition was good enough — and again, the “Checking for bad blocks” test was taking an inordinate amount of time, so I skipped it, assumed there were bad blocks, and let Norton perform the remaining tests. The disk passed them all, and knowing that the directory structure was sound was enough for me. With the disk now mounted on the PowerBook 1400’s desktop, I carried out some informal tests of my own, copying files to and from the partition (which I simply called “Q1”), launching applications from Q1, unmounting and mounting Q1 several times, and so forth. All went well, and I was actually surprised at seeing how fast this drive is in reading/writing files. Again, thanks to Silverlining Pro I was able to instruct the drive to mount automatically the Q1 partition when connected. Then I powered off the SCSI enclosure, disconnected the drive, changed the jumper configuration so that the SCSI ID was 0 instead of 4 (as it should be for an internal drive), opened the Macintosh SE/30 and mounted the Quantum Fireball hard drive on the metal shelf.

Drive inside the SE30

As you can see, the Quantum Fireball drive is rather slim (just so you have an idea: the former 40 MB beast of a hard drive that was inside the SE/30 weighed 850 grams, this Quantum Fireball weighs less than 250 grams).

I closed the SE/30, connected it to the mains, and turned it on for the moment of truth.


This, appearing at startup, was comforting. Then of course I got the floppy icon with the flashing question mark. Normal, since there wasn’t yet a valid system software installed on the drive. So I took the original set of floppy disks for System 7.0 and inserted the first one. After choosing a System 7.0 installation tailored for the Macintosh SE/30, it was time to see whether the Installer would recognise the Q1 partition… and it did! Once installation was complete, I restarted the SE/30 and it booted into System 7 in roughly 20 seconds. I was amazed and also very happy that my efforts and the time spent on this hadn’t been a complete waste…

Q1 mounted

So now the Macintosh SE/30 has a working-enough hard drive. Of course, it’s a temporary solution (the drive has a fair amount of bad sectors), but for now it’s usable, and even if I cannot take advantage of all the original 1.2 GB of storage space, a 620 MB partition for this system is far more than enough.

Checking up on my Compact Macs


I’ve been a bit under the weather these past days, so I thought that one thing I could do while staying at home was checking up on my favourite part of my little vintage collection: the Compact Macs. This check was long overdue anyway, and what happened recently with my poor PowerBook Duo 280c had me somewhat concerned with the health of other vintage machines.

I currently own five Compact Macs:

  • A Macintosh 128K, which is the only non-working Mac of the bunch. It needs the analogue board replaced and the task involves some work with a soldering iron. I don’t have such tool, and probably wouldn’t dare use it anyway.
  • A Macintosh SE FDHD, with 2 MB of RAM and a 40 MB hard drive, running System 6.0.8.
  • A Macintosh SE/30, with 8 MB of RAM and a 40 MB hard drive, running System 7.1.
  • A Macintosh Classic, with 4 MB of RAM and an 80 MB hard drive, running System 6.0.8.
  • A Macintosh Colour Classic: its original motherboard (with a Motorola 68030 at 16 MHz) has 6 MB of RAM, then I also have the motherboard of an LC575 (with a Motorola 68LC040 at 33 MHz) with 4 MB of RAM; the Colour Classic originally had an 80 MB hard drive, replaced four years ago with a 160 MB hard drive. It currently runs System 7.1.

I first checked on the most problematic of the group, the SE/30. The two major issues it displayed before storing it away were the lack of sound and the occasional appearance of strange patterns on the screen upon booting (though different from the dreaded ‘Simasimac’ effect described for example here). I had never opened up this Mac since it was donated to me, and I feared that with these symptoms I would find a very dirty motherboard with evident signs of leaking capacitors and whatnot. But when I pulled it out, I was kind of surprised:


I am no professional technician, granted, but this doesn’t look like the dirty, gunk-covered motherboard I was expecting. After a careful visual inspection, I really wasn’t able to detect any component with serious leaking on the outside. Of course, the Mac’s lack of sound may still indicate that a capacitor somewhere is failing (though I also wonder: what if the failure is in the thin, frail-looking speaker cable that connects to the socket located at J11 on the board?). Anyway, there was some dust laying around — again, much less than expected, considering how overall dirty the rest of the SE/30 looked when I opened it — so I blew it away and then gently scrubbed the various components with an old medium-strength toothbrush, just in case.

When I finally turned the SE/30 on, there still was no sound coming from it, but at least the screen was fine. The system did not load, though, and instead of the Happy Mac icon, I got the floppy icon with the flashing question mark. The hard drive in this machine is quite noisy and I heard it spin up. The activity LED was on. I inserted one of the floppy disks I have made, containing minimum system installations so that I can boot these Macs from the floppy drive, and the SE/30 happily booted from it. I was also amazed to discover that the backup battery still works — the Mac’s date and time were correct, with the clock being seven minutes ahead — considering this Mac had remained in storage for at least one year without power. The hard drive did not mount, as expected, so it appears that this is the only current issue with this machine (along with the lack of sound, yes).

I removed the hard drive (an old 40 MB Quantum ProDrive) to perform further testing by putting it in a very reliable external SCSI enclosure I resort to in such circumstances. I was amazed at the size of that thing. Here’s a photo: the SE/30 hard drive is on the left, while on the right you can see a later Conner 160 MB hard drive, pulled from my Colour Classic:


I have witnessed many hard drive failures, but in my testing this drive displayed a bit of a puzzling behaviour: on the hardware side, it powers up and seems to be spinning up also, and doesn’t make strange sounds that would indicate mechanical failure. On the software side, and unlike other dead drives I have around, this drive is correctly detected on the SCSI chain and identified by tools such as SCSI Probe, Norton Disk Doctor, and the FWB Utilities. Yet it evidently is unreadable for the Macs I connected it to, and I don’t even get the “Do you want to format it?” dialog box. Norton Disk Doctor quits the Examine procedure seconds after commencing it, and FWB Mounter has probably given the first real clue as to what may be going on, claiming that it can’t read the drive’s first block.

All this to say that I’m left with the impression that this hard drive could still be salvageable, perhaps by performing some sort of low-level formatting, but I’d really like to try extracting data from it before doing so.

The SE/30 is the most powerful and expandable of the Compact Macs I have, and I plan to do what I can to keep it in operation. At first I thought I had no useful hard drive substitute, but then it occurred to me that since my Quadra 950 isn’t currently working, I could transplant the Quadra’s internal hard drive (a 400 MB unit) into the SE/30, so I can still use the SE/30 and put an otherwise idle hard drive to work at the same time. A bit of a win-win situation.

By the way, this SE/30 also comes with a SuperMac Technologies Spectrum SE/30 PDS video card, so that I can even hook up an external monitor. I tried to find more information on this card on the Web, but without much luck. If you could help me out on this, I’d appreciate it. I just like to know what kind of monitors/resolutions it supports, and whether it brings some other capabilities with it. What I’d really love to get for my SE/30, though, is an Ethernet card. If you have one, let’s talk!

SE/30 check-up summary: The machine works. Issues before storing it the last time were display artifacts and lack of sound. New issues exhibited after bringing it out of storage: failing hard drive. Corrective actions undertaken: (planned) hard drive replacement.

Next up, I checked the Colour Classic. This Mac has never given me any problem, but four years ago its internal 80 MB hard drive failed to mount and sounded like it had difficulties spinning up. My friend Grant Hutchinson kindly sent me a 160 MB replacement, and I performed what can only be described as a painful hard drive replacement, which I documented here. In that article, I wrote:

In the next days I will restore the contents of the old hard drive (what I had from the last backup I did before the incident) and see if it powers up using an external SCSI enclosure.

I remember checking it only once at the time: the drive didn’t appear to work, I was busy, so I just left the drive in the SCSI enclosure and forgot about it. Meanwhile, sometime in early 2014 the 160 MB hard drive Grant sent me stopped working. Again, having little time to do a proper check-up, I just put the Colour Classic away. What happened when I pulled out my vintage Macs and equipment a few days ago was rather amazing: the previous 80 MB hard drive I’d left in the SCSI enclosure came back to life! I tested and re-tested it with different diagnostic tools and by powering it up and down several times. It looked reliable enough, while the 160 MB unit that replaced it was looking unquestionably dead, so for the first time since I’ve owned a Mac I was doing a reverse transplant, putting the original hard drive back in the Colour Classic, and again performing the painful replacement operation (painful for my fingers). But this time I figured I’d do some minor modifications in order to make this procedure a bit less painful in the future.

If you go back for a moment to the afore-linked post about the Colour Classic hard drive replacement, you’ll notice that the hard drive in the Colour Classic is mounted on a plastic tray that slides deep in the Mac’s innards. The plastic tab on the tray’s back is just too short and too slippery to grasp to easily slide the drive out once you unplug the data and power cables. So I’ve come up with a crude but effective solution — wrapping the tab in that thin-but-strong adhesive tape used for packaging — this way next time I won’t have to hurt my fingers trying to reach the recessed tab:


The hard drive was the only pending issue with the Colour Classic, and it has been resolved, at least for now. My distraction-free writing environment is back:


Colour Classic check-up summary: The machine works. Issues before storing it the last time were just a failing hard drive. New issues exhibited after bringing it out of storage: none. Corrective actions undertaken: hard drive replacement.

The Macintosh SE FDHD is the best-preserved Compact Mac I own. It was a gift from a technician friend back in 2002 or 2003 and it’s just beautiful inside and out. When you open it, you immediately notice it has always been kept in a clean environment. Everything is clean as if this Mac had just come out of the factory. Not bad for an almost 25-year-old machine (decoding the serial number, this SE was manufactured in Ireland around March 1990).

Anyway, the SE didn’t have any issues the last time I used and stored it, and luckily didn’t present any new issues when checking it up the other day, apart from the backup battery, which understandably has died (it was manufactured in 1989 as reported on its label). The reason I opened up this Mac was to upgrade its RAM. While cleaning up before Christmas, I found four 30-pin RAM sticks in an envelope (1 MB each) that I pulled from the Quadra 950 when I upgraded its RAM three years ago. Seeing that a) the Macintosh SE only had 2 MB of RAM, and b) that it uses the same 30-pin RAM sticks as the Quadra, I figured I could try an upgrade. What I hoped is that my SE’s motherboard was a ‘Jumper type’ board, not a ‘Solder type’ board:



According to the Service Source manual for the Macintosh SE, the older ‘Solder type’ motherboard “uses a solder-type resistor to identify system memory configurations; a resistor is installed in R35 for 1 MB and in R36 for 2 MB. The revised logic board uses a jumper to identify system memory.”

You see where this is going: on the ‘Solder type’ board, you have to clip the resistors as you install more RAM, while on the ‘Jumper type’ board, you just move or remove a jumper, which is immensely better if you have to revert to a previous RAM configuration in case the new sticks don’t work or are incompatible for some reason. Since I have no way of re-soldering resistors, I would leave the RAM as it was in case I had the ‘Solder type’ motherboard. As luck would have it, my SE had the ‘Jumper type’ motherboard, so the upgrade was easy.

As I was closing up the Mac, one of the screws fell and I had the distinct impression it fell inside the machine somewhere. But it was nowhere to be seen, and shaking the Mac I couldn’t hear it move. I began to freak out: I didn’t want to close up everything before finding the screw because what if it was stuck in some nook, only to move around at a later moment, with the Mac turned on, etcetera? You don’t want to have a loose screw in your Compact Mac (or in any Mac, for that matter), so I started disassembling it even more, removing both the hard drive and floppy drive. Nothing. At this point I was beginning to think that the screw had actually fallen on the floor, and indeed it had, ending up quite far away from where I was working; that’s why I had not found it when I checked the first time.

I was in a rush to reassemble the Mac and turn it on to see whether it detected the added RAM, so I ended up mounting the hard drive plus floppy drive assembly without aligning it properly. The result was that floppy disks couldn’t be inserted or ejected properly. But at least the RAM upgrade had worked, and the SE was correctly detecting the 4 MB of RAM. The following day I opened the SE again and remounted the drive assembly properly:


The floppy drive is in the lower metal casing (where you can see that MFD-75W-01G 70557741 label), and there are four screws securing it to the chassis. To align it properly, you have to insert two metallic tabs on the front of the drive casing in two corresponding holes on the chassis plane where the drive will rest. I didn’t do that the first time, so the drive was slightly angled upward where it meets the corresponding hole on the front bezel.

After reassembling the Mac for the second time, everything looked fine and floppy disks could be inserted quite smoothly. But a new issue came up, and I still can’t understand how this could happen: now the Macintosh SE wouldn’t eject floppy disks. When you issue an Eject command from the system, you can hear the usual sounds from the floppy drive as it prepares to automatically eject the disk, you hear the motor of the eject mechanism, but it sounds as if it weren’t strong enough to physically eject the floppy. The mechanism, when triggered manually with the traditional ‘bent clip in the small hole’ method, does work. But when invoked via software, the eject mechanism sounds weak, or as if there were something preventing the eject process to go all the way. I find this rather odd: the drive worked before opening the Mac, and I doubt it was the subsequent misalignment that broke something (I immediately noticed the misalignment when inserting a floppy disk, so I didn’t even try to have the Mac eject it). The only thing I did to the drive when it was out of the Mac was removing a couple of dust bunnies. Any suggestion is quite welcome at this point.

Macintosh SE FDHD check-up summary: The machine works. Issues before storing it the last time: none. New issues exhibited after bringing it out of storage: floppy disks cannot be automatically ejected (manual eject works). Corrective actions undertaken: none so far. Additional procedures: RAM successfully upgraded from 2 MB to 4 MB.

(By the way, you may recall I only used two of the four RAM sticks pulled from the Quadra, as the Macintosh SE only needed two. The remaining two have been successfully installed on my Macintosh LCII, upgrading its RAM from 4 MB to 6 MB.)


Last but not least, the Macintosh Classic. This is the Mac in my collection that truly has sentimental value for me, since it’s the first Mac I have personally owned. (I have used Macs since 1989, but always in work environments. My truly first personal Macs were this Classic and a PowerBook 150, acquired in 1993 and 1994 respectively.)

The only issue this Macintosh Classic was displaying prior to putting it in storage was — like the SE/30 — lack of sound. The difference between the Classic and the SE/30 with regard to this issue is that while on the SE/30 you can’t hear anything from the speaker and from the earphones when you connect them to the audio output, on the Classic there is no sound from the speaker, but you can hear it from the earphones (although it’s not quite loud). An inspection of the Classic’s motherboard didn’t reveal anything useful. Like the SE/30’s, it’s a clean-looking board, without evident traces of gunk gone wild.

Upon turning this Mac on, I was happy to see that everything was working. On closer inspection, the Classic showed just a couple of minor issues:

  1. The floppy drive is incredibly fussy, accepting or refusing the same floppies for no particular reason. It probably needs a good cleaning.
  2. The backup battery is dead.

Overall, I can’t complain.

Macintosh Classic check-up summary: The machine works. Issues before storing it the last time: lack of sound. New issues exhibited after bringing it out of storage: none.


My Compact Macs have regrettably remained in storage for longer than I wanted. I do my best to keep my Macs in use and in healthy conditions, but the last couple of years I’ve been really busy and trying to stay afloat financially. That eats a lot of time. I know that one of the first causes of failure in a vintage Mac is lack of use, so I expected the worst when I started this extended check-up. I was also saddened by the recent failure of the PowerBook Duo 280c and the less recent, but equally puzzling failure of the Quadra 950. I didn’t want to lose another Mac.

Thankfully, the overall conditions of these four little guys are satisfactory, and currently all of them work. I still need to do the hard drive replacement in the SE/30, but I know the drive works, so it’s just a matter of time before the SE/30 is back in service. Maybe it’s time to give some rest to the Power Macintosh 9500/132 and go back to using the Colour Classic and the SE/30 more often.

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year to you all!


Added to the collection: PowerBook 1400c

PowerBook 1400c

This year, Christmas has come a bit earlier for me — I’m truly grateful to Alex Roddie for donating this beautiful PowerBook 1400c. The machine is in great shape, has very nice tech specs, and came with a bunch of extras which pretty much make it a complete system.

This is a PowerBook 1400c/166 from 1997, which means that it was already one of the best models in the PowerBook 1400 series when it came out, featuring the better active-matrix colour (TFT) 11.3″ display (the 1400cs had a DualScan passive matrix display), and the faster PowerPC 603ev CPU at 166 MHz. But what’s even better is that this unit comes with a Sonnet Crescendo G3 processor upgrade card installed, meaning its original processor has been replaced by a PowerPC 750 (G3) running at 333 MHz. It has 48 MB of RAM and an internal 2 GB hard drive.

Sonnet Crescendo sticker

And now, the extras:

  • Floppy drive module, 6x CD-ROM drive module, and VST Zip 100 drive module. All three drives work perfectly.
  • Two Transcend PCMCIA Compact Flash adapters. One includes an industrial-grade Transcend 512 MB Compact Flash card.
  • A Farallon PCMCIA Ethernet card, plus cable, plus an Ethernet cable extension (which is really useful when you have short Ethernet cables).

The PowerBook came with Mac OS 8.1 installed on the main hard drive, and a standard install of Mac OS 7.6.1 on the 512 MB CF card.

The only two ‘issues’ (between quotes, because neither really bothers me): the PowerBook doesn’t have a battery, and the CD-ROM drive module is missing the front panel. The latter, I’ve read, appears to be a common issue with this kind of modules. The drive works well and has read all the CDs I’ve thrown at it in the past few days, so I really can’t complain. As for the missing battery, even if the PowerBook had one, it would have probably held very little charge anyway, and it would have added a considerable weight to the machine. Thankfully, Alex left the empty plastic shell, so that the battery compartment looks populated from outside and there isn’t a hole where the battery is supposed to be. Normally, a PowerBook 1400 weighs 3 kilograms fully loaded. Thanks to the missing battery, my unit weighs approximately 2.7 kilograms. Not bad. (For comparison’s sake: the PowerBook G3 Lombard weighs 2.7 kilograms, the PowerBook G4 Titanium weighs 2.4 kilograms, the PowerBook G4 12″ weighs 2.1 kilograms, and the original clamshell iBook G3 weighs 3.04 kilograms.)

I’m still in the ‘playing around’ phase, importing needed applications and documents, and generally getting the feel of this machine, but I’m already impressed by its responsiveness (thanks to the G3 upgrade), its expandability and versatility, and of course by its keyboard. I had heard many people praise the PowerBook 1400’s keyboard as one of the best keyboards in an Apple laptop, and I can confirm its reputation. I was already finding the PowerBook 5300’s keyboard good enough, but the 1400’s is an order of magnitude better.

The intriguing part of this setup is booting from the Compact Flash card: everything is even more responsive (opening applications, opening files, saving files) and the PowerBook becomes practically silent. If you have a PowerBook of this vintage that has at least one PCMCIA slot, and want to try this kind of ‘solid state’ solution, check out this article on Alex Roddie’s Macintosh HD blog: Create a Compact Flash boot drive for your old PowerBook.

I also happen to own another excellent accessory that has become even more useful since this PowerBook 1400 entered my little collection: a 2 GB PCMCIA Toshiba hard drive. It’s not particularly fast, but one real advantage is that it can be used to quickly transfer files between older and newer G3/G4 PowerBooks, since it is recognised by all PowerBooks without having to be reformatted.

Just for fun, I performed an informal test. I booted the PowerBook 1400 in Mac OS 8.1 from its internal hard drive, then I booted in Mac OS 7.6.1 from the CF card, then I booted in Mac OS 8.6 from the PCMCIA Toshiba hard drive, measuring boot times using my iPhone’s stopwatch (all the following are cold boots, not just restarts; all times are approximate):

  • Internal hard drive (Mac OS 8.1): 54 seconds.
  • Compact Flash card (Mac OS 7.6.1): 47 seconds.
  • PCMCIA hard drive (Mac OS 8.6): 1 minute, 12 seconds.

(My main machine, a mid-2009 MacBook Pro, with a 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 8 GB of RAM takes no less than three minutes to complete the boot process. I really need to replace its hard drive with an SSD, but I’m digressing.)

I’m truly enjoying this ‘new’ PowerBook 1400, and it will likely replace the PowerBook 5300ce as my main vintage laptop for writing, Newton connection and QuickTake photos management. It’s simply faster, has a better keyboard, and is even more versatile. It’s a pity that its main limitation is the maximum amount of RAM — 64 MB, which was okay in 1997, but feels a bit tight especially if you own a PowerBook 1400 with a G3 processor upgrade. Due to the low amount of maximum RAM, you can’t install Mac OS X on this machine (though I guess the performance would be ridiculous even if it were possible), and even Mac OS 9.2 is problematic. All the suggestions from PowerBook 1400 owners I’ve read online point to Mac OS 8.1 and 8.6 as preferred system versions for this machine (if you have more than 24 MB of RAM installed), and I have to agree. I’m happy with the 8.1 installation that came with the PowerBook, and I’ll probably upgrade to 8.6 to see if I can get a PCMCIA Wireless card working with the PowerBook.

Final fun fact: I inserted the PowerBook 1400 serial number in TattleTech and the resulting information is that this unit was assembled in Elk Grove, California, USA on July 30, 1997.


  • I think it’s worth adding Alex Roddie’s Macintosh HD blog to your bookmarks. Much like this site, it’s not updated very often, but when it is, it’s always a pleasure to read.
  • If you’re looking for PowerBook 1400-related resources, an excellent starting place is Low End Mac’s PowerBook 1400 page. There are a lot of interesting links at the bottom. You’ll occasionally stumble on a dead link, but the Wayback Machine is your friend.
  • If you’re specifically interested in reading about the Sonnet Crescendo G3 upgrade card, you’ll like the review by Joost van de Griek.

Let’s talk backup

As of late, I’ve been suggesting a few great applications that are still available for PowerPC Macs (where by ‘PowerPC Macs’ I generally mean ‘PowerPC G3/G4/G5 Macs running Mac OS X’). For this article I thought I could gather a few resources and reading material related to the essential practice of backing up data.

A necessary preamble: up to the advent of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard in October 2007, my personal backup strategy was a selective, manual backup of all the data I considered vital, so I never really used any tool to perform automated backups, therefore I don’t have any real direct experience with some of the applications mentioned below. The majority of them have an impeccable reputation, though, so I guess they’ll be useful to you.

Backup tools for PowerPC Macs running Mac OS X (and Mac OS 9.2.2)

  • If you’re running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, don’t forget that a basic backup tool is built in the system itself: Time Machine. I started using it since I upgraded to Leopard and I’ve never lost a backup. Considering a few horror stories I’ve heard, I may have been lucky. My only bit of advice: let Time Machine do its job, no matter how long it takes. I never interfered, nor tinkered with it, and never had a problem.
  • Carbon Copy Cloner — A great tool to clone disks and make bootable backup copies of them. And this is just one of the many features this application offers. You can download version 3.4.7, which is compatible with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and 10.5 Leopard from this download page.
  • SuperDuper! — I have actually used SuperDuper! and it was extremely helpful in a few key circumstances. I like its interface because it really guides you every step of the way and explains what the app will do according to the options you choose. The links to download older versions of the app are provided in the sidebar of the page I’ve linked to. There are versions for Mac OS X Leopard, Tiger, Panther and even Jaguar. Customer support is fantastic. One thing worth quoting from SuperDuper’s page is this bit: Please note that SuperDuper! is not designed to back up to CDs, DVDs or Tape, and needs a location (other than the boot volume) to store the backup – typically a volume on an internal or external (FireWire) drive. SuperDuper! only copies HFS+ (Mac-native/Mac OS Extended) volumes.

SuperDuper’s developer offers another important reminder. Old-time Mac users know this already, but it may be useful especially for those who are discovering vintage PowerPC Macs only now:

Note also that USB drives do not allow booting Power PC based Macintoshes under any version of Mac OS X: this is not a SuperDuper! limitation, but one of the OS. If you would like to boot from a backup stored on an external drive, and have a Power PC based Mac, please purchase a Mac compatible FireWire drive. Intel Mac users can boot from either USB or FireWire drives.

  • Dantz Retrospect — Probably one of the backup applications for the Mac with the longest history. This is commercial software, and a licence is required even for older versions. Explore the Retrospect website and see if such software meet your needs. Older versions of Retrospect (for Mac, Windows, Linux) can be found at this page. I never used this product, but heard much praise for it over the years.
  • SilverKeeper — A free utility that used to be made available by LaCie. If you look for it on the Web, you’ll probably find the newer 2.0.2 version (for example on MacUpdate), which requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later. I have made available for download the older 1.1.4 version which supports Mac OS X 10.0 to 10.4 and can also be used under Mac OS 9.2.2. It’s a Zip archive of the SilverKeeper installer and related documentation. Let me know if you have problems extracting it.
  • SimpleBackup — I found this little utility by chance. It may be a simple solution for even older Macs. The developer calls it a “Finder alias-based backup utility.”

    In the readme file he explains how the application works: SimpleBackup is a very simple and easy to use file backup utility. I wrote it because I wanted a quick-and-easy way to back up all those files that are spread out over the hard disk, in the preferences folder, in the documents folder, certain folders and files in the applications folder, etc… I decided that I didn’t want to write a user interface for the utility, so I got the idea of letting the Finder do the work for me by using aliases. The result is a backup program that is actually easy to use! You simply navigate through your hard disk and find the files or entire folders that you want to backup that are buried in the System Folder, Applications, Documents folders etc., and tell SimpleBackup about those files/folders by using aliases.

  • SimpleBackup website (There are other interesting utilities you may want to check out there. The website is old, but the links appear to work.)

Some reading material

I think that this four-part essay on backups by Adam Engst is still worth reading and saving. It was written in 1998 but it’s full of essential pieces of advice and links to other backup software I haven’t mentioned here.

Check also this other piece by Adam Engst, written in 2001: What About Backing Up to FireWire Hard Disks?

This is a start to help you find some backup solutions and ideas, but feel free to chime in and share your suggestions/experience in the comments. Thank you!

Macintosh Classics: PopChar

The other day I was reading Longstanding Mac Apps by Shawn Blanc, and I remembered a great Mac utility that’s been around for a long time: PopChar.

PopChar was a very useful addition to my Macs and I used it regularly up to Mac OS 9.2.2. When running, it placed a little ‘P’ in the menubar (usually in the top left corner near the Apple logo, but you could customise the ‘hot spot’). Suppose you were writing a document and needed to insert a special character or a symbol and you didn’t remember the correct keyboard shortcut (or there wasn’t a direct keyboard shortcut to begin with). With PopChar installed, you clicked on the little ‘P’ and a pop-up character palette appeared. You could select the needed symbol and have it inserted right away. Fast, intuitive, and quickly out of the way.

PopChar UI
PopChar 2.7.1 in action


PopChar Control Panel
PopChar 2.7.1 Control Panel


I recalled I was using it under System 7 in the mid-1990s, but I didn’t know exactly when the very first version appeared. So I asked the developers over Twitter, and they replied:

The first version of PopChar was released in 1987. See … for a history of PopChar.

1987! Earlier than I remembered. This software has been around for 27 years. The PopChar History page does indeed save me a lot of work and you’ll find there all the details and screenshots illustrating how the software UI changed over the years. I’ll just quote here a few interesting bits:

  • PopChar has been running on all types of processors that have been used in Macs: starting with the first 68000 processors, up to the Motorola 68030, then various PowerPC models, and now Macs with multiple Intel processors in 64-bit technology.
  • Versions of PopChar have been running on all MacOS versions from System 4.2 to Mac OS X 10.8. [And of course 10.9 — evidently the page was last updated in 2012]
  • Four different development environments were involved: Turbo Pascal, Think Pascal, CodeWarrior and now Xcode.
  • Font technology has changed from simple bitmap fonts to TrueType and PostScript fonts and now OpenType.
  • To survive all these changes, PopChar has been redesigned and re-implemented from ground up again and again. These efforts were necessary to ensure steady evolution of PopChar and continuous support for our long-time customers.

Like many great applications, PopChar was born to address a specific need of the developer:

It all started back in 1987, when I tried to find a few special characters in the Symbol font. Apple’s Key Caps utility was not very helpful because I had to try all sorts of keyboard combinations to see which characters were available.

Being a software developer, I decided to write a simple utility that allowed me to select characters in a more convenient way. I wrote this utility in Turbo Pascal on a Mac Plus with 2.5 MB of memory.

It’s truly amazing to see how PopChar evolved over the years and how the developer adapted it so that it remained useful even when Mac OS started making similar features more accessible for the user.

In 2012, I decided to make PopChar even more versatile by adding features that allow designers to view and inspect fonts. New “Font Preview” and “Sample Text” views now show realistic text fragments formatted with a selected font. These new views give an impression of a font “in action”. Even more, these views can be printed to create beautiful font sheets.

I keep PopChar installed in all of my vintage Macs. It’s one of those little utilities you just can’t do without — especially if you’re discovering vintage Macs now. Once you install it, it feels like a part of the system. In all the years I’ve used it, I never encountered a single issue. It’s a well written piece of software. One last detail I want to share: it came with an elegant manual built in:

PopChar 271 manual
PopChar 2.7.1 inline documentation


If you have a modern Mac running the latest version of Mac OS X and you’re interested in this great little utility, you can read more detailed information at the PopChar X page on the developer’s site. The current version is available in English, German and French. Previous versions of PopChar X and PopChar Pro are available on the Downloads Archive page. By the way, if you’re a Windows user just passing by, know that PopChar is also available for Windows.