A seed of the iMac G4 design

Through the libraries of the local Polytechnic University, I fortunately have access to a seminal book: AppleDesign — The Work of the Apple Industrial Design Group, by Paul Kunkel with photos by Rick English (1997). The book went out of print not long after being published, and it’s an amazing treasure trove of information on Apple’s design approaches and investigations from the early Apple II days until 1997. And that means not only a lot of details about several projects which never saw the light of day, but also a lot of photographs of prototypes and mockups illustrating the various ideas and explorations within the projects — whether they led to a known Apple product or not. Needless to say, I find this to be incredibly fascinating, and I return to this book on a regular basis even though I know it quite well by now.

Since I’ve just talked about the most recent addition to my collection, a 17-inch iMac G4, I’ll share a brief extract from that book showing a design idea that, while considered many years before, and for a different project, might be viewed as a first seed of the iMac G4 design.

The Pomona design investigation

(Image source: KCG Computer Museum)

The final design of the iconic Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh (codename: Spartacus) was the result of a long investigation that had started a few years before, in the autumn of 1992. The investigation was internally code-named Pomona. From the AppleDesign book:

“For years, I’d wondered how the computer would evolve from a box into something more physically compelling that would fit better in the home,” says Bob Brunner [the Director of Apple’s Industrial Design Group at the time]. “In survey after survey, customers told us they want ‘power systems’ with expansion slots and extra drive bays that allow them to add to their system at a later date. That demand forced us to adopt a box-like design to hold the cards and drives. But most home users never add to their system, which leaves them with unused slots, drive bays that remain empty, and a box they don’t really need.”

Eventually, says Brunner, “home users should realise they only need a standard setup with a single expansion slot. When that happens, we can stop thinking of the computer as a plastic box and instead give it a shape that expresses its function, using materials such as wood, metal and leather that are more in tune with the home environment.”

To anticipate this change, Brunner launched the Pomona Design Investigation in October 1992, wrote a two-page design brief, and invited IDG’s designers, as well as consultants from Silicon Valley, Tokyo and New York, to submit concepts in an effort to redefine the home computer, invent shapes to better address user’s needs and employ materials that would function as well in a domestic setting as Apple’s platinum grey plastic works in the office. […]

The Pomona design brief was distributed to IDG’s designers and five outside consultants — Eric Chan of EC Design (New York), Tangerine (London), IDEC (Tokyo), Montgomery & Pfeifer (San Francisco), and IDEO Product Development (San Francisco). Their task was to create a desktop Macintosh with high object value using miniature components, high aesthetic content, and alternative materials. […]

As Brunner expected, the Pomona brief sparked an avalanche of ideas, many of which did away with the traditional computer box or shrunk it to a barely noticeable size. Eric Chan and his staff at Ecco Design generated dozens of sketches showing tabletop, desk-mounted and freestanding concepts.

One of such concepts took inspiration from Richard Sapper’s Tizio lamp, with the motherboard and drives housed in a desk ‘base’, and a flat panel display mounted on a long, adjustable arm. Sounds familiar?

(Source: P. Kunkel, AppleDesign — The Work of the Apple Industrial Design Group, page 212)

Above you can see a scan of plates 388-389 from the AppleDesign book. The notes on the sketch should be fairly readable, while for sake of completeness I’ll transcribe the caption printed in small text under the photo:

Pomona Design Investigation: Hard Models. 388 Phase One Sketch for a Desktop Computer, by Eric Chan (Ecco Design, New York, NY), inspired by Richard Sapper’s Tizio Lamp. 389 Tizio Concept. Industrial Design: Apple Computer: Robert Brunner, based on a sketch by Eric Chan. Dates of Design: January-April 1993.

1993 means almost ten years before the introduction of the iMac G4. Now, I don’t know if the iMac’s design was achieved internally through a completely different, independent route, or if the designers went back looking at past ideas and thought about giving this concept a second chance, but it’s a nevertheless intriguing connection.

Added to the collection: 17-inch iMac G4

iMac G4 (front)

This year, Christmas came a bit earlier. Richard — the same generous soul responsible for this amazing donation — surprised me again with this marvellous Christmas gift that arrived on my doorstep on 21 December. It’s a first-generation (2002-2003) 17-inch iMac G4, with an 800 MHz PowerPC G4 7450 v2.1 processor, 768 MB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, tray-loading 2x SuperDrive capable of writing CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R and DVD-RW discs. It came with a fresh installation of Mac OS X 10.5.8, and even if technically Leopard isn’t supported on this machine (the minimum requirement being an 867 MHz G4 processor), the iMac handles it quite well. I’ve already started installing a minimum set of applications and, at least for now, I have no reason or interest to downgrade to Mac OS X Tiger.

iMac G4 (back)

As you can see in the photos, this iMac is in excellent condition, and thanks to Richard’s careful packaging it arrived safely to my house without unfortunate accidents during shipping. The display arm is tight and sustains the display in any position and at any angle I’ve tried it. The display is bright and flawless. The polycarbonate white is still uniformly white and, thankfully, there’s no trace of yellowing or other colour alteration I happened to see on other iMac G4 models in the past. It really looks like new.

(The blueberry Apple USB Keyboard and round USB mouse are, of course, a temporary solution. Only the main iMac unit was given to me. They were the original keyboard and mouse that came with my previous iMac G3.)

A tiny dream come true

Adding this iMac G4 to my collection means a lot to me. I’ve wanted this type of iMac since it was introduced back in early 2002. But with a starting price of €1,599 (for the 15-inch iMac G4/700 model), I just couldn’t afford it at the time. Or rather, I could have afforded it, but not after making a decision that felt right then, and foolishly sentimental in retrospect. In late 2001, my beloved iMac G3/350 blueberry broke down due to a nasty thunderstorm frying its motherboard and analogue board. I was finishing one of my first big assignments as technical translator, and that iMac G3, purchased in late 1999, had accumulated a lot of sentimental value to me. When it broke, I was really bummed and panicking because I had work to deliver on a close deadline, so my first gut reaction was to have it repaired at all costs. The technicians at the repairing centre where I took it, once they assessed the damage, told me that it would have been much more cost-effective to throw it away and buy another iMac G3 second-hand. I was too stubborn and too saddened by the loss of my iMac to listen to reason, so I ended up spending more than €1,000 to have it fixed.

When the first iMac G4 was introduced shortly after, in January 2002, I wanted to eat my hat. If I had known, I would have saved that money and used it to purchase the new iMac G4, instead of holding on to a machine that was getting old fast. And you know what happened just a few months later? The iMac G3 broke down again, thanks to another sudden, violent thunderstorm (and certainly to the poor electrical system of the old building I was living in at the time). Lesson truly learnt, I threw away the iMac G3 for good, but then I only had money for a second-hand iBook G3/466 SE FireWire. (I’m not complaining, that iBook is still working today, the only two things I’ve replaced are the battery and the DVD drive.)

But since then, two Macs always remained at the top of my wishlist: the Power Mac G4 Cube, and the iMac G4. I got my Cube itch scratched in 2006, and now, finally, unexpectedly, it’s the turn of the iMac G4. Both the Cube and the iMac G4 are, in my opinion, the coolest desktop Macs in relatively recent times — for the platinum era, I’d say the winner is the Macintosh Colour Classic, and the all-time winner remains of course the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh.

While the Cube has undoubtedly a few design quirks (the position of the ports is rather unfortunate and impractical), the iMac G4 is such a joy to use. Despite having an internal fan, it’s not much louder than the fanless Cube, and the display design is just amazing because it is such a perfect combination of wonderful æsthetics and sheer usefulness. You can have the display in front of you at just the right angle, you can easily move it to the side to show something to someone else, and when you’re sitting at the iMac, it’s like having the screen float before your eyes.

The iMac G4’s design was a staggering departure from the previous G3 model, but was also a true improvement inside and out. It was a lighter computer, with a smaller footprint, and thanks to that display design, it felt even lighter, airier. Only the short-lived 20-inch model was a little unbalanced and out of proportion — that 20-inch display was perhaps too big and heavy for the overall design of the iMac.

However, when the first iMac G5 was introduced in mid-2004, its design was a huge letdown for me. Sure, I appreciated the engineering feat of basically having a display with a whole computer inside, and having a faster G5 processor in a consumer-grade product was great, but at the time I felt that the design was a step back compared to the move from the iMac G3 to the iMac G4. Even today, when I look at the whole iMac line, the white G5 and later white Intel models are just ugly, thick desktop beasts, something rectified by the later aluminium models. And speaking of these later aluminium models, while they’ve got thinner, more beautiful and functional year after year, their design is fundamentally unchanged since 2007. They’re simply boring compared to the iMac G4, whose unique, iconic design has remained quite fresh and a reminder of that whimsical touch Apple seems to have forgotten.

Put to good use, as always

This new entry in my small collection, like other vintage Macs I own, is not going to just sit idly in my living-room as a museum exhibit. I haven’t yet decided a specific purpose for it, but its placement as the only desktop Mac outside of my studio makes it an excellent candidate for writing and collecting my thoughts in a less visually cluttered environment. It could also serve as a good media server, and it’s certainly a fantastic solution to listen to music — both my local iTunes library and streamed music via Spotify (the old PowerPC client still works and its interface is actually better than the current one).

Years ago I was given the Apple Pro Speakers you see in the photos above, by a friend who thought they were the Apple M7963 USB Speakers for the Power Mac G4 Cube. They look similar, but can’t be used with the Cube, so I kept them all this time just in case, in an unknown condition because I couldn’t attach them to any other Mac in my possession to test them. Well, it turns out they work fine and deliver a surprisingly rich sound and loudness for their size.

Having another Mac capable of writing DVDs doesn’t hurt, either. I still use optical discs as a backup solution for old files and archives. So I immediately installed the excellent Disco app to easily handle future disc burns.

As for other software, I added the usual set of essentials (for me): TenFourFox for browsing the Web, Sparrow for email, Transmit for FTP, The Unarchiver for unarchiving basically any compressed file, Hazel for a bit of automation in file handling, MenuMeters for keeping an eye on network speeds, TextWrangler and Notational Velocity for text editing and synchronised note-taking, the old Cloud.app version I’ve kept, which still works and syncs with the CloudApp service, and NetNewsWire 3.2.15 to check my feeds. Even if I don’t find a specific task for this iMac, it’s still a great general-purpose machine for doing a lot of light work — and a very cool-looking one at that.

Once again, my deepest, heartfelt thanks to Richard for his generosity.

And finally, thank you to all of you for reading and following this humble blog. My apologies for having updated it so intermittently over the course of 2015 — I’ll try to do better next year. Have a great 2016, everybody!

A modicum of synchronisation

I’m still irked by Dropbox dropping support of PowerPC Macs running Tiger and Leopard. I know I’m not a typical Mac user, and that expecting support for an architecture that — at least on the Mac — was left behind in 2006 is a bit too much, especially given the short memory technology has nowadays. Still, I use a bunch of PowerPC Macs as secondary machines, they’re still useful and capable enough. When I work on some of my projects away from home, I often leave the Intel Mac at home and bring with me one of my G4 PowerBooks. When Dropbox worked, my workflow was excellent. I kept everything in sync without effort. I started working on documents on the PowerBook G4 to finish them later at home on the MacBook Pro, and vice versa. It was a seamless process.

Dropbox wasn’t the only thing I used to keep stuff in sync, but it had the best interface for handling files. Now that I’m left without it, here’s a brief overview of the tools I still use — tools that still work on PPC machines — to retain a modicum of synchronisation between my PowerPC Macs and more modern Apple devices:

  • Notational Velocity — This is an amazing tool for keeping notes in sync. The app is a Universal Binary that works great on a system as old as Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and as new as Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan. The syncing service is through Simplenote, so all my notes and bits of text are also available and in sync on iOS devices thanks to the Simplenote app.
  • CloudApp — It’s a great software/service for quickly sharing screenshots and all kinds of different files (images, videos, code snippets, documents, etc.), and I also use it as a sort of ‘Dropbox Lite’ whenever I need to pass one or more files from my MacBook Pro to my G4 PowerBooks and vice versa. I was an early adopter, and version 1.x of CloudApp was available for PowerPC Macs running at least Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. Surprisingly, it still works. Up until a few months ago, if you went to CloudApp’s Download page, you could still download older versions (unsupported, of course). Not anymore. But the WayBack Machine is your friend. And if that archived link should stop working as well, I have saved version 1.0.3 for PowerPC Macs here.
  • Firefox Sync — I only recently had the proverbial ‘eureka moment’, when I realised that by creating a Firefox account, not only could I keep browser tabs, bookmarks, passwords, history, add-ons and preferences synchronised between my MacBook Pro and my iOS devices, but I could also include my PowerPC Macs because TenFourFox supports Firefox Sync — at least for now. It’s great and very handy.
  • FTP — Always an option, of course. I resort to FTP when dealing with big files. I upload them on my server and use Transmit to handle my stuff. You can download older versions of Transmit from Panic’s archives at this page (the last version supporting PowerPC Macs should be 4.1.9 — You’ll still need to purchase a licence to use the app, naturally).

This is an important subject: having some form of synchronisation available to create a bridge between vintage Macs and modern devices is essential in order to keep older Macs useful. If you have other ideas, use other methods, or know about other applications/services which still support PowerPC Macs, feel free to chime in. Recently, I became interested in BitTorrent Sync, but it doesn’t explicitly support PowerPC Macs. However, by looking at the supported platforms, I was thinking that maybe there was a way to make the FreeBSD versions work… I’m not fluent enough in UNIX, though; if you are, your suggestions are welcome!

Accessing Gmail from an older version of OS X Mail

I have lost more than thirty minutes trying to solve a small but annoying problem. The solution is rather simple, but it may not be apparent at first. I hope this post can help others who have stumbled upon the same issue.

I have a low-traffic Gmail account I usually check on my Power Mac G4 Cube using Mail.app in Mac OS X 10.4.11. Since it’s low-traffic, I don’t check it very often. But today I felt that a check was long overdue, so I opened Mail, clicked the Get Mail button, and I was presented with the annoying dialog box I sometimes see when there’s a network problem, the password confirmation dialog box. It appears that the pop.gmail.com server rejected my account password, so I was prompted to insert it again. I did, repeatedly, but to no avail.

So I logged in via the Web interface — without any problem — and found a message from Google that told me Google prevented the sign-in because it is from “an app that doesn’t meet modern security standards.”

At first I thought Google had updated/changed the server ports for incoming/outgoing mail, and after tweaking a few settings (I had the outgoing server port still set to ’25’ instead of ‘465’), I tried again to download my email messages. No joy. I then tried to look for an answer in the Gmail support pages, but my frustration and annoyance prevented me from finding what I was looking for more promptly.

I was about to give up, when I noticed an error message in Mail from the Gmail server that thankfully contained the link I was searching, and access to Gmail from Mail.app under Mac OS X Tiger was restored. The essential page is this one: Allowing less secure apps to access your account. You have to make sure you reach this page after you have signed in the problematic account via the Web interface.

Look down the page until you find this bit:

Gmail less secure

Click on the “Less secure apps” section of MyAccount link and you’ll be taken to the Less secure apps page. Click the Turn on radio button to allow access for less secure apps. Now go back to Mail, check for new mail, and the messages should start downloading.

Again, I hope this helps. And I hope it’s clear that in so doing, you’re choosing to weaken the security of your Gmail account(s) in exchange for the convenience of accessing the account(s) from a vintage Mac with older software. In my case, it’s not an important or primary email account, I have been downloading mail on the Cube from that account for the past six years, and I wanted to continue to do so.

A nice UI detail in NEXTSTEP’s Webster app

Nextstep webster

It’s that time of the year when I get drawn to the NeXT platform once again. Unfortunately I do not own any NeXT hardware, so I have to resort to software emulation to explore and interact with the NEXTSTEP operating system.

After starting the NEXTSTEP 3.3 virtual machine in Fusion, I was checking some unrelated information, when I remembered that NEXTSTEP had its own built-in Webster dictionary. When I opened the application, I noticed a nifty UI detail. You can tell the application to search for a term in the Dictionary, in the Thesaurus, or have both results in the same window. You can see at a glance where you’re searching, because the icon in the Dictionary and Thesaurus button will appear as an open or closed dictionary accordingly. So, in the image above, you can tell at once you’re just seeing results in the Webster Dictionary. To search the Thesaurus, you click on the Thesaurus button, and it’ll change to an open book icon. Vice versa, if you only want to see results from the Thesaurus and not the Dictionary, you click on the Dictionary button and it will ‘close’. It’s a very subtle, very clever UI detail that’s perfectly intuitive because it depicts exactly the action you’re carrying out — ‘opening’ the book you want to consult, and ‘closing’ the book you’re not interested in.

It’s interesting to note that in Mac OS X’s Dictionary app, you can’t have a concurrent view of the results from both the Dictionary and the Thesaurus, unless you open the app’s Preferences, deselect all the resources you don’t want to display except the Dictionary and Thesaurus, and select All in the sources toolbar after entering the search term in the main window. (Or you can choose File > New Window from the menu and have two app windows, one for the Dictionary, one for the Thesaurus, but it’s more cumbersome because you have to type the same search term in both windows.)

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, EveryMac.com 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]

Finally: bringing Internet to my Colour Classic

Among the various goodies Richard donated me there was an Apple-branded Comm Slot Ethernet card (Part № 820-0607-A), which I hoped I could attach to my Colour Classic to bring Ethernet connectivity — and therefore Internet — to my favourite compact Mac. Now, the original Colour Classic motherboard doesn’t have a Comm Slot interface, its only expansion comes in the form of a PDS slot. Luckily, years ago I also acquired the motherboard from a Macintosh LC 580, 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 52 MB instead of the meagre 10 MB of the original motherboard). The LC 580’s motherboard also sports a Comm Slot interface, and the aforementioned Ethernet card can be installed without problems [Update: It’s actually a Macintosh LC 575 motherboard; see my clarification]:

Comm Slot Ethernet card installed

The first snag I encountered was right when I attempted to insert the motherboard with the attached Ethernet card back inside the Colour Classic. The top edge of the card, in fact, collided with a piece of plastic inside the Mac’s chassis that helps to keep the cables of the hard drive power connector in place. I took measurements and, not without difficulty, managed to cut away exactly where the plastic was blocking the card’s passage. Once firmly inserted the motherboard, I turned the Colour Classic on. The Mac booted normally, but there was no video. Suspicions fell immediately on the new card. Since the system had no way of recognising it, I thought, perhaps it defaulted to thinking that a video card was inserted in the Comm Slot, so it shut down internal video and expected an external connection. I had to make the system recognise the card.

Fortunately I had my copy of Apple’s Network Software Installer 1.5.1 on a floppy disk, which updates AppleTalk to version 58.1.5 and installs the most updated versions of a series of network extensions and drivers. I turned the Mac off, removed the card, turned the Mac on again, inserted the floppy and launched the Installer. After a few moments, AppleTalk was updated, the Apple Ethernet CS driver and related extensions installed (the following screenshot comes from a previous attempt, before I updated to AppleTalk 58.1.5):

Network install

To see if everything worked, once again I had to turn the Colour Classic off, remove the motherboard, install the Ethernet card, reinsert the motherboard and turn the Mac on. This time there was video, and the Mac booted normally.

Another good sign was when I connected an Ethernet cable from my router to the Colour Classic: the LED above the port turned on (that didn’t happen when I first attempted an EtherTalk connection between the Colour Classic and the PowerBook 1400). At this point it was merely a matter of configuring MacTCP:

MacTCP setup

The easiest way to set things up in MacTCP is to do a manual configuration. I did things right thanks mostly to two useful resources: Vintage Mac World’s Old Macintosh System Software and TCP/IP page, and the fantastic Classic Mac Networking page (scroll down until you find the MacTCP section). On this page in particular was a really useful clarification:

It is a common mistake to associate the “Server” mode of MacTCP with “DHCP Server”: this is not the case. Server mode is used with hardware MacIP routers like the GatorBox which assign the client a specified IP address from a pool of IP addresses, or with PPP which does a somewhat similar affair.

So I simply selected Obtain Address Manually, specified a Class C Address in the IP Address area, and entered my provider’s DNS addresses in the Domain Name Server Information area.

At this point, the only thing that was missing to check if the connection worked was a browser. On another floppy I had a copy of one of the earliest Mac browsers, Samba (MacWWW). I installed it and launched it. It threw some errors because it attempted to load pages at the old CERN website that are no longer at the original addresses, but once I entered a valid URL (I figured the afore-linked page at Vintage Mac World was simple enough to be loaded correctly), the webpage loaded almost instantly. I had to share my triumph:

But MacWWW 1.03 is indeed a very old browser, and today’s Web, unless you really know where to look, is too complex for this browser to load pages properly without throwing a bunch of errors. The day after I found a slightly newer browser in MacWeb 2.0. After installing it, and pointing it to the same Vintage Mac World’s webpage, the result was definitely prettier:

MacWeb 2.0

This browser, like MacWWW, can’t handle secure connections and the like, but at least is capable of loading embedded images in HTML pages correctly. The overall responsiveness is remarkable, considering the age of the hardware and the software involved.

I’m so happy that I’ve finally managed to bring the Colour Classic online. Not that I’m planning to browsing the Web much on this machine, but now that I know that it can access the Internet, I’m ready to move on to the next step, which involves configuring an email client and an email account, and even an FTP client (I’m thinking an old version of Fetch), so that I can exchange files with the Colour Classic via my own server if need be.

Added to the collection: quite the vintage package

My recent post A few About boxes from vintage Mac applications received a lot of attention, mainly because it was first linked by John Gruber at Daring Fireball, and was then mentioned by The Loop and by The Unofficial Apple Weblog among others.

It was completely unexpected, and amazing. The feedback I received — both in the form of public comments, mentions on Twitter, and especially private emails — made me giddy, and I wanted to thank every person who wrote me (I’m still answering emails after more than two weeks from the blog post).

Another unexpected by equally thrilling side-effect of this brief moment of Internet fame was that a few people, out of the blue, got in touch to donate a few things they saw I was looking for in my vintage wishlist. One particularly generous donor and splendid fellow has been Richard, who sent me a Christmas-worthy package, which arrived this morning. So, for the mere cost of shipping, this is what I’m going to add to my collection — which in my case means, here’s what I’ll be putting to good use as soon as possible:

PowerBook Duo 280c and DuoDock II

PowerBook Duo 280c, DuoDock II, plus a spare battery for the Duo.

As with the rest of the contents of the package, I was blown away by the excellent condition of these items. And most of all I am happy to already have a replacement for my poor Duo 280c which quietly broke down just less than two months ago. And it’s a better replacement, too. It has 40 MB of RAM and a 1 GB hard drive (my old Duo had 24 MB of RAM and a 320 MB hard drive). Unfortunately, the DuoDock II’s power supply doesn’t work, but a replacement may come sooner than later. I also found a spare battery, but it appears it doesn’t hold a charge. Instead the one in the picture, that came inside the Duo, appears to be working. I may have to reset the PowerBook’s power manager, though, because — just like my old Duo started doing at some point — the Mac boots up and works correctly on the AC adapter and with the battery removed, but as soon as I insert the battery, it abruptly shuts down.

Iomega SCSI ZIP 100 drive

Iomega ZIP 100 drive (SCSI version).

Again, I was amazed at finding everything in like-new condition. I love vintage packaging as much as the products, so it’s great to have everything in its original box. The SCSI cable included is also great to have, as I have more vintage Macs and peripherals than working SCSI cables. That floppy you see above the drive is to install the Iomega drivers on Windows/DOS machines. It’s still sealed, of course. I tested the drive by connecting it to my Colour Classic. At first the drive was only detected by SCSI Probe, but I couldn’t mount any disk without the Iomega Driver extension. I connected my PowerBook 1400 and copied the one I loaded there, but it was too new for the Colour Classic (version 6.x). Luckily there was also an older Iomega Driver 4.2 extension, and that was the right one. After a restart, disks were recognised, mounted, formatted without issues. I also noticed how quiet the SCSI ZIP drive is compared to my (more recent) USB unit.

And speaking of disks…

Lots of disks

ZIP 100 disks, three SCSI terminators, an Ethernet card (Apple branded), Apple rainbow stickers, two 88 MB SyQuest cartridges and a 230 MB 3.5″ magneto-optical disk.

Yes, those are thirty-three ZIP 100 disks. I guess that, together with the dozen or so I already have, I won’t be needing more ZIP disks anytime soon! That’s about 3 GB of storage space, and I can practically back up the contents of all the working vintage Macs I have. I also love those Iomega 6-disk holders — very practical and stackable.

I still have to check, but I hope I’ll be able to install that Ethernet card on the second motherboard (from an LC580) I use when I need to speed up things with the Colour Classic. Tomorrow I’ll also check those two nice 88 MB SyQuest cartridges.

Logitech ScanMan Model32
Logitech ScanMan hand-held grayscale scanner Model 32 for Mac.

This has been another great surprise. I remember wanting this manual scanner so bad back in the day, but could not afford it. Now, I know that scanner technology has rendered this product obsolete, but it may be a nice solution to quickly scan a few documents while I have my Macintosh SE or SE/30 set up. When I opened the box, I was surprised by that unit looking like an external floppy drive, and I thought that Richard had actually put one in the box, taking advantage of the perfect size of the cut-out. It turns out that it’s the necessary interface for the scanner, i.e. you connect the beige box to the Mac, and the hand-held scanner to the box. Also worth noting, that Mathematica demo floppy!

Like with the ZIP 100 drive, I love to own the original packaging of the Logitech ScanMan. So I took another photo of the back of the box, which I think it’s worth sharing:

ScanMan box


I can’t thank Richard enough for his kindness and generosity — a true gentleman. I shall put all these items to good use and take care of them in the best possible way: it’s the right thing to do to honour donations such as this.

Not that everything was great with Palm devices, either

Netwon and WorkPad

Commenting on the final part of this article by Landon Dyer, where Dyer talks about the reasons the Newton failed compared to the Palm Pilot, Thomas Brand writes:

One of the miracles of the Palm Pilot was the reliability and ease of use of the out-of-box HotSync. The Newton came with a lot of features advertised on its box, faxing, beaming, emailing, and placing phone calls, but often those tasks were obstructed by the purchase of additional hardware and the required complication of the day.

I won’t discuss the reasons Dyer enumerates; he was a Newton developer, so his insights have certainly more value than mine. I’m just a Newton enthusiast who discovered the Newton ‘posthumously’ in 2001 and I’m still using it daily. I’m not finding particularly difficult doing stuff with my MessagePad 2100, my Original MessagePad and my eMate 300, but that’s probably because I’m using a few tools developed after the Newton was discontinued.

What I wanted to say is that — from the admittedly limited experience I’ve had with a Palm Pilot device of the same vintage — I just don’t understand how Palm users back then could put up with one drawback that strikes me (Newton user) as huge: non-persistent memory.

A few years ago I was kindly donated an IBM WorkPad 30X (which is a rebadged Palm IIIx). As you can see above and in this Flickr album I created back then, its size compared to a Newton MessagePad 2000 makes it a clear winner in portability. When I received this gift, being unfamiliar with Palm PDAs, I did some research and started looking for apps and software to make the most of the little guy. Along with the WorkPad I was also given a cradle to connect/sync with a Windows PC, so I installed HotSync and the Palm Desktop software on an old Toshiba Satellite I use when I need to connect legacy devices. I put some fresh AAA batteries in the WorkPad and started fiddling around with it for a while. I admit I liked (and still like) the WorkPad’s form factor and its well-balanced stylus.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been a regular Newton user since 2001 and I’m accustomed to how the Newton handles handwriting recognition, but learning Palm’s Graffiti system was hard. It felt awfully slow and frustrating while writing, and I never got better or faster at it. A few weeks without using the WorkPad were enough to have to re-learn Graffiti, or at least to re-acquire the speed I had gained before with some training.

But imagine my surprise when one afternoon, while I was out, the batteries in the WorkPad died, and after purchasing new ones on the fly, I found out that all the new applications I had installed and all the notes I had entered were gone. I naïvely thought that the WorkPad would behave like my Newtons and store such information safely in the event of battery failure. Now, not all was lost. I soon discovered that it was enough to connect the WorkPad to the computer and launch a HotSync session. The software correctly restored everything as it was — at the time of the last sync, of course. So not exactly everything.

This however means that if you brought the WorkPad / Palm IIIx with you on a trip (or other Palm devices characterised by the same non-persistent memory feature), you should either make sure you put powerful, long-lasting batteries in it, or bring the computer along to constantly keep things in sync. This strikes me as a bit impractical, and when that first incident happened, I was surprised at how the WorkPad and similar Palm devices were/are so dependent on a frequent, constant connection with the computer. Thankfully the Palm Desktop software is indeed very good and reliable (even the Windows version I’m using). Newtons may have less efficient sync procedures, or it may be more cumbersome to extract information from a Newton device, but I find Newtons to be more reliable and more self-sufficient PDAs. I can see the appeal a smaller, cheaper device may have had back then, but — though I’m certainly biased here — I’m not sure I understand how Palm users put up with devices so prone to potential data loss (unless duly babysat), and so dependent on syncing software and a computer. I guess Palm had a different approach to what ‘personal digital assistant’ meant, and its devices were to be considered just handy portable instruments to store information in a more transient way. Newtons have always felt more like ‘portable computers’ to me.