He’s been a devoted Apple user since the late 1970s, and he’s owned tons of systems and devices across that timeframe. He of course had early Apple II’s, but also purchased the original 1984 Macintosh while in college.
I grew up using black and white Macs when I was on my high school newspaper in the late 1980s (I also had an Apple II+, but that’s a story for another day). The first year I was on the paper in journalism class, my freshman year, we had no computers. We had a “typesetting machine” and only my teacher, Mrs. Forehand, knew how to use it.
To my recollection it was old, archaic, and seemed to be heavily dependent on special hot-key commands to make it do what she wanted it to do. It had purely a textual output with no GUI that I can recall with a rather small, dim screen. We had to print everything out and literally glue-stick the strips of copy to large thick sheets of paper that would ultimately get photographed and printed into our school papers.
I’ll never forget how we used to have to use specialized thin black line “tape” and X-acto blades to create the boxes around certain content. That was the extent of our graphical influence on the paper’s look and feel.
The tape looked kind of like this:
This thin tape was cut into strips and we made crude boxes of it to encapsulate content, usually ad related. Or, for boxes like this:
Now, you may notice that box is in fact perfect. No mis-aligned corners or gaps, and no band-aids stored nearby for the occasional oops and slice. That’s because when I started school as a sophomore, the typesetting machine was pushed into the corner of one office and we entered a whole new paradigm of professional page layout.
On two tables facing each other we now had two Macintosh computers with black and white screens, and they were linked (presumably using an AppleTalk network) so they could share files.
I remember the first time I saw the little black and white screens, I had a know-it-all smirk on my face. I was a Commodore computer guy, and I was a gamer. Move out of my way and let me see this little thing up close.
My smirk dissolved when I saw the tiny, crisp text on the screen. To me, at the time, it looked as good as print! I couldn’t believe how sharp the text was on-screen. It looked… beautiful. And we had so many font options at our fingertips. I was floored. This was the late 80s, but I definitely remember thinking it made my C64’s chunky print programs pale in comparison. It made me feel… dated.
Honestly, my C64 was still good enough for typing up some homework but that was about it when it came to school use. However, all of my high school teachers required we write everything out in cursive. In college, typed papers were required. Today, my kids are doing all of their schoolwork - and classes - on laptops. My, how times have changed.
One of the Macs was sitting on top of a rather large box about the size of a small pizza box and several times thicker. I soon learned it was a 20MB “hard drive” which I honestly wasn’t familiar with ever using before. 20MB! I still had my Commodore 64 at home and 5.25” floppies, and the idea of that much storage was hard for me to fathom. That Mac we called “Mother” like the computer in the movie Alien. She was in charge, so to speak, and was where the pages were assembled. The other Mac was mainly for typing up our stories. This allowed the paper to be be constructed much more quickly than before without the teacher having to type everything (yay, I think?) and gave us, the students, a precision over our page designs like never before.
I continued to use Macs in art school in the late 1990s, but I did all of my own work on PCs at home. It was just so much cheaper, I couldn’t justify or afford the cost a Mac demanded.
It wasn’t until the year 2000 when I finally made the switch, and I purchased a red Ruby iMac. I loaded Earthlink on that Mac as well as some Adobe programs (and Diablo, natch) and it became my main machine for 3-4 years. I wrote my girlfriend love letters via email on that machine, too. We’ve been married for over 17 years now. That machine is still in my collection and I’ll always hang onto it. I love the pre-OSX classic operation system. It has a simplicity, charm, clarity and “tightness” I’ve always appreciated.
I’ve been using Macs continuously ever since. Of course, by 2002 or so I was on OS X and never turned back except when my retro-computing hobby takes me there, which has been a lot more often recently.
“If you could have only one Macintosh - any, but only one - which would it be?”
My CTO said, “Oh boy,” and he thought for all of about 4 or 5 seconds. He replied, “The Quadra 700.” This was 2 years ago. I researched that machine pretty deeply and was immediately impressed with what I found. He had used one as an engineer at Adobe in the early 1990s at the time, if I remember correctly.
At a very high level, it’s often referred to as “The Jurassic Park Computer,” as you can see it and a few others in the computer lab in several shots.
It was a powerhouse computer for the times. Designed by Frog Design in San Francisco, the case alone is epic. It can be used vertically as a tower or horizontally depending on your preference and space needs. The entire machine can be deconstructed in about 2-3 minutes with only needing to remove 1 single screw. Everything (PSU, speaker, hard drive caddy, motherboard, etc.) just pops or slides out using simple pressure latches. I can literally remove the side (or top) of the case and remove the motherboard in less than 2 minutes. It’s amazing.
The Quadra 700 came out in 1991 about a year after the Amiga 3000. I plan on doing a side-by-side comparison of the two in the near future, which I think is fair. They both offer various pros and cons which I think are interesting to consider for the times.
The Q700 came from the factory with a Motorola 040 @ 25 Mhz. It could take up to 68MB of RAM and 2MB of VRAM. The Q700 also had two “NuBus” slots for video card upgrades or processor cards and the like. From what I’ve been told, an 040 @ 25 Mhz is about 2-3X as fast as an 030 at the same Mhz. And from what I’ve seen, it seems to be true.
I remember watching an Amiga documentary where one of the Amiga 3000 hardware engineers knew it was time for him to quit Commodore when they wouldn’t put the 040 in the A3000. To him, it told him Commodore “wasn’t serious” anymore and was going to quickly fall behind. Granted, when the Q700 came out it was over $5,000 retail - back then! That would have been an enormous sum today around $10,000. So, there's that. And that also likely explains why finding Quadra 700s in good condition these days is tough. It wasn't a normal machine in most people's homes, but was a powerful machine purchased by businesses for scientists, engineers and designers.
Commodore wouldn't ship a machine with an 040 until October of 1992 in the A4000. Bizarrely, they shipped another A4K model in 1993 with an 030, too.
Anyway, I began my search to see if I could find a Quadra 700 at a reasonable price. Like many big box Amigas, the Quadra 700 is not an easy machine to acquire. Most of what you’ll find is really beat up. When you do find a good looking machine it’s usually just the computer. You still need a keyboard, a mouse, a monitor. You know how it goes. And everything is so pricey it’s kind of sickening. It requires Zen master patience, if nothing else.
It took over 2 years, but I finally did find exactly what I was looking for.
And, to my delight, the one I acquired was near-mint with almost no apparent use for the past 24 years. The last date I could find stored on the hard drive was from 1996.
My model came complete with an Apple Extended Keyboard II (AEKII), ADB mouse and even an original Apple monitor. The keyboard is worth a closer look, too.
It’s a mechanical keyboard of very high quality. Interestingly, it was also the last mechanical keyboard by Apple in the early 1990s. The AEKII is the successor to the Apple Extended Keyboard (AEK) and is smaller, quieter, and more refined. It’s hard to believe it’s smaller, as it’s quite wide. Everything after it was a cheaper version with rubber domes. These are Mitumi boards, and they are called “damped” switches which are tactile and surprisingly quiet.
I actually have 2 of these keyboards. The one that came with the machine is near-perfect. However the very top edge has a slight yellowing to it. I have a theory that this weird silly plastic overlay that was to go around the top row of function keys actually caused many AEKII keyboards to yellow over time. Something about those two plastics touching each other for many years seems to have created this common problem.“The sound is dampened by small rubber inserts on either side of the slider which cushions the impact at the end of both the downstroke and the upstroke. Because of the dampening and high tactile point of the cream Alps switches, the keyboards are sometimes mistaken for having rubber dome switches.”
My original keyboard is a M3501 BCGM3501, Made in the USA. That dates it to 1990. After finding the Minty Q700, I found a NOS keyboard of the exact same model number - one that had never been removed from its box nor used. So I got that to be what I use, and put the original in the box as a backup.
This keyboard was also designed by Frog Design, and there are two things about it that I particularly like.
1. It has a very beautiful curve to its side profile.
2. It also has a very unusual foot mechanism that allows the back edge of the keyboard to be raised or lowered with very precise control. Want it to raise up just 5 millimeters? No problem.
Anyhoo, my machine is running OS 7, and I’ll likely keep it there. I might push it to 7.5 at some stage for fun, but I’m in no rush.
As is often my way, when I get something I truly cherish I look for backups as a means of insurance. I found a semi-beaten up looking backup and got it for a very nice price. When I received it, I opened up the case to see what it looked like inside. To my surprise (and not mentioned when I bought it) it had 2 cards inside. One is a video card I’ve not been able to get working. But the other card is a DayStar 040 @ 40Mhz Quad processor upgrade! I found the software for it and have been running it in my minty machine ever since.
The backup machine’s hard drive died a tragic death after about 2 days of use. But otherwise the internal components all appear to be in excellent condition and ready for storage.
The Y2K20 Bug
When I first took my minty machine apart to inspect its various components, I discovered to my sadness that it had an ancient battery still attached to its motherboard. These aren’t VARTA batteries soldered to the board. They are ½ AA lithium 3.6V batteries. Thankfully, the design of these boards have the battery sitting in a plastic housing. So even though mine leaked, the damage was minimal. Basically just one of the legs of the battery housing itself was damaged, but the board was pristine.
In a few minutes I had the machine completely taken apart. I desoldered and replaced the PRAM battery housing with a brand new one I bought from retrofixes.com.
I popped in a new battery and put it all back together again. I turned the machine on and, to my utter confusion, saw this:
Come to find out the clocks for the early macintosh systems were never programmed to go beyond January 1, 2020. I couldn’t believe it! But then after some research I discovered this piece public domain software: SetDate. This tool lets us set our machine’s clocks up until 2042! That’s another 22 years down the road. I’ll take it.
How I got that software off the internet and over to the Mac is a whole other story, and one I'll save for another day.
We in the Commodore/Amiga community are so spoiled. We have it so damned good. The level of enthusiasm for Commodore hardware, software and innovation in the year 2020 is off the charts. Over in the Apple world, it's a completely different story. There's plenty of love, don't get me wrong. But when it comes to hardware hacking it's tumbleweeds!
In C=/Amiga, we can have new motherboards, accelerators, RAM boards, ethernet cards, brand new cases, potentially new keycaps, brand new high quality games, and on and on and on. It's incredible! Over in the classic Mac world? It's shockingly quiet.
Now, I have a theory around this. I think for a lot of people, if you want an Apple computer with a USB port, well, you just buy a newer model that fits the bill. There's just not as much of a craving for making the really old machines do what a slightly younger machine can do with zero effort, right off of Ebay. The Commodore machines are all frozen in time, so to speak. Because Commodore died, it's up to the community to grab that flag and run up that hill.
But it was surprising to me, to say the least. Only the ability to use a floppy drive emulator to help you move digital files from the internet over to a classic Mac has been invented as recently as four years ago. That's it! I imagine, and hope, there will be more tools and software created in the future to make the classic Mac scene a bit more convenient to partake in. But at least for now I've developed a system. And it's plenty good enough, and fun, for the time being.