10 DAYS OF VINTAGE: Day 2
It's a famous story: Under the direction of minimalist Steve Jobs, Apple designed the first Macintosh to be a security-screwed box that kept internal hardware upgrades away from users' hands. He wanted to keep things simple and user-friendly, but the limited memory capacity (128K) and fixed nature of the first Mac held the platform back significantly during its first year on the market.
Apparently, that inspired companies to create batsh*t crazy peripherals for the machine.
That's because, with a sealed box, Mac hardware upgrades could only come in the form of external, plug-in peripherals. Here are six of the strangest ones I've ever come across in all my Macintosh-Related Virtual Online Reading and Researching Travels (or "MRVORRT" for short).
Honestly, these are not necessarily bad or useless peripherals. They're just strange. You'll see what I mean.
Dayna MacCharlie (1985)
Long before Boot Camp and Parallels, if you wanted to run IBM PC compatible software on your Mac, you had to strap this ungainly contraption onto your innocent machine.
The MacCharlie was essentially an IBM PC clone in a beige box that hooked to the Mac's serial port. As a result, the Mac served as a glorified serial terminal for the MacCharlie via custom software running on the Mac. That's not a particularly efficient setup, but the lack of expansion ports on the original Macintosh meant that there was no other reasonable point of entry.
Since it worked through the serial port, the MacCharlie could only run text-based MS-DOS applications. Conveniently (or frighteningly, depending on your perspective), the MacCharlie shipped with a keyboard extender that added the IBM PC's special function keys and a numeric keypad to the Macintosh keyboard.
But once it was attached, it could never come off again. (OK, I'm kidding.)
Why it's Strange: It turned a sweet Mac into a monster — a PC FrankenMac
(Photo: Dayna Communications)
Intermatrix MacPhone (1984)
Launched during the first year of the Macintosh's lifespan, the Intermatrix MacPhone pushed Apple's new computer into Bizarroland fairly quickly.
The MacPhone worked as a hardware/software combo that included the external telephone-like box you see here, which hung off the side of your Mac, and special software that maintained an ongoing log of outgoing calls and a database of frequently-used telephone numbers.
Plugging into the Mac's external speaker jack, the MacPhone sent out DTMF signals that could quickly dial anyone using a software address book. Later versions of the software apparently used that same speaker jack to deliver canned messages to callers using synthesized speech. Sounds pleasant.
Why it's Strange: It's a telephone that straps onto the side of your Macintosh
ErgoTron MacTilt (1985)
Judging by the photo, you might think the MacTilt turned your Macintosh into a bobble head — or made it blindingly drunk.
But no. It's just a tilting platform for your entire computer.
While the all-in-one nature of the original Macintosh form factor made for an easy to set up (and marginally portable) computer, it did have a few drawbacks. Chief among them, it was stuck with a tiny monochrome monitor that was fixed in one position relative to its "stand," which in this case is the Mac itself. For the low, low price of $150 (adjusted for inflation), the MacTilt fixed this problem.
Why it's Strange: The Mac was never designed to move like that. It looks unholy and unnatural, like a giraffe on stilts
Microsoft MacEnhancer (1985)
Microsoft proved a strong supporter of the Macintosh platform throughout the 1980s. As an extension of that, Microsoft released this strange and rare expansion peripheral, the MacEnhancer, which plugged into a Mac's modem or printer port and added one IBM PC-compatible parallel port and two IBM PC-compatible serial ports.
With the MacEnhancer and its custom software, Mac users could utilize many printers, modems, and accessories designed for the IBM PC. Whether they'd actually want to or not is another question entirely.
Either way, I love how all these peripherals have matching chamfered designs to blend in with the original Mac.
Why it's Strange: Microsoft made an early hardware peripheral for the Mac that makes it more like an IBM PC
(Photos: Alan Tuttle)
Hercules Computer Condom (1990)
There's novelty, and then there's NOVELTY (in all caps). This prophylactic-shaped computer dust cover, which debuted in 1990 and got a teeny write-up in Weekly World News, definitely qualifies for the latter category.
I found this ad while thumbing through a 1991 issue of Computer Shopper, and I thought it might be an April Fools joke at first. But the Hercules was indeed a real product (marketed by "Byte-Me Hardware") — one that revealed the previously unrecognized phallic nature of the original Mac form factor.
It's not a strong resemblance, sure, but it cannot be unseen.
Why it's Strange: Someone made a giant, novelty version of male birth control that you put over your computer
(Photo: Byte-Me Hardware)
MicroRain MacStation (1984)
This accessory corrupts your tiny, svelte computer into a monstrous beast of a unit, encrusted with an Imagewriter printer, disk drive, and storage shelves.
(Honestly, it looks like a useful way to cram a bunch of functionality into a limited space. But that doesn't mean it isn't strange.)
I do not know the actual product name for this "hutch" or who manufactured it (if you know, leave a comment). It turns out this is called a MacStation, and it was sold by a company named MicroRain, of all things. MicroRain. (Special thanks to Derek in the comments for figuring it out.)
I found this photo in a Mac retrospective gallery created by The Guardian. Their caption for the photo describes David Bonilla (left) and Albert McFarland using Macs at the Creative Arts Computer Lab at San Francisco State University "to block and plan a video shoot."
Unfortunately, ten seconds after the photo was taken, one of the Imagewriters fell forward, smashing the keyboard into 100 pieces, ruining their hard work, and crippling McFarland's hand for life. Dear God…What has my imagination done?
Why it's Strange: If Steve Jobs saw this, he probably had a panic attack. Or kicked somebody. (After Sorkin Jobs, I don't know what's real anymore.)
(Photo: Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis)