Archive for the 'Macintosh' Category

The Strangest Classic Mac Peripherals I Have Ever Seen

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015


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.

[ Continue reading The Strangest Classic Mac Peripherals I Have Ever Seen » ]

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Apple II SwyftCard

Monday, March 30th, 2015

Jef Raskin Steve Wozniak Information Appliance Swyft Card SwyftCard Apple II advertisement  - Personal Computing - March 1986Paid for by SwyftCard Veterans for Truth

From the land of exotic Apple II accessories comes the Information Appliance SwyftCard, a plug-in peripheral card that gave the Apple IIe a built-in suite of ROM-based productivity tools, all unified around a novel scroll-based [PDF] user environment called SWYFT.

SWYFT was the brainchild of former Apple employee Jef Raskin, who originally spearheaded the Macintosh project. After disagreements with Steve Jobs over the direction of that project, Raskin left Apple and founded Information Appliance, Inc. (consequently, Jobs took the Mac project in a completely new direction).

The SwyftCard originated as an Apple IIe-based prototype for a dedicated machine centered around Raskin's SWYFT environment, but it proved so effective and compelling that it became its own product. The dedicated concept would later emerge as the Canon Cat in 1987.

SwyftCards are very rare (I've never seen one in person over 20 years of collecting Apple II hardware), so Apple enthusiast Mike Willegal has provided instructions for building your own. Pretty neat!

P.S. I emailed this ad to Steve Wozniak (who is featured in the ad) and he said, "Cool reminder!"

[ From Personal Computing, March 1986, p.163 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Jef Raskin vs. Steve Jobs: Who do you identify with the most?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Connectix VideoPhone

Monday, December 29th, 2014

Connectix VideoPhone video chat software QuickCam advertisement - 1996Even black and white was amazing once

Once upon a time, companies tried to achieve video phone calls using non-networked, proprietary point-to-point devices such as the AT&T VideoPhone 2500 (RSOTW, 2010) — almost all of which utilized traditional telephone lines or ISDN.

Then the Internet came along and blew the field wide open. Suddenly, video chat could happen over any data transfer medium that supported TCP/IP, and it could be routed around the world to any node on the Internet. Connectix's VideoPhone software (circa 1995) was one of the first consumer video chat products to take advantage of the Internet. Using the software and the company's QuickCam digital camera (arguably the world's first webcam), folks could video conference all over the world — albeit in black and white.

For more on the history of video phones and video chat, check out this piece I created for Technologizer back in 2010.

[ From Internet World - February 1996, inside front cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When was the first time you ever made a video call or did video chat?

Macworld Magazine (1984-2014)

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

In Memoriam: Macworld Magazine, print edition (1984-2014)

Today I found out that Macworld will cease to be a print magazine and that many of my friends and colleagues have been laid off. will continue to exist, albeit with a relative skeleton crew.

It's very sad to see a day like this come (especially when I still look forward to a new issue of Macworld coming in the mail every month — one of the last print publications I read), but all things must come to an end. It is amazing, in retrospect, that Macworld magazine remained a constant, intelligent voice amid the chaos of a rapidly churning computer industry for thirty years.

Thirty years. Think of all the change that has happened in that time — the tech uphevals, the revolutions, the fall and rise of Apple, the Jobs-as-Phoenix, and rapid spread of the Internet — and through it all, Macworld has been there.

So thank you, Macworld, for serving the Mac community so well. And thanks to its staff in particular. I'd especially like to express my gratitude to Roman Loyola, Jason Snell, Dan Moren, Dan Frakes, Dan Miller, and Philip Michaels (among many others) for their wonderful work on the publication, and their genuine humanity, decency, patience, and fairness (sometimes rare qualities in an editor) through the years.

Roman Loyola, in particular, has been my go-to guy to get my — nay, our — particular brand of Apple history work pushed out to the world, and I am immensely grateful to have worked with him.

The talent pool of editorial labor laid off from Macworld today is immense, and other publications would be fools not to snatch them up as quickly as they can.

As for me, I've been contributing to the publication since 2008. As long as is still around, I might still write things for it. (Completely gutting a publication of its beloved veteran staff doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the future, however.) Time will tell. Until then, it's been a great ride.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] iMac G4 Memories

Monday, September 8th, 2014

Apple iMac G4 debut advertisement - 2002White on white. Amazing that it shows up.

On the eve of a potentially large and impactful reveal of new Apple products, I thought it an opportune time to take a look back at this now-12-year-old debut advertisement for the iMac G4. And to wax nostalgic about Apple product events.

The ad itself is clean, white, minimalistic, and so modern-feeling that I think it would work very well, unchanged, as a print advertisement today.

As for Apple product launches, I've been closely following them since the debut of the original iMac in 1998. (As an aside, I remember telling my dad to buy Apple's stock when it was $14 a share in late 1997 — not long after Steve Jobs had returned to the company — and he scoffed at me.)

For the next five years after that first iMac launch, the excitement of unexpected new Apple products seemed to build relentlessly, each one seemingly trumping the last. There was the Power Mac G3 (blue and white), the iBook, the Power Mac G4 Cube, then, of course, the iPod (although nobody really knew what a big deal the iPod was at the time).

Then came the iMac G4, and I had to have one. Prior to that, I had last used a new Mac in 1987-88 with the Macintosh SE, but our family had been Windows-centric since then (today I use OS X, Windows, and Linux almost equally). After much pestering, I convinced my dad to loan me the cash to buy the high-end iMac G4 model with the 800 MHz CPU and the DVD-burning SuperDrive.

Unlike any machine before or since, it felt like I was buying a complete computing experience. Coupled with a newly revised version of OS X (10.1, I believe), it felt like a new era of computing was upon us. Keep in mind I was coming from the "must reinstall every year, crashes every 10 minutes" world of Windows 98.

The iMac G4 design turned heads; its release was truly a watershed event in Mac history that brought a lot of "switchers" from the Windows world. I showed that thing off to everyone, taking it into my dad's office to demonstrate it to folks there, and I even invited my mailman (a confessed Mac fan, as I had learned from prior conversations) to come inside one day while he was dropping off a package to try it out.

I used that iMac daily for email, iChat, photo management, and web browsing until around 2006 when the already overtaxed machine couldn't keep up with modern websites. Today, it sits proudly on a desk in my office, ready to be called to duty for whatever PowerPC-era Mac task I might throw at it.

By the way, if you're interested in learning more about the iMac G4, I wrote an article about the machine — one of my personal favorites — for Macworld back in 2012.

[ From Esquire - June 2002, rear cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What new Apple product were you most excited about when you first heard of it?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Performa: The Depressing Macintosh

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Apple Macintosh Performa The Family Macintosh Advertisement - 1993Ugh. The Performa Era.

The Performa line originated as a way for Apple to expand retail availability of its then-waning Mac platform. They did so by re-branding a number of existing Mac models with the Performa name (plus some numbers that didn't make much sense).

The Performa line's commercial availability coincided almost exactly with Apple's darkest era, 1992-1997, when sales dramatically declined, market share dropped, the company was generally mismanaged and unfocused, Macs had 10 different names for the same model, and Classic OS was getting long in the tooth.

I remember seeing a few Performa models for sale at Sears as a teenager and thinking, "Wow, they still make Macs?" Then I tried one out, and the OS was barely different from the Mac SE I'd last used in 1987 — some 6 years earlier — and it liked to crash a lot. It was a depressing time to be Apple. Whatever happened to that company, anyway?

[ From Discover - July 1993, p.5]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first model of Macintosh you ever owned?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] IBM Smart Desk

Monday, April 28th, 2014

IBM 3270 PC Smart Desk 1985Multitasking in the early days.

Ah, the IBM 3270 PC. What a strange beast. It was essentially an IBM PC that could also emulate an IBM 3270 terminal, which allowed it to link up to IBM mainframes. In a sense, this was IBM's version of the AppleLine protocol adapter (featured in a Retro Scan a few weeks ago), albeit one built into an IBM PC.

By the way, look at the keyboard on this machine. Function keys galore. I've always wanted one of those.

[ From TIME, May 6 1985, p.B14-B15]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used an IBM mainframe computer?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Crystal Quest for Game Boy

Monday, April 21st, 2014

Crystal Quest for Nintendo Game Boy Advertisement 1991Game Boy: The Final Frontier

Fans of early Mac games will no doubt remember Crystal Quest, which (I believe) was the first Mac game to use color graphics just after the Mac II came out in 1987.

Crystal Quest on the Mac played like a space-based Robotron: 2084 controlled with the mouse, albeit with a loose trackball feel because your ship kept moving in the direction you nudged the mouse until you corrected its course. So I'm not sure how it played in this obscure Game Boy port from 1991. Perhaps I'll fire up an emulator right now and find out.

[ From Video Games & Computer Entertainment, August 1991, rear cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Can you think of any other game that started on the Macintosh then received a port to a Nintendo console?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AppleLine: One of Apple's Two Rarest Products

Monday, April 14th, 2014

AppleLine Service Sheet (Apple P/N 661-75203), rev. March 1991 (7.2.1) - circa 1991One of the only photos of this device on the Internet at present.

Almost thirty years after its introduction, the AppleLine Protocol Converter (1985) remains one of the rarest pieces of commercial hardware Apple has ever produced. It allowed a single Lisa, Mac, or Apple II to communicate with IBM mainframes using the IBM 3270 terminal protocol.

As far as I can tell, this is only the second photo of the AppleLine ever posted on the Internet (the first was in a slideshow from last year — see below). I bought this particular Apple service sheet just to share a photo of this elusive beast with you.

In 1983, Apple released a similar (and similarly rare) product, the Apple Cluster Controller, which I wrote about in this Macworld slideshow from last year. One model of the Cluster Controller allowed up to seven Apple Lisas to connect to an IBM mainframe (again, via IBM 3270), which required an intelligent protocol conversion process. As such, the Cluster Controller contained its own CPU and was a miniature computer unto itself, but technical specifications of either device are hard to track down.

If you or anyone you know owns an Apple Cluster Controller or AppleLine protocol converter, I'd love to hear from you. They are so rare I'm not sure if they even exist anymore. (Perhaps Apple only leased them out and recalled all the units when they phased them out, keeping them largely out of private hands. But this is pure speculation on my part.)

[ From AppleLine Service Sheet (Apple P/N 661-75203), rev. March 1991 (7.2.1) ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the rarest Apple product you own?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Mac in Dad's Office

Monday, September 30th, 2013

A Macintosh SE in my dad's home office - 1988A Macintosh SE sits in the home office of Benj's father, March 20th, 1988

My father bought the Macintosh SE you see in this photo pretty soon after it came out in 1987. It proved to be a key tool in launching his business the following year. His company's logo, sales literature, and product manuals were all designed on it. It was an amazing upgrade over a DOS-based PC.

Naturally, my brother and I immediately started to use the SE to play games. We had access to very few titles, though — we played Shadowgate, Dungeon of Doom, Silent Service, and that's about it. I was always disappointed with the Mac's lack of color, but the sharpness and resolution of its display were hard to beat at the time. And the sound was amazing too. The evil laugh in the beginning of Shadowgate still rings clear in my memory.

The SE pictured in this photo remains in my collection to this day, and I boot it up from time to tinker with it. Perhaps I should fire it up again today in honor of my dad.

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever use a computer in one of your parents' offices? Tell us about it.