Six on Six – 6 Points of Interest for the Aspiring System 6 User

Are you interested in trying out System 6? Well if you are, there are a few things you need to know about it before you dive in. In this post, I present six points of interest related to System 6. In my next post, I will discuss how to get started with System 6.

System 6 Logo.jpg

Without further ado then, let’s dive it. Six points of interest regarding System 6:

1. System 6 is fast! Despite the prevalence of Motorola 68020 and 68030 processors driving the Macs that support it, the user experience of System 6 is one of speed. The System 6 software is well matched to the horsepower of the CPUs it ran on, resulting in a UI that feels slick and responsive. Here is an eye opening metric. My Macintosh IIsi, freshly loaded with System 6, went from cold power on to full desktop in only 7 seconds. THAT is fast! Weeks later, fully loaded down with all the software I wanted to install, that same task now takes 30s, but that is still exceptional, even by today’s standards.

2. Floppies are the way software is distributed. You will need to make your peace with this, and with either getting floppy originals or copies of the software you want to install, or making floppies up yourself from .dsk or .image files. This will require you to cozy up to some new utilities that you may not have encountered before, such as DiskDup+, ShrinkWrap and MountImage, not to mention the ever cantankerous DiskCopy 4.2 utility.

3. The 800K floppy dominates! The now archaic dual-sided 800K 3.5” floppy was the media of the day. CD-ROMs were not yet in wide distribution, and software was delivered on sets of 800K floppies. You will need a computer that supports 3.5” dual sided 800K floppies OR an external 3.5 floppy drive, plus a way to connect that drive to your Mac – your Mac needs to have the external port with the “i” symbol – see the image below.

Macintosh IIsi External Floppy Port Highlighted.jpg

4. You can get on the Internet, and even onto Gopherspace, but you cannot get onto the web in any meaningful way. Remember, System 6 was Apple’s OS offer from 1988 to 1991. NCSA Mosaic, the browser that popularized the web, didn’t make its public appearance until 1993, and September 1993 for the Mac OS version. The web and System 6 simply didn’t coexist in time, and this is reflected in the lack of web support for System 6.

On the other hand, Internet support is abundant: email, FTP, Ping and Gopher are just a few of the internet applications that are readily available for System 6.

5. There are no aliases, and almost no program launchers (that I have found), and thus few convenient ways to launch an application except by double clicking a file it has created. If this does not meet your need, you are reduced to navigating to the application itself on your hard drive and double clicking it. The OnCue system extension is the sole exception that I am aware of to this rule, and therefore despite its limitations it is thus enormously useful.

6. The Apple menu in the upper left corner is the home to Desk Accessories, not to a cascading Apple Menu folder hierarchy a la System 7 and later. Desk Accessories are the widgets of their day, small, single purpose applets that do a unique and useful thing. Chooser, for example, is a DA in System 6. If you are thinking that you could probably configure something like a hierarchical menu yourself, think again. The Apple Menu was largely configured with aliases, and per point 5 above, these have not yet been created at the time of System 6.

System7 Apple Menu.jpg

Well, I know I said “six points”, and the above was indeed six points, so this post should be just about done, but there is one more thing you just have to know before you commit to System 6, and so here it is – one last bonus point:

6+. 8M of RAM is it! The maximum that System 6 can address is 8 MB of RAM, and System 6 itself takes up some of that (happily, not very much – System 6 is remarkably space efficient). This many seem seriously limiting in today’s world, but back in the late 1980s, 8 MB of RAM was a LOT of RAM! There is a utility called Maxima that claims to allow System 6 to use up to 14MB of RAM for applications, but in my testing of it, for the most part all it did was take the extra memory and use it for a RAM disk. While this is undoubtedly useful, it is not 14 MB of application memory.

About Finder 8MB.jpg

Did I say “one last bonus point”? Darn. There is STILL one more… this is it though folks, I promise.

6++. Like working with images? JPEG doesn’t exist yet! Remember, the JPEG standard wasn’t ratified until 1992. Like System 6 and the web, System 6 and JPEG simply did not overlap in time. The closest thing to a universal image format of the day was TIFF, along with the nearly Mac-standard PICT format.

Of course, none of this is of much concern to users in the late 80s since the CPUs of the day were not really powerful enough to decode and display JPEGs in any reasonable amount of time anyway. The 20 MHz 68030 on my Macintosh IIsi, even with a math coprocessor installed, still takes 30s to 60s for most small images, and much, much longer for larger images. This is not to say that JPEG support is totally absent in System 6. The last version of Photoshop to run on System 6, Photoshop 2.5.1, does support JPEG via an after-the-fact plug-in, and I have found a few other image viewers that also support JPEG under System 6, but they are few and far between.

So there you have it, six points of interest (and a few extras besides!) about System 6 for the aspiring new user. If you are still interesting in diving into this nearly familiar and yet strangely different world (and I would recommend giving it a whirl!), read on! My next post will cover the basic hardware and software that you will need to get up and running with System 6.



2 thoughts on “Six on Six – 6 Points of Interest for the Aspiring System 6 User

  1. That’s not an i, that’s a 5.25″ floppy icon. 🙂

    Admittedly, odd that Apple would use it for an external 3.5″ drive.

    • Hi! You are ABSOLUTELY right! When I look at it again with this information in mind it is OBVIOUSLY a floppy icon. Somehow, without this mindset, it was not at all obvious to me when I looked initially. Good tip for all readers. Thanks!

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