Networking Your System 6 Mac

At this point in our series of posts about System 6, we have explored why you might be interested in System 6, what sorts of Macintosh units you might want to purchase to support that interest, and what minimum “starter kit” of software you might need to get you started in this new environment. Now it is time to load your System 6 machine up with the software you really need to make productive use out of the system.

There are two “usual” ways of doing this, networking the new machine with other Macs you may have, so that you can simply load new software across the network, and attaching mass storage devices such as an Iomega Zip drive or a CD-ROM and transferring the software in that way. This post explores the first of these two topics, networking your System 6 Macintosh. The last and final post in this series on System 6 will explore second option, adding mass storage.

The word “networking” deserves a little exploration of its own, in order to set the context for this post. There are two major forms of networking that could we could pursue: Apple’s own AppleTalk and the ubiquitous (today) Internet.

AppleTalk is an Apple proprietary set of protocols that allows two or more Macintoshes, along with other compatible devices, to communicate with each other. AppleTalk can run over either a simple serial connection between two or more units (LocalTalk) or it can run over Ethernet (EtherTalk), and thus address any compatible machines on your local home network.

In addition to AppleTalk, most people will want to get their new System 6 machine onto the Internet and the Web, and so this is an objective as well. We take this later objective with a grain of salt however, remembering that while a System 6 machine can make excellent use of many Internet resources, there is very little, if anything, that a System 6 machine can do on the web.

A practical consequence however of wanting both AppleTalk and Internet connectivity is that we will focus on AppleTalk over Ethernet… EtherTalk. Thus, this is the context in which we pursue “networking” in this post.

For the most part, we will need to start from scratch. Out of the box, your new System 6 installation will typically not come with AppleTalk, any form of TCP/IP stack (needed for the Internet) or even any form of Ethernet drivers.

To achieve our objective to AppleTalk over Ethernet, and the ability to access the Internet/web, we need to install both networking hardware and networking software.

Let’s start with the hardware. In order to accomplish networking, your machine needs to have network interface hardware at its disposal. Your machine may come with networking hardware built in, or you may need to install a NuBus network interface card (NIC) of your choice. Apple provided a range of Nubus NIC cards at the time, and similar cards were available from other vendors as well. I recommend the Apple NIC cards of the period to start with, simply because the drivers are largely available as part of the NSI 1.4.5 package.

This is what I did with my Macintosh IIsi. I purchased (on eBay) a Mac IIsi-specific PDS-to-Nubus extender, and an Apple NuBus NIC card. I physically installed this hardware before I began my networking software upgrade, and as a result the drivers for the new NIC went in as a seamless part of the NSI software install.

That’s the hardware – onto the software. You will need to install the following software, in order:

1/ Apple Network Software 1.4.5 (AppleTalk – will run over LocalTalk to start with)

2/ Ethernet drivers for the NIC hardware that is either built into, or you have installed on, your System 6 machine. As mentioned above, remember that drivers for many Apple NIC Cards are included in NSI 1.4.5.

3/ MacTCP 2.0.6, providing you with a System 6 compatible TCP/IP (Internet) stack.

As you approach your networking software installation, your new System 6 machine provides no networking support at all. Both the Network and the TCP/IP control panels are not present, and the Chooser control panel in all likelihood contains only one or more printer selections, and no AppleTalk selection, looking rather like this:

Chooser, No AppleTalk Selection

Like many things Macintosh however, transforming this into what you want is almost painfully easy.

In my case, I used my Power Macintosh 7300 to burn a copy of NSI 1.4.5 (the last version of Network Software to support System 6) onto a floppy. I fed that floppy into my Mac IIsi and it mounted it cleanly on the desktop with no issues. I executed the installer and it ran to completion also with no issues. Following a restart, I had a full AppleTalk client installed AND a shiny new Network control panel, supporting the shifting of my AppleTalk connection between LocalTalk and EtherTalk.

Network Control Panel

So far, so good. If EtherTalk networking was the objective, we would be done at this point.

However, the objective is EtherTalk networking AND Internet connectivity, and so you need to proceed to the final step, which is installing MacTCP. In this case, you will want MacTCP 2.0.6, although an earlier version may work. When I expanded the .sit file for MacTCP 2.0.6, I got just a file called MacTCP. Presuming that this was either an extension or a control panel, I copied it into the System folder and restarted. Success! I now had a MacTCP control panel, supporting both LocalTalk and EtherTalk selections.

MacTCP Control Panel 01 with LocalTalk and EtherTalk

A word of warning at this point. If you are used to more “modern” TCP settings such as you might find in later versions of Mac OS, you may be unpleasantly surprised by MacTCP’s presentation. The Internet was a fairly new thing in System 6’s time, and this is reflected in the sometimes arcane settings that MacTCP 2.0.6 presents to you. It may take some inspired tinkering, and perhaps just a little time, to get MacTCP to configure the things you will want to configure, but rest assured – it can be done.

MacTCP Control Panel 02 Advanced Options

Regrettably, this article is being written after the fact from notes that I made at the time (as I write this, the Happy Macs lab remains in storage as part of our present corporate move) and so I can’t include specific instructions for each MacTCP control. However, I recommend setting your IP address manually (I’ve never had much luck with modern DHCP servers, such as you will almost certainly have in your cable/DSL box, and early versions of Mac OS), setting your subnet mask to 255.255.255.0, and setting both your Gateway address and your Name Server address to the IP address of your local home router (which will typically be your home’s cable modem or DSL box). 192.168.0.1 was a common default address for many cable/DSL boxes for some time. Readers who have Comcast Xfinity boxes may find that 10.0.0.1 works for them.

Anyway, with a bit of tinkering, I successfully bludgeoned MacTCP into configuring the settings I wanted and restarted my Mac. When the boot was finished, I was pleased to see that the Chooser control panel now “saw” the other vintage Macs on the Happy Macs Lab network (specifically those that were turned on and which had AppleTalk networking enabled) indicating that AppleTalk over Ethernet was up and running on my System 6 Mac.

System 6 Chooser w Quadra 840AV Selection

But better still, when I fired up MacTCP Ping, it not only successfully pinged the other Macs visible on the Happy Macs Lab network but ALSO successfully pinged multiple external web sites! My Mac IIsi was on the Internet!

MacTCP Ping

I had to sit back and marvel at this point. An incredible amount of newly installed hardware and software (the NIC card, its’ drivers, MacTCP and MacTCP Ping) had all just working perfectly – and in perfect harmony – the “first time out of the box”, allowing my Mac IIsi to reach outside the limited confines of the Happy Macs Lab and out onto the wild, wild west of the Internet. As I said earlier, the whole thing had been almost painfully easy.

Reflecting on that, being able to ping other servers on the Internet was perhaps quite a technology tour de force, but in the end, it is not terribly useful. So, what did one do with an internet-networked System 6 Mac “back in the day”? Why, one Gophered of course! Gopher, a very capable text-based precursor of the web, was THE way to share information at the time, and has been discussed at length in several earlier posts of this blog. System 6, as you may well guess, had an excellent Gopher client in the form of the third party program TurboGopher 1.0.8b4 (an earlier version of the TurboGopher 2.x series which features prominently in the aforementioned blog posts on Gopher).

I installed TurboGopher 1.0.8b4, fired it up and pointed it at the current “daddy” of Gopherspace, Floodgap Systems’ gopher.floodgap.com server (port 70). TurboGopher got right through and displayed their home page perfectly, if somewhat more slowly than I was accustomed to… which is to be expected I suppose – the Mac IIsi is a 20 MHz 68030 machine, after all.

gopher.floodgap.com

Assuming that you have been following along and installing hardware and software on your machine as you go, from this point on, the internet is an open resource to your System 6 Mac. Remember however that the web is not! I have experimented with some of the very early web browsers that would run under System 6, but have had no (none, zero, nada) usable results. You can network your Macs, you can Ping Internet servers, you can FTP files and you can cruise through Gopherspace… but you cannot surf the web with your networked System 6 Mac.

So there you have it then! Networking your System 6 Mac with Ethernet can be a simple and enabling experience. Best of luck to you in your efforts in this regard!

p.s.> Networking via LocalTalk, on the other hand, has eluded me completely thus far! Just before the Happy Macs Lab was packed up, I was working on networking two System 6 Macs exclusively over LocalTalk, with no MacTCP involved, and was getting absolutely nowhere! I DID manage to connect to an ImageWriter printer I have using just LocalTalk, but that was as far as I could get. I could not get the two Macs to “see” each other over LocalTalk. This may become the topic of additional posts at a future time, once I figure it all out! In the meantime, just a word to the wise. It does not appear to be as simple to LocalTalk two or more Macs as it is to EtherTalk them over MacTCP.

p.p.s> All of the software mentioned in this post is available in the System 6 section of the Happy Macs Gopher server, happymacs.ddns.net, port 70… or rather, will be very soon. Regrettably, as I write this (April 2018), the Happy Macs Gopher server is presently offline due to our corporate move. However, it should be back on the net no later than the end of May 2018. Watch this blog for notification of its renewed presence. Until then, most, if not all, of the above mentioned software can be found on the web with a bit of luck and a lot of inspired Google’ing.

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System 6 Software Links Added to Recommended Links Page

As promised in my last post, I have now updated the Recommended Links page with a set of known good links to pages from which you can download System 6 compatible software.

SoftwareDownload

Some of these pages are devoted exclusively to System 6, but some are focused on Mac OS in general, thus System 6 and later releases. However, the collection represents the full set of sources I have used so far for the software I have running on my System 6 Macs.

If you are reading this post and are aware of other sources of System 6 software, please take a moment and comment on this post to that effect. I will update the links page as quickly thereafter as possible.

I have also had to remove a small number of now dead links from the Recommended Links page. Regrettably, some great sites have now disappeared, and they will be missed.

Check out the new links. There is still a vibrant community of users interested in System 6. Perhaps you will become one of them!

 

Getting Started with System 6

Let’s assume that you have decided to dive into System 6 head first, as I did just recently.

System 6 Logo

A whole new universe awaits you, and for those who are familiar with System 7 or later, it will take both some unlearning and some new learning to become proficient in this older, smaller but nonetheless very appealing environment. Despite the visual similarity to System 7 and later releases of Mac OS, the operational reality of System 6 is quite different. It is not bad… just different.

Preamble

Now a word of warning. If you have never dabbled in the world of vintage Macs before, I would not recommend System 6 as the place to start. The difference between System 6 and System 7 is enormous, and for beginners it is my guess that System 7 (or later) will serve your interests much more easily. The reasons for this will hopefully become apparent as you read through what follows, and are largely a function of System 6’s “time in the sun”, and what the computing world was like at that time.

What was System 6’s “time in the sun”? Well, System 6 debuted in 1988 and was Apple’s primary OS offer until it was replaced by System 7 in 1991. Its principal hardware running mate in the Apple product family of the day was Motorola’s 68030 processor, running at speeds up to the Mac IIfx’s “wicked fast” 40MHz. At the time, the combination of the Motorola 68030 and Macintosh System 6 was a slam-dunk against the competition.

A Brief Look Back – System 6 And Its Competition

Lets stop and consider that competition for a moment. In 1988, the competitive offer from the PC camp was a sad thing indeed. Intel 80386 processors running at 12 to 33 MHz were the racehorses of the PC world.

S_Intel-A80386DX-16

These horses were saddled with the twin disasters that were Windows 2.1 and Windows 3.0, resulting in an overall user experience that can only be likened to cold molasses running uphill.

Windows 3.0 Desktop

Now if this seems like a bit of excessive hyperbole to you, you may be right, but it is hyperbole grounded in personal experience. I had the displeasure of working with 386 systems “back in the day” and I recall quite literally starting them booting and then stepping away to get a coffee, only to come back some time later and find that the CPU and the hard drive were still grinding away, having not yet completed the seemingly herculean task of booting DOS and Windows.

By comparison, a Macintosh IIsi (a contemporary Apple system of the day), equipped with a 20 MHz 68030 and running System 6, cold booted from power on to desktop in only 7 seconds… and the desktop that it booted to was an elegant, stable, well-thought out interface relative to the equivalent mess presented by Windows 3.0.

Startup.pict

Admittedly, the 7-second number was for a minimal configuration, but to provide another data point, my Macintosh IIsi today, running a fully configured System 6 environment with all the applications, INITs and control panels I want, achieves the same result in only 60s, still leaps and bounds ahead of the competition from the Wintel camp.

What Do You Need – Hardware

Alright, enough Windows-bashing, however much fun it may be! Lets get started with the hardware. What do you need to get started with System 6? Well first of all, you need a Macintosh that can run System 6! There is a large set of such Macintoshes happily, but sadly they are becoming harder and harder to find on eBay for a reasonable price.

When I went looking for a System 6 capable Macintosh, I was immediately drawn to the Macintosh IIfx, the “wicked fast” king of the hill for 68030-based Macintoshes. The Macintosh IIfx sports a 40 MHz 68030, up to 128 MB of RAM, and a variety of hardware accelerators, including a pair of 10 MHz 6502 processors just for I/O (that’s 20x more 6502 than in an ENTIRE Apple II!). For the day, the machine was blisteringly fast. For today, it is blisteringly expensive! I saw one listed on eBay recently for the princely sum of $999. Clearly, a more economical option was needed!

Mac IIfx

Thankfully, per the above there is a sizeable set of other options available to choose from. The following is the list of Macintosh models that support System 6:

Macintosh 512Ke, Macintosh Plus, Macintosh SE, Macintosh SE FDHD, Macintosh Classic, Macintosh Classic II, Macintosh Performa 200, Macintosh Portable, Macintosh PowerBook 100, Macintosh II, Macintosh IIx, Macintosh IIcx, Macintosh IIci, Macintosh IIsi, Macintosh IIfx, Macintosh LC, and Macintosh LC II.

Excerpted from Wikipedia, the below table provides a more granular view of the same information:

System 6 Macintosh Compatibility

Another word of warning! You might not want to just pick just any old one of the above. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts on System 6, the 800K floppy dominated the System 6 world. In a largely floppy-based environment, you almost NEED to get a Macintosh that supports an additional external floppy drive, so that you can easily duplicate important disks. From the list above, the following subset supports an external floppy port:

512Ke, Plus, SE, SE FDHD, Classic, Classic II, Performa 200, Portable, PowerBook 100, IIcx, IIci, IIsi.

 You will almost certainly want to pick one of the above models.

External 800K Superdrive

In my case, I decided that in addition to the external floppy support, I wanted a larger screen than the original Macintosh format provided, and I also wanted color, not just the original Macintosh black and white. After trolling through eBay for a while, I settled on the Macintosh IIsi, which met all of these requirements. My earlier post “(Un)Happy Macs” relates the story of the acquisition and shakeout of my new Macintosh IIsi. And you, gentle reader? Determine what is important for you in your new “System 6 engine”, shop the above list on eBay and make your selection. Good luck!

What Do You Need – System Software

OK, that is the hardware. Now lets look at the software, starting with System 6 itself. If your new System 6 machine isn’t already loaded with System 6, get a copy of System 6.0.8 and install that. 6.0.8 was the final general-purpose release of System 6. There was one later release, 6.0.8L, but it in my testing of it, it would only boot on the machines it was targeted to, namely the Classic, Classic II, LC, LC II, and PowerBook 100.

System 6.0.8

Where can you get System 6.0.8? Well, you can purchase boot floppies for 6.0.8 on eBay, or alternately you can download them from The Macintosh Repository, at www.macintoshrepository.org. If you download them, you will need to “burn” them to floppies so that you can install them. Accomplishing this, and in fact the entire topic of getting software onto a new System 6 machine, will be explored in detail in a coming post in this series. Depending on the hardware and software you have access to, getting software onto these machines can be either “drop dead easy” or it can be very complex.

What Do You Need – Application Software

With the hardware and the system software in place, what about applications? This is where the fun really starts. As you consider applications, you need to begin by remembering that we are talking about System 6 here, not a later release. Think 1988. Old standbys that you may have depended on forever simply haven’t been written yet, and their later versions (once they did spring into being) simply don’t run under System 6.

JPEGView, for example, will not run under System 6! Mac OS without JPEGView? Perish the thought! BunchTyper (and in fact, pretty much EVERY type/creator utility I have ever used) requires System 7 and won’t run under System 6! Acrobat Reader, even as far back as version 2.1 requires System 7 or better. Photoshop 2.01 DOES run, but it will not read or write JPEG files (the JPEG standard has not yet been ratified in 1988!). For better or worse, System 7 was a real sea-change, and a LOT of the programs that I have relied on ever since I joined the vintage Macintosh world simply did not exist at the time of System 6 and thus will not run under it. Be ready to spend lots of time investigating alternatives.

Bunches of Floppies

There is lots of good news however. Microsoft Word 5.1a DOES run under System 6, and it is often regarded as the finest version of Word ever to grace a Mac. So does Microsoft Excel, at least up to Excel 4.0 (I haven’t tested any higher than that so far). PowerPoint 1.0 (yes, 1.0!) runs under System 6. This is PowerPoint BEFORE Microsoft purchased it. Per the above, the venerable Photoshop 2.0.1 runs under System 6 as well, and if you can coerce Photoshop 2.5.1 into installing successfully (it took me several days to accomplish this feat), it runs flawlessly AND is able to read and write JPEGs, albeit slowly.

Stuffit Expander works as well, but does not support the usual intuitive drag n’ drop operation (system wide drag ‘n drop was not introduced until System 7.5). Stuffit Deluxe 4.0 installs and runs, but do note that many of the System 6 compatible applications that you can download from the web have been stuffed with later versions of Stuffit and thus will not unstuff correctly on their target System 6 machines!

Stuffit Expander

I know that all of this sounds somewhat challenging, but there are some great upsides to balance things out, programs that run under System 6 that just didn’t survive the transition to System 7 and slowly disappeared. For example, FullWrite Professional, a great word processor, and TattleTech, a wonderful system checking utility. How about the Zoomin’ extension, a great INIT for speeding up the drawing of windows, or OnCue, a wonderful little precursor to the cascading Apple menu that debuted in System 7? And then of course there are all those REALLY early versions of classics we all know and depend upon. How about Photoshop 0.63, or Excel 1.5, or even the above mentioned PowerPoint 1.0? It is fun, if perhaps not productive, to fire up these vintage classics and play with them. Any or all of these may run under System 7 or later, but I had never encountered any of them until I started digging into System 6.

… and then there are the games! Again, some or all of these may run under later versions of the Macintosh operating system, but most are so lightweight that they simply faded from view as CPU and graphics hardware got increasingly capable. There are various versions of Pong and Brick Out that I love playing to this day, including a wonderful little Desk Accessory called Knock Out. There are fun little shooting games like Artillery and of course the classic Stunt Copter game. Finally, how about another favorite of mine, Lunar Lander? Emaculation.com has a large set of these games available for download. Humorously, some of them are so old that they can’t run on an “advanced” OS like System 6, requiring earlier versions of the Macintosh system software to make them whole! How’s that for turning your perspective of System 6 on its head?

Beat The Bricks

By today’s standards, these games are ridiculously simple, but if we set our technological arrogance aside for just a moment and simply enjoy them, they remain the true fun they were back in the late 80s. However, I digress…

Larger Set of Floppies

SO… what DO you need as a minimum set of applications to get started with System 6? Here is my (highly subjective!) list of recommended first installs:

  • OnCue – the only “launcher” I have ever found for System 6
  • Desktop Manager – an Apple startup INIT that solves all sorts of desktop file related issues
  • Super Clock – a great little control panel that puts a System 7 like clock in the menu bar
  • DiskCopy 4.2 – an absolutely critical utility for dealing with floppy disk images
  • DiskDup+ – another critical utility for dealing with floppy disk images
  • MountImage – a critical DA for loading software from floppy disk images
  • TeachText – an essential utility for reading all those help and readme files
  • The Typist – the only type/creator changer I have ever found for System 6
  • Iomega Zip Installer 4.2 – get an external SCSI Zip-100 and install this driver. You will need the Zip-100 to get all of the above titles onto your new Mac. You’re welcome!

A lot of these titles can be downloaded from Gamba’s System 6 page at:

http://home.earthlink.net/%7Egamba2/system6.html

There are many other sites that feature everything from a small set of System 6 favorites to truly comprehensive collections, and in my next post I will update the Recommended Links page of this blog with a full set of currently active links to System 6 software pages. I make a point of “currently active” because many of the System 6 “go to” pages that you will read about online, such as System 6 Heaven, are no longer active. Dead ends like that can quickly turn “System 6 Heaven” into “System 6 Hell”!

Also, coming soon, I will be adding my full collection of System 6 software to the Mac OS Classic software that is already available on the HappyMacs gopher site (gopher://happymacs.ddns.net). Per the above, I will restuff ALL of the listed titles with a System 6 compatible version of Stuffit, so that they can be unstuffed on a System 6 machine!

Summary

This is a good starting point. With one of the above Macintosh models, System 6.0.8 installed on it, and the above starter kit of applications, you are ready to begin exploring and enjoying System 6.

Coming Soon

In a coming installment of this series of posts on System 6, I will explore the options available for getting all of these titles (and presumably many more!) loaded onto your new System 6 Macintosh, an undertaking that is not as straightforward as it might seem.

Later posts will deal with networking your System 6 Mac and with connecting external mass media to it as well, including Zip-100 drives and CD-ROM drives.

Until then, happy (System 6) computing!

This post was composed on a Power Mac G5 under Mac OS Tiger

 

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.

 

Macintosh System 6 – The Speed Demon of the Mac OS Family

I recently had cause to fire up my old Macintosh SE, one of the original all-in-one Macintosh models. It was donated to me by a family friend some years ago, but it was never of much interest to me, and as a result has spent more time gathering dust than doing anything else.

Macintosh SE

By today’s standards, the Mac SE’s screen is ridiculously small, and the lack of color seemed a curious omission, particularly given the emphasis Apple placed on the color capabilities of its cash cow Apple II. I have read that Steve Jobs was behind this decision (of course!), reasoning that since color printers were rare to non-existent for the average user of the day, the principle of WYSIWYG demanded that the Macintosh screen be similarly monotone. In the end, irrespective of the reasons behind its design decisions, a small screen, black and white device did not fire my imagination and it has spent the majority of its time sitting quietly on a back shelf in the HappyMacs lab since being donated…

…until recently. I needed some information on an old app that would not behave properly on any of my System 7 or later Macs. My long ignored Mac SE was running System 6, and so I set it up and powered it on. What immediately and absolutely impressed me about it was the speed of the machine! I know that saying “Macintosh SE” and “speed” in the same sentence may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, but the numbers bear it out. My Mac SE goes from power on to desktop in only 22 seconds, making it the fastest booting vintage Mac in the HappyMacs lab! In addition, applications seem to launch in a heartbeat and system shutdown is nearly instantaneous.

What lay behind this remarkable performance? Well, for starters the SE is rocking an Applied Engineering Warp 030 Motorola 68030 CPU accelerator. Research into the available Applied Engineering Warp 030 accelerators of the day revealed that both 40 MHz and 50 MHz models were produced. There are no utilities loaded onto the SE (yet) that can tell me what clock rate my SE’s Warp 030 is running at but I plan to find out in the near future.

M68030 at 50MHz

However, an accelerator alone is not enough to explain the speed. A 68040 is generally understood to be 2x to 3x the speed of an equivalently clocked 68030. Given this, if I assume that my SE has the fastest AE accelerator that was made for it, the 50 MHz model, then the performance of the SE should be in the same rough neighborhood as a 25 MHz 68040 based Macintosh. Happily, I have one of those, a Quadra 660AV, and I measured its boot performance: 63s from the end of its power on RAM tests to full desktop, approximately 3 times longer than the boot time of the Mac SE.

Astute users will quickly point out that this is not an apples to apples comparison (pun intended!). There might be RAM speed differences, there might be hard drive performance differences, and there definitely was a pronounced OS difference: the Quadra 660AV is running Mac OS 7.6.1 while the Mac SE is running Macintosh System 6.0.7.

System 6 About Dialog

This last difference is the one I want to focus in on, because I believe it is the true story here. I wasn’t really sure how to calibrate the impact of this difference however. System 6 is nearly a wholly unknown territory to me. My experience with Macs started with the early versions of System 7 and moved on from there.

I did a little web research and confirmed what the SE’s boot time suggested – System 6 is a speed demon, and despite its age, is still remarkably capable relative to its successor, System 7. System 6 ruled the Macintosh world from 1988 until System 7’s debut in 1991. During that period of time, Apple’s CPUs were clocked in the 8 MHz to 16 MHz region, RAM was expensive and not provided in generous amounts and hard drives were sized in the 10 MB to 100 MB range. In short, computers were relatively limited in the resources they provided, and their operating systems had to be in step with the constrained platforms they were deployed on. System 6 was light because it had to be!

This begins to explain the performance of my Macintosh SE. When you couple a (for the time) beefy 50 MHz 68030 with a light OS that is more in step with a 16 MHz CPU, you begin to experience real speed.

I decided to test this idea by pairing System 6 with a more typical machine of its day. I settled on the Macintosh IIsi as the test machine, a decision guided by the need to meet the very pragmatic requirements of (a) being reasonably available on eBay these days, (b) supporting System 6 and finally, (c) being clocked in the 16 MHz to 20 MHz range.

Macintosh IIsi

I will report on the results of my testing in an upcoming post. For now however, I will note that this particular post may not occur for a little while. The Macintosh IIsi I purchased on eBay almost immediately introduced me to one of the truly vexing problems associated with working on really early Macs – blown capacitors on the motherboard. My next post already has the working title of “(Un)Happy Macs”, and will concern itself with the issues I encountered, and how they were overcome.

Unhappy Mac

Also of some interest, as I started to dig into System 6, was the very real problem of loading software onto a non-networked older Macintosh that supports only dual sided 800K floppies, a media type that has long since disappeared from both Macintosh support and public consciousness. I found two interesting workarounds and will share those in another upcoming post.

Box of 800K Floppies (398x356)

Until then, my limited work with it to date suggests that System 6 is a remarkable OS, so light that it practically floats, and yet so capable that it will run all the major applications of its day in the blink of an eye, and even get you on the internet! If you haven’t tried it out, it may be worth your time. More to come…