Getting Software Onto A System 6 Mac

Your “new” System 6 Macintosh has finally arrived, and you have either loaded it with System 6 yourself, or more likely than not, it has arrived preloaded with it.

Macintosh_IIsi

Now you are eager to start loading your own favorite software onto it, but right away you are faced with a serious disconnect.

The Problem:

Today’s world speaks CDs, DVDs and websites, but your System 6 Mac speaks floppies, and only floppies, at least when it first arrives …and not just any floppies …typically it will arrive equipped with the long forgotten dual-sided 800K floppy. Given the complete technical discontinuity between how you can deliver software to your new Mac and how it is able to receive it, you clearly have a problem. Getting software onto your new System 6 Mac may not be as easy as it might have seemed!

To compound this problem, a lot of the software that can be downloaded from the web for System 6 arrives as .dsk, .img or .image floppy disk image files. More often than not, these have to be “burned” to an actual floppy in order to be installed, and of course, on more occasions than not, these floppy images are going to be for 800K floppies.

Box of 800K Floppies (398x356)

Of course, you don’t have 800K floppies, nor the floppy drive to load them with. Your new Mac has an 800K floppy drive of course, but you have to load the disks you are going to feed into it. How will you do this? There are lots of interesting solutions to this problem, but a chicken and egg conundrum quickly emerges. Many of these solutions are enabled by some of the very software that you are trying to load onto your Mac, but to get that software onto your System 6 Mac, you need the solutions they implement already in place! …sort of a Catch-22!

Available Tools to Solve the Problem With:

So, what tools do you have available to bridge this technology chasm?

800K Floppy: The troublesome 800K floppy is one such tool. If you have access to another vintage Mac that supports this format, and is already loaded with some of the software you need, you have a viable avenue. Alternately, if you have access to a vintage Mac that has a dedicated external floppy port, you can surf over to eBay and purchase one of these drives, and a box of the 800K floppies to go with it. Both are readily available on eBay, and for a reasonable price. Then you can load software onto 800K floppies and walk them over to your new System 6 Mac – SneakerNet!

SneakerNet III

Networking: Networking is another tool. If you can network your new System 6 Mac to one or more other vintage Macs that you may have, you can transfer the software you want to load via AppleTalk. Of course this means that you need to load Apple’s Network Software Installer (NSI) v1.4.5 (the last version that was compatible with System 6) and then MacTCP onto your new System 6 Mac.

At this point, I am sure that I don’t need to say that the floppy drive on your new Mac is the only way to accomplish this, and so you need to purchase floppies with these components on them. NSI floppies show up periodically on eBay, again at a reasonable price, and so this is an option. Alternately, perhaps you have an NSI floppy lying around from days gone by. MacTCP is a bit more troublesome, since while it is readily available on the web, it does not show up by itself on eBay.

Chooser

CiderPress: Another possible tool is to use a Windows XP PC (yes, a PC, not a Mac) to write the floppies you need. There is a WinXP program called CiderPress that will do this, but it will only work for 1.4MB floppies, since no WinXP PC will have the hardware to write the long obsolete 800K format. You CAN write 800K floppy images onto 1.4MB floppies using CiderPress, but I have not had much luck with the results. I am told that it works – it just hasn’t for me. Your mileage may vary!

CiderPress 01

Zip-100 Drive: By far the simplest tool is the once ubiquitous Zip-100 drive and disks. If you can support a Zip-100 drive on any other computer you have access to, Mac or PC, and you have an external SCSI Zip-100 drive that you can attach to the SCSI port on your new System 6 Mac (all of them will have such a port), you have a great means for transferring software in volume.

External Zip-100

It is not quite that simple of course. You need to load the Iomega Zip Driver v4.2 (NOT to be confused with the IomegaWare package of the same or similar number – these two sets of software do not have harmonized version numbering!) onto your new System 6 Mac, and so once again you need to get that onto a floppy disk. Happily, this driver is very small and can be transferred easily this way, ONCE you have a way of writing HFS floppies. In this case, it can be 800K or the more available 1.4MB floppy – the driver is small enough that it doesn’t really matter.

There is one big catch here though if you are going to use a Mac to accomplish the transfer of files onto the Zip disk. As I reported in a very early post in this blog, Mac OS Standard is Not So Standard After All, you will need a Mac running Mac OS X 10.5.8 Leopard, or lower to load the Zip disks. Higher versions of Mac OS X will read Zip disks in HFS format, but they will not write them in this format. So, you are back to needing a classic Mac again, or a newer G4/G5 machine running a version of Mac OS X up to but not higher than 10.5.8 Leopard.

Linux! There is one more tool/approach I will mention, but I will not delve into it in any detail. You CAN use Linux to read and write HFS formatted floppies and Zip disks, and to do the equivalent of making DiskCopy sector-by-sector copies of the same.

linux

However, I am guessing that the average reader of this blog will not also have an interest in Linux systems, nor have one or more of them just lying around and waiting to help in the accomplishment of the above. If you do however, and you want to try this route, you will need to install the HFS file system into your Linux distribution, and also become familiar with the incredibly flexible “dd” command. Linux can be challenging though – good luck!

Combining the Tools to Load Your System 6 Mac:

Setting Linux aside, lets look at how we can put the other tools together in various configurations in order to accomplish the desired result of getting software onto your new System 6 Macintosh.

Configuration 1: You have another vintage Mac whose floppy drive supports the 800K format. In this case, you can transfer software in painfully small 800K parcels until you get your new System 6 Mac up to where you want it. As mentioned above, this method is often referred to as SneakerNet, for the hopefully obvious reasons.

Configuration 2: You have the vintage Mac above, which supports 800K floppies, AND you have a one or more external Zip drives. In this case, you can use that 800K floppy just once, to transfer Iomega’s Zip Driver v4.2 onto your new System 6 Mac and then restart. From then on, you can transfer massive numbers of files (relative to the standard of the day) via 100MB Zip disks. This is SneakerNet on steroids!

Configuration 3: You have Configuration 2 AND you have a G4/G5 machine running Mac OS X Tiger or Leopard. In this case, you can use the above vintage Mac to get the Zip driver onto your System 6 Mac and then use Zip disks thereafter, loading them from the external Zip drive connected to your G4/G5.

This was my situation with my new Macintosh IIsi. I had a Quadra 840AV (running Mac OS 8.1) that supported both 1.4MB and 800K floppy formats. I used it to put the Iomega Zip driver onto an 800K floppy, used that floppy to load the driver onto the Macintosh IIsi, and then was able to switch to Zip disks for the rest of my software loading, with those Zip disks being loaded from my PowerMac G5.

Configuration 4: You have another vintage Mac that you can network your System 6 Mac to. Now you just have to install System 6’s networking software and then you can use AppleShare to transfer files from your other vintage Mac. To enable this approach, you need to find Apple’s Network Software Installer (NSI) v1.4.5 … on a floppy unfortunately… and install it on your System 6 Mac. You may also need to install MacTCP as well, if you are planning on using Ethernet networking. From there on, you can network to your other vintage Mac (using either LocalTalk or EtherTalk, as you wish) and you are off to the races.

Apple NSI

Now of course, getting NSI onto a floppy can be easy, or it can be tough. It can be easy if you have managed to gain access to an existing NSI floppy, perhaps because you have one from days past, or maybe one came with your new System 6 Mac, or you were lucky enough to be able to buy one on eBay (I took this last course). It can be hard if none of the above apply and you have to find a non Macintosh way to burn an NSI .image file onto a floppy. In this case, the Windows XP CiderPress program I mentioned above can come to your aid, provided you have a Windows XP machine to run it on, and the time and the patience to figure out how to accomplish your intended task via CiderPress’ hopelessly non-intuitive user interface.

Configuration 5: Nothing, Nada, Zero: You have no other classic Macs to help you out (and thus you need to burn 800K floppies via CiderPress or like utilities) AND to really complicate matters, your new System 6 Macintosh supports ONLY 800K floppies. In this case, you are in a real pickle, since any Windows XP machines that you might run CiderPress on will only be able to support 1.4MB floppies. Your only option at this point may be to fall back to buying some premade floppies from web sites such as http://www.rescuemyclassicmac.com, which specialize in solving this very problem.

RescueMyClassicMac.com

What About Using A CD-ROM?

Wait a minute, you may be thinking to yourself… what about using a CD-ROM to accomplish the loading of software onto the new System 6 machine?

AppleCD300e

Well, that is a good question, but the idea is fraught with just a few perils:

1/ The CD-ROM was not yet widely available during the reign of System 6, and so you will find very little (if any) System 6 software available via this media.

2/ You also will not find any System 6 capable machines that come with a built in CD-ROM drive. CD-ROMs simply were not part of the typical hardware lineup of the day. Happily, Apple (and others) did eventually produce external SCSI CD-ROMs that can be attached to your System 6 system, but this doesn’t really get you too far ahead – see the next peril.

3/ If you DO have an external SCSI CD-ROM that you can attach to your system, you still need to load the Apple CD-ROM support software onto the System 6 machine before it will read the CD-ROMs in question. Unfortunately, this puts you back to the problems and solutions above.

4/ Finally, to use a CD-ROM to do general-purpose software loading, you are going to have to load that software onto a CD-ROM, and thus will need to be familiar with burning CD-ROM ISO images. This is a whole separate topic that this post will not go into at this point.

As I said, just a few perils… and enough of them that I did not even consider this as a viable avenue.

Tools, Problems and Perils – Sheesh! What is the Best Approach?

SO… how do you best approach the problem of loading software onto your new System 6 Mac? Well, as I said in my last post on Getting Started With System 6, if you are new to the world of vintage Macs, I would not recommend System 6 as the best place to start. Start with a later version (I recommend Mac OS 8.1 specifically), and a matching classic Mac to run it on, and then backtrack to System 6 once you have that environment running cleanly. There are large numbers of such machines available even today on eBay, making this a very sensible and economical option.

Why a later Mac and Mac OS 8.1? The reasons are many, but the key ones are that later Macs will come with a built in CD-ROM drive and full software support for it, preloaded networking, and often, the Iomega support already included. Mac OS 8.1 is a particularly good choice because it straddles the gap between earlier versions of AppleTalk over EtherTalk and the later versions of AppleTalk over IP, making it a perfect bridge machine between the older and newer vintage Mac worlds.

Of course it doesn’t hurt that Mac OS 8.1 is also the final version of Mac OS that will run on 68K Macs, making it incredibly flexible irrespective of the machine you chose. It also doesn’t hurt that Mac OS 8.1 is fairly “modern” version of Mac OS, overcoming many of the “peculiarities” of its earlier predecessors.

Conclusion:

So, there you have it. As I said initially, getting software onto your new System 6 Mac can be really easy, or it can be really tough. I recommend attacking this problem from the vantage point of having an existing classic Mac with 800K floppy support already in place. This gives you the most direct set of approaches to accomplish the task at hand. Good luck!

This post composed on a PowerMac G5 running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger

 

Advertisements

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.

 

(Un)HappyMacs – A Mac IIsi and Gooey Caps

My recent interest in Macintosh System 6 led me to acquire a new Mac for the HappyMacs lab – a System 6 capable Macintosh with a larger screen (14” or more) than the rather diminutive one available on the Mac SE that was, up until this time, the only machine in the lab running System 6.

Macintosh_IIsi

As I explained in my last post, I ultimately selected a Macintosh IIsi as my new “System 6 Engine” for the very pragmatic reasons that it was still relatively available on eBay, it did not cost the proverbial “arm and a leg” and it supported System 6 natively. Regrettably, I ran into trouble with this new acquisition almost immediately, and it took me more than just a little while to work through the universe of potential problems and zero in on what was actually going wrong.

Unhappy Mac - Color

As advertized, the machine arrived without a hard drive, but it did include a working floppy drive, and so it was immediately bootable. I have System 6 boot floppies from a separate purchase on eBay, and so I popped one in the floppy drive and powered up the machine for the first time. Unfortunately, it failed to boot (for reasons I did not understand at the time), and then to make matters worse, failed to eject the floppy. The mechanical floppy eject button did not do the job it was designed for, and I was reduced to gently prying the floppy out of the drive with a pair of needle-nosed pliers. This was not a good start!

I eventually did get the floppy out, and then worked through a succession of other sets of System 6 boot media until I finally experienced success… well, sort of. The machine finally did boot into one of the floppies I fed to it and presented a functioning System 6 desktop. Success! I thought… but only fleetingly. I quickly realized that the on-screen mouse pointer did not move when I moved the mouse. OK… lots of possible reasons for that… Bad mouse? Bad keyboard (the mouse was plugged into an ADB port on the keyboard, which was then plugged into the ADB port at the back of the IIsi)? Bad ADB cable? Bad system unit ADB port? Something else?

I slowly and methodically worked through all of the above, experiencing the occasional successful boot, only to be greeted by an inevitably “frozen” desktop in its aftermath. Eventually, I ruled out the mouse, the keyboard, the cable, the ADB port on the system unit, and even the monitor itself and was therefore left with only one possibility… something wrong with the system unit itself.

Mac IIsi Opened System Unit

That’s when I noticed “the goo”. Huh? …you are saying to yourself, “goo”? What in the world is “the goo”? Well, I am going to tell you! Anyone who enjoys the world of vintage Macintoshes has heard of the need to “recap” motherboards from time to time. This occasional necessity stems from the penchant of some aging motherboard capacitors (“caps”) to explode after many years of faithful service, severely compromising their intended function AND simultaneously spreading the electrolytic compound within them (the “goo”) all over their near vicinity on the motherboard.

Being aware of this, and starting to realize that the machine would never run for more than about a minute or so without freezing, no matter what I did (a behavior that sounded like a “cap” issue to me) I got out a flashlight and a magnifying glass and examined the motherboard in close detail. Sure enough, there was electrolytic “goo” on the motherboard in multiple locations. Sheesh! I had a “blown motherboard”! Below is a picture of one such site to give you a feeling for what this looks like.

Goo Site

I have bought no small number of vintage Macs on eBay and I have never received a bad one until now. I contacted the seller and he was very gracious about the whole thing. We agreed on a residual price for the re-usable parts in the machine and he refunded the difference. So, no damage had been done financially, BUT I had no “System 6 engine” either.

Recapping a motherboard is beyond both my capabilities and the facilities I have at hand, but I decided to try cleaning the goo off, hoping against reason that it was perhaps just shorting out some of the motherboard traces it was spread across. Such cleaning at least is easily done. All you need is some common rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs (such as Q-tips), both available at any local drug store (if not in your own medicine cabinet already!). Working slowly and carefully, I cleaned up all the goo sites I found. Below is a pic of a typical site I worked on:

Cleaning Goo

Eventually, I worked through a small bundle of Q-tips and was done. Would it work any better now? I powered it on, it booted up successfully… and it stayed booted! The mouse kept working and I was able to perform a successful shutdown for the first time ever. Thinking that I might have had the incredible good luck of dodging the “recap” bullet, I connected up the hard drive that was waiting to be added to the machine and powered it back on. This particular hard drive had a previously configured System 7 on it (to be replaced with System 6 as soon as possible, of course) and after a lengthy boot process, it presented its desktop and awaited my command.

I poked around in the control panels for a while, increasing the disk cache size and then enabling color for the display, and was honestly thinking to myself “well, this was too easy” when the mouse pointer froze once more! With a sinking heart, I tried again – no luck at all. No life at all. It would not boot. Here we go again…

To make a long story short, I discovered through trial and error that my motherboard cleaning efforts seem to have added about a minute or two to the system’s successful run time before it would again freeze. And freeze it would… and still does. Like clockwork, any session longer than two to three minutes results in a frozen machine. Unplug it and let it sit for about 4 hours and I can get another few minutes of run time out of it before it freezes again.

My conclusion? First, the motherboard definitely needs to be recapped, a roughly $125 undertaking when shipping in included. Second, the motherboard may not be the only issue. The power supply may also need to be recapped. I did not SEE any goo when I took it apart and examined it carefully, but that does not mean that there are not failed components in it. The time factor here (two the three minutes and then freeze) feels to me like how long it takes a damaged cap to either fully charge up or fully discharge – I am not sure which.

So, for now I have set this entire machine to the side and have purchased another one on eBay. It will be delivered shortly and I will try once again to establish a working System 6 test machine.

In the meantime, what can be learned from this experience of an unhappy Mac in the HappyMacs lab? Well I for one have learned to never again buy a Mac on eBay whose listing does not include pictures of the machine running its OS, and whose listing does not also include wording to the effect that it is fully operational. Otherwise, it is a case of caveat emptor (buyer beware)!

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…