As a potential destination for disposing of old, unwanted Apple crap – err, I mean as Curator of the Vintage Mac Museum – I am contacted fairly regularly by folks who are looking for good homes for their old equipment. A few months ago one such query came from a fellow with a few old Mac drives, several piles of software on floppy disks, and one never-say-die behemoth called the Apple LaserWriter IIg.
Back in the day Apple sold a variety of peripherals along with computers – printers, scanners, cameras, monitors (they still sell these), etc.. The original LaserWriter was a groundbreaking piece of equipment, launching the desktop publishing revolution in conjunction with the Mac Plus and a new font format called Adobe PostScript.
The LaserWriter begat the LaserWriter II, which was offered in many different flavors: IISC, IINT, IINTX (with special high speed RAM), IIf and IIg. Using Canon print engines and built like tanks, these workhorses helped many businesses and graphic designers earn their livings.
I’d been looking for a LaserWriter of this vintage for some time to help with the Mac Museum’s file transfer and conversion efforts. While most old formats can be converted, a few are rare or restricted enough that the only options available are taking screen snapshots or printing to hardcopy. Since you can’t print from a Mac Plus to anything modern, a vintage LaserWriter would be the next best thing.
The LaserWriter IIg measures 20.2 inches wide, 18.7 inches deep and 8.7 inches tall – not including space for the paper tray which sticks out one end. This is substantially larger than most modern printers. It also weighs 45 pounds, which makes it a joy to get in and out of your car and up to the second floor. Nevertheless I wrangled this puppy from a suburban Massachusetts garage back to the VMM, blew out the dust, hooked it up via LocalTalk phone connectors, and printed out a few pages. Twenty years after it was manufactured the thing still worked, albeit with a few creaks and groans.
Fast forward a few months, and a job comes in to Oakbog involving Microsoft Word v3 files with a combination of English and Ukrainian text. The owner sent along a copy of the Cyrillic font he had used with the original files, so I added this to my old Mac’s Font folder and was able to open and convert the data to modern Word .doc format.
A few days after I emailed things back my client contacted me again. Apparently his newer Mac and printer could not render the old fonts properly, so he asked if I could print out copies of the files containing the Cyrillic text.
Piece of cake, I thought – LaserWriter II to the rescue! I installed the Cyrillic font on my PowerBook 540c, selected the LaserWriter via the Chooser, and started to print out a document. The green light started blinking, a piece of paper got pulled from the tray, then BAM – the red paper jam light turns on. Feh. Well, some challenges are to be expected from twenty year old technology.
I opened the printer and pulled out the page – this was no small feat, as I have the printer installed on the floor underneath a small table and the cover can only open a few inches in this location. Close things up, try again, another jam. Frustrating, as it had worked fine just a few weeks before.
After several rounds of paper clearing, a few whacks to the side of the unit, blowing out dust with a can of compressed air and several “choice words” said to its face, I finally got the unit printing again. I think the compressed air was what did the trick, probably some dust on an internal sensor. Slowly and methodically I printed out about 200 pages of Ukrainian text. The room now had that familiar odor of hot plastic and fused toner we all used to know so well, but the job was complete.
I turned off the printer, had a glass of wine (or three), and mailed the pages back to my client. The LaserWriter may now be fine forever, or it may die again tomorrow – hard to tell with these old machines. One thing’s for sure, they don’t make ’em like they used to. Which is a mixed blessing…