iBook G4 – a Life Well Lived

Sometimes my vintage and professional Mac lives collide, and I wind up working on a consulting job involving a system old enough to be in the Mac Museum. Such was the case this week with an iBook G4 I encountered, which appears to have had quite a life.

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This particular system is a 2003 12-inch iBook G4. It started life as the business laptop for a professional dancer, and endured a decade of being lugged around the world and used as a daily driver in the field before it got too old to be of use as a primary computer.

It then passed on to her husband, a painter, to use in his studio (an outside shed) for displaying and projecting photographs. Unheated in winter, un-air conditioned in summer, the little iBook lasted another several years while acquiring the most amazing coat of random paint droplets I’ve ever seen on a computer.

A few weeks ago, destiny called. My clients’ house was nearly hit by a lightning strike. Fortunately the bolt hit the ground nearby instead but still fried some electronics, including the iBook G4 in the backyard studio. After taking stock (nobody was hurt) and dealing with insurance, I was called in to help recover photos from the backup drive and erase any data which might remain on the internal hard drive.

Now to be honest, the iBook has never been one of my favorite Macs. The G3 model introduced WiFi (Airport) and translucent plastics to Mac laptops, but the top heavy design looked like a toilet bowl seat painted in garish day-glo colors. The all white rectangular G4 models were much more civilized, but getting the hard drive out of a G4 iBook is an unnecessarily difficult, swear word evoking exercise.

However they are designed for rough use and built like tanks, so on a hunch I decided to try booting using a different AC adapter before tearing apart the computer. Lo and behold it started on the first try! Chime, a slow boot cycle, and then a dim desktop appeared behind the flecks of paint. I just had to bring the brightness up and the system was a good as – err – a decade and a half old computer.

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I recovered the remainder of my clients’ data, then erased the hard drive. I think this iBook can finally be retired in honor: truly a Life Well Lived. However, it may now qualify as a work of art given the extremely unique paint job it proudly sports!

The Macintosh Wayback Machine

How many generations of Mac technology (both hardware and software) can you cram into a single Macintosh? Inquiring minds need to know! I haven’t nearly hit the limit yet, but here’s a good start towards answering the question. Introducing the Macintosh Wayback Machine:Mac-Wayback-Machine-1-SM

• 24″ Intel iMac running OS X El Capitan
• Apple ADB Extended Keyboard II
• Apple 9-pin mouse model M0100
• Mac OS X Snow Leopard (VMWare)
• Mac OS 9 (SheepShaver)
• System 6.0.8 (Mini vMac)

I clearly have too much time on my hands, but this just had to be done.

The 24″ Intel iMac is one of my favorite designs. It has a nice big screen, is fairly easy to service (by Apple standards), and has been upgraded with a zippy SSD. These machines contain FireWire ports along with USB2 connectors so it’s easy to connect external drives from multiple Mac eras.

The ADB Extended Keyboard II is legendary among Mac users – they don’t make ’em like this anymore. It’s huge by modern standards and takes up way more desk space than required, but has a deep, firm mechanical typing action that would make a modern MacBook Pro blush with envy. A Griffin iMate ADB-USB adapter connects the beast to the iMac, which was a common adapter back in the day.

I knew this project had to happen when I learned about RetroConnector’s 9-pin to USB adapter for the Apple M0100 Mouse. This device allows the original Macintosh mouse to work with any USB equipped computer. Visually this is brilliant, and really adds to the gestalt of the project. In use the geriatric mouse is somewhat pokey on a big screen and less accurate than modern optical mice – but hey, it works! (Update: RetroConnector has told me the tracking speed is adjustable in the adapter – perfect :)

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The system uses a semi-transparent power cord from a first generation G3 iMac. I would have used a beige Mac Plus cord but its right angle plug doesn’t work well with the newer iMac’s round recessed port.

Of course a computer is more than just hardware, and the software side of the Mac is what we’ve interacted with for decades. Apple revises the Mac OS every year now and over time drops compatibility for older applications (Classic, PowerPC, 32-bit, etc.) Virtualization and emulation solve part of this problem.

OS X El Capitan 10.11.6 runs all current Mac OS software (both 32 and 64 bit), modern web browsers, iTunes, iCloud, etc. It’s a good current OS version and the last supported release for this machine.

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In OS X Lion 10.7 Apple dropped support for running PowerPC apps. Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.8 was the last version to include this capability (Rosetta), so the Wayback Machine is running Snow Leopard Server inside VMWare to overcome this limitation. The setup allows the use of older OS X software such as Microsoft Office 2004, Adobe CS2 and obsolete versions of the Apple Airport Utility.

To access Classic apps I installed SheepShaver – inside Snow Leopard – running Mac OS 9.0.4. This emulator supports much pre-OS X era software as long as it doesn’t require virtual memory. It isn’t as well integrated as Classic mode, but it’s cool to see Mac OS 9 booting on your Intel machine!

Why stop there? Mini vMac is another venerable tool which emulates a Macintosh Plus and runs on many platforms (Macs, PC, Linux, etc.) Using disk image files you can run anything from the original Mac System Software through System 7.5.5. I have System 6.0.8 installed along with first generation releases of MacPaint, MacDraw and MacWrite. Talking Moose still gives me a laugh!

The deeper you go into emulation the slower things get. Snow Leopard inside VMWare runs quite well. SheepShaver inside a virtualized Snow Leopard runs decently, you could use it to get work done. Mini vMac inside virtualized Snow Leopard is somewhat slow. Fortunately I can run both SheepShaver and Mini vMac directly under El Cap if needed.

When I woke up the morning following setup, the iMac’s screen was black and I heard a strange fluttering sound coming from the system. I thought the hardware was failing, but no, After Dark had started inside Mini vMac and was running Flying Toasters with sound enabled! Another blast from the past.

A fun little project, and one which I’m sure will grow with time.

A Rare Beast Captured: the JLPGA PowerBook 170

A new addition to the collection has recently arrived, one I’m quite excited about. Captured alive from the wilds of geekdom, the VMM is now the caretaker of an elusive JLPGA PowerBook 170 in all its multicolor glory.

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In 1992 Apple manufactured approximately 500 multi-colored PowerBook 170 models to commemorate the Japanese Ladies Professional Golf Association (JLPGA) tournament. This was during the John Sculley era so co-marketing promotions were common at the company.

The PowerBook 170 was quite a machine for it’s day. This first generation PowerBook replaced the older Macintosh Portable with a much smaller, lighter design, 9.8-inch active matrix display, 25MHz 68030 processor, up to 8MB of RAM, 2.5″ SCSI HD and a built-in modem. It was a favorite for business and professional users, and the form factor lasted several generations.

Personally, I remember having my first case of PowerBook Envy lusting after a colleague’s 170…

The JLPGA PowerBook 170 has the same innards as a standard PB170, this wasn’t a high performance model. Rather its rarity derives from the color case and that fact that only 500 are known to have been made. Replacing the standard battleship grey components are a dark blue palmrest and screen bezel, white top and bottom panels, yellow hinges, red sliding panels and green rotating feet. It is similar to the multicolor Apple logo color scheme and is really quite striking in appearance.

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Also unique about this PowerBook is the mixed Japanese-English keyboard. This was a promo item for Japan so you don’t often see these kinds of keyboards outside that region. I’ll need to find a Japanese version of System 7.1 to run on this puppy for completeness.

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The hinged door panel which covers the rear cable ports (missing on my unit) is also red in color. However this panel is something which gets lost on nearly all 100 series Powerbooks, and with one exception every JLPGA PB170 I’ve seen listed on eBay is missing the red rear door. This frequently lost panel may literally be one of the most rare parts Apple has ever produced!

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Like most PowerBook 170 models the VMM JLPGA experiences the infamous tunnel vision screen effect: after warming up the screen corners turn black and the display tunnels down to an oval window. Sadly this is a common problem on the 170 and no permanent fix is known.

As with all things, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. MacWorld magazine definitely appreciated it:

If you ever set your hands upon this colorful machine, you’ll have yourself quite a prize… Apple must have had a field day picking the colors for this machine. It sports a mostly blue body with a white lid and base, red battery doors and contrast sliders, yellow hinge caps and trackball, and green elevating feet. Other than all that, it appears to be a relatively unassuming PowerBook 170.

However Fortune magazine disagrees, calling it one of the six ugliest Apple products ever:

More the product of a questionable color scheme than poor industrial design, this commemorative Mac is extremely rare. Some 500 were made in honor of the JLPGA golf tournament in Japan.

Beautiful or garish, the JLPGA PowerBook 170 is a rare beast in the Mac collecting world. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to add this gem to my collection.

The Evolution of Computer User Interfaces

Over many decades the way we interact with computers has evolved from text based commands, to icons with point-and-click Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs), to todays touch and gesture based gadgets.

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The folks over at ATT Internet Service have created an interactive infographic to highlight how much has changed in the screens we look at – and interact with – every day. We’ve come a long way from Doug Englebart to the Apple watch!

Continue below for a single screen scrolling version.
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Classic Macintosh TV Commercials

The Vintage Mac Museum will be exhibiting again this year at the Vintage Computer Festival East, and I’m planning to bring my trusty Macintosh TV along to the show. As appropriate material to play I decided to put together a compilation of some of my favorite Macintosh TV Commercials from the 68k and PowerPC eras.

The spots included are:

• 1984 SuperBowl Commercial
• 1986 The Power to be Your Best
• 1991 Quadra Revolution
• 1995 Windows 95 Crowd Control
• 1997 Think Different “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”
• 1999 iMac G3 “Colors”
• 2003 iPod Silhouette Dancers
• 2003 PowerBook G4 Big Small
• 2002 Switch “Ellen Feiss”
• 2006 Get a Mac “Better Results”

Besides being enjoyable, the collection shows an interesting journey in advertising focus and style. After a dramatic introduction (1984), Apple focuses on enabling the individual ability to do more with new tools (Power to be Your Best, Quadra Revolution). The mid 1990s saw Apple taking potshots at Windows while marketshare shrank, then a dramatic call in 1997 to “Think Different” after Steve Jobs returned.

The colorful iMacs and musical iPod dancers showed how Apple was becoming friendlier, more than just a computer company. The word Computer was dropped from the corporate name. But the Mac was not (yet) forgotten: a humorous spot for the Big and Small PowerBook G4 computers shows the new laptop designs in a mobile computing market larger than the desktop space.

Following the Think Different campaign Apple ran several different series targeting Windows customers to move Mac: first the series of “Switch” ads (including cult favorite Ellen Feiss), followed by the “Get a Mac” spots with Justin Long and the wonderfully droll John Hodgman as the PC.

Some good stuff, in the days when Apple was still the underdog. And then the iPhone came…

The Miniature Mac Museum

As an active collector I suffer from the ailment which eventually affects most people who have this hobby: I am running out of space. Two bedrooms, half my living room (home office) and half the attic are taken up by Mac equipment, spare parts, memorabilia, etc.. I don’t want to move, but the collecting urge still burns hot, so I’ve started to downsize my Macs – literally! Welcome to the growing Miniature Mac Museum.

iMac Alarm Clocks

mini-imacs-smI was surprised to learn that many miniature Macs of different types and sizes exist. Some of the most popular seem to be iMac Alarm Clocks. Starting back in 1998, the iconic fruit-colored computers started the Mac’s resurgence under Steve Jobs. Apparently they also made good bedside accessories. Several vendors brought out combinations of alarm clocks, radios, calculators and probably a pencil sharpener or two for good measure. Quality varied and useability was mixed, but they are cute as can be. Safe to say these puppies were not sold as accessories in any actual Apple Stores.

timex-imac-1-smAmong the most accurate replicas were the Timex iMac alarm clocks made in 1999, which really do mirror the shape and colors of the second generation iMac DV slot loading models quite well. So well in fact that Apple forced Timex to stop production and had existing products pulled off the shelves (it must have been a massive midnight drugstore raid). Few units were sold, and as a consequence this little iClock has become one of the more rare Apple collectibles. Of course I now need to obtain all colors and styles of iMac alarm clocks available.

Strangely, flat panel iMacs never seem to have caught on among the underground replica alarm clock industry.

Doll House Computers

american-girl-performa-smAnother popular category of mini Macs are doll house computers. Back in 1996 the American Girl doll company brought out this miniature replica Macintosh Performa, available complete with computer desk and chair. The mouse and keyboard are clickable, and after inserting a battery you can cycle through various different screens. The details are pretty accurate on this model, down to the colored Apple logos, ventilation lines and included miniature mouse pad. American Girl dolls were popular for years, and these mini Performas are regularly available on eBay. Dolls not included.

Today 1/12 scale seems to be the format of choice for doll house replicas, at least those I found on eBay. imax-and-mbpro2-smHere’s another set of dollhouse computers, a tiny little aluminum iMac and a Retina MacBook Pro. These are simple flat plastic parts with decals, not nearly as detailed as the mini iMacs or Performa, but still quite cute in their own way. The Mavericks desktop graphics are accurate, and I love the fact that the product boxes were included. The larger box reads IMAX on the top instead of iMac (which is actually just a different company’s trademark infraction).

Jonathan Zufi’s great book Iconic serves as a fitting base for these rather iconic models.

Tiny Working Replicas

nanomac2-smMiniature Macs (or other Apple products) can also be actual tiny working computers. What I call my nanoMac is a 3D printed classic Mac from RetroConnector containing a dock and USB charging cable for the 6th generation (square) iPod nano. Slide in an iPod and pull up the clock app for a quick check of the time, or add a few photos of old Mac desktops for a realistic vintage look. This little replica has fooled several visitors to the Mac Museum while sitting on the computer speaker next to my iMac.

And last but not least, the PiXL is a working Lisa emulator. Co-created by Charles Mangin (of RetroConnector) and Adam Sommerfield as a way to keep the Macintosh XL (aka Lisa 2) computer alive for younger generations, this tiny gem contains a Raspberry Pi computer inside another 3D printed case (Lisa 1 or Lisa 2/Mac XL versions avaialble). After booting into Raspbian Linux the user can run either the Mini vMac or LisaEM emulators and experience early 1980s computing in all its glory. Even better, this miniature Lisa has more USB ports than most modern Macs!

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My Steve Jobs bobblehead looks out over it all, sighing in shame at what his enterprise has become…

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