I Just Want To See It Go To a Good Home

In the Macintosh community, old Macs are special, personal. There was always something notable about being a Mac user, whether in the 68k Glory Days, the Beleaguered Apple Computer era, or early in the Second Jobs Dynasty. Our Macs weren’t just tools but visceral parts of our lives. Electronic friends. We sacrificed to afford them, and sacrificed to keep using them in the face of adversity. As such you don’t want to just dispose of your old computer, you want to see it to go to a good home.

Joe-Story-collection-smMac friend, I was just about to take a bunch of older Macs to the dumpster or to Goodwill. Are you interested in anything more for your museum? Thanks for what you’re doing to keep antique Macs alive.

Mac users go out of their way, often at their own expense, to help make this happen. Old technology does not necessarily mean obsolete. The Vintage Mac Museum tends to get several emails per month from people with old Macs looking for new homes.

I have been a devoted Mac user since 1988 and have every piece of Mac hardware that I have ever purchased. I detest the thought of discarding this wonderful (but vintage) hardware in the recycle bin. If you have a need for [any of this] I would be willing to give them away.

Do you know of a good home for this printer? I have the original box and packaging. I will donate it as I don’t think it would be worth a whole lot of money. I just put a new cartridge in it back in the winter. The things we Mac people will do… :)

By definition museums have an interest in giving good homes to old things, and I’ve probably acquired more than half of my collection in this fashion. This week I received a large donation of items from someone not wanting to see their historical importance nor his collecting efforts go to waste.

Joe Story started as a Mac user back in the late 1980s with a Macintosh Plus. The Plus was perhaps the truest incarnation of the original Macintosh design, utilizing the iconic compact form factor and breakthrough graphical interface but finally having enough RAM (1MB) and disk storage capability (via SCSI hard drives) to make the thing actually useful.

Over time Joe’s appreciation of the significance of the original Macintosh increased, along with related hardware and software of the period. He began to collect Apple items from the mid 1980s, a piece here and there. Eventually his collection included a Lisa, 128k and 512k Macs, rare early hard drives, vintage software, and a wealth of books detailing how to use and repair these old systems.

Lisa-and-Macs

And after a while – like most collectors – he found he didn’t have enough room for everything. Much of it wound up packed in boxes or kept in storage rooms. Yup, been there, done that!

A few weeks ago Joe learned that he had pancreatic cancer. It’s incurable, and he doesn’t have long to live. Understandably, this brings focus and clarity to one’s efforts. Along with attending to personal matters Joe felt it was important that his archive of vintage Apple items go to a place where they could be appreciated and enjoyed, rather than recycled or otherwise disposed of.

Boxed-and-Wrapped-smSerendipitously Joe and I live in the same area, and he knew about my collecting efforts. After a brief discussion we arranged to meet, and with his wife’s help emptied out a few storage bins. Most of the items were boxed or wrapped, so we opened many of them up before loading into the car in order that Joe could experience everything again. Along the way we had a good chat reminiscing about computing days past and old Apple things.

Since my house is already overflowing with vintage Apple items, I try not to accumulate too much additional stuff. But this was a special case. My cat Fudge reluctantly gave his approval as I hauled everything inside.

The photo at the top of this post shows many of the items after unpacking. This is a serious collection of gear, which includes the following:

• a Lisa 2 with two ProFile disk drives, original Lisa mouse, Lisa Office System 7/7 and all manuals
• a Macintosh 128k with Tecmar serial hard drive, and a Mac 512k with HD20 floppy-based hard drive
• two Macintosh Plus models with numerous keyboards, mice, numeric keypad, etc.
• the original packing box for a 128k Mac, with all inner sleeves and numeric keypad box
• vintage boxed software from Apple, Microsoft, Lotus and other notable period vendors
• multiple boxes of books on using and repairing old Macs; 1983 Byte magazine introducing the Lisa
Approaching-Macintosh-smplus: a Mac training book with Bloom County artwork on the cover!

I am honored to take possession of these items, and be able to help under the circumstances. Some things will go into the Vintage Mac Museum, others will be passed along to others who can make use of or appreciate them. Apple geeks like myself will help propagate the lineage, and ensure that this gear does indeed go to good homes.

So thank you very much Joe, for your contributions to the collection. And all the best to you and yours. We wish you well.

Remembering the Lisa with a PiXL

PiXL-with-Apple-smOne quick way to any collector’s heart is to create miniature models of their objects of affection. Even better if the miniature reproductions work. And if the items happen to be seminal pieces of Apple computing history, just tell me where to sign up!

Introducing the PiXL. This miniature marvel is an homage to the Apple Lisa and its later variant, the Macintosh XL. A 3D printed case houses a Raspberry Pi 2 and small LCD screen, and utilizes an external USB keyboard and mouse. Running Raspbian – a variant of Linux optimized for the little piece of silicon fruit – both Macintosh and Lisa emulators are available to run on the system. What a geek’s dream!

Naturally I had to have one. To learn more about the story behind this effort I contacted the creator of the PiXL, Adam Sommerfield. We corresponded via email from his home in the UK:

“I’d had a curiosity about Apple and Macintosh since when I was young. The thing was, back in the day the Macintosh compared to say a Commodore 64 was very expensive – certainly outside the budget of someone growing up in Sutton, Nottinghamshire in the 80s! It was after searching around for pictures of various models that I spotted something called a Macintosh XL.”

Ah yes, the Macintosh XL. For those not familiar, this model started life as the Lisa 2, the second version of the Lisa containing a 3.5-inch floppy disk instead of dual 5.25-inch Twiggy drives. When sales of the Lisa slowed after the Mac launched, Apple tweaked the ROM and installed Mac System Software in an environment called MacWorks. The Macintosh XL was functionally equivalent to a Mac Plus but with a larger screen. It was beguiling to Sommerfield:

“I absolutely loved the design! It seems to just exude everything about the early computers with the beige colour, grill lines on the front, sides and back, built in monitor and perched on its stands. The more I read about it the more I got sucked into the whole story of the product, the original Apple Lisa version, the team that built it, the similarities but also conflict with Macintosh and that team.”

apple-lisa-logo

These days obtaining a Lisa or Macintosh XL is not easy or cheap – non-working units sell for several hundred dollars, working models in the thousands. The large size and weight is also an issue. Sommerfield thought it would be nice if other people could enjoy the Mac XL experience at a low cost, and his solution was to utilize a Raspberry Pi 2 with emulation software, housed in a small case that resembled the original.

And thus the name: PiXL

Now if anybody knows how to build working miniature computer replicas, it’s Charles Mangin. His online store RetroConnector is a veritable wonderland of tiny retro Apple gear (Macs, Apple II, disk drives, mice) all made with custom 3D printed cases. Sommerfield found out about Mangin’s efforts and they started working together. Mangin picks up the story:

“Adam initiated the whole thing by asking if I could model a miniature Lisa similar to the other Apples I’ve been selling on my Etsy store for a while now. Since I don’t own a Lisa, I created the models from photos and scanned reference materials on the Internet. [Adam] knew it was going to require a Pi 2 to run the emulator Ray had ported, so I built the model around that, and found a compatible display the right size to include.”

PiXL-sm

Using the 3D printed cases, the PiXL is available in both Lisa 1 and Lisa 2/Mac XL configurations. The reproduced detail is fantastic, right down to the logos, lights and disk drive recesses. An SD card containing the software gets inserted and ejected via the (lower) floppy drive slot, and power comes via an attached USB cable. On the right side of the case are an ethernet port and 4 USB ports.

You know, this little Lisa replica has more ports than most modern Apple products! That’s just not right…

Once booted two emulation environments are available to run: miniVmac for the Macintosh XL experience, or (in a more limited form) LisaEm to run the Lisa Office System. Sommerfield has been working with Ray Arachelian, the creator of LisaEm, to get the emulator ported across to Raspbian (versions exist for many operating systems). This must now be the tiniest Lisa emulator in existence.

Sommerfield summed up the final result in a fittingly British way: absolutely brilliant!

But beyond the cool factor, why all this effort? Sommerfield:

“Looking around the web there are a few sites that have Lisa content, but most of them appear a little basic. My plan is to put a site together that focuses 100% on the Lisa, its successes and positive points, along with anecdotal content around the team that built it. You can read a lot on the Macintosh team but there isn’t much on the Lisa team (though I appreciate there was some crossover). I’m determined to set up an Apple Lisa homage website and the PiXL will be available through [the site]. This will enable me to work on other content that helps raise the profile of the Lisa product and the story around it.”

The process of getting my PiXL up and running was actually a bit like getting my actual Lisa working – slow progress with long gaps. This isn’t a device for the impatient or technically faint of heart. It took over a month from the initial order date to a shipping unit as the 3D printed cases are custom made for each one. I had ordered a Lisa 1 version with a copy of LisaEm, and that software took several more weeks to create and ship from the UK. Upon receipt the internal LCD screen wasn’t recognized. Fixing this required use of an external monitor, installing additional device drivers, plus various and sundry command line troubleshooting.

PiXL-at-VMM-sm

Right now miniVmac runs well on the small screen, but LisaEm doesn’t scale correctly. It’s clear we’re in prototype territory, but overall the process was pretty fun, and both Sommerfield and Mangin note that delivery times and setup procedures will improve as additional units are made. Meanwhile a steady supply of Rum & Coke helps with any technical difficulties!

Sommerfield has been in touch with several members of the original Lisa team, including Rich Page and John Couch, and they are very excited and interested in his work:

“I almost feel I’m on a mission to raise peoples awareness of the Lisa and its role in the evolution of Apple computer products (and computers in general). Can’t really explain fully why, it just seems like a gross unfairness. Put it this way, i’ve been into computers since the early 80’s and I had no idea that the Lisa even existed until four months ago! Typical write-ups tend to give the Lisa a paragraph (barely) pointing out the commercial failure then move onto the Macintosh.”

You can support Adam’s efforts and purchase a PiXL via RetroConnector for $225 in kit form (supply your own Raspberry Pi 2) or $275 completely assembled. Remember the Lisa!

lisa-graphic

The Hidden History of Mr. Macintosh

Mr-Macintosh-smIn the early 1980s before the famed Picasso style line drawing of a computer became the Macintosh logo, the graphic was going to be a totally different concept. Owen Linzmayer discusses the original effort in his 2004 book Apple Confidential 2.0:

Long before the Mac was complete, Steve Jobs had become quite taken with the work of Belgian-born poster artist Jean-Michel Folon and paid him an advance of $30,000 to design a logo to represent the new computer. Folon came up with a character he called Mac Man and depicted him in a color pastel drawing called “The Macintosh Spirit”

I got to thinking about this old logo again after purchasing one of these Mr. Macintosh buttons on eBay. The seller worked in Apple sales during the early Mac days, and received the pin along with other marketing materials for the product launch. The most comprehensive history of Mr. Macintosh is at Andy Hertzfeld’s wonderful site Folklore.org. He tells the story of how Steve Jobs stopped into the engineering offices late one night with an idea:

“Mr. Macintosh is a mysterious little man who lives inside each Macintosh. He pops up every once in a while, when you least expect it, and then winks at you and disappears again. It will be so quick that you won’t be sure if you saw him or not. We’ll plant references in the manuals to the legend of Mr. Macintosh, and no one will know if he’s real or not.

“One out of every thousand or two times that you pull down a menu, instead of the normal commands, you’ll get Mr. Macintosh, leaning against the wall of the menu. He’ll wave at you, then quickly disappear. You’ll try to get him to come back, but you won’t be able to.”

The development team didn’t immediately hop on the project, more pressing tasks were at hand and Jobs was known to develop and discard ideas with great frequency. But this stuck with him, and eventually he befriended Folon and his whimsical, playful style. Apple gave Folon a commission to develop the character, and a year later he returned with several drawings. These included The Macintosh Spirit and the drawing of a man in a top hat and ‘Macintosh’ (raincoat).

The Macintosh Spirit

Hertzfeld notes that the engineering team tried to implement Mr. Macintosh (aka Mac Man), but the original ROM had only 64k of memory and the bitmap images wouldn’t fit. As explained in another Folklore post, the task basically became impractical:

We had abandoned our ambitions for Mr. Macintosh due to the scarcity of ROM, disk space and development time, but we eventually used some of Folon’s drawings on buttons given away at trade shows, and a small rendition of his Mr. Mac was emblazoned on the first digital printed circuit board next to the copyright notice.

Mr-Macintosh-Collage
Mr. Macintosh pins (photo: DigiBarn) and prototype Macintosh logic board

The old logo was not used on any shipping Macs, but was included on prototype Twiggy Mac logic boards (so named because they also included the infamous 5.25″ Apple Twiggy disk drive).

It’s a shame Apple lost the sense of playfulness which characterized such early efforts. When Jobs returned from exile (e.g., the NeXT acquisition) he prohibited Easter Eggs and other such surprises built into the OS. Meanwhile Talking Moose usurped the role of a mysterious little creature which pops up every now and again to say cryptic things.

In the end cost also became a factor in the use of the artwork. Linzmayer mentions this in his book:

In addition to his hefty advance, Folon was to be paid an unprecedented royalty of $1 for every Mac sold. With almost 30 million Macs sold as of 1998, the Macintosh commission would have easily been Folon’s most lucrative undertaking. But after Folon submitted “The Macintosh Spirit,” the mercurial Jobs changed his mind. In June 1983, he turned instead to the Mac art director, Tom Hughes, asking him to come up with something a little more practical. Working with John Casado, Hughes created the colorful, simple drawing of the Mac that we’ve come to know and love.

folon creating Mac Man
Jean-Michel Folon (photo: Folklore.org)

 

Investing in Old Apple Gear is Making News

As the corporation with the largest market cap value in existence (as of this writing), Apple has amassed a vast amount of wealth. BBC on Apple invesingAs a public corporation they have also generated significant wealth for their shareholders over the past decade. What has been less discussed is the value of old Apple equipment, but recent six figure sales of the seminal Apple 1 have begun to increase interest in other vintage computing products.

The BBC has just released How to Cash in on the Cult of Apple, an article dedicated to this topic. Their reporter interviewed a number of sources, including myself, about the values of old Apple gear and what is happening in that market in terms of investment opportunities. The short summary: this isn’t a market for quick-flips, but holding on to first edition products, original packaging and rare prototypes can pay off decades down the road.

Worth a read. Now if I only had an Apple 1 in my collection…

An Outbound Notebook Comes In From the Cold

The Macintosh Portable was Apple’s first entry into the notebook market, but it’s high price ($6500) and hefty weight (15.8 pounds) were major obstacles to market success. Before the Luggable was replaced by the PowerBook VMM-Outbound2-SMa number of third party options appeared, including the Outbound Notebook. An early Mac clone produced under agreement with Apple, it required a genuine Macintosh ROM pulled from a working (sacrificial) Mac Plus or SE. But even with that extra cost the Outbound was nearly half the price of Apple’s offering ($3500), smaller, lighter (6.25 pounds) and faster.

The Notebook featured “swappable” hard drives, upgradeable processors (Motorola 68000 or 68030), standard desktop RAM, and camcorder style batteries (still available today). Rounding out the features were a microphone, speaker, headphone jack, two serial ports, an ADB port, and a SCSI port. Business and power users were pleased. And despite that kangaroo logo and down-under name, the company was actually located in Colorado, not Australia.

A unique feature of the Outbound was its pointing device, the TrackBar. Rather than a trackball or a trackpad, users slid a small bar left, right, forward and backward to move the cursor onscreen. Quite clever, I’m surprised this design wasn’t more widely used.

Outbound-TrackBar2-SM

This Notebook required some effort to bring back to working order. That’s true for most vintage computers. It didn’t come with a power adapter, and requires one with rather uncommon specs: 22V, 1.27A. Every serious geek has a big box of spare AC adapters, but nothing in mine even came close to this. Fortunately the iRobot Roomba model 10556 power supply is a useable match – who knew? – and was easily found on eBay. (Thanks for the tip Matt!)

Once that hurdle was passed I discovered the hard drive was dead. Also not uncommon. The Outbound uses a 2.5-inch IDE hard drive, unlike the Mac Portable and PowerBooks which used SCSI drives. The drive is easily accessed by removing a side panel, but the bay which holds the drive is larger than the disk. This makes reinsertion challenging, as the drive pins can line up incorrectly with the holes on the connector if positioning isn’t correct. A few careful attempts brought success, but I’d use the term “swappable” loosely.

Outbound-Notebook-SMUsing the system is interesting. The Outbound kangaroo logo is displayed as the startup chime sounds. Mine is running System 7.1 and utilizes two custom Control Panels (Notebook and TrackBar), and one Extension (Notebook Extension). The 9.7-inch “SuperTwist” LCD screen is nice and large, although the passive matrix display does display lots of ghosting. Adjusting brightness and contrast helps. The TrackBar generally works well, though I kept wanting to click on the bar directly rather than hitting the buttons on either side. The keyboard is serviceable, somewhat mushy. macportable2Not having palm rests – a feature introduced with the PowerBook – feels strange after all these years.

Like the Portable the Outbound has no power switch: pressing any key turns the system on. Maybe that seemed intuitive around 1990, but it doesn’t today! Without a power button you need to remove the power cord and battery if it locks up, however you can soft-reboot using CMD-OPT-ESC. Apple systems use CTRL-CMD-PWR for this function.

Sitting at a table I think Apple Macintosh Portable is the more pleasant machine to work on, with a better keyboard. The Outbound wins on weight and size hands down.

This Notebook model (2030S) uses the 68030 processor. Since the ROM came from a Mac Plus, that makes for a very interesting display when viewing About This Mac or system information in a utility like Mac Envy. It’s not everyday one sees a Mac Plus with 8MB of RAM, a 68030 processor and an ADB bus!

MacEnvy-SM

The Outbound was in many ways a better notebook than the Macintosh Portable, but the first PowerBooks appeared in 1991. These were sleeker, lighter, and less expensive (PowerBook 100). Unable to compete with the mothership, Outbound went out of business in 1992.

A big thank you to Kathleen Hepburn for her generous donation of the Outbound Notebook to the VMM. Your old friend has found a new life, and you won’t have to move it again!

A Quadra Prototype in IIcx Clothing

I’m in a fortunate position running the Vintage Mac Museum in that I get offered the chance to acquire lots of old Macintosh equipment. Many of these items I already have, or can’t accept due to space constraints (the bane of every collector). But every so often an email arrives which piques my interest:

Quadra-PrototypeI just got in what I believe to be a Macintosh IIcx prototype. It is in a standard IIcx case with no markings on the front except the colored Apple logo. It has an unusual motherboard with 36MB RAM. The machine boots and operates with a Quantum APS Hard Drive with OS 7.5.5 installed. The bottom of the back case where everything plugs in is labelled metal and there is a sticker on the back that says Property of Apple Computer. Are you interested in it?

Why yes, now that you ask. Yes. I am interested!

I picked up the system and it is indeed unusual. The case has moldings on the back indicating it was for a IIcx, and there is no model name silk-screened on the front. There is a metal strip on the back for the ports with a space marked E’NET; the IIcx did not have built-in ethernet, you needed to use a NuBus card.

Rear-Metal-Panel

Similarly odd was the CPU, marked Motorola PC68040RC-A. The 68040 wasn’t used in the Mac II series, those debuted with the Quadra models. And that’s a strange nomenclature, the chip is normally identified as MC68040. Turns out what we have is actually a prototype 68040 CPU, the prefix PC being used to designate pre-production engineering samples.

Motorola-PC68040RC-AWell then, let’s review the evidence: a non-finished case, non-standard motherboard, prototype 68040 CPU, and a Property of Apple Computer sticker on the back. I think we’ve found a rather unique item here – A Wolf (Quadra) in Sheep’s (IIcx) Clothing.

However this may not be a Quadra prototype but rather a one-off custom creation. Upon further inspection I looked up the part number on the logic board, 820-0380-A, and it turns out to be a Quadra 650 logic board. That’s not a prototype part, and is newer than the first Quadra which was the model 700. Maybe this is some kind of Poor Man’s Quadra built by an Apple engineer with spare parts in the lab?

In any event it’s unusual, and makes a nice addition to the collection. The machine runs, though strangely the onboard AAUI ethernet port is not present and instead is supplemented by an Asante NuBus ethernet card. Sadly the Property of Apple Computer sticker was damaged before shipping and did not survive, but I have the photos from the previous owner. (Long story. Don’t ask.)

Who know what other strange beasts lurk in the bowels of Apple – or the garages of ex-Apple engineers…