The Apple Developer Transition System – a Trojan Horse PowerMac

Apple-Developer-Transition-System-smDuring the late 1990s and early 2000s the Macintosh was getting more powerful, and for a while the PowerPC G-series CPUs provided more computing power than comparable Intel chips. But by the middle of that decade the G5 was reaching an engineering tradeoff in terms of processing power versus thermal output; the fastest Macs ran very hot and required the development of liquid cooling systems. These limitations prevented the release of G5 based PowerBooks (though prototypes were rumored to exist), and required Apple to think differently about its future.

So in 2006 Apple stunned the world (again) by announcing they were going over to the Dark Side: the Macintosh was going to switch to Intel processors. Apple had been secretly compiling Mac OS X for Intel shortly after it’s evolution from NeXTstep. To allow developers to prepare their own software for the change, Apple designed special Macs with Pentium-based motherboards inside PowerMac G5 cases for testing purposes. Called Developer Transition Systems (DTS), these Trojan horse “PowerMacs” came with a special developer version of Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.1 for Intel and were leased, not sold, to developers. The mothership required all DTS units to be returned after one year, so very few of these hybrid Macs survive outside the gates of Cupertino.

DTS WWDC Announcement The DTS is an interesting beast. A small logic board labelled Barracuda sits inside a ridiculously large tower (to fool the passers-by). The processor is a 3.6GHz Pentium 4 with Hyper-Threading. But despite being an Intel version of Mac OS X Universal applications will not launch in Intel mode, they just bounce a few times in the dock then abort. In order to launch third party software you need to check the preference to “Launch using Rosetta” in the Finder’s Get Info window. As far as these apps are concerned, they’re still running in a PowerPC world.

When you first start the machine a BIOS screen appears, allowing you to hit F4 and set the boot drive order, system date, etc.. No Open Firmware here. Unlike other Macs the hard drive needs to be partitioned using Master Boot Record (MBR), not GUID as used for all shipping Intel-based Macs. That’s unique. This thing is really a PC with proprietary software pasted on top. Look at all those Pentium 4 CPU features!

Apple DTS System Profiler

As a VMM addition, this was a real find. I got system from used Mac shop that keeps an eye out for interesting items; they got it from someone who was going to dispose of the tower as scrap metal. Fortunately that fate was avoided and the DTS arrived in working condition, but it did not have a copy of Mac OS X installed. The previous owner had used the tower as a (shudder) Windows XP machine and erased the Apple development software. Noooooo!!!!

Finding a copy of the necessary software and then getting it to run on this system proved a bit of a challenge. That’s an understatement. These puppies require serious determination to bring back to life.

DTS About This MacThe magic system necessary is Mac OS X build 8b1025. After a few months I was lucky to get help from fellow Mac collector (and Prototype Man) Henry “Hap” Plain, who found a copy after locating a working DTS himself. But making drives from the disk image files he sent was unsuccessful, I couldn’t get my machine to boot. Multiple swapping of hard drives followed. After several tries we resorted to shipping drives across the country, and that finally worked. At last the mythical 10.4.1 on Intel was running live in front of me!

But I couldn’t duplicate the setup for backup purposes. This is an important part of keeping vintage computers working. Clones made of the startup disk would not boot the machine, they stalled at a black screen with a blinking cursor. More weeks of experimentation. More hard disks in and out. Let me tell you the drive slots on the G5 (err, DTS) tower are really annoying to deal with, they make me appreciate the Mac Pro design even more.

Damn it Apple, why are you making this (never-intended-to-be-released-to-the-public) system so difficult to restore? Never mind, don’t answer that.

Eventually Hap managed to locate an image of the actual 10.4.1 install DVD that shipped with the towers from from Apple (I’m very jealous of his connections). This works better: with the DVD you can easily install OS X on the hard disk and reliably make the DTS come to life. But wait! Don’t put that installer away after installation, it also contains a boot loader necessary get the hard drive up and running. I’ve found that I need to keep the DVD in place in order to boot up the machine, otherwise it’s back to a blinking cursor.

As noted, this is not your Grandfather’s Macintosh. DTS, welcome to the VMM.

And a TAM Joins the Family

In 1976 Apple ignited the personal computer revolution. In 1996 Apple Computer turned twenty years old. To commemorate the occasion, the company released a limited edition Twentieth Anniversary MacintoshTwentieth Anniversary Macintosh affectionately known as the TAM among Apple collectors and aficionados.

The TAM represented Apple’s design vision for the future. It included a flat panel screen with a vertical orientation, the computer was incorporated into the monitor. While this is the standard form factor of the iMac line today, in the 1990s this design was very groundbreaking. Advanced capabilities included a TV tuner, FM radio, a custom designed Bose sound system (with subwoofer), and a removable trackpad in place of a mouse.

Unlike the beige Macs of the day, the TAM was colored a brown-grey hue similar to the PowerBook. It was also priced at $7500. Initial units were individually hand-delivered to customers and setup by a tech-in-a-tux! I’ll bet they even came with a jar of Grey Poupon.

However while visually striking, the TAM wasn’t a hit among buyers. The CPU was a middle-of-the-road 250MHz PowerPC 603, the computer didn’t include ethernet, had limited expansion capability, and was unaffordable to all but the most affluent of buyers. Sales languished and Apple lowered the price several times. It finally dropped to as low as $1995 before the company pulled the plug a year later. Personally I remember scoffing at the TAM as an overpriced, underpowered status symbol when it was released, and didn’t feel it was worthy of ownership nor inclusion in the Vintage Mac Museum.

Fast forward two decades, and the TAM appears quite differently. In retrospect this computer is clearly the ancestor of the flat-panel iMac. Starting with the iMac G5 and continuing to the present day, the design of Apple’s desktop-for-the-masses harkens directly back to the TAM. It is also an early Jony Ive influenced product, one championed by former Director of Industrial Design Robert Brunner before Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. Evolution of the iMac

Today the TAM has become a coveted collector’s item, and sells for $1000 (or more) on eBay if in good condition with original packaging. With age and wisdom I began to feel that it was indeed a model which should be included in the collection. Recently through a series of good circumstances and a few mutual favors, I’ve finally managed to acquire one.

My TAM came with it’s original packaging, a large outer box with four inner cartons numbered in the order they should be opened. After wrestling the quite sizable shipping carton home in my small hatchback, I did the whole unboxing thing in numerical order and hooked everything up.

It’s quite rare that I sit down in front of a vintage Mac I’ve never used before. This one feels like using a primordial iMac, made from a rearranged pre-G3 PowerBook. The curved stand and bracket which holds the computer allows it to be pivoted forward or backward to nearly any angle desired, and it does sound quite nice. The 12-inch active-matrix display screen is bright and crisp.

TAM and friends
The TAM has a unique startup sound. I’m not sure this really works, the Mac’s standard startup chime through that audio system would be quite impressive. But reflecting the decade in which it was designed, a huge multipin connector links the computer to the subwoofer, which also serves as the power supply. Apple would never do that now, the subwoofer would just be connected via Bluetooth.

Wait, what am I saying? There wouldn’t be a subwoofer at all, but rather enhanced low frequency output from incredibly small speakers in the computer itself using Apple’s proprietary iFeel™ technology…

I’m very happy to finally have a TAM in the VMM family. The PowerPC Beige Collection page has been updated appropriately. A big thanks to Hap and Matt for their help to make this acquisition possible!

Introducing the Vintage Mac Museum Rare Items Page

Every collection has some truly unique or special items. These are things you show off to other collectors and tirelessly hunt down in your spare time. For the first time in many years I’ve expanded the Collection categories for the Vintage Mac Museum. Introducing the Rare Items page. HyperDrive-Mac-Side-Rear-sm This is the place to highlight some of the custom or more unusual pieces in the collection, including:

• Apple Lisa 2 with X/Profile Compact Flash adapter
• Clear Sided Mac 512k, a former GCC HyperDrive demo model
• Macintosh Picasso Dealer Sign and packaging materials
• Apple eMate, end of the line for the Newton (but the start of the iBook)
• Gemini iBook, a custom touch screen Macintosh tablet for the disabled
• Axiotron Modbook, another Mac tablet mod for general industry
   and a very special recent addition
• Mac OS X Developer Transition System, a Trojan horse PowerMac G5

As the Museum has expanded people often ask me “what are you still looking for”? I’ve acquired many of the standard Mac collectibles I wish to have, so usually my standard answer is something like “I’m not sure but I’ll recognize it when I see it”.

The Rare Items page is a good sampling of such objects. Take a look, and let me know what you think!

The Vintage Mac Museum Visits VCF East 2014

The VMM took a road trip a few weeks ago, and journeyed down to the Jersey Shore to share some retro goodness at the Vintage Computer Festival East. The ninth running of the VCF East was held April 4-7 at the InfoAge Science Center in Wall, New Jersey, and the Vintage Mac Museum was an exhibitor.


VCF East is hosted by MARCH, the MidAtlantic Retro Computing Hobbyists group. The show featured a wide range of computing history, from a seminal, room-size UNIVAC computer, through the DEC, Prime and HP minicomputer era, to the workstations and home computers of the 1970s and ’80s. Apple made a good showing, including a number of Apple 1s, a few Apple IIs, one working Lisa 2 and several tables of Macinti.

At the Vintage Mac Museum table (next to the Univac), I showed off three working models that attendees could interact with – an SE/30, a PowerBook 170, and a Color Classic. Based on comments received I think every Macintosh owner over 35 once owned some variant of a Mac SE! Each system was also loaded up with the appropriate After Dark screen saver module – running the Fish module on the Color Classic makes a great Virtual Macquarium! In the back row was a Macintosh Picasso Dealer Sign, an empty compact Mac shell lit to show the signatures inside, and a Mac 512k with clear plexiglass side panels.

Definitely a fun (and geeky) event. Interest in the computers of yesteryear continues to increase, and is reflected in a growing number of vintage computing events around the country. To read more at about the show see Cult of Mac: Vintage Computer Festivals Rock On, VCF East 2014 Larger Than Ever.

So It Seems Apple is Doomed. Again.

It seems now that Steve Jobs has been gone for a few years, and Apple hasn’t released any market-defining products in the same timeframe, an atmosphere of doom and gloom has once again settled over the press. rotten appleApple has lost its way, they can no longer innovate and are coasting on past glories. Their tasteful and well received look back at the Mac at 30 was viewed by some as a sign of rot at the core. Instead, clearly, they should do ______ (fill in the blank).

Apple is one of the most profitable companies around, yet every time they announce a profitable quarter their stock goes down! Well we’ve been here before, and frankly I’m not too worried. The Apple of today is far different than that of the mid 1990s. Most companies would give anything to have Apple’s revenues and profit margins. But Apple is not most companies, even if Wall Street thinks they should be.

Since last year Apple has been running an ad campaign along the theme Designed by Apple in California. One video has not aired publicly, but rather was only shown at the 2013 World Wide Developers Conference. It’s called Designed by Apple – Intention and is the single clearest statement I’ve seen about understanding who Apple currently is and what drives them. I wish they had aired this spot during the Super Bowl:

Apple is a for-profit company, but that’s not their only driving force. They strive for excellence in design and execution, and generally achieve it. Apple products touch peoples lives in ways few other companies do. Former Wall Street Journal reporters and profit-at-all-costs advocacy groups like the NCPPR may think that Apple is doomed. That’s their right. For my part, I’m not worried.

Image Credit: ZDnet

When the Mac Plus Changed from Beige to Platinum

The Macintosh Plus was Apple’s longest produced 68k Macintosh. It was introduced in January 1986 and discontinued in October 1990. During that timeframe Apple introduced a new design look for its products called the Snow White design language, exemplified in the striped case designs of the Macintosh II and SE. They also changed the case color from Beige to Platinum.

Mac Plus Beige and Platinum

I recently acquired a pair of these Macs, one in each style. Side by side the color difference is quite notable. The very first Macs were beige in color (officially known as Putty), not quite as yellow as they’ve become today but still definitely a shade reminiscent of old khakis. The original Macintosh, Mac 512k and Mac Plus all used this color case. Then in 1987 Apple started using the lighter color they called Platinum.

Apple kept the Mac Plus around as the low end model when the SE was released (it was the cheap iPhone of its day), but they didn’t want the system to look outdated next to newer machines. So Platinum it was. In addition to changing the color, as Apple began to offer 2MB and 4MB configurations, the label on the back dropped the 1MB memory designation. And the shipping box itself also changed, from one using a color product photo and six-color Apple logo to a black & white drawing and a red logo.

Mac Plus Beige Platinum Rear Panels

With SCSI and expandable RAM the Plus was the first truly successful Mac design. Many remained in service well into the PowerPC era. Today Apple would phase in a color change along with a new model release (e.g., the black iPhone becomes space grey), but back in the day things were a bit more casual.

What color is your Mac Plus?