Back to the Past with iOS 7?

So Apple’s latest and greatest iOS 7 is finally out, and it has seen the fastest adoption rate of any version of iOS released yet. So much so that I, a proverbial laggard when upgrading operating systems, Notes-vs-Floppieshave decided to take the plunge earlier than usual to help my early adopter clients. Actually not too bad so far, I’m finding some nice usability changes throughout the OS. Alas as widely reported, it also contains a garishly ugly set of colors and icons which fully offend my visual sensibilities.

Where’s brushed aluminum when you need it?

But one new icon immediately brought on a sense of deja vu, that yellow and white square for the Notes application. Hmmm, where have I seen that before? Anyone remember floppy disks and peelable stick-on labels? Bingo!

I took a photo of one I have lying around at the Mac Museum, to compare and contrast. Eerily familiar, with rounded corners. I wonder if someone on Jony Ive’s team is a bit wistful for the 68k days?

Bringing a Computer Museum Back to Boston

Digital Den Open HouseBack in the 1980s and ’90s, Boston had a wonderful little resource known as The Computer Museum. An outgrowth of a personal computer collection first exhibited in a lobby at DEC in the 1970s, the Museum was a great desination spot for students, tourists, residents and computer nerds of all kinds. There were interactive computing exhibits, a giant walk-in Macintosh, and tons of history on display. Life Was Good.

And then in 1999, it disappeared.

Through a series of events and circumstances, the collection made its way west to Silicon Valley and began the next phase of its life as the Computer History Museum. A decade and a half later, it’s now far bigger than its predecessor and one of the premiere institutions of its kind worldwide. A stellar effort, on the West Coast. For years the residents of Boston (some of us, anyway) wondered if such a thing would ever return…

Enter Digital Den. This nascent effort is envisioned to be a large scale celebration of 50 years of computing history. From vintage systems of the ’70s to brand new equipment and prototypes, all of the hardware, operating systems, application software and content titles will be kept functioning in their original “living” state. The goal is to have hundreds of computers running thousands of software titles, and become one of the largest computer archives in the New England area.

The Digital DenDigital Den will be a non-profit organization, with the working collection made available for researchers, students and the general public to enjoy firsthand. Mary E. Hopper, Ph.D., is the founder of Digital Den and has an excellent background to spearhead this effort. Dr. Hopper served as President of Knowledge Foundry, was a Senior Lecturer in Digital Media programs at Northeastern University, an Assistant Professor in Technology in Education at Lesley University, and a Postdoctoral Associate at MIT.

Bringing a computer museum back to Boston is something I believe in. For a high tech area it’s embarassing that we don’t have a computing museum in our hometown, particularly one that’s hands on for visitors. Right now the collection is housed in a small room at the iconic Metropolitan Storage Warehouse in Cambridge, MA, right next to MIT. The next step is a larger room, an expanded collection and more operating hours. The Vintage Mac Museum supports the effort to get Digital Den off the ground, and I will be working to help make this a reality. Some VMM equipment may even occasionally be on display for your viewing pleasure!

Like many other startups, right now the most important thing needed are startup funds. Dr. Hopper has started an Indiegogo campaign to raise money, please visit to find out more and support the effort today!

Photo Credit: Digital Den

Presenting the Smallest Mac in the World

So here’s a great story we just posted over at Cult of Mac that merges extreme cuteness with impressive geekdom. Appealing to Macintosh fans of all ages, I had to share it here:

Mini Mac with John

It stands shorter than a Steve Jobs doll. It can be held in the palm of your hand. It runs System 6, and elicits squeals of delight from vintage Mac fans.

It is the Smallest Mac in the World.

Hot on the heels of the news of the world’s oldest working Macintosh comes a breakthrough of much more modest proportions. John Leake, co-host of the RetroMacCast, has created what may be the world’s smallest working Macintosh using a Raspberry Pi computer, PVC, some off-the shelf parts and a Mac emulator running under Linux. He calls it “Mini Mac.”

Why? As Leake writes on his blog, “this is one those ‘because I can’ projects with no practical use – my favorite kind!”

Read the full story at Cult of Mac: Behold the World’s Smallest Working Macintosh!

Visiting the Vintage Mac Museum

Having a private museum, and one which appeals to a niche audience, it isn’t every day that I give tours to visitors. But I’m happy to accomodate when I can, it’s always fun to meet with people who appreciate the crazy hobby you share. Steve-Guards-the-CollectionAugust 2013 has turned out to be a popular month for vintage Macheads to trek over and check out the collection. And notably, the recent visitors are people who weren’t even born when the Mac made its debut!

This spring I received an email from a woman looking to setup a tour for her fiance’s 22nd birthday:

“My fiancé has grown up with Macintosh computers and has been fascinated with them ever since he was little. In middle school he realized he wanted to be a Technician and get certified with Apple. I have noticed he has a genuine interest in all products that are Apple and is fascinated with them. I mean, he has even converted me to solely use Apple products!

“I read your FAQ’s, and you had written that you do tours for people who are in/live near the Boston, MA area. I was wondering if you could give my fiancé and I a tour of the Vintage Macs?”

They came by last week and we geeked out for nearly an hour, discussing vintage gear and how to score cheap old Macs (hint: check craigslist regularly). As usual the eMate was an item of interest, as was my QuickTake 150, one of Apple’s early digital cameras.

Then this week, I received another note regarding an even younger Mac fan:

“I am writing to you because I have a young son (nine years old) who is absolutely obsessed with Macs! He is especially interested in all vintage Macs and their operating systems, and is becoming quite the expert. ;) We were hoping to set up a visit to your museum.”

There aren’t many nine year olds who are interested in old Mac operating systems! It’s nice to see the younger generation taking an interest in computing history and legacy. More than once I’ve thought that geeks like myself are becoming our generation’s replacement for classic car enthusiasts, gathering on Sundays with our restored machines to share memories of glory times past.

I hope someday to have a location where I can display the Vintage Mac Museum publicly, for at least limited hours, in order to enable more people to enjoy the collection. Meanwhile if you’re hankering to check out old Macs and you live in or are going to be visiting the Boston area, feel free to drop a line.

A Real Mini Mac

I’ve watched enough episodes of Antiques Roadshow and Pawn Stars to know that some items are crossovers, appealing to multiple kinds of collectors. I also spend enough time trolling on eBay for vintage Mac items (and buying more than I should) that I stumble across these myself. American Girl Mini MacThis week the world of doll collectors and Macheads got unexpectedly intertwined.

In 1996 the Pleasant Company produced this miniature version of a Macintosh Performa to go along with their American Girl of Today line of dolls. Rendered in classic 1990s beige, this adorable little model sports an extended ADB keyboard, the ubiquitous oval mouse, and a faithful rendering of slots and ports on the front and back of the computer. It also comes with a tiny little mousepad!

The CPU takes two AA batteries and is designed to make the Macintosh “chime” sound when switched on. The keyboard and mouse are clickable buttons, and pressing them is designed to display a series of documents and drawings on the screen. Man, these doll accessories are hip! Sadly my model does not work, but it looks great sitting around on top of an Apple HD20 hard drive. I was never a big Performa fan, but this one was just too cute to ignore. A real mini Mac (and not a Mac mini).

And that is how a vintage Macintosh fan purchases an item designed for doll collectors.

Send in the Clones

I picked up another old Mac for the Museum this weekend – which I do with reserve these days since space is finite and the models many. However this is an unusual offering, a Radius 81/110 Power Macintosh clone.

Radius-81-110-cloneFor a short time in the mid 1990s, and too long after it would have made a difference in market share, Apple licensed the Mac OS to third party clone manufacturers. The clones were based on Apple supplied motherboards, with value-added features added by the vendors. The group included PowerComputing, Radius, Umax, SuperMac, Daystar, and Motorola – the latter also one of the manufacturers for the PowerPC CPU.

Apple’s intent was for the clone makers to grow the overall Mac OS market, focusing on the low end. However some of the clones were better bargains and performers than Apple’s own offerings, and they began to sell at the expense of Apple-branded systems. PowerComputing was the most successful of the lot, and their PowerCenter Pro and PowerTower Pro systems were the fastest Macs of the day.

The Radius 81/110 I acquired is a NuBus model, based on the PowerMac 8100 motherboard. This Mac was used for video editing using a proprietary Radius VideoVision editing system, complete with multiple NuBus cards, two outboard rack units, and a whopping 4GB external SCSI RAID. It costs many thousands of dollars when new, and was purchased for $30 at the MIT Flea. But the tower doesn’t work and there’s some major corrosion inside, so I don’t feel too guilty! I love the wave pattern on the front bezel.

Steve Jobs killed the clones when he returned to the company in 1997, buying PowerComputing outright to stop sales cannibalization of Apple’s own models. Motorola was on the verge of releasing a G3 version of their StarMax tower, and had announced the system at MacWorld Boston. The cancellation was costly for everyone, and the resulting impact was often viewed as one reason why Motorola was never able to produce enough fast PowerPC G4 chips for Apple’s use. Coincidentally, Apple switched to IBM exclusively for the PowerPC G5 CPU.

It was definitely an angst-filled chapter of the “Beleagured Apple Computer” era.

Fighting Back for Mac!Just Too Different