Tag Archives: Apple

A nasty dose of nostalgia

By nature, I am a hoarder. I don’t like to throw stuff away—it might come in handy one day. At least, that’s what I tell myself. Just occasionally, though, I force myself to go through the somewhat painful process of clearing the hoarded stuff of years.

We’re doing it now, as it happens. I’m blogging while taking a break from rearranging our shared studio space (a back bedroom in our house). We’ve cleared out about a decade’s worth of accrued junk, most of which is finding its way to our local recycling centre. I had stashed a bunch of software boxes under a desk, and because we wanted to shift some cupboards about to make some space, they had to go. 

Well, some of it had to go. Versions of the Mac OS and various bits of software that won’t install, let alone run, on my collection of Apple hardware. It’s useless to all intents and purpose, but I just can’t quite find it in my geeky heart to get rid of all of it.

Take Softpress UniQorn, for example.

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To run UniQorn, I need a Mac running System 7 and QuickDraw GX. The oldest Mac I own in working order is currently capable of running OS 8, but that’s too modern—and I don’t even have a copy of that OS any more! So, I keep the UniQorn box, complete with the umpteen 3.5in installation floppies because when I bought the software I didn’t even have a CD-ROM drive on my machine, just for the sheer geeky archaeology of it.

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It’s the same with QuarkXPress 4. I can actually run that on one of my Macs, but there’s no point. I think I keep it around simply because of how much it cost me to purchase back in the day. I don’t recall exactly how much it was, but it definitely had four figures before the decimal place…

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There’s a part of me that would love to get hold of an old Quadra or PowerPC Mac with System 7 on it so I could install UniQorn again. But then, the realist in me jumps to the fore and reminds me that once I’d played with it, and rebooted a few times due to the inevitable crashes, I’d soon get bored with it. Best to leave it in the box, with all the memories.

The WebSE Mac System 7 emulation

While we’re in geek nostalgia mode, try this one for size.

I began my love affair with Apple and the Macintosh computer on little beige boxes with tiny black and white screens built in. This web site offers a Flash-based emulation of such a machine running Macintosh System 7. I used to design and lay out entire magazines in QuarkXPress one-dot-something-or-other on a screen that size.

http://myoldmac.net/webse-e.htm

 

Here’s to the future now…

I recall hoping 2011 would improve on the utter disaster that was 2010. I have to admit to being disappointed. 2011 hasn’t really been much better. I wonder what 2012 might have in store for me.

Yes, it’s that time of the year when I sit down and review where I have been over the past 12 months, and where I want to go over the next.

Not having a regular income to speak of has rather curbed my wanderlust, so any photographic expeditions in 2011 have been closer to home. Apart from a couple of sallies beyond the confines of Kent—model railway exhibitions earlier in the year took me as far as Wigan and York, and a brief day trip to Shropshire a few weeks ago took in the RAF Museum at Cosford—I have had to be content with places that don’t cost a fortune to visit.

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Gear-wise, selling off some other hobby items enabled me to upgrade my DSLR from the Canon EOS 400D to the 7D. I also added an ƒ/2.8 70–300mm lens, and a few accessories like a remote shutter release and memory cards. There’s not a lot more I want to add to my gear, although I have one more lens I would like to acquire in the ƒ/2.8 17–70mm-ish range, and more memory cards and so on. My MacBook Pro will celebrate its fifth birthday in summer 2012, and it is just beginning to show its age. Aperture 3 gives it cause to struggle, and sadly I cannot add any more RAM to the machine to help. I’m looking at options such as a new, faster, bigger internal hard drive in order to eke out a little more life from it.

Looking to 2012, what do I wish for? I am ignoring the real world here, just looking at my own life. There is only really one thing I want: a proper full-time job. I need a nice regular income again. Life out here in the freelance artworker world is totally dead. The lack of a job has meant I have had to let another fantastic opportunity sail by without my boarding it. Later in the summer 2012, I had hoped I would be going on a photographic safari to Svalbard. Circumstances in 2011 meant I simply couldn’t commit to buying the flight tickets. So much for adventure.

I would also like to push to try and get some freelance model railway photography gigs. I’ve already blogged about that, but in the new year I intend to keep pushing at that stuck door. I am fed up with letting life pass me by. 2012 ought to be the year when I make every effort to get life moving again.

If I don’t blog before, I would like to wish you all a merry Christmas, and my best wishes for the new year.

Continual Improvement?

Anyone with even a slightest interest in the tech world will have been unable to avoid a couple of big stories over the past few days. RIM, maker of the Blackberry phone ecosystem, has had a major outage of their service, and Apple has released several new updates as well as a new version of the perennially popular iPhone.

I’m not concerned about RIM. I am not particularly concerned with Apple’s new shiny. I am concerned about steadily having my hand forced to upgrade beyond where I am comfortable. I am talking about system requirements for a couple of the new things emanating from Cupertino.

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Let me set out my table. I am a “creative”. I use a Mac for business and pleasure. My Mac is not in its first blush of youth, but it is still quite capable. I am reliably informed I can install the latest version of the Mac OS, version 10.7 aka Lion, and get some more miles under the belt before I need to seriously consider scraping together cash for a new machine.

All of which is very nice. Lion is available from the App Store for not much more than a round of drinks or a Saturday night takeaway. A couple of clicks and away I go.

The thing is, I still use software that relies on some core technologies of older versions of the Mac OS. Apple were incredibly clever when they transitioned from the PowerPC CPUs to Intel back in the day. They engineered code into the OS so it transparently rewrote the PowerPC code in older applications for Intel chips on the fly. You could continue to use older software until the developer updated for the Intel code. Which was (and is) amazing when you think about it.

In the intervening five or six years, most of the applications I use on a daily basis have been updated, and now run on Intel architecture. All, that is, save one or two. My Canon scanner, for example, will never be updated, and even a third party front end software requires the drivers to be present which—wait for it—are PPC architecture. I can get round this, as I have another scanner now, but I can always run it on an older Mac that is unrepentently a PowerPC powered machine.

The other one, which is a bit bigger in my world, is Macromedia FreeHand. Don’t laugh! I still use it, even though Adobe bought out the company and let FreeHand expire in a dusty corner. I use FreeHand because — oh, let’s not go there. It’s not pertinent to this ranty post anyway.

Okay, the FreeHand thing can also be solved by shifting it to that older PowerPC Mac I’ve already mentioned. That’s not the point, really. My point is Apple have just released updates to Aperture, which I use nearly every day for managing my photo libraries and so on. That’s good, yes?

Yes, if you have updated to the latest version of Lion. Otherwise, you don’t get the update to Aperture. I don’t actually think I need Lion. From what I have seen, it doesn’t offer me anything over what I am running now (OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard). Apple, it seems, are forcing me to upgrade to an OS I don’t really want or need in order to keep up with software I do want and need.

There’s also this thing called iOS5. This is the latest version of the operating system for iPhones, iPods touch and iPads. Lovely shiny things I don’t own. Along with the iOS update is a change from MobileMe, which I use, to a thing called iCloud. Guess what? I can’t migrate to iCloud without running OS X 10.7.2 or iOS5. 

My hand is being forced into making an upgrade to something I don’t really want to upgrade. Yet to maintain levels of software I use, I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter.

Not wishing to speak ill of the dead, but is this the Apple that Steve Jobs always meant it to be?

 

**UPDATE**

19 October 2011—Apple quietly rolled out the Aperture 3.2 update on the App Store. The update was “recommended” for all users. In the system requirements, the magic numbers 10.6.8 appeared. I checked all over the Apple web site to confirm the 3.2 update would work for Snow Leopard, and happily it does. The only requirement for me to sidegrade to Lion now is if I want to keep my @mac.com email address, and I have until the end of June 2012 to sort that out. 

There’s a mouse loose…

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For some reason, this Apple Desktop Bus Mouse II has found its way onto my desk. I guess I was absent-mindedly rummaging in our Techno Drawer for something, and pulled the mouse out with a view to using it on the ancient and creaking Macintosh SE/30 stashed in the other room.

It’s fun to play with old tech occasionally, but it soon becomes apparent just how limited such things are in a modern context.

Reliving the past

I’ve just taken a trip down Memory Lane. It’s not at all like I remember it.

They say the past is another country. If you remember my saga about the ancient AppleTalk printer a while ago, you will recall the machine used to be partnered with an elderly Apple laptop, running an obsolete operating system. The sole reason for this was the proprietary Apple networking protocol, and my odd refusal not to purchase an ethernet-enabled printer in the first place all those years ago.

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The laptop in question is a PowerBook G3 Series, one of the first of the original curvy and rather sexy laptops that Apple created just after Steve Jobs returned as CEO. Further investigation into the machine’s provenance leads me to believe it may be one of the first Wallstreet models available, which dates it to around May 1998. It also appears to be the baby of the range, cheekily dubbed “Mainstreet” by the pundits! Geekily, this means it doesn’t have the L2 cache which its more expensive brethren had, which meant it was a bit of a slowcoach all told. 

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The official specs, therefore, look like this: 233MHz PowerPC G3 CPU, no L2 cache, 13.3in TFT screen, 6GB internal hard drive, 128MB RAM in two 64MB modules, running Mac OS 9.2.2 – the last of the “classic” operating systems before OS X muscled in. The ’Book can have two batteries installed in the module bays either side, but only one of the batteries I acquired with the machine holds any charge, and that for about a minute! There is a CD-ROM (20x no less!) in the right bay, and I have a floppy disk drive module. There is a double PCI card slot, so in theory at least, it could be enhanced with USB and FireWire connectivity if I desired. It has a modem, as well as the then regulation AppleTalk socket, and a high-density SCSI socket. Finally, a VGA monitor output rounds off the equipment.

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For something approaching its 13th birthday, it stands up pretty well. Okay, the screen is pretty dim by modern standards, the keyboard horribly clattery, and the hard drive is noisy and sounds very fragile indeed. Since the machine was only ever intended to act as a bridge between my wired network and the printer, I only bothered with the barest essentials of software beyond the standard OS installation. There’s a copy of AppleWorks on there, a freebie copy of Corel WordPerfect 3.5 Pro, and a copy of Microsoft Word 5 — probably the best version of that long-lived word processor that ever existed. (Interestingly, the full copy of Word 5 weighs in at a staggering 895Kb on disk. Yes, under a megabyte. The decade-old copy of Word X I also own comes out at over 13MB, and I really don’t think it was an improvement.)

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So, how does the old warhorse perform? If you want my honest opinion, I’m rather like Marvin the Paranoid Android from the Hitchhiker’s Guide series. When asked what he thought about humanoid brains, the robot with a brain the size of a planet opined he couldn’t imagine how anything could live in anything that small. It would definitely be hard to survive with 6GB of hard drive in this digital photo, high-def video and MP3 collection world. If all I wanted was a clackety typewriter, and wasn’t overly fussed if I knocked it off a table, then it would be fine. Of course, there’s the added complication of how to get any text files off the PowerBook and into the 21st century, but let’s not get sidetracked by small details!

The other thing of note is just how heavy the critter is. Did Apple road warriors really lug this machine about with them in the real world? It weighs about as much as my car, and it is supposedly lighter and slimmer than the PowerBook model it replaced. I can’t see where the weight comes from, unless the motherboard or frame is made of some base metal. With the G4 PowerBook and the MacBook Pro, you can easily pick the machine up with one hand. I daren’t risk it with the black behemoth, without having a hand spare to take the weight before it slips to the ground! I’d not want to spend any time with the thing on my lap, if I’m honest.

The old tech hard drive is abominably noisy. It whines and squeaks, and sounds like a dying animal when it spins down or back up again. It does feel very fragile, especially when compared to the battleship construction of its host machine. From experience, though, I know it’s dead easy to replace it should the need arise.

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The keyboard is clunky, yet all the keys are where my fingers expected them to be. This, in my opinion, is one of the things Apple has always got right, and it’s nice to know they haven’t really changed the pitch of the numerous keyboards that have come and gone since 1998. 

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The TFT screen is very dim. At first I thought it was purely down to being cold, but it didn’t get better after an hour of running. It also displayed a distinct yellow tinge, rather like a nicotine stained window in an old pub. With the machine sitting in front of my current machine, the newer screen is much, much brighter.

I’m led to understand the Wallstreet was capable of running OS X. While the idea of installing OS X 10.3 — the latest version it should be capable of supporting — would be interesting, I don’t actually think I’ll bother. The hard drive isn’t big enough, realistically, and I’d like a good deal more RAM installed to make it even a viable proposition. I also own the replacement G3 PowerBook model, the bronze keyboard 400MHz machine, and that only just copes with Panther installed, so I don’t know how well the Wallstreet would cope.

In conclusion, while it’s lovely a teenaged laptop Mac is still reasonably usable, it isn’t usable in any real world sense any more. The modern world has moved on apace since the late 1990s, and while it’s true you can still connect to the internet, the experience is not one that could be said to be enjoyable in any meaningful way. When compared to modern kit, it’s painfully slow, but when it was new it was one of the fastest and best-equipped laptops money could buy. We just expect more from our kit these days, I suppose. The past really is a different country.

As an interesting saunter down Memory Lane it’s been fun, but as a usable machine in today’s online world, I’m afraid the PowerBook G3 “Wallstreet” is a very much a museum piece.

 

Related posts: Hello, Old Friend; Farewell, Old Friend.