08 Apr 2018 @ 9:45 PM 

I’ve seen, unusually, a few discussions revolving around Apple products which seem to go forward with an assumption that the original 128K Macintosh was a failure. I found it intriguing. Specifically, I’ve seen it said to have failed because it was expensive, underpowered, incompatible with the IBM PC, and didn’t have much memory, and Apple would have had more success if they had released the Macintosh OS as a Desktop Environment on top of Windows. I think this argument comes from a lack of understanding of the early computer ecosystem. Not to mention many of the points are simply incorrect.

One of the bigger draws of the Macintosh was that it was actually fairly affordable for what it provided. At $2,499, the Original Macintosh 128K was cheaper than a IBM PC equipped with 128K of memory by nearly $1,000- And that is compared to a base MDA adapter model without a monitor. Realistically, the only systems that were more affordable than the Macintosh at the time were systems like the Apple II, TRS-80, and Commodore 64.

The system was quite cutting-edge for the time period. the 512×342 display was Black and White, and didn’t have the resolution or colours of the EGA Adapter that was available for the IBM PC, but did not cost anything extra. Additionally, since it was in all Macintosh computers it was, naturally, something that all Macintosh software- at least for a time- was designed for. Unlike MS-DOS Applications, there was no need for special BGI drivers or display card selections/options. Another advantage was that the graphics operated through DMA, meaning that some processing was off-loaded from the otherwise anemic CPU. This was one of the factors which resulted in the desktop environments on the IBM PC being slow until Video Accelerator cards appeared- it is no coincidence, I think, that Windows only truly started to take off only after Video Accelerator cards appeared on the market.

Compatibility is something we take for granted today even between otherwise disparate systems. You can plug in your smartphone and transfer files to your PC or Laptop and then upload them without much fuss, for example, or share Flash Drives or Burned Optical media between different systems with easer. in 1984, this simply wasn’t the case; There was very little in terms of standardization, while many systems used specific floppy diskettes, they seldom used compatible filing systems. TRS-80, Commodore 64, Apple II and IBM PC’s for example could accept the same form factor of 5-1/4" diskettes but you couldn’t share data between them directly because they formatted the disks different and used different file systems. Even as late as 1984 the IBM PC hadn’t truly established itself as a "standard" of it’s own and there were still innumerable standards "vying" for the attention of the typical user. One could just as easily argue that the IBM PC would have been more successful if it had been compatible with Apple II software.

Heck- whether an MS-DOS program even ran on a computer that ran MS-DOS was not really a given. Software often had to be ported between IBM Clone systems for them to work properly. Lotus 1-2-3 often couldn’t be run on many systems that ran MS-DOS anymore than it could run on a Mac 128K… Except that you could run it on a Mac 128K with add-ons like the MacCharlie. Making Equipped Mac 128K more IBM compatible than many clone systems!

Remember that this was a time frame where the idea of a GUI was, in and of itself, a "Killer App" altogether. On MS-DOS for example you couldn’t show charts or graphs in a spreadsheet at the same time as the spreadsheet itself; you had to shift to a graphics mode where you saw only the graph or chart, or possibly there would be a way to preview the printed output, but it was separate from actual editing, all of which would be in a system standard fixed width font, so you got no feedback while actually changing the document regarding things like spacing if you wanted proportional print output. Programs would show certain aspects within those limitations. "Bold" text or headers might be indicated by surrounding them with smiley face characters for example (PC-Write).

The fact that you could manipulate text on-screen and it would reasonably accurately show you what it would look like on the printed page was HUGE. It was the big reason that the Macintosh jump-started the idea of Desktop Publishing and then succeeded in dominating that space for years. THis might all seem redundant since a Mac OS desktop environment would have worked just as well- except it wouldn’t have. One of the things that made it truly possible was the video DMA capabilities of the system which made the fast GUI possible and which therefore made that entire thing possible. If the Mac System software had been a PC OS then it would have simply blended in with the countless other slow and clunky Graphical Environments that had been made available.

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 08 Apr 2018 @ 09:45 PM

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Categories: Macintosh
 05 Dec 2016 @ 10:29 PM 

I’ve not been particularly partial to Macintosh computers, having gravitated largely towards the somewhat more “open” environment that is the typical PC. However while browsing eBay I saw a reasonably priced PowerMac G5 and decided to jump on it. My only experience with Macs is limited largely to the slot-loading iMac G3 and OS 8.6; however, I also toyed with programs like MiniVMac to emulate System 7. (I also had PearPC working somewhat with OSX but it didn’t run very well).

The system itself was not working as-is; it didn’t have a Hard Disk. I threw in a spare 1TB SATA SSHD, and was able to, after some fighting with it, get OS X 10.4 (Tiger) to install to it without issue. I would have gone with OS 9 first (just to fiddle with Classic OS stuff first) but it isn’t supported. Oddly, I found I had to initialize the drive on my Windows System before the G5 could get past the “partitioning” stage.

I’ve been experimenting with the system since. It’s a relatively base G5; it’s only a single core, and it had no Airport for Wifi; as a result I’ve been sneakernetting files over to it via a 128GB USB Flash Drive. I’ve actually been rather impressed with the system- I have a Pentium 4-based system which would be it’s era-contemporary and I’d argue that while both systems are getting long in the tooth in terms of software compatibility, the G5 certainly seems to bear it better, and is incredibly responsive under most circumstances.

I found the two systems about equivalent in terms of playing videos; both can play DVDs just fine, but struggle with 1080p mpeg-4s; reducing the resolution to 480p, however, and the videos will play without any problems. I’ve not put the G5 onto the Internet yet; it lacks the connectivity to do so, as it doesn’t have an Airport card. I got one off of eBay for about 10 bucks which should provide connectivity, and I’ve got TenFourFox, a fork of Firefox, which should work on the system for browsing; so how well that will work remains to be seen. I expect capabilities at least on par with the contemporary Pentium 4 system in terms of performance; which means it should be usable for browsing forums, E-mail, writing posts here, etc.

Mac OS X Desktop

Mac OS X Desktop

I’ve loaded the system up with a bunch of software I sneakernetted across, for now; It’s got USB 2.0 so while the 128GB drives transfer more slowly than on my main desktop and laptop systems which support USB 3, it’s nowhere near the ordeal that it would be with USB 1.1. The biggest annoyance so far is finding the correct versions of software; software like Netbeans IDE for example had versions which ran on OS X 10.4 Tiger, but I’ve been unable to find the old install files and their archive only goes up to 6.0.1 which requires Java 6 or 7 which I’ve also been unable to install, so I’ve hit a wall there. Mono installed, but doesn’t work due to Library issues; I found a slightly older version (one of the early .NET 2.0 releases of the CLR) but that one just claims there is nothing to install which is odd. Currently it doesn’t have an Internet connection as the system lacked the necessary Airport Extreme (or PCI-X) add-on; however I have one on the way from Ebay; and with TenFourFox (A FireFox fork which ports it to OSX PowerPC) I think it will work at least as well as my Pentium 4 system for browsing. In fact it may work even better; I’ve found it performs very well, with even Photoshop CS2 working only slightly slower on it then Adobe CS5 does on my more modern 4770K i7 system. I’ve loaded it up with useful software such as Office 2008 for Mac and older versions of software like TextWrangler; I’ve also got svn and git on it and presume I can connect to my work VPN which could make things interesting; It would be possible to develop using it by using a text editor and svn (obviously Visual Studio isn’t going to be running on the PowerMac PPC!). I’ve also found it outperforms the Pentium 4 system with games like Quake III:Team Arena which perhaps isn’t surprisingly- the Pentium 4 CPU was a bit of a mess in terms of performance compared to both AMD and PowerPC in many ways.

I bought it as “retro” system as at this point it very nearly is. And yet I’m finding myself impressed with the OS design, something which I never really expected. Naturally there are still some things I don’t like about OSX (I’m not a fan of the traffic light window management buttons, for example) But the responsiveness of the system has been quite stellar.

Posted By: BC_Programming
Last Edit: 05 Dec 2016 @ 10:29 PM

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