What I Miss About Old Computers (Part 3: Macintosh)
Few words feel as stuck in time as the word Macintosh. Of course “Mac” was used to refer to these Apple machines even back in the 90’s before Macs were just Macs. But it’s actually against the law to call any contemporary Mac… a Macintosh.
I never owned a Macintosh. In my youth, everything was black and white. Nintendo was better than Sega. Chevy was better than Ford. And PCs were way better than Macs. But of course we all used them still. Because they were the defacto computer to be used in education. From sixth grade until I graduated, there was at least one Macintosh in every classroom.
Oh! But before that… I should probably talk about my first Macintosh experience.
My friend Paul’s dad had a Macintosh… I think Performa something or other. I can’t remember the model. I would have only been like 10 years old at the time. He kept it in his home office and I remember Paul and I hanging out in his Dad’s office, watching music videos on TV while we waited for his dad to finish installing… something. I remember feeling like his dad was just swapping out discs and restarting over and over to keep us from playing on his computer. It was this day that the legendary Macintosh startup chord was burned into my memories.
Never underestimate the determination of 10 year olds, however. Eventually, probably when Paul’s dad was exhausted, we swooped in and got to play some Myst! Talk about the most cryptic and impossible game for small brains… I don’t remember really doing anything other than wandering around the island. The visuals were pretty cool though compared to anything else you could see at the time.
Now, back to school.
In sixth grade, I remember powering through the assignments because if we got done early we could play on the computers. Not really a great way to encourage thorough work probably. But between those assignments I was able to build some pretty epic Sim City 2000 Cities.
These were LCII machines, which looked like the same form factor as the Performa above. I think the LC machines were targeted towards the education market, but I’m not sure. I’m far from a Macintosh expert. The neatest thing to me, was how the games were all installed right on the hard drive. This was something pretty uncommon in my experience, my hard drive at home on the 486 was only 40MB. So only the most basic programs were installed. Nothing as rich and detailed as Sim City 2000.
The time that I was in school was right around the time where “typing” classes were becoming “computer” classes. We spent time learning the proper way to type. Rules I still don’t abide by (screw you right shift key). But we did a lot of exercises then on what was then the Macintosh Classic. The little black and white all in ones that are so iconic and, I admit, adorable.
Most of the teachers used newer Performa all in ones. These are they style of Macintosh I would like to get someday. I always, even then like the aesthetic of the whole computer contained in one piece. These days I think that probably makes working on them, or expanding them a pain in the butt, but I’m not too worried about expansion. And tearing it all apart and getting something working again is one of my passions, so I wouldn’t mind finding one of these, even broken and taking a shot at getting it working again.
One of these machines inadvertently taught me a lot about how CRTs work… we were playing with some magnets one time in class. My friend Walter and I noticed that if we got the magnet near the screen we could distort the image. Well these were pretty strong magnets and one of us, I can’t remember who, put the magnet right on the screen. When we pulled it back, there was a permanently dark and distorted spot that stayed on the screen. We tried everything to make it go away, but we damaged it permanently. I think over time it slowly got better, but our poor teacher had to deal with that until she got a new computer. I still feel bad about that over 20 years later.
We were kinda turds back then. At one point, one of the teachers removed all the games off the computers. Well we copied them to floppies from other machines. Put them back on the hard drives, buried them in obscure folders, and renamed the executables backwards. We got good at looking up “pobeeb” and “mortselam” for some quick fun when the teacher wasn’t looking.
I remember only one Macintosh in school that had a CD caddy drive. These kinda blew my mind even back then. CDs were still new and cool, but I also was pretty used to seeing tray loaded CD drives on everything from stereos to computers. So the caddy was pretty interesting. You’d stick your CD-ROM inside a jewel case sized caddy with a little sliding metal strip. Push that into the external drive, and viola! You were in the future!
Towards the very end of my time in high school the iMacs hit the scene. Apple took pretty much everything to the candy colored scheme. From the all in one iMacs, to the Power Mac G3s tower and the iBooks. I thought they were pretty cool at the time. And I still would like to have one to remember them by. But if I had to choose, I really enjoy that classic 90’s off white style of the LC and Performa computers.
After high school, I never ran across Apple too often. I did always enjoy their design, but as a college kid working at Arby’s, they were definitely way out of my price range. I’ve thought about going back and picking up a decade old Macbook or something like that, but before that, I think I’d really rather dive into some of that pre-2000 hardware and relive some of those After Dark screen savers and filling up that trash bin.