The Mac Draft

During the release notes, the Simple Beep folks recorded a “favorite Macs” draft podcast with Stephen Hackett and Christina Warren that I thoroughly enjored and recommend to you to listen to for a fun bit of Mac history.

Through it all I was mentally making my own draft list and wondering if I should post it, and then I noticed that Dr. Drang posted his, and I realized nobody’s list seemed to have the Mac IIci on it, which is an outrage, so without further ado….

Round 1: Macintosh 512Ke: My first macintosh, which had a 68000 running at a massive 8MHz (that’s Megahertz, folks, not gigahertz). And which I modded up to a full 2 megabytes of RAM, and later added a fan after the heat inside the case melted the solder off the monitor wiring onto the motherboard (which I soldered back on; we could do that back in the good old days).

What’s even more amusing about this computer is that I was working for National Semiconductor at the time, in a group building computers around the NS 32000 chipsets that were trying to compete with the 68000 (and the Zilog Z8000), and I would occasionally get crap about using it instead of our computers. Which stopped every time I said “when ours can do this, I will…” — and as you see, National Semiconductor is today one of the great CPU powerhouses in the industry (although I’ll be honest, I still think the 32xxx architecture was the best of the three, but National Semi was a jellybean company that really didn’t understand what complex silicon needed in terms of infrastructure and ongoing support — and then the RISC chips from Sun and MIPS came and blew up the market…)

Round 2: Mac IIci: The Mac II was the first Macintosh with slots, and the Mac IIfx was the high end, supercharged Mac geeks lusted after, but the Mac IIci was the mac you’d find on most developer desks in its day. It was a hefty 25MHz with the ability to stuff lots of RAM into it, but it only had 3 slots in it, which caused the kind of furor you saw when Apple later removed the floppy drive, the CD-ROM drive, or the headphone jack. What Apple knew that the general public didn’t was that only about 5% of users used more than one slot, and that one slot had the video card in it. It was plenty powerful for most uses, had a smaller form factor (and price) and Apple sold lots of these devices, and while the Mac II was my first loan-and-own from Apple, the IIci was by far my favorite computer from that era.

It had 8 RAM slots, allowing a massive 128 Megabytes of RAM if you wanted, but that RAM would cost you $1500 or more to buy. It was, pure and simple, the best Macintosh between the Mac PLus (which introduced the external SCSI port, allowing for hard drives) until Apple came out with, in my view, the next one on my list.

Round 3: Powerbook Duo 230: You may not remember the original Mac Portable, but I do. We had one with the team, and I once took it on a business trip. Those of you complaining about the weight of a Macbook Pro 15″, well, get off my lawn. But laptop technology quickly advanced through the early Powerbooks and then Apple put out the Duo, and it’s partner, the Duo Dock, which was a device that let you turn the laptop into a desktop machine and connect it to all of its ports and devices. It was an electric-motor operated docking port that would suck the device in and connect it to a docking port for you. A bit Rube Goldbergian, and a bit magic.

This was a nice machine that for the first time let me carry my computing with me on the same device, doing away with that early attempt at syncing files between computers known as sneakernet. And it was small and light compared to Powerbooks; truly the Macbook Air of its day.

Round 4: I’m torn here, because there are really two computers that deserve to be here. My choice will be the original Bondi Blue iMac G3, because it is the device that ultimately started the turnaround and saved Apple from failure or sale. The impact on Apple is hard to understand, but it literally changed the company and saved it financially and set it on its new path to being the 800 pound gorilla it is today. It was also a great computer to use, once you replaced the mouse with a trackball, which a surprising number of Apple people did around the company…

The other option?? I’ll take the iMac Core 2 Duo, from 2006, which was the year Apple released the first Intel Macs. The form factor was a huge jump forward but the processor change created opportunities for Apple that turned the company that iMac saved into a massive powerhouse, not just by overcoming the limitations of the PowerPC chip, but opening up many new avenues for use of the hardware, from running Linux natively to virtual Windows to even loading up Windows instead of the Mac OS. It made it an option for people who otherwise wouldn’t have considered the devices because they needed (or felt they needed) an Intel processor inside.

Deep Cuts

A few extra devices for my deep cuts list, which I’d have used if my main picks were grabbed by someone else first:

Macintosh IIsi: Basically the IIci in a pizza box form factor with a bit of a specification drop for price, this was a great little computer, and the one I did my work on in tech support for A/UX in my early days at Apple.

Macintosh 9150: Apple did a series of servers that featured higher-end components and better performance than the desktop machines, which were set apart by having xx50 model numbers. From the lower end 6150 to the high end in the 9150, these were good machines for the day, and got much nicer margins than the desktop versions, which had the Mac group annoyed at us all the time and constantly trying to get us and our products shut down.

The Apple Server group (the first time I worked in a marketing group) went on to make the Apple Network Server boxes that Stephen mentioned in the podcast, which were insane beasts and sold mostly to Apple IT, and ran the Apple data center for years before the Xserve took over. They ran A/IX because Mike Spindler cut a partnership with IBM for some strange reason, although they were originally built to run — Windows NT. No, seriously. And then Spindler found out, and…

That a group at Apple was seriously considering running Windows NT on an Apple labeled box probably indicates just how screwed up Apple was in the time leading up to the return of Steve, but we were still in the Spindler era, and Gil Amelio was not yet on the horizon flying in to save us…

Other computers I feel are significant in driving the Apple universe forward I might pick out of if I needed to would include the iMac 5K, the first unibody Macbook Pro, the 2nd generation Macbook Air, and the current Macbook, which is just starting off a generational shift in hardware that I expect will make the next year or two very interesting on the Mac side of the business.

The next chapter of which is probably a couple of weeks away…