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May 07, 2004

They were S.O.T.A in 1996

We picked up the ancient PowerBooks at <plokta.con>, sparking much interest from the other parents of medium sized children. Our friend had helpfully sorted us out some appropriate kid-friendly software, and showed us some fabulous Stupid Kid Tricks (type a story into SimpleText, get the computer to read it out loud, that sort of thing). Anyway, I've set them up today, delighting the children, who (as I suspected) really like the idea of computers of their own.

They run System 7 (though if we can find some extra ram from somewhere then we can put 8.6 on), they're incredibly sturdy, and noticeably smaller and lighter than our PC laptop, Firebrick (though to be fair, every laptop on the planet is smaller and lighter than Firebrick). I'm reasonably confident we will get them onto the network, and Internet is plausible, though I'm not sure there's a good browser out there for system 7, and most of the websites the kids like are flash-heavy. I will have to wait for nightfall, though; the children have been inseparable from the machines all afternoon.

Oddly, we find that much of our existing children's software, bought when Marianne was a small child, will run on these machines; dual-format PC/Mac CDs were the order of the day then. Marianne fell on old favourite Orly's Draw-A-Story and we haven't seen her since.

Update: Got a great Macs-just-work when we plugged in the network cards, made minimal network settings, and typed in a web address in Netscape. But this site crashes Netscape 4.0.5, which is the browser they've got, and the CBeebies site is terribly slow.

Posted by Alison at May 7, 2004 09:32 PM


"...though I'm not sure there's a good browser out there for system 7"

This makes me wonder what the hell I was doing all those years I had a Mac. From 1984 on we just should have all killed ourselves, I guess. It was all lousy crap in those days.

I never got beyond System 6.*, and it was all a waste. Who knew?

(Alison, there's being Mac-priggish, and then there's being, well, slightly insane.)

Incidentally, if you know of any more of these feeble, childish, toys around, I will ask you what shipping charges are; because I'm still working with a Pentium I, wastrel that I am.0

Posted by: Gary Farber at May 8, 2004 09:19 AM

Oh, they're marvellous, I thought I said. Someone after a laptop to use as a portable word processing machine could do very much worse.

It was very odd; we had a conversation with my friend at a con a couple of months ago where we said, roughly, oh, yes, don't throw them away, I'm sure we can find good homes for them. We were the only people with any concrete plans, though. Everyone else was in 'oh, I'm sure someone must have a use for them but I don't personally' mode.

Nevertheless, when people saw our two at plokta.con and saw how wonderful they are, the friend quickly found homes for the remaining ones that have working power supplies.

They're also readily available on eBay for no more than safe international shipping would be -- and I'm sure there are people all over the US ditching similar machines.

My problem is that I have zero experience with pre-OS X Macs; the operating system is unfamiliar to me. Although I remember things like managing relatively little RAM, the skills are rusty. I need to do things like setting up virtual memory, and I need to find a way to copy quite a lot of stuff that my kids don't need now but might want later (like Microsoft Office) off the hard drive and onto the network somewhere for safekeeping.

And although they'll work online, the available browsers don't cope with the web pages M&J want to visit. The browser's also incredibly slow; I don't know if this is the ethernet card, or the PC card slot, or the browser, or the lack of ram, or what. If I could go back and browse the internet circa 1997 I'm sure they'd work swimmingly.

Posted by: Alison Scott at May 8, 2004 12:17 PM

Gee, Gary, that would have been more helpful if it was encrypted.

As to the browser. Knowing me, this might shock you, but the best browser for OS 8.1-9 Macs was Internet Explorer 5 for the Macintosh.

I have no idea why Microsoft was able to make such a good -- and standards compliant -- browser for the Mac while making such a lousy, bloated, uncompliant one for Windows. But there you go.

You do need OS 8.1 (You really want, if you have 16MB or more RAM, OS 8.6 on these boxes -- it's much faster and stable (OS 8 and 8.5 ported much more code to run native PowerPC instructions, 8.6 added PPC603 and 604 native kernels as well.)) You can still download IEfM 5.1.7 from Microsoft's site.

Mozilla 1.0 supports OS 8.5 and above, after that, anything up to Mozilla 1.2.1 runs on OS9.x. There was a brief effort to keep porting Mozilla to OS9, but it faded away.

For optimal usage, if at 16MB or above, upgrade to 8.6 and run IEfM5.1.7. Finding RAM will involve scavenging or eBay, it appears -- they used a custom card for RAM (quite common in notebooks at the time.) The maximum is either 60MB or 64MB, depending on if it shipped with 4MB or 8MB in the "System" slot (there's also 8MB soldered onto the systemboard.)

Posted by: Erik V. Olson at May 8, 2004 03:30 PM

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