Monday, July 16, 2018

How Far Does 20MHz of Macintosh IIsi Power Go Today?

Chris Wilkinson:

As I pressed on with using the IIsi, I found the experience to be an overall pleasant devolution: no wizards, no updates, very simple user interfaces, no essential updating required. After just a couple of CPU cycles, you land on a blank page to begin your masterpiece. Typing on Apple’s renowned Extended Keyboard II also certainly helped.


On top of that, Photoshop uses 6MB of RAM, meaning that IIsi owners that haven’t upgraded from their original 5MB total (or less) may need to use virtual memory. But just to prove that I could, I was able to place my new logo in-line with my ongoing word processing document. It’s about as clunky as it is adding pictures in a modern word processor, but it works.

With some surprise, I was able to create PDFs using the Acrobat PDFWriter and view them using Acrobat Reader 3. Similarly I was able to view most modern PDFs, although larger files would fail to open.


I hadn’t expected to be able to access my Gmail account using the IIsi, and this turned out to be the case with all of the email clients tested. As with the Web browsers, the main problem was modern security methods.

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I really enjoy this type of thing. A friend of mine restores old Macs and sells them to collectors and enthusiasts. It turns out that 20 years later, with a little effort they still run great, and old software actually runs pretty great too. It's amazing what was accomplished and usable with the limited resources of the era, where 4mb RAM and a 33mhz 040 was top of the line. And indeed the old clicky keyboards are an absolute delight to use.

One thing we are consistently stunned by is just how lightweight, instantly responsive, and fast Mac OS was back then, just as an overall operating system experience. The Finder is lightning speed, as are moving and opening windows, navigating the simple menus, and other common tasks, everything is just snappy in a way that is no longer the case. Many apps open faster than they do on modern Macs too. Particularly when you get back into the System 7.6 range, it's high performance with few frills, with no eye candy. The OS is out of your way, so you're left with yourself, and whatever you come up with, also known as productivity. Sure some apps can be quite slow once you're using them (Photoshop is a good example where even rendering simple blurs is comically sluggish compared to today, and modern websites are just way far too bloated and bogged down with nonsensical javascript to work well in Classilla or other old browsers), but the overall experience is just highly responsive with few bells and whistles. There's nothing to distract you, there's nothing in the way.

Using old Macs and old Mac software, and experiencing their simplicity and responsiveness, reminds me of why I fell in love with the Mac in the first place; it was never in your face or cumbersome the way Windows was, and unfortunately the way "macOS" has headed and is heading further (endless distractions, red badges, constant alerts, notifications for everything, notification centers, widgets, social network sharing clutter, the entire icloud ecosystem, dashboards, endlessly growing menus and sub menus, strangely sluggish translucency effects, tremendous WindowServer and kernel_task overhead, the ultimately confounding touch bar experience, the jack-of-all trades design-by-committee iTunes, etc). I think all the new unnecessary clutter is why people still think so fondly of Snow Leopard, which remains the last uncluttered Mac OS X release. It'd be nice if all of the newfound bells and whistles could be disabled in an easy manner. Sure you can turn off transparency, disable Dashboard, and basically break Notification Center to regain some peace and simplicity, but it causes a cascade of errors since much is reliant on the nag delivery system.

Anyway, I probably sound like a Mac curmudgeon, but it's really a mix of nostalgia for the simple times, and a desire for improvement on the platform that so many of us use, rely on, and have been a part of for several decades.

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