I grew up with the Mac in the late 90s. From what I can remember, I started using computers when I was around 6 or 7 years old. My father was a graphic designer at the time, and had been using Macs since he started as a graphic designer in the late 80s. He bought a new Macintosh SE sometime around 1988 from one of the few Mac dealers in existence in the north of the UK at the time. He also ended up buying software such as Aldus FreeHand and also invested a lot into an Apple LaserWriter II. Like with everyone, his needs outgrew the equipment he had, and he upgraded several times. The Mac I remember the most of from back then is the SE, but also the Performa 6200 he had. The 6200 was far from the best Mac ever built, it had numerous engineering and design flaws. For example, the vent for the exhaust fan was where you’d place your CRT monitor, thus blocking the fan completely. I still want to know which Apple engineer thought that was a good idea.
Both the SE and Performa 6200 were my computers at one time. I have fond memories of using System 7.6.1 on the Performa 6200. It was the best version of System 7 and had a vast feature-set and was pretty reliable (as long as you didn’t have conflicting extensions, of course). I actually used the Performa 6200 until I got my first iMac in 2001. It was great to migrate to a machine with more RAM, a G3 processor and the ability to run Mac OS 9.
But what to what I was talking about: software. I remember System Software version 6.x.x (not sure which one exactly) being on the SE. And I definitely remember using System 7.5 and also 7.5.5 at some point, on my mother’s Power Macintosh 4400 (It’s probably not worth going into detail about why that particular Macintosh was terrible, I’m sure the die-hard Mac fans will remember). My favorite as I’ve said was by far 7.6.1.
Even at a young age, I had access to very expensive software packages because my father was a graphic designer. This meant I got to play with titles including Adobe Photoshop 3.0 (my favorite classic version of Photoshop, and the first to include Layers if I’m not mistaken), Aldus FreeHand and then later Macromedia FreeHand, and also Silicon Beach Software’s SuperPaint. Most kids were probably stuck with MacPaint, but I had SuperPaint, that’s just how cool I was. If anyone remembers, SuperPaint was an ‘improved’ version of MacPaint with lots more features and stuff.
Later on, there were tons of various freeware, donateware, shareware applications I used. Most of these came from Macworld CD-ROMs. I remember using SoundApp, File Buddy, ResEdit, ShrinkWrap, DOCMaker, Tex-Edit Plus, GraphicConverter, JPEGView, just to name a few.
Before the Web
I didn’t start to frequently use the Internet until around 2002. While I used them, the SE and Performa 6200 definitely didn’t have any modem connection. My father did use 56k dialup for checking email (remember Eudora?) etc, but I didn’t use it. I do remember occasionally using the Power Macintosh 4400 to visit some websites in Internet Explorer 3.0. But at the time, the Internet as we know it was still young – Google had only been around for 2 years or so. It wasn’t until later that my parents and myself understood the concept of search engines and actually started to use the Internet properly! So without an Internet connection, these days you’d think there wouldn’t be much to do on a computer. And that’s right, today loads of stuff relies on it. But back then, that wasn’t the case. I spent quite a lot of time developing in REALBasic, checking out the latest software on Macworld magazine discs, playing around/tinkering with various software, and of course modifying/customizing the system software with ResEdit.
System Bomb Errors
I’m pretty certain I’m not the only one who doesn’t miss the monolithic kernel, co-operative multitasking and lack of suitable memory management in the pre-OS X days. Because I was somewhat of a ‘power user’ and a bit adventurous, I did tend to install software that was buggy, or even in beta/alpha stages. As well, I did like installing third party system extensions. This inevitably meant that there would be conflicts somewhere along the line, or that some little piece of code would upset the entire system. For these reasons; freezes, crashes and errors were a pretty common part of my childhood (now that’s nerdy).
Running out of memory
The Macs I grew up with didn’t have much memory installed. Memory expansion upgrades were extortionate back in the day. I still have an 80s Mac magazine which, from memory (no pun intended), advertises a 4MB upgrade for a Plus at £499! So I did have to put up with alerts informing me of insufficient memory. I think because of this, I really built up a hatred over the years of lack of memory. So my current Mac has 16GB RAM. And if you think that sounds excessive, I have actually managed to make it use it all as well. I’m sure somewhere in the future (hopefully not distant future) are MacBook Pros that will have the options of 32, 48, 64GB RAM.
Customizing the Mac
I have always loved customizing the Mac – this is something I used to do a lot on my Performa 6200. I certainly recall a Dummies book written by Bob LeVitus which also contained a chapter focusing on software you could use to customize the Mac’s appearance and behaviour. I used to use the system extension Aaron to make System 7 look like Mac OS 8, and I also remember using Kaleidoscope. There are tons of different utilities, systems extensions and control strip modules that I used – unfortunately, I’ve forgotten what most of them were. The ones I do remember are CopyPaste, GoMac, Snapz Pro (I was a massive fan of Ambrosia games and software), LiteSwitch and PopChar.
Reliving the past
Thanks to emulation, we nostalgic Mac folk can even relive our old memories by using mini vMac, Basilisk II or SheepShaver to run pre-OS X system software and programs. These emulators even work on OS X Mountain Lion, so anyone who’s running new gear can even have some fun too. Sometimes, having the real hardware can be better. But I’ve found that emulation does the trick more often than not, and it saves the hassle of maintaining old equipment. I used to have a collection of Apple products including the SE, LC, Classic, 4400, 6200, 6400, IIci, Newtons, eMate, PowerBook 100, and so on. It got to the point where this old stuff was taking over my life, and I gradually sold the collection off. Collecting is fun, but it can get expensive upgrading/maintaing old Macs, and they take up lots of space as well. For those reasons, I do recommend emulation instead.
I hope this has brought back some memories of our fellow readers, it certainly has for me! Feel free to share your own old Mac experiences in the comments below and also spread this article via social media. Thanks for reading.