Remembering the Apple II

April 8th, 2013 9:28 AM
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Filed under Hacks & mods, History, Mainstream coverage;
2 comments.

A recent CNET story has popularized the unearthing of design schematics for the Disk ][ floppy drive and the contract that outsourced its operating system. This story has been a Big Deal, having been picked up by TUAW, Slashdot, A2Central.com, and others.

This story is also an opportunity to consider the scale and scope of computer history. We Apple II users have gobbled up this news, but I suspect it hasn't achieved awareness outside the small circles of retrocomputing enthusiasts and computer historians. After all, what relevancy does the Apple II have to the Apple Inc. of today, whose foundation lies not in desktop or even laptop computers, but in cell phones, tablets, and MP3 players?

It wouldn't be the first time the Apple II has failed to penetrate the public awareness. When I presented the history of the Apple II to the Denver Apple Pi users group, the audience was eager and receptive — with one exception. When one person learned the topic of my speech would be the computer that Apple made before the Macintosh, her response was, "Apple made computers before the Macintosh?" She didn't see the relevancy in this archaic machine and chose not to stay for the presentation.

Similarly, when I recruited Jason Scott as a guest speaker for my college course, he asked my students the loaded question, "How many of you would agree with me if I said Nintendo is thirty years old?" Nintendo was in fact founded in 1889 and dabbled in many industries, from playing cards to hotels to taxi services, before landing in electronic entertainment. Home video games are just a blip in the timeline of the company that set the standard.

These are just two examples of modern consumers being ignorant or uncaring of the lineage behind their everyday tech. I don't know that this oversight is necessarily evil so much as it is the product of irrelevance. Is it one we need to change? I would presume that awareness of the existence of pre-Macintosh computers has improved since the passing of Steve Jobs, but my experience is that just as many people as ever respond to my stories of the Apple II with a comment such as "That was my first Mac!"

The Apple II was sold for 16 years, 1977–1993. Sixteen years ago this year, Steve Jobs returned to Apple. That second era has achieved historical notoriety, both for the metaphoric prodigal son's return and for the reinvention of Apple Computer Inc. as a profitable company. Yet what was long the flagship product of the company's first 16 years seems to have fallen from public consciousness. Is all tech history susceptible to the vagaries of time? Or is the popularity of computer history directly proportionate the penetration of that era's computers? Since 1970s computers were not widely adopted by the mass market, is their history similarly of limited appeal? Do we need to improve the Apple II's public image — not just for the health of our retrocomputing hobby, but for the annals of time? If so, how?

I welcome your historical perspective on this matter!

FS: One Mac Mini inside a Disk II floppy case

September 24th, 2012 1:45 PM
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You may not know Charles Mangin's name, but you know his work. Almost six years ago, he put a Mac G4 inside a Mac Plus. Two years later, he put a 2006-era Mac mini inside a Disk II floppy drive case. He's like a cat who just loves being inside things.

cat cpu DarkOne of Mangin's early failed hybrids.

Having recently completed his Kickstarter-funded PressurePen project, which brought a pressure-sensitive stylus to the iPad and other tablets, Mangin is now returning his attention to his retrocomputing hobby. He's privately shown me some ideas he's working on, and they have the potential to be killer. But instead of using Kickstarter to fund the development, Mangin is turning to eBay. Specifically, he is selling the aforementioned Mac mini.

Mac Mini II

But does it still make that grinding noise at boot-up?

The auction, which ends on Monday, October 1, 2012, does not yet have a taker on an opening bid of $500 or a Buy It Now price of a cool $1,000. Either one is a significant investment, and one I'll unfortunately have to pass on — but only because I'm waiting for Mangin's G4 IIc to go on sale.

G4 IIc system, completeMac OS X has never looked better.

Want to save a buck and try to create your own thing-inside-a-thing? Get more details on how to perform the Disk II hack from the RetroMacCast forum, the RetroMacCast podcast, or on Flickr — or follow John Bumstead's video tutorial.

Mac Mini in a Disk II video tutorial

March 28th, 2011 12:47 PM
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One of the first blog posts to Apple II Bits was old news even when it was published: a hardware hacker had gutted a Disk II drive and replaced its innards with a Mac mini. It was a creative marriage of new and old tech, reminiscent of the many unnatural monstrosities of Ben Heck.

More recently, John Bumstead has decided to make his own go at such a conversion. Due to not wanting to permanently damage his hardware, he aborted the process halfway through, but his video tour of the Disk II still provides some insight into how one would go about inserting a Mac mini inside this Apple II peripheral's case.

What other combinations of new tech with a retro look — or vice versa! — can you imagine?

Disk II on the outside, Mac Mini on the inside

May 3rd, 2010 10:10 AM
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It seems almost every time Apple is due to refresh their product line, the Mac mini is rumored to get the axe. But this model, the most affordable (though perhaps underpowered) of all Macs, is an excellent low-end product that most people overlook. For consumers switching from a PC who already have a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, the Mac mini is the best value. Three years ago, I replaced my father's beige PowerMac G3 with a Mac mini. After I upgraded the RAM, he couldn't have been more satisfied with his first OS X machine, which serves him well to this day.

But an average Apple II user might find the Mac mini underwhelming, as we like to trick out our rigs, and the mini, with its compact size and modest horsepower, doesn't afford much opportunity to do that. So if we can't go forward with the Mac mini, why not go backward?

Dr. Steve Weyhrich of Apple2History.org posted to csa2 the story of Charles Mangin, who has taken his Mac mini and encased it in a Disk II floppy drive, which was popular with the Apple II. Like the TARDIS, the Disk II must be larger on the inside than it appears!


Mac Mini II

Copyright Charles Mangin

This same gentleman made a similar internal upgrade when he put a G4 Macintosh into an original Mac Plus. I wonder what he does with the discarded guts?

(Hat tips to Gizmodo and Blake Patterson)