Mac Classic: My Lowest Low-End Mac

It was my last year of high school, and I had just moved up from typewriter to a handed-down word processor. There was an anonymous DOS clunker waiting for me to take to college. That orange-on-brown Zenith-whatever was like our old Chevy Malibu: it got you where you needed to go, but you were sort of hoping for an accident along the way.

Zenith Z-161 portable

It was actually my sister who got the Mac first (her first computer), a Classic, for her senior year of college in 1991. At the time that she brought it home from college, that Classic seemed like the sleekest of sleek. What couldn’t it do?

Mac ClassicThe ominous shutdown message, letting you know, “it is now safe to turn off your Macintosh,” merely added to its mystique. Evidently, it didn’t take much to impress me; but come on, you could make almost any desktop pattern on this machine – not to mention getting it to quack at you.

After two years of graduate school, my sister upgraded to a PowerBook 520c, and when I returned from a junior year abroad in Wales (not a Mac in sight there), I inherited the Classic. At last, after almost three years of fumbling with my PC and envying everybody else’s geeky customized desktop, I had a Mac.

That was 1996, and it was still not a given (at my college, anyway) that every student had his or her own computer. Yet my house featured a trove of passé Macs: my Classic was complemented Jen’s mighty Color Classic, along with Josh’s Plus and Classic II, each bought used at some point for $100 or so. Halfway through the year, Raphe got one of the all-in-one Power Macs.

I wrote my senior thesis on that System 7.0 marvel (not that that meant much to me at that stage), complete with oh-so-impressive Hebrew fonts right in the document (Word 5.1, naturally). At one point, I had so many fonts and freeware games that the hard drive (40 MB?) was completely full, and it was a rare thing not to get an “out of memory” message.

I trekked off to grad school with the Classic, only to buy a friend’s PowerBook 165c in the spring of 1998. Now this was high tech: portable and color. Okay, so it was five years old, and the trackball stopped working about three months later. At least now I could, well, email from home (I’m not a terribly high-end user, apparently).

Later that year, my sister abandoned Mac (for shame), and I inherited the 520c. Finally, a laptop with curves. Once it was updated to 7.5.3, the thing felt positively modern. Sure, it had seen better days: the battery had about 17 minutes of juice, the hard drive had been completely replaced, and you had to be really careful closing it, lest the casing around the screen crack off. But what the hey, I could run Netscape 3 on there – barely.

Pismo PowerBookAlas, this past spring the screen went black on me one too many times, and I felt my time had come: I would buy a factory-new Mac. For the same price as the venerable 520, I got a 400 MHz Pismo (FireWire, G3, Marvin, whatever it’s called), just as it was replacing the previous PowerBook with 14 names. In any case, it was about as a much Mac as a grad student could ask for; it makes writing at the coffee shop or carrying a music library abroad a little too wonderful.

But along with the power came nostalgia. Having finally transferred all my files (not so easy, given that the two computers had nary a port in common), I installed the (free!) Hebrew 7.5.3 onto the 520 for a kick, and I set up the 165 for my mom at home (of course, she’s had the Classic around for two years already without going near it).

Nevertheless, the Classic was my first Mac, the one I’d had in service longer than any of the others, the one that fascinated me more and more. Just before taking the Pismo plunge, I began to verse myself more in Mac lore through the Mac web, only to discover that my 1992 awe of the Classic was actually Apple’s answer to the cheapos: outdated technology and the lowest price on the product line.

Well, so be it. I ran with it. And so I found it’s true, there is a System 6 lurking in there somewhere. Just how early a System could that Classic run – just how low could I take this low-end Mac? I’ve experimented with System 4.2 (following recommendations at the Mac 512 site) with some success. Why obsess over a ten-year-old piece of technology, itself the product of nostalgia and already behind the times when it first appeared, now that the multi-million-colored world of OS 9 is at my fingertips?

Who said anything about having to choose?

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