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The Legends of 68k

System 7 Today, Advocates of Apple's 'Orphan' Mac OS 7.6.1

- 2006.10.26

Bong! . . . :-) . . . Welcome to Macintosh!

When legends are mentioned, some are mentioned in the past tense, some in the present, and some are predicted to become legends. As part of my look at The Legends of 68K, one website in particular caught my eye. This is a site that has a niche of its own and in many ways could become one of the "legends: in the future.

The site I'm talking about is called System 7 Today. It focuses specifically on Mac OS 7.6.x, which is sadly considered the orphan of the System 7 line. I sat down with him recently and interviewed him.

System 7 Today

Tommy Thomas: Hey Dan! Great to meet ya! How did System 7 Today get started?

Dan Palka: For two years previous to the creation of the site I had worked on setting up older machines for myself and several other friends and/or family who did not have computers, as I had older Macs to spare. I set them up with Mac OS 7.6.1, and the site is the culmination of everything I learned.

Tommy: When did it hit you, "It looks like I've started something people like?"

Dan PalkaDan: For the longest time I had dabbled with 7.5.5, because it was the free version, and I assumed (correctly) that most people with older Macs used 7.5.5 for the same reason. Once I discovered how much more stable and modern the un-free 7.6.1 is, I realized that people might actually be able to use this every day.

Tommy: The first Mac I ever used, a Quadra 650 that had System 7.5.3. I've mostly used System 7.0.1 and System 7.1. I've used 7.5.x on occasion, but I've never used 7.6.x.

I've heard a lot about the different versions of System 7 - with the exception of 7.6.x. What are the main differences between System 7.5.x and 7.6.x?

Dan: 7.5.x and below are by far the most common versions that you hear of people using today, and, of course, this is because they're free. 7.6, specifically 7.6.1, is far more stable, faster, and supports more modern software (like Netscape 4.8 and Internet Explorer 5).

...7.6.1 is more closely related to 8 and 9 than 7.5.x and below.

Few people experience 7.6, though, because few are willing to pay for it. Even if one finds a $10 copy on eBay, I assume many people believe that 7.6 is the same as 7.5. It simply isn't true. I would say 7.6.1 is more closely related to 8 and 9 than 7.5.x and below.

Tommy: I have to say, I've thought the same way about 7.6. I just figured, it must be just a minor update to 7.5.

When you go back and think about it, was there ever a different idea for what System 7 Today would become?

Dan: Originally stemming from a project to "hotrod" a PowerBook 3400c, the original incarnation of what became System 7 Today was a six-page site called "System 7 Power Hour" and you can still access the original index page (the other pages are gone, replaced by the second version).

The current System 7 Today site is the third, mature version. Other ideas I had were possibly a blog or just an all text "instruction manual" type of thing.

Tommy: The best thing about what you do here - your thoughts?

Dan: Discovering new ways that people are wrong about System 7.

Tommy: What are some major examples of what System 7.6.x can do that System 7.5.x and earlier can't?

Dan: 7.6.x has features over 7.5.x that make it desirable, especially on PowerPC machines. For starters, there is more PowerPC optimizations, better memory and cache systems, and it's overall tremendously more reliable. 7.6.x also has a better extensions manager and an easier to use Installer that more closely resembles the Mac OS 8 installer rather than the 7.5.x installer.

7.6.x also officially supports huge drives up to 2 TB in size, even though that is far beyond the limitations of any 7.6 computer. Basically any System 7-compatible computer with a PowerPC processor should be running 7.6.1. The benefits are not so huge for 68k machines, and 7.6.1 is actually rather slow on slower 68030s such as the LC II or the Mac IIsi.

Some software also requires 7.6.x, including Internet Explorer 5 and Netscape 4.8, but Mac OS 7.6 drops support for certain things, such as 24-bit addressing, PowerTalk, and the old style MacTCP networking. So if you wanted those things for some reason, you have more to consider.

Tommy: What are some of the main misconceptions people have about System 7 that you've heard?

Dan: When it comes to older computers, it makes me sad to hear people say they're useless or you can't do anything with them anymore. This applies to all old systems, not just System 7.

Tommy: Yeah, that bugs the heck out of me. Even schools are throwing out perfectly good computers for some of the dumbest reasons.

In my opinion, System 7 Today is a very unique site. In what way is System 7 Today different from other sites?

Dan: Well, it focuses on one OS, and an OS that happens to have hardly a mention, much less a focus, anywhere else. It is truly unique content that you cannot find elsewhere, combined with an ever-growing forum.

Tommy: What's the one thing that's happened in System 7 Today's history that you can point to and say, "That was cool"?

Dan: Probably the move of the entire site (less forums) to a server powered by Mac OS 7.6.1 and AppleShare IP 5.0.2, which has proven problem free, reliable, and fast since day one. Much more than I can say about Dreamhost, who handles the forums as well as my other sites not related to computers.

Tommy: In your mind, is System 7 Today a legend in it's own time?

Dan: Pan Am, BMW, and John Lennon are legends. I don't consider any operating system a "legend", because at the end of the day, it's just an operating system, and while we Mac junkies like to discuss, debate, and quibble over various aspects of computing, when an OS is replaced by a newer version, it is generally not remembered fondly by the general public.

As for the website, no. The Internet is too young for any website to be considered a "legend" of any sort, in my opinion.

Tommy: Well, who knows, it may one day be a legend.

Here's your chance to tell our readers whatever you want to about System 7 Today. What do you want newbies to System 7 Today to know about the website?

Dan: I imagine a lot of people who see mentions of System 7 Today think to themselves, "System 7? What could he possibly have to say?" and just pass the opportunity. I want people to really forget all that and just stop by. I also want people who have never used System 7 to come and see what this historical Mac OS can do.

Tommy: Do you think Apple should offer System 7.1 and 7.6 for free, like they do other older versions of the Mac OS and other versions of System 7?

Dan: I really do wish Apple would release 7.6.1 to the public. I'm not sure they ever will, since 7.5.5 has been free since 1999 or so, but 7.6.1 still isn't free.

Tommy: Down the road, looking at the future of System 7 Today, what do you see happening?

Dan: I have a few things planned actually, although I have no timetable for any of them. One is completion of a full hardware profile section. Yes, I know you can get Mac specs at EveryMac, Low End Mac, and Apple-History, but they're nowhere near as detailed as mine are (you can see a few already under "Hardware Guide").

Most of the specs come from Apple's own hardware spec database, but that database is rather clumsy to navigate and doesn't have the pictures or nice descriptions that LEM and EveryMac do. My hardware section is a combination of Apple's super-detailed specs, and EveryMac's descriptions and pictures (credited to EveryMac, of course). All while continuing the flow with the overall site design.

A lot of questions that come to me or appear on my forum are basic usage questions. Mac OS X has been around for so long now that many people have never experienced the classic Mac OS. I plan on making a "How to Use Mac OS 7" section, similar in style to the original Macintosh Tutorial programs that would ship with Macs, but more substantial. It will include screen shots, step-by-step task descriptions, etc.

Of course, whenever I find new software that I deem worthy of appearing on the site, it is added as well. One of these days I'll probably beef up the gaming section. Since I host all of my software downloads (there are no external links), I have to more cautiously manage what I offer for download.

Tommy: I hope you're able to implement those ideas into the website, it sounds like it'd be really sweet!

We'll conclude this interview tomorrow. Be sure to come back for System 7 Today's Dan Palka on OS X, Windows, and Linux!

And if you have a website or you know of a website you feel should be included in The Legends of 68K, send me an email at thomas (at) lowendmac (dot) com and tell me about it. LEM

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