1986: Mac Plus, 512Ke, HFS Disks, and the LaserWriter Plus

After a whole year without a new model (unless you count repackaging the Lisa 2 as the Macintosh XL), Apple announced the Macintosh Plus, the first expandable Macintosh, on January 16, 1986.

Mac Plus with LaserWriter

Unlike earlier models designed with only 128 KB or 512 KB of memory and no expansion path, the Plus shipped with 1 MB of memory and could be expanded as far a 4 MB using SIMMs, 30-pin memory modules that were much easier to work with than the individual chips the industry had used in the past.

Not only that, but the Plus had an improved keyboard with features we take for granted today, such as arrow keys and a numeric keypad. (Function keys would have to wait until 1987 and the Apple Extended Keyboard.)

But it gets better. The only hard drives for the earlier Macs used the slow serial connection designed for external floppy drives. There was absolutely nothing fast about it, except in comparison to floppy disks themselves.

The Mac Plus introduced SCSI to the world just as the standard was being established. It would be possible to chain up to seven SCSI devices to the Plus: hard drives, scanners, printers, tape drives, etc.

One small change: The Plus used the same miniDIN-8 serial connector found on every subsequent Mac until the iMac. That and the 25-pin SCSI port were standard Mac features for 13 years.

Introduced simultaneously with the Plus, System 3 introduced the disk cache and the HFS filing system, which slowly gave way to the improved HFS+ system after Mac OS 8.1 was introduced in 1997. The biggest advantage of HFS was the ability to nest folders inside of folders, which became important as hard drives became an almost essential accessory.

Apple also moved to double-sided 800KB floppy disks with the Plus.

Fat Mac Redux

In April 1986, Apple discontinued the Macintosh 512K, replacing it with the 512Ke. This used the same 128KB ROMs and the same 800KB floppy drive as the Plus. However, it used conventional memory chips and had no SCSI port, seriously limiting its market.

While the Plus went on to become the longest-lived computer in the Macintosh line, staying on the active list until October 1990, the 512Ke was discontinued on August 1986, just four months after its introduction. Even at close out prices, the 512Ke was a hard Mac to unload.

Apple also introduced an improved laser printer, the LaserWriter Plus, along with the last new design of the Apple II line, the Apple IIGS.

The Competition

Led by Compaq, the PC world embraced the 16 MHz 80386 processor, which made both the 8-12 MHz 80286 and the 8 MHz Macintosh look pretty anemic.

Microsoft became a publicly traded company in 1986, and exiled Apple founder Steve Jobs started a company called NeXT.

Personal Perspective

My first experience with a Macintosh came in late 1986. The worship committee at my church was putting out a small booklet on worship. A member of the church offered his Mac and LaserWriter as an alternative to typesetting. I used a 300bps modem to spurt the text files from my Commodore to his Mac Plus (recently upgraded from a 512K Fat Mac), where we brought them into PageMaker 1.0 and designed the 54-page booklet.

Output was on his LaserWriter. If I recall correctly, we printed at something like 125% so it could be reduced for better sharpness when the booklet was printed. Although he had a ThunderScan (this was a scanner that replaced the ribbon on an ImageWriter), we chose not to digitize the pencil sketches, instead using conventional means for putting them in the book.

After years of doing layout with waxed typeset galleys, PageMaker was a very impressive tool. I never would have guessed then that six years later I’d work full time with a Macintosh doing desktop publishing.

Next – 1987: Expansion Slots, Internal Hard Drives, and Color

Keywords: #macplus #mac512ke #thunderscan

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