The Mac IIfx: Apple enters the workstation market

Developed to quickly process data heavy tasks, run UNIX and… to satisfy a government contract.

Released in March 1990, the Mac IIfx at the time was the fastest and most responsive Mac ever built. While Apple dubbed it “Wicked fast”, users interpreted the “fx” as an acronym for “Fucking eXpensive”, since the computer cost an enormous amount of money: 10000 to 12000 USD, depending on configuration..
The IIfx was Apple’s first real workstation and was supposed to rival offerings by brands such as Sun, Hewlett Packard and Apollo.

Illustrazione Mac IIWhile externally identical to a Mac II, internally the IIfx was quite different. It was powered by a Motorola 68030 CPU running at 40 MHz (almost twice the clock of the fastest Mac previously available, the IIci) and its 32 KB Level 2 Cache wasn’t optional but built in.

The hardware also included a number of proprietary ASICs which were designed to speed up the machine even further, in particular in I/O. It had a brand new SCSI controller and used a specific ultrafast type of 64 pin SIMM RAM with parity.

Since the hardware was higly customized, to exploit it properly the Mac IIfx needed a specific and highly optimized version of the System, the Macintosh’s OS. In alternative one could use A/UX, Apple’s version of AT&T UNIX, which was concurrently made available in a brand new version 2.0. It was released on floppy disks, CD, tape and even in a preinstalled version on the Mac IIfx’s Hard Disk.

With A/UX 2.0 the total price of the Mac IIfx could surpass 13000 USD. So, apart from power users, professionals in computer graphics and a few wealthy enthusiasts, who was this model really meant for?

Apparently the IIfx was created under a United States government contract, which asked for Unix workstations with specific hardware features and had a generous budget. It’s not clear if and how many units were actually sold to the US administration but at the time Apple was very interested in this high-profile market. It later created a new business division for enterprise systems to serve “large businesses, government, and higher education” and kept on developing A/UX until 1995 and more high-end Macintoshes to run it.

The image of the Mac II case is from an ad featured in italian magazine Applicando in November 1987.

Tuesday 16 February 2016, 12:00 pm
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Screw Bjarne

In the world of programming languages, Danish computer scientist Bjarne Stroustrup is a very well-known and respected name. Stroustrup has not only been the head of AT&T Bell Labs’ “Large-scale Programming Research” department for many years but he is also the father of the widely used object-oriented C++ programming language, that he officially released in 1983.

At the end of the Eighties Apple developers decided to start supporting the new language in the Mac Programmer’s Workshop (MPW), at the time the official IDE to create Macintosh software.

Screw BjarneThe effort wasn’t without hitches and C++’s logic caused bouts of frustration, vented in some funny ways. Among them was a “Talking Bjarne” application and most of all the production a of a geeky t-shirt featuring a picture of Stroustrup’s head pierced by a giant screw.

According to Landon Dyer, who made the t-shirt, the image was meant to be an irreverent statement around the fact that he thought that C++ was really “screwed up”, although the message which actually came through was a more direct, and liberating, “Screw Bjarne”.

When Stroustrup came to Apple to give a lecture, Dyer gave him one of the t-shirts and apparently the father of C++ wasn’t angry and seemed delighted to have made such a strong impression on Infinite Loop’s developers.

The image is taken from geekt.org/geekt/comment.cgi?newsid=1195

Tuesday 09 February 2016, 12:29 pm
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The Apple III, Steve Jobs and Jerry Manock

Filed under: Hardware,People

Apple’s first computer designed for the enterprise market, the first not engineered by Steve Wozniak. And Infinite Loop’s first major failure

The Apple III went down as a costly and embarrassing failure. It tarnished Apple’s image and contributed to lose a good chunk of the precious market lead the Cupertino company had conquered with the Apple II.

Announced in May 1980, but made available only several months later, the Apple III was sold at prices ranging from 4000 to 7000 USD, depending on the configuration. It was a professional machine partially compatible with the Apple II, an 8 bit computer also powered by the same 6502 CPU, but with a higher clock. It also had more RAM, a higher screen resolution, built-in disk drives and a keyboard featuring upper and lowercase keys and a numeric keypad.

The often quoted story about the Apple III goes that it was a failure because of Steve Jobs’ unreasonable demands, most of all his dislike for fans, whose addition he forbade. This design choice supposedly caused such overheating and malfunctions that Apple was forced to replace 14000 units, even after having users perform odd procedures to try and fix the computer.

It’s undeniable that the Apple III hardware had some kind of serious problem, but in 2007 the original case co-designer, Jerry Manock, refuted the case design flaw charges and set the record straight, partially absolving Steve Jobs. (more…)

Tuesday 02 February 2016, 1:00 pm
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Must-have apps: TenFourFox

Filed under: Software

If you have an old Macintosh with a PowerPC CPU and you want to browse the modern world wide web, you have only one reasonable choice: 10.4Fx, better known as TenFourFox.

TenFourFox: A fork of Mozilla Firefox ESR 38 for the Power Macintosh and Mac OS X Tiger PowerPC

It’s an acclaimed and heroic port of Firefox written by Power Mac users and maintained by Power Mac users, “still out there keeping your Power Mac relevant in an Intel world”.
As I write this text the current version of TenFourFox incorporates “the latest bug fixes and security improvements plus all the powerful technology underlying Mozilla Firefox 38 ESR“.

But let’s take a step back. (more…)

Wednesday 11 November 2015, 2:00 pm
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The Lisa/Macintosh XL, one of the “most unforgettable old Macs”

Filed under: Hardware

This summer I noticed a question on Quora, asking “What are the most unforgettable old Mac computers?”

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While most of the answers (predictably) waxed poetic about mainstays such as original or the G4 iMac, the TAM (Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh), the Portable or some odd but cool looking model such as the Macintosh TV, I chose to go against the grain and listed the following choices:

-) Macintosh XL: Lisa born again as a Macintosh and a indespensable development tool in the early years
 
-) Macintosh SE/30: fast and powerful, but still compact as the first one
 
-) Macintosh Quadra 900/950: the biggest, heaviest, baddest Mac ever
 
-) PowerBook Duos: coupled with the DuoDock they were a groundbreaking concept
 
-) white iBooks/PowerBooks with IBM G3 processors: insanely great battery life for the time
 

Shrine Of Apple: Lisa Pascal Workshop 3.0

While the speed and power of the SE/30 or Quadras are a well-known fact and many have lauded the virtues of old PowerBooks (I am among those) I think I should expand a bit and offer more context on the first item, i.e. the importance of Lisa/Mac XL during the early years of the Macintosh’s life.

When in January 23 1985 Apple renamed the Lisa 2/10 to Macintosh XL, thanks to the addition of MacWorks XL, a Lisa program that allowed 64K Macintosh ROM emulation, it stressed the Lisa/XL had way more memory and storage space than the early 128K/512K Macs. (more…)

Tuesday 27 October 2015, 4:22 pm
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