Four (or more) Macs

Yesterday morning, a new podcast episode popped up in my Castro inbox: a Relay B-Side called The Mac Draft.1 In it, Stephen Hackett, Christina Warren, Brian Sutorius and Ed Cormany did a four-round draft of significant or favorite Macintosh models. It’s a fun show, and you should give it a listen. (If you’re used to the draft shows on The Incomparable, fear not. This one’s only 48 minutes long.)

If you’ve been a Mac user for any length of time, you’ll probably think of which machines you would have drafted had you been on the show. I sure did, and that’s what this post is about. One restriction I’m going to impose on myself that the youngsters didn’t is that I will only draft Macs that I owned or was the primary user of at work. I like the personal touch.

Round One: SE/30


Image source: Wikipedia.

Yes, I know Ed drafted the SE/30 with his first round pick. I’m just going to assume that I went before him and sniped this pick. It’s my blog, and I’ll do what I want.

The SE/30 is the favorite of a lot of Mac users of a certain age. During the Mac’s 25th anniversary year, it was hailed as the greatest Mac ever by no less than Adam Engst, John Gruber, and John Siracusa. Introduced to the world at the beginning of 1989 and retired almost three years later, it was the apotheosis of the original Mac form factor.

I was teaching in 1989, and that fall one of my departmental colleagues got an SE/30. I was immediately filled with jealousy. When I changed jobs at the beginning of 1990, I persuaded my new employer to provide me with an SE/30, and the sour feeling of inadequacy washed away as I set it up at the corner of my desk.

That was the great thing about the SE/30. It was a serious workstation—the 68030 processor was a beast for its time—in a package that could fit almost anywhere. And when I was 30 years old, my eyes could handle the 9″, 512×342 pixel, black-and-white screen.

Round Two: 2010 13″ MacBook Air

MacBook Air

No need for a stock image of this one; it’s sitting on my lap right now. This is not the much-maligned original Air. It’s the second-generation model, the one they got right. Real ports, no flip-down door, and Flash storage instead of a 4200 rpm, iPod-class hard disk.

This machine was a revelation when I first got it. It booted up so fast. In fact, everything seemed extra quick, an indication that most of what I was doing was constrained more by I/O than by processing. And of course, it was so thin and light. Even after six years, I don’t really feel it’s a museum piece—it still gets the job done.

Although I drafted the SE/30 first, that was a tactical decision. This is my favorite Mac.

Round Three: 512K

Macintosh 512K

Image source: Wikipedia.

This was my first Mac. I bought it in grad school and wrote my Ph.D. thesis on it, using MacWrite, MacDraw, an ImageWriter, and Andy Hertzfeld’s amazing Switcher.

Although the formal name was 512K, based on its RAM, everyone called it the Fat Mac. Mine was configured with an external single-sided diskette drive to compliment the internal drive. That gave me a whopping 800 kB of storage for the system, the applications, and my files.

But the best thing about the Fat Mac was its RAM, something that didn’t become apparent until Switcher was released. Because applications had to be written to fit in the 128 kB of the original Mac, Switcher allowed you to fit the Finder plus two or three other applications into RAM and quickly flip back and forth between them. It wasn’t multitasking, but it was sure better than the usual launch/use/quit, launch/use/quit cycle. Given that I typeset by hand the equations for my thesis in MacDraw and then pasted them into MacWrite, Switcher was a godsend.

Round Four: Cheating

I have three Macs that I’d like to put into the fourth slot, and I don’t know which one to choose. So I’m just going to cheat by squeezing them all into one round. Again, it’s my blog.


Surprisingly, the SE/30 is the only overlap between my choices and the ones made by Stephen, Christina, Brian, and Ed. A good part of this is because my choices are biased toward the early days of the Mac—a lot of beige, as Stephen would say. But it’s also because 30+ years of design includes something for everyone.

  1. It has since appeared a second time as an episode of Simple Beep