My Turn

The Ideal Machine for Creative Writing

Nov. 29, 2000 -

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

Like most collectors of old Apple hardware, I've got a lot of computers. Most of them are just sitting on shelves, but three of them are used on a daily basis.

There's an iMac SE I use for web browsing, emailing, and work that I take home from my office. There's a IIfx (32 MB/2 GB) that I use for scanning, CD burning, reading Zips and attaching SCSI devices in general.

Since Apple abandoned the SCSI port in favor of USB and FireWire, lots of people are selling their SCSI devices secondhand because they won't work on their new Macs. I buy them cheap and use them on my old and trusty IIfx. Of course, these old SCSI devices aren't fast, but I don't mind. I have more than one computer, so I don't have to watch and wait for the progress bar to reach the end.

And then there is my third computer, a trusty old Macintosh SE (4/40) that acts as my creative writing machine and is only used for producing fiction texts (a passion of mine since I was just a little kid).

I've always preferred compact Macs or older PowerBooks for this kind of thing. It has to do with the unique level of intimacy these machines offer: They are more comfortable and inspiring than any other computer I ever laid eyes on. The potential of the Macintosh to unleash the creative process is often mentioned as one of the great advantages of the platform. You can read all about this on the Apple Masters site.

I think this is even more true for older Macs running System 6.

I find an iMac with Mac OS 8.6 and Word 98 not as pleasing to write with as an SE with System 6.08 and WriteNow 2.2 (also called 5.0, for some mysterious reason). Those modern word processors offer lots of possibilities that are quite useless and very distracting. Even something like hyphenation, nowadays seen as a basic part of a word processor, is actually rather useless. You just don't use hyphenation when you write a letter or whatever. Hyphenation should only be used with printed texts in books and magazines.

Another reason why the combination of SE, System 6, and WriteNow 2.2 is more pleasing than the combination iMac, Mac OS 8.6, and Word 98 is speed. My SE runs circles around my iMac. The SE boots in just a few seconds, and the word processor starts up even faster, while the iMac needs ages to startup, and Word 98 isn't very swift either. This is not as it should be. I want to be able to turn my machine on and start typing right away.

The reason why the SE with its ancient 68000 processor is faster than the iMac with its G3 processor is the way the operating system and the word processor were produced. Both System 6.08 and WriteNow were written in assembly code, while modern operating systems and word processors are usually written in high level languages and carry a lot of code that is totally irrelevant for someone who only uses his or her machine for word processing.

Of course, I know Apple and Microsoft need to make a buck by constantly releasing newer versions of their products with even more features needing even more powerful machines - but are things improving? No.

Over the years their products seem to have lost their soul.

People like me who sometimes do need hard- and software with a soul can get a compact Mac for 10 to 30 dollars secondhand and System 6.08 as a free download on Apple's ftp site. Of course, obtaining a vintage piece of word processing software like WriteNow, MS Word 4.0 or MacWrite II is a bit more difficult, but you may have an old copy floating around somewhere (or know somebody who has).

Personally I think that software companies should just give the really old software away as free downloads on the Web. WriteNow is owned by some toy company that just sits on the program. I think this is a real shame.

We should start taking more care of this piece of industrial heritage. The Macs of the past were made to last. This makes them very special. Nowadays the computer industry specializes in producing throw away equipment.

I guess only things with souls live forever.

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