Mac Daniel's Advice

To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade?

Manuel Mejia Jr - 2001.08.24

After ten years of using my 1990 vintage System 6/7 Macintosh computers, circumstances have prompted me to consider the unthinkable - retire all of my current systems and upgrade to System 9/X (er, ah, OS 9 and X) and buy an indigo iMac.

That would mean retiring my Mac LC, IIcx, and perhaps my PowerBook 145b.

The process that ultimately led the decision to a new Mac started a few month ago when my Apple Performa Plus monitor developed a mechanical fault. After years of use, the on/off DPDT (Double Pole, Double Throw) switch wore out. The switch simply would not engage the metal contact that delivered power to it. It is no longer practical to replace that particular switch.

To overcome the problem, I had my father install two metal SPST (Single Pole, Single Throw) switches to the plastic case next to the dead button. He disconnected the wires from the pushbutton and attached them to the toggle switches. Presto! The monitor came back to life and is in use.

While the monitor is operating well, the IIcx is a different matter. The computer no longer shuts down upon command. It chooses to restart after shutdown. I took care of this matter by shutting the computer down using the power strip. When I try to turn the machine on, it can take up to 20 minutes for it to boot up.

It seems that the power supply is not working like it used to. Since replacement parts for this Mac are as old as the IIcx itself, I have elected to leave the problem unresolved. I was fortunate enough to salvage the computer monitor. I then made the decision to upgrade.

Upgrading Due to Peripherals and Software

The reasons behind a decision to buy a new Mac may have to do with issues that have nothing to do with the computer itself. Important accessories such as printers, software, and even storage media will wear out or otherwise become unavailable.

For instance, it has been over six years since a Mac user could simply buy a new printer and just plug it into a Mac Plus or SE/30. The new USB plugs and new software drivers for these printers are simply not compatible with Macs this old. Classic Mac users often have to buy refurbished peripherals like a LaserWriter II or even an ImageWriter II in order to replace a dead printer. The price for the ink ribbon or cartridge used by these printers is usually higher than the value of the computer or printer itself!

Software is another problem that classic Mac users often face. Although one can find many freeware and shareware programs to run on an old Mac, many key programs - like word processors - are often secured by one means of "skullduggery" or another. In other cases, software is inherited from the computer's previous owner who happened to be the last person to have a valid license for that program. Given the "Fahrenheit 451" policy of the Software Publisher's Association, until some form of abandonware policy is adopted (see Legal Software for Older Macs), it is just easier for someone to buy a new Mac carrying new software than it is to buy an old Mac and then procure the appropriate software. For more insight on the software issue, refer to Michael Munger's Avoid Mac Obsolescence.

In terms of storage media, it is amazing to see people operating Macs like the Classic and the Mac II with 800K floppy drives. Those floppy disks are getting harder and harder to find. Most of the time, I have to collect double sided, double density floppies from boxes of old Windows software and reformat the disks for Mac use. Most vendors do not even carry 800K floppies. When the last 800Ks wear out, the Mac Plus and other 800K floppy machines will join their Apple IIe predecessors in oblivion.

The Transition Period

Even when I do upgrade to an indigo iMac, my Mac IIcx and other classic Macs will still be doing work for me. I am lucky enough to have the software I need for the machines as well as spare parts like an extra floppy drive and hard drive. I can also do contemporary tasks with these Macs. Besides word processing and email, I can do relatively complex tasks like desktop publishing and photographic downloads.

Given the fact that I still have working equipment, it can be hard to rationalize an upgrade. However, these machines are just getting too old. I will gradually transfer my files from the old machine to the new via floppy. My goal is to have the iMac up and running while its predecessors are still functioning.

It will be nice to advance a decade in terms of Mac technology. People will also stop gawking at me every time I make a reference to my vintage computers.

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