That Old Mac Magic

System 7.6.1 Is Perfect for Many Older Macs

- 2006.03.24

Shortly after I wrote my first article for Low End Mac (Macs, Computers with Panache), I received an email from a fellow old Mac lover. It seems we are both the proud owners of souped-up PowerBook 1400s. I'll admit that his is a bit more souped up than mine, but mine works for me and his works for him.

That's one of the tenets of "old Mac magic" - it's old, but old is cool when it still works so well.

This is true not only of my trusty 1400 (which I'm writing this article on ), but also of a certain operating system that we all know as System 7. My fellow 1400 user, a 20-year-old wild and crazy college student from Illinois named Dan Palka, has spent considerable time using and advocating for System 7. After hearing from him and checking out his website, System 7 Today, I decided to find out a little more about him and why he's such a big fan of System 7.

Dan got started with Macs early on - a school lab full of 7200s and a $30 IIsi setup that he bought from a friend in high school did the trick. He fondly remembers installing all 19 floppies worth of System 7.5.3 on his IIsi.

Despite owning a few top-end Macs in the past few years, he still keeps a stable of older Macs in very useful service. In addition to his hot-rodded G4 tower, he still uses the aforementioned 1400 everyday, along with a Power Mac 8600 and an indigo iMac G3/350.

Why Use System 7.6.1?

Dan uses System 7.6.1 on his PowerBook 1400, his workhorse Mac for schoolwork. For him there is no better choice of operating system. "It runs very fast on older hardware. It takes up less RAM and hard drive space," he says of System 7.

Dan finds that Speed Doubler 8 (available for download on his website) is an essential tool for squeezing speed out of System 7 on older hardware. In his experience, it levels the playing field between System 7 and OS 8 or OS 9. "Either way," Dan says, "System 7 still feels faster than 8.6 and 9." And that feeling of speed is critical for users of older Macs.

But, can you actually do anything with that faster-feeling Mac?

Dan's answer is an emphatic, "Yes!"

"Basic tasks haven't changed," Dan says, "Office 98 still opens documents created with the latest versions of Office for both PC and Mac, Opera 5 displays information on most websites presentably, AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) still connects perfectly to the current AIM network."

The Proxim Orinoco Gold card that he uses with his PowerBook 1400 for wireless networking also plays very nicely with System 7.

"System 7 is surprisingly very, very useful," Dan says, "I'm not making an ridiculous claims, like System 7 can replace OS X, but I do find it to be a perfect compliment if you have some older hardware lying around that you thought was 'too slow'."

System 7 Today

Dan has spent a good amount of time creating a website to help those of us with older hardware make the most of it by using System 7.x. "Users will be able to find a wealth of information, software downloads, and how-to-guides all on one site, so they can easily set up an up-to-date and workable System 7 machine," Dan says.

And that's the key, isn't it? Getting things done?

Using old Macs isn't just an exercise in being countercultural or being different for the sake of being different. As I've alluded to in previous columns, things like personal taste, simplicity, efficiency, and, lest we forget, frugality are big parts of why someone decides to keep an old Mac running.

However, in the absence of manufacturer support, the only way to keep an old Mac viable is to do things with them and then let others know what you did, how you did it, and how easy it was to do. That is why sites like Low End Mac and Dan Palka's System 7 Today. Be sure to visit System 7 Today and say hello. LEM

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