Putting Donated Mac Plus' and SE's to Good Use in Schools, Libraries, and Community Computing Centers

[This document is in the public domain and may be freely reproduced in any form.]

Version 1.0

by Phil Shapiro (and others)

Schools and libraries face the enviable position of being on the receiving side of large numbers of donated older Macs these days. The Mac Plus and SE models are particularly common as donated items. Knowing how to put these older computers to work is one way of stretching your technology budget.

This article will share some ideas on possible uses of Mac Plus and SE models. Some of the comments and explanations may apply to later model Macs as well.

To put things into perspective, it's best to start off with a mini history lesson. The Mac Plus first came out in January of 1986. It was the first Macintosh model to be shipped with a built in SCSI port. Every Mac Plus was shipped with a minimum of one megabyte of memory. The first LaserWriter printers also came on the market at about the time the Mac Plus was introduced, so the Plus played a significant role in launching the desktop publishing revolution.

The Mac SE came out in March of '87. It too shipped with a minimum of one megabyte of memory. But the SE had a few extra capabilities. Some SE's were shipped with internal hard disk drives. (Mac Plus' were designed to use external hard drives only.) Early SE's shipped with two internal 800K floppy disk drives. Later model SE's had high-density disk drives, commonly denoted as: "FDHD" (floppy drive high density) on the case of the computer,right below the floppy drive opening.

Using Plus's and SE's Without a Hard Drive

It's quite common that donated Macs arrive without any hard disk drive. Recipients of these Macs then are placed in the position of having to decided whether to spend money on a new (or second hand) hard drives for each of the donated Macs.

Interestingly enough, there are ways of getting quite a lot of use from a Mac without a hard drive. You can use such Macs for word processing and telecommunications, two of the most common uses of newer Macs. And you can find interesting public domain and freeware educational programs that can run on a Mac without a hard drive.

Let's start with word processing. If you want to do word processing on a Mac without a hard drive, you need to find a word processor small enough not to require a hard drive. Early versions of MacWrite can work entirely from floppy drives. But my preference is to use a very well done shareware text editor named "TexEdit," by Tom Bender. This $5 shareware program has dozens of useful features for users of newer Macs, and works eminently well as a floppy based word processor on older Macs.

To create a "boot-disk" with TexEdit on it you'll need to get a copy of the System Tools disk from system software 6.0.5 or higher. This software is obtainable from several places: 1) Your local user group, or 2) Various online sources. The online source I find most convenient is the Mac Operating System library on America Online. (Keyword: MOS.) Note: System software in this library is available as "disk images." You'll need to also obtain a copy of the program, "DiskCopy," to convert the disk image back into system software. DiskCopy can also be downloaded from the MOS library on AOL.

After obtaining a System Tools disk for System 6.0.5 or higher, your next step is to strip the disk of all files except the system folder. Just drag them all into the trash can and then empty the trash. The reason for deleting all these extra files is to make maximum room for TexEdit and the data files created by TexEdit.

The next step is to copy TexEdit onto this disk. After doing so, you'll be left with about 100 to 150 kilobytes of free room on the disk. This free space can be used for saving the writings you make with TexEdit. How much space is 100 to 150K? You can save about 50 to 60 typed pages of text in this space. Friendly suggestion: Don't push your luck in trying to wring the last byte from your floppy based word processor. If you need more room on your "boot-disk floppy," copy the files you've made onto another floppy (or hard drive) and then delete the files from the boot-disk floppy.

Another useful program that runs from a disk-based floppy is ZTerm, the immensely popular shareware Mac communications program. The other day I tried running ZTerm from a disk-based floppy, on a one meg Mac Plus. Here is what I found.

It is possible to get ZTerm to boot from a floppy disk, but sometimes you encounter small problems at the point where the phone directory loads into ZTerm. Here's a quick workaround. On your boot-disk floppy with ZTerm delete the file named "Phone Directory."

This means that you'll have to "manually" enter the phone number each time you place a call. This is mildly inconvenient, but not such a big deal. In my mind, getting ZTerm to boot on a Mac without a hard drive is worth a bit of inconvenience.

Interestingly enough, ZTerm performs valiantly well without a hard drive once the program has booted. To put the program through its paces I called CapAccess, the local "freenet," with my 14.4 modem. I was particularly curious to see how large a scrollback buffer ZTerm would have when running from a one meg Mac Plus.

To my surprise, I stayed online for over an hour, at high speed, and still was able to scroll back to the beginning text of my online session. My estimate is that ZTerm's scrollback buffer on a one meg Mac Plus is about 500 kilobytes. From my point of view this is extremely large and generous. (Some of the communications programs I've work with on my Apple IIc have scrollback buffers of 20 to 30K.)

Of course, the thing to keep in mind when using ZTerm from a boot-disk floppy is that you don't have a lot of storage space to capture text. No matter. ZTerm can easily save just those sections of text you've highlighted in the scrollback buffer. If you are selective in the text you choose to capture (i.e. save) to disk, ZTerm will perform fine from a boot-disk floppy. Naturally, you'll likely want to copy the saved text to another floppy (or hard drive) at some point.

How about educational programs for a Mac without a hard drive? Well, for those artistically inclined, the public domain version of Kid Pix runs fine from a floppy disk. This original version of Kid Pix is in black and white, and lacks sound effects. But the dynamite graphics effect (and others) work splendidly. What more could anyone want than to blow up their graphical doodlings with the dynamite screen-clearing effect?

In terms of educationally oriented "thinking games," one of my all time favorite Mac freeware programs, MacSokoban, runs fine from a floppy based Mac. The simplified version of these logic puzzles, "Simple Sokoban, volumes 1 and 2," also run fine.

And if you're looking for arcade games, the black-and-white shareware version of Columns could fit the bill. This fun software is a variation on Tetris. You might recognize Columns as being the younger sibling of the wildly popular color version of this game, Jewelbox.

Many other public domain, freeware, and shareware programs could also run from a boot-disk floppy. General rule of thumb: If the program itself is smaller than 200K, you can probably run it from a boot-disk floppy.

Putting One Meg Mac Plus' and SE's to Work

Okay, say your school or library receives a donated Mac Plus or SE, with a hard drive, but with only one megabyte of RAM. Is it necessary for you to run out to install more RAM? Nope.

Here are some ideas for putting these computers to work with one meg of RAM.

First, all the programs that can run from a boot-disk floppy will also be able to run when installed on a hard drive. But beyond that, here are some other programs you can put to use.

If you live in an area where there are First Class electronic bulletin board systems (BBS's) set up, you can call these bulletin boards using the freeware First Class client software. The nice thing about First Class bulletin boards is that the user interface is very Mac like. (Entirely graphical, as opposed to "text-based" bulletin boards.)

I find that First Class BBS's are a gentle way of introducing telecommunications to Mac users who haven't been online yet. And since many First Class BBS's are free (or come as a benefit of a belonging to a user group), people can practice their online skills without having to worry about the expense of a running clock.

You might be surprised to hear this, but it's even possible to use a one megabyte Mac Plus to set up your own First Class BBS. The First Class "host" software doesn't require much memory at all.

(to be continued)

Other topics I'd like to see covered in the final version of this article.

Discussion of HyperCard use on one meg Macs

Setting up BBS's on one meg Macs (Second Sight/First Class)

Memory requirements for using an inkjet printer (2.5M? 4M?)

Using one meg Macs as disk-formatting and disk-duplicating machines

Commercial sources of older Macs

Getting older Macs fixed. (Larry Pina book, "Mac Classic & SE Repair and

Upgrade Secrets." Also, mail order repair services)

Setting up a writing lab with older Macs (Use of "sneakernet")

Using the new Low-End Speach Manager in educational settings

TrueType Fonts With System 6.0.7

"Sticktion" problems with older hard disk drives: what this problem is and how to minimize it.

Return to miscellaneous writings menu.