Thursday, June 20, 2024

An outpouring of love for the playful, personality-filled Macintosh Classic

It’s easy to pick up and transport from place to place. I’m too young to have used a compact Mac as my main machine, but I can readily imagine taking it into a college dorm and then returning home at the semester’s end. At 16 pounds, it’s not light, but the handle built into the top means it’s easy to carry regardless, and it certainly doesn’t feel heavy. And oh, how lovely that handle feels! I know it sounds like a silly thing to be excited about. Still, the thickness and solidity of the handle that you curl your fingers around make it easy to grip and feel substantial, nudges you to reflect every time you pick up the Classic that it is a quality piece of hardware.
That feeling persists when you switch it on. The switch itself–easy to locate by touch, not least because it’s directly above where the power lead plugs in–is not just an intensely satisfying shape but makes the most pleasing, positive, unmistakable thunk when you flick it. When you do, you get that reassuring beep and a businesslike whir as it boots; it feels like you’ve woken something up. The cathode ray tube sleepily warms up, and before long, you’re greeted with the happy Mac icon. I do mean welcomed,’ too. It’s a little pathetic, but our hard-wiring and cultural conditioning means that when I see a pattern of pixels making up a crude face, at some level, I parse it as a person and get that little tickle of recognition and fellow feeling. Hello, little Mac! What shall we do today? And that screen! That dinky, sharp, perfect little screen! There’s something fundamentally honest and pure about a 1-bit, black-and-white display, and the crispness of the pixels is a genuine delight, even in these days of pixels so tiny we can’t see them. The low resolution itself of the display means that each pixel on the screen is sharp, unlike the fuzziness of the higher-resolution, color CRTs that were to follow. I’ll never stop loving the 1-bit interface design of these early Macs or the tricks its designers pulled to imply drop-shadows and shades of grey.

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It’s clean, spare, and elegant, but despite cramming everything into what is a minuscule screen by today’s standards, it still has bags of personality and charm. Witness, for example, how the rounded edges of the UI echo the rounded edges of the bezel surrounding it. So yes, I completely adore the Classic form factor. It’s such a captivating, self-contained bundle of happiness. So compact, so portable. I want to tousle its hair, pinch its cheeks, and call it slugger.

Counter-intuitively, despite its bulkiness and old-fashionedness, it feels smaller than modern Macs, not just because of its diminutive 9-inch screen. Its small footprint means that a Classic plopped onto a desk looks neat and discreet and doesn’t dominate and demand attention like even the smallest of the modern iMacs–its direct descendants–do. The original Classic was criticized for its low power and lack of expandability (and where have we heard that recently?), criticisms the Classic II largely answered. Still, it’s the Classic and Classic II’s external aesthetic that I love so much. It was the first vintage Mac I ever bought and will always have a special place in my heart. Which Mac holds that place

William M. Alberts
William M. Alberts
Unable to type with boxing gloves on. Professional beer scholar. Problem solver. Extreme pop culture fan. Fixie owner, shiba-inu lover, band member, International Swiss style practitioner and holistic designer. Acting at the intersection of design and mathematics to save the world from bad design. I'm a designer and this is my work.

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