Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Mimsy Were the Technocrats: As long as we keep talking about it, it’s technology.

The Macintosh SE/30: Forward-Looking Design

Jerry Stratton, October 11, 2002

Mac SE/30

The SE/30 was introduced in 1989 and had SCSI and networking built in. While this was revolutionary for the time, it wasn’t revolutionary for the Macintosh: SCSI had been standard on Macintosh computers since 1986, and networking since the first Macintosh, introduced in 1984. The SE/30 did introduce the high-density 3.5 inch disk drive that is still standard on computers that use floppy drives. The SE was an 8 MHz 16 bit computer when other major computers were 5 MHz and 8 bit, and the SE/30 increased this to 16 MHz and 32 bit processing, and added a floating-point processor unit in the bargain. It could be expanded to 128 megabytes of RAM.

The SE/30 uses the same form factor and color as the original 1984 Macintosh. Today, beige computers are standard and bland, but alongside 1984’s grey (they called them “platinum” or “mercedes silver”) computers, the Macintosh’s shape and color made it a “cute” addition to a normal person’s home decor. The built-in networking was designed for ease-of-use in a home environment. No extra wiring or special knowledge was required to turn a home’s telephone wiring into a Macintosh network, with each Macintosh sharing printers or other network devices. With the introduction of System 7 in 1991, each Macintosh could act as both server and client: true peer-to-peer networking on a home computer ten years before Napster’s partial peer-to-peer model.

While Internet popularity was still four years away, the forward-looking design of the SE/30 (with its small footprint, built in networking, SCSI, and high RAM) also made it a popular choice for Internet servers both immediately and throughout the nineties. With its 128 MB maximum RAM, the SE/30 is still in use in some homes, and running modern software, including Internet software that was only a science fiction dream when the SE/30 was designed.

This particular Macintosh was turned in at the end of 2001 by a faculty member who finally decided they needed a new computer over ten years later. I’ve installed “The Warsaw Project” on it, an interactive multimedia learning aid designed to assist students in thinking about the Polish invasion of Warsaw from the perspective of those who experienced it. “The Warsaw Project” was written in 1990 to demonstrate an interactive multi-media course-creation tool called “NewBook”.

NewBook was originally written in a development environment called “HyperCard”. HyperCard was as forward-looking for software as the Macintosh was for hardware and operating systems, and it came free with all Macintoshes.

In one sense, the history of the Macintosh and HyperCard could also be titled “Why Apple will never have a large market share.” Market share measures computers that need to be replaced often. People used these computers and this software for far longer than most other hardware and software that came out during that time period. HyperCard only began to die when the World Wide Web became popular. A Macintosh SE/30 with HyperCard was ahead of its time for years after the SE/30 was introduced. It was bad for business, perhaps, but great for consumers.

  1. <- Year 2000
  2. Anticipating failure ->