SE/30th Anniversary

The Best Mac Ever is still alive and kicking

Summary of a tweetstorm on 1/19/19 that went viral. Hiya Walt Mossberg, John Gruber, John Siracusa 👋

Just want to point out that today is the 30th anniversary of the beloved Macintosh SE/30. Small in stature but huge in performance, expansion, and overall likability. The king of the compact macs, and considered by many to be the Best Mac Ever.

Here's Wired's take on it.

In the 30 years since launch, the SE/30 has become a bit of a cult classic among Mac enthusiasts by virtue of its expandability. It's upgradable to 128MB RAM, the same amount of RAM as the first iPhone. Accelerators quintupled its speed. And that's just the beginning.

For instance, a fellow in Australia recently added wifi to the SE/30, complete with a system extension that lets you pick the network just like on a modern Mac.

And more recently the same guy built a Spotify player for the SE/30, complete with 1-bit album covers.

Another cool thing is you can get a touchscreen for the SE/30, allowing your finger to act as the mouse. This is not recent hardware either, it's actually from the early 90s (sadly there are only two copies floating around that we know of).

There's also a way to add USB to old Macs so you can use your new mouse & keyboard. I've used my modern Magic Trackpad 2 on mine.

And of course you could get video cards to add a second monitor to the SE/30. One of the cards (the Micron Xceed) can even convert the quaint internal 1-bit display into full greyscale.

You can also get a new ROM for the SE/30 that boots the machine in about 5 seconds and add an SSD. Other hacks in the works include a Slack client and a brand new 10/100mb ethernet card. It's truly a versatile little machine and there's new stuff for it all the time.

Another very cool project in the works is a clear case for the SE/30, to be crowdfunded starting ~March. This is modeled after the clear prototype cases Apple used during design validation (last pic). Follow the 68kmla topic for more info.

Oh, one more thing - you can even use a system extension to have remote files show up like local files. Keep those remote files backed up on Dropbox (e.g. via a raspberry pi stuffed in the machine) and you'll essentially have Dropbox on your SE/30.

But.. why?

My personal fascination with the SE/30 is as a sort of retro-future art piece showing how little ideas truly have changed, so that we remain humble in our work. Most of the things we do on computers really can be done on a 30 year old box with a few modern conveniences bolted on.

We're still chatting via text, making lists, writing text, using simple GUIs to input or retrieve data, etc. Sure screens have gotten bigger, and visuals way more prevalent, but fundamentally we're still sitting around using dumb computer terminals.

Nowadays when I'm designing products, I often think back to my SE/30's tiny 512x342 black & white screen and the UI conventions of classic MacOS, and realize most of what I'm building is essentially still portable to that without any real loss of fidelity or usefulness.

In closing, be humbled by what came before. We're still working from largely unchanged ideas first laid down 30-50 years ago (see also Bret Victor's recent posts on Alan Kay's Dynabook).

Having a piece of history like the SE/30 is a fun way to remind you of that. Happy SE/30th!