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Transferring files between vintage Macs and the modern world

 You’ve got a vintage Macintosh and some games on floppy but you want more! From where, I hear you cry! From the web, of course! 

The internet is chock full of great software (not least of all on vintageapplemac.com with our tens of gigabytes of Mac shareware!) but getting it from the internet to your old Mac isn’t all that straightforward.

This is an age-old problem that all vintage Apple hobbyists will run into sooner or later. There are multiple ways around it but some ways are more complex than others and there will be certain methods that simply aren’t possible with particular hardware arrangements.

If you’re lucky, your Mac will have an Ethernet port (or an Ethernet card can be easily sourced) and you can connect to the web and download directly. However, if you have an older Mac, particularly a compact Mac like a Classic or SE, then this becomes far less practical. It’s just about feasible to create a local AppleTalk network between old Macs and (relatively) new machines, but the latest versions of OSX won’t allow this to work so it’s a non-starter as a reliable suggestion, in my opinion.

Creating floppy disks from downloaded images is not straightforward, either, and would require the purchase of an external floppy drive that likely won’t work with the latest few OSX versions, or the purchase of specialist kit such as the Kyroflux. If your vintage Mac is a G3 or G4 iMac or PowerMac, then you’re in luck as they have on-board USB, but if you’re using a beige PowerMac you’d need to source a USB card, and there are many frustrating compatibility issues down that road, believe me. Burning data CDs is great if your Mac has a CD drive, pretty useless if it doesn’t.

Long story short, there’s a galaxy of Macintosh hardware configurations out there and it’s really difficult to devise a one-size-fits-all approach for file transferring. That said, I’ve got a suggestion that comes pretty darn close; the trusty old Zip drive!

ZIP Drive 100

Specifically, two Zip drives; one SCSI and one USB. The SCSI Zip drive hooks up to your vintage Mac and the USB ZIP drive to your modern computer. Place your Zip 100 disk into the USB drive, pop your newly downloaded Macintosh software on it, eject and walk it over to the SCSI Zip drive, pop it in and, hey presto!, you will be able to haul your warez off the mounted disk to your old Mac’s hard drive. I’ve been using this method for some years now and it works a treat, allowing me to quickly and easily get software from my top-of-the-line modern Mac on to hardware dating back 30-odd years.

These drives are readily available on eBay and, if you bide your time and bid wisely, you can pick them up for almost nothing. Likewise Zip disks, they’re able to be got for pennies and you only really need a few of them, at most.

A word of caution as a caveat; watch out for file-system compatability. If you format your Zip disks as HFS (Mac OS Standard) volumes, you won't be able to write to them in versions of OSX after 10.6. If you format them as HFS+ (Mac OS Extended) you won't be able to read them in classic Mac OS systems that are formatted in HFS. If you bear this in mind and can tailor to your own particular hardware set-up, all good. If you need broader compatability than limiting to pre-OSX 10.6 or just HFS systems, then a handy workaround is to use PC/DOS formatting. I have a bunch of Zip disks formatted for PC and they mount on everything I have here, old and new! Like I said above, it's real hard, if not impossible, to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution but PC formatted Zip disks come very close!

So, transferring files needn’t be a total nightmare and, in most cases, dual Zip drives will solve all your woes.

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