hardware, networking, software

5 ways to transfer files to an old Mac

This article covers a few methods for getting software and files from a modern Mac or PC onto an older classic Mac. Older Macs may (or may not) have ethernet, usb, or serial… so this article should give you a few options. There’s no right and wrong way here – whatever works!

5. Disks

Let’s start off with the most obvious: disks. There’s a lot of options here. Floppy, CD, and Zip – to name a few. CDs are an easy option, as burning CDs give you plenty of room to work with – but the classic Mac would need a CD drive of course. Floppies are by far smaller, but you can still get far with them. Cheap USB floppy drives are easy to come by, and most classic Macs have an internal floppy drive. Fortunately, older Mac Applications are small enough they can fit on a single floppy in many cases. Ironically, Windows is easy to work with as HFS explorer provides a simple way to write to mac-formatted floppies.

My weapon of choice, when it comes to disks and old Macs – is the Iomega Zip 100. I’ve always loved the zip drive, even still. It’s a roomy option for old programs and files, and pretty much any classic Mac can use them! (Even without the Iomega driver extension if need be – just use Mt. Everything!) There are also USB zip drives which can ease the job of moving files from newer computers to older ones.

One more note on disks, floppy disks that is. Classic Macs use 3.5″ floppy disks, but there are some differences you need to be aware of. The earliest Macs (Macintosh 128k, Mac Plus, some early Mac SE systems) use 800k single density drives. These are tough to work with, as they can’t use the more common 1.44 mb high density floppies that came later. Plus, these 800k disks won’t work on PC floppy drives or external USB floppy drives. Apple eventually introduced “SuperDrives” (also known as FDHD drives) that can read both the old 800k floppies in addition to the 1.44 mb high density disks. You can tell 800k floppies apart from the 1.44 HD floppies, as the 800k only had one hole on the top of the disk, whereas the HD floppies have two.

4. AppleTalk

AppleTalk refers to a set of networking protocol used by classic Macs, and with it – two Macs can be plugged into one another via a serial (modem/printer) cable and then share files with one another! You can even launch applications from a share via AppleTalk. (Although, performance is a bit iffy in general!) The process is fairly simple:

  • Install file sharing (this comes with System 7 and later)
  • Make sure AppleTalk is enabled on both computers – this can be done in the Chooser under the Apple menu.
  • You’ll also want to use Sharing Setup or File Sharing (depending on which version of the Mac OS you’re running) and set up your username, password, and Mac names.
  • Share a folder on one of the Macs (click on the folder and choose File > Sharing, or Get Info)
  • On the other computer, open Chooser from the Apple menu
  • From the chooser you can select the computer you are accessing, enter the password, and choose if you want to remount the share when you start up.
  • If you don’t see the other Mac in the chooser, check which port AppleTalk is set up to use – and make sure that’s where the cable is actually plugged in.

The option of course works with two Macs connected with a serial cable. Most likely, this will be an old printer/model serial cable. If you don’t have one kicking around, you can find these fairly easily online; just search for a “mini din 8 pin” cable, as this is what the printer/modem ports used on classic Macs.

You’re not limited to just serial cables, however. AppleTalk can actually work over IP as well, meaning you can set up AppleTalk if both Macs can see each other over ethernet.

Last, and probably least, there’s also PhoneNet which was a means of using phone cable adapters to network Macs. This was popular because phone wires were already installed in many places, and that phone cords were more common and cheaper than serial cables. To set up AppleTalk using this route, you would need PhoneNet adapters and phone cable to connect the machines to one another.

UPDATE: I now have a blog entry dedicated to AppleTalk and file sharing. Click here for more info and detailed instructions: Sharing’s Caring – AppleTalk and file sharing

3. Use FTP

Assuming you have a network connection, FTP is a very viable way to move files from newer machines to older ones. In a nutshell, one computer would be the FTP server, the other the client. For example, a newer computer (or even an online service) can provide the FTP server – and the classic Mac can then use an FTP client (like Fetch) to access the files. This is actually the primary way I copy files that I download onto my older machines.

SIDE NOTE: On older 68k Macs, my Macintosh SE in particular, I’ve had to use older versions of Fetch. (2 or 3) since 4 and up seems to just crash. I had the most luck with 3.0.3. In my particular case, I had to turn on “passive” mode under Customize -> Preferences, to avoid getting FTP errors such as “Illegal Port Command”.

2. Meet DAVE

If you have a network connection – and a fairly “newer” classic Mac, DAVE is a great option. DAVE allows your classic Mac to see and interact with Windows shares. If you have the network connection – this is one of the easier options to set up. Both modern Macs, Windows, Linux machines and many NAS devices all have out-of-the-box ways to create Windows shares. (AKA Samba shares.) DAVE also allows you to explore/browse the network, making it fairly painless to get at your files.

And #1… Get a little creative

If all else fails, don’t give up; Go ahead, hack. Remember, it’s not stupid if it works. I’ve used external SCSI CD drive enclosures with hard drives, moved hard drives from one machine to another, created archives that span many floppies, used dying drives and disks to move little bits at a time, uploaded temporary files to my website and downloaded them elsewhere… you name it. You can even use a Raspberry Pi to emulate an AppleShare server with Netatalk. Heck, you could even copy the hex values of a file one byte at a time manually, although I wouldn’t recommend it! The point is, anything’s possible – just use your imagination!