Find out what happened when biologist Tim Stearns turned on his 35-year-old Mac

Stearns' tweet
Stanford’s retweet of Tim Stearns’ post about his 1984 Mac.

While cleaning out his lab space in preparation for the move to the new Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Biology Building, TIM STEARNS decided to have a little fun. From up on one of his shelves, the chair of the Department of Biology took down a machine of yesteryear and plugged it in.

Up started his Macintosh 128K, the original Apple Macintosh personal computer.

More than merely turning on, the almost 35-year-old computer was actually quite responsive, running the original version of Microsoft Word, Microsoft Chart and Multiplan, an early spreadsheet program. Stearns tweeted about his technological throwback and his followers were delighted – GAVIN SHERLOCK, associate professor of genetics, replied that he had recognized the familiar blue glow coming from Stearns’ nearby lab window.

“The Mac is an original 128K, purchased by me in 1984 when I graduated from Cornell and headed to MIT for graduate school,” said Stearns.  “I was going to buy a Kaypro II, which was a clunky ‘portable’ computer that weighed 30 pounds and ran on the CP/M operating system. Then the Macintosh came out, heralded by the famous ‘1984’ commercial.”

Stearns was drawn to the Mac user interface – The mouse! The windows! – and purchased the 128K with help from his parents. The price tag was $2,495, which would be about $6,000 in today’s dollars. Thanks to an entrepreneurial undergraduate at MIT with some soldering skills, Stearns’ 128K later became a 512K. The internal drive gave out years ago but the external drive is still functioning. Stearns has also held on to several boxes of floppy disks, including those containing the original operating system.

Testing out this Mac is something of a tradition for Stearns with the last run happening about 10 years ago. This time around, his graduate students remarked at the small screen, clunky keyboard and how much the interface resembles its present-day counterparts. They were also impressed that the computer was so responsive.

“This last point is always a surprise, because we know that computers are vastly faster and more powerful now. However, software is also vastly larger and more complicated now,” said Stearns. “That said, I’ll take my dual-monitor, full-color, internet-connected, modern computer anytime!”