Want to experience what it was like to use a Macintosh Plus from your modern computer? Mini vMac is the solution…
Nearly a year ago I explored Basilisk II, another classic Macintosh emulator that emulates a Macintosh Quadra 900 to allow you to explore 68k software and System 7. Basilisk II can output millions of colors and is powerful enough to run almost all of the popular Mac software from the 68k era.
However, what if you want to experience what it was truly like to own a compact Macintosh? What it was like living with 4MB RAM, a 9″ black-and-white (no grayscale) screen, and System 6? Mini vMac is the software of choice for that, as it emulates a Macintosh Plus – the fourth model of Macintosh.
With Mini vMac, you don’t get a 68040 with color graphics and a virtual hard drive. Instead, you get a modest Macintosh Plus with black-and-white graphics, the ubiquitous Motorola 68000 and the 4MB RAM. Just like with the real Plus and it’s predecessors (the 128k, 512k and 512ke), there is no hard drive – you have to learn how to “swap” disks.
My reason for installing Mini vMac was simple. I wanted to see what software would look like on a Macintosh Plus in emulation. My 1991 Macintosh Classic is similar (spec-wise) to the Macintosh SE, which is the Plus’ successor – although anything that runs well on the Plus should run comfortably on the Classic. All three models feature the Motorola 68000 microprocessor, and all three also have a memory ceiling of 4MB. (My Macintosh Classic has 2MB, though I hope to upgrade it to the maximum 4MB for improved performance.)
Another reason for installing Mini vMac is I couldn’t get Basilisk II to run on my 2019 13″ MacBook Pro, likely due to Catalina. I could get the GUI setup interface to run, but I couldn’t create the hard disk file in Basilisk II to install the operating system on.
Installing Mini vMac is easy, at least on a Mac. You just download the ZIP file, uncompress it somewhere on your system. You then acquire a ROM file, just like in Basilisk II. However, unlike Basilisk II, you just need the startup and additions “disk” files – which contain the operating system. Also unlike Basilisk II, there is no shared folder or virtual hard drive. Transferring files between the virtual Mac Plus and your PC requires an additional piece of software for the virtual Mac.
Unlike Basilisk II or SheepShaver, there is next to nothing you have to do to setup Mini vMac for use, except create a folder, drop the Mini vMac application in there along with the Plus ROM, and get the startup and addition disk files. It really is that easy, at least on a Mac. (The setup procedure may vary for other operating systems, such as Windows.)
To start the virtual Mac, you just simply drag the startup disk file to the Mini vMac screen. Then you are greeted with the standard Macintosh System 6 desktop.
To load programs, you simply repeat the process you used to load the startup disk – simply drag the disk image files into Mini vMac, where they will load.
Unlike Basilisk II, finding software to run well in Mini vMac is more difficult. However, it’s not impossible. Let’s look at some that I have been able to run.
Back in the 1980s, Tetris was ported to almost every popular platform – including the Macintosh. In Basilisk II I played the color version of Tetris. But there is also, obviously, a black-and-white version that runs nicely on compact Macs – including the Plus and in Mini vMac.
There really isn’t much to write about here… it’s a game of Tetris. Just like in Basilisk II, the music works.
Another popular Mac game from the Plus/SE/Classic era was Crystal Quest.
The premise of Crystal Quest is quite simple. Essentially, collect all of the crystals and bonuses on each wave without hitting (or being hit by) an enemy. You move around using the mouse, so it can be quite difficult and can take some getting used to.
Buick Dimensions 1989
In Basilisk II, I looked at the Macintosh version of Ford Simulator 1990. In DOSBox, I tried three automobile marketing software for the MS-DOS platform – Ford Simulator 1988, Buick Dimensions 1993 and Buick Dimensions 1994.
When comparing Ford and Buick, the Buick Dimensions software wins every time – especially in the Mac version. Not only are the graphics better, but the Buick version is well-featured and captures your attention. The MS-DOS versions are similar in that regard. It seems like Ford Simulator was incomplete and a half-done effort in comparison to Buick Dimensions.
The real kicker? You had to pay $6.95 for Ford Simulator, but you could get Buick Simulator free.
For those wondering: yes, Ford Simulator 1990 runs perfectly fine in Mini vMac. In fact, Ford Simulator 1990 seems to run slightly better in Mini vMac.
Unlike even the 1993/94 versions I tried in DOSBox, there is sound in this version. The sound starts when you first run the program, as you hear the Buick jingle: “The Great American road belongs to Buick!”
After the program loads, you’re greeted by the usual splash screen. Just like in all of the other versions of Buick Dimensions and Ford Simulator, there are parts of the program that tell you about all of their models, the features and optional features, and usually a game of some sort. As mentioned, Buick (GM) seemed to put more effort into Dimensions than Ford did with the Ford Simulator. Every year, the Ford Simulator had the same, boring “racing” game. But the “game” featured with the Buick Dimensions changed every year. For instance, in the MS-DOS version, the 1993 version featured a quiz game – and the 1994 version featured a golf game.
In the 1989 version of Buick Dimensions, the game is a quiz game (“The Buick Challenge”) – similar to the one featured in the 1993 MS-DOS version, however more basic.
Besides the game, the other portions of the program are similar to other similar programs. The “Great American Road Show” provides details about all of Buick’s 1989 models and their features.
The separate “Buick Presents” menu details the features and specs of Buick’s 1989 Riviera and Reatta models in great detail, with interactive elements.
There’s also a “Technology At Work” menu which explains many of the advanced features of 1989 Buick models, such as DynaRide, remote entry, and anti-lock brakes. As with the “Buick Presents” menu, there are graphics which demonstrates each feature and how they work.
In addition to the “Buick Challenge”, the other unique part of the 1989 Buick Dimensions program is a menu titled “Buick through the Years”, which goes into great details about the milestones of each decade.
The last part of the program is very standard for these types of programs, along with the features and model parts. This part just discusses leasing options and why you should lease a Buick.
Buick Dimensions 1990
Buick Dimensions 1990 is very similar to Dimensions 1989, except this one has a different game. Instead of quizzing people about 20th-century history, the 1990 Buick Challenge quizzes you on locations by giving you a map with a specific landmark (city, park, etc.) marked.
Unlike in Buick Dimensions 1989, you get seranaded with an instrumental version of the “Great American road belongs to Buick” jingle every time you return to the main menu.
The other unique part of Buick Dimensions 1990 is a category called “Hit The Road”, which gives fun landmarks and facts about cities and national parks.
For a better demonstration of Buick Dimensions 1990, I’d suggest watching the following video by YouTuber uxwbill.
Both Buick Dimensions 1989 and 1990 were developed for General Motors by The Inmar Group in San Antonio, Texas. They were also responsible for the 1993 and 1994 versions demonstrated in my DOSBox review.
ConcertWare MIDI Player
Unfortunately, your options for being able to play a MIDI file directly from your computer becomes slimmer and slimmer the farther back you go.
I tried to open a MIDI file using ConcertWare’s MIDI Player, but there was an issue loading MIDI files. The file can be found using the Finder (nswm.mid), but couldn’t be located when the program prompts you to open the file.
None of the MIDI files I tried to load would appear, so I wasn’t able to load any of them. I made sure I was in the correct directory, but still nothing.
I hope to port these programs to the 1991 Macintosh Classic when it is operational and I have a FloppyEmu for file transfer. When that happens, I hope to release another post which details the experience of running these programs (and more) on an actual vintage Macintosh with a 68000.