FloppyEmu: A New Toy (First Impression)

I recently purchased a new accessory that will make it easier and more enjoyable to play with my compact Macs.

What is a FloppyEmu?

A FloppyEmu is a device by Big Mess O’ Wires that does exactly what the name suggests – it emulates floppy disks by using disk images on a SD card.

However, the FloppyEmu can do a lot more than just emulate floppy disks. It can also emulate a HD-20 hard drive, allowing you to easily store files for your compact Mac.

The FloppyEmu is just one of many solutions which can be used to transfer files to and from a vintage Mac. There are network solutions, such as using AppleTalk or an ethernet network to move files between a modern computer and vintage Macs (or vintage computers in general, since there are also many ethernet options for old IBM PCs and PC Clones.) Then there’s “Sneakernet” – floppies and modernized solutions like the FloppyEmu and SCSI-2-SD which go between a modern computer and the old computers physically. I chose to go with the FloppyEmu since modern versions of macOS cannot write to floppy disks and I don’t have any spare floppies or a floppy drive.

There are two modern storage solutions for vintage Macs. The FloppyEmu can emulate floppy disks (400k single-sided, 800k double-density, and 1.44MB high-density disks) and the HD-20 hard drive. The FloppyEmu can also be used with the Apple Lisa and Apple ][ models, making it a true “one-stop shop” solution for vintage Apple enthusiasts and collectors.

On the other hand, the SCSI-2-SD can be used to emulate an internal hard drive inside a Macintosh. The SCSI-2-SD requires a Macintosh that has a SCSI port, making it unusable with the earliest (128k, 512k, 512ke) Macs. Furthermore, if you want to mount it inside the computer, you need a Macintosh SE or later equipped with an internal SCSI port for a hard drive.

Assembly and Set Up

There are many different options for purchasing a FloppyEmu. I waited and saved my money to purchase the $140 FloppyEmu kit – which includes an acrylic case, ribbon cable, and a microSD card (with SD card adapter) including many popular old games and software for the Apple II, Lisa, and Macintosh.

When the FloppyEmu arrived, the first task was to start assembling the case. This meant peeling the protective paper film off all of the acrylic pieces. This is a somewhat time consuming and tedious task – and wears down your fingernails. In contrast, the rest of the case assembly process was easy. It fits together like a puzzle.

Pieces of the puzzle: the acrylic pieces of the FloppyEmu case laid out for assembly after removing the protective film. The FloppyEmu itself is at the top.

I placed the microSD card into it’s SD card adapter and plugged it into the SD card reader on my 2019 MacBook Pro. I downloaded the Lisa/Macintosh firmware and installed it on the FloppyEmu. This allows the FloppyEmu to work with the Macintosh.

The FloppyEmu gets its power from the Macintosh its connected to. To install the firmware, you install the microSD card into the FloppyEmu, connect the FloppyEmu to the Mac, power on the Mac, then press some buttons to install the two files that install the firmware on the FloppyEmu device.

After, you’re able to get to the fun part – using the FloppyEmu to load some of your favorite games or transfer software and files between your modern computer and the vintage Macintosh.

The completed FloppyEmu with the included KidPix image loaded

Included Games and Software

If you purchase the $140 FloppyEmu kit (recommended), you will receive a microSD card that has some early Macintosh games and software already installed. The FloppyEmu has many old System Software versions, such as the System 6.0.8 installation image and various System 7 versions.

Applications included include KidPix, The Print Shop, and MacDraw – just to name a couple. There are also some other more utilitarian software such as BASIC and HyperCard.

Brøderbund Software’s The Print Shop allows you to easily create several types of documents with graphics. The Print Shop is a double-density image, which can run on both the SE and Classic.

There are many games included, such as Crystal Quest, Prince of Persia, Glider 3, MacMan, and Oregon Trail.

You can always add your own games and software by transferring the disk images to the SD card. I use Macintosh Garden to find and download software. If you have a model with a 400k single-sided or 800k double-density drive, be sure the software you intend to run will work with your machine. This can be done by checking the disk image file size.

Floppy Disk Emulation

If you’re wondering whether the FloppyEmu can transfer files to and from your vintage Macintosh to a modern computer, fear not. In fact, the text of the entry you’re reading was written on the 1988 Macintosh SE using TeachText.

This entry being written on the 1988 Macintosh SE in TeachText. The text for this file was transferred from the SE to the Classic for further editing, then finally to the 2019 MacBook Pro where it was copied into WordPress, received a final round of editing, and finally published.

The SD card included with the $140 FloppyEmu kit also has three blank disk images, one for a single-sided 400k disk, another for a double-density 800k disk, and lastly one for a 1.44MB high-density disk. Using a modern computer, you can duplicate these files for use with your vintage Macintosh. Then you can add your own files to the disk image on the vintage Macintosh or on a modern computer using an emulator like Mini vMac or Basilisk II.

To get files off the vintage Macintosh using a floppy disk image, you simply just open the emulated disk drive like you would an actual floppy then copy the files over. Power down the computer, remove the SD card from the FloppyEmu, stick it in your modern computer running Mini vMac or Basilisk II and open the disk image there. I use Mini vMac to emulate a Macintosh Plus, then copy the files to my modern computer using the ExportFL utility.

HD-20 Hard Drive Emulation

I’m still trying to figure out how to get the HD-20 hard drive emulation mode working (creating the disk image) on the FloppyEmu. However, it will be especially useful for use with the SE, which doesn’t have an internal hard drive. One of the downsides to using the FloppyEmu with the SE at the present moment is there is no “buffer space” for saving files without saving them to the disk image. (One of the drawbacks of the FloppyEmu is you can only have one disk image running at a time in floppy emulation mode.) Check back for an update.

The biggest problem I’ve faced is compatibility with modern software. Text files, such as those written in TeachText (like the one this article is being written in), transfer perfectly fine with no issues whatsoever. Rich Text Format (RTF) files created in Microsoft Word 4.0 or other word processing applications also transfer over well and appear to even keep their formatting. However, other file types are not so lucky. MacPaint files will not transfer, at least not without some modification. PICT files will transfer but usually end up a garbled mess. (See my example with something I created in MacDraw.) It’s a shame on the MacPaint and PICT files, since I can’t easily get screenshots moved over.

A Microsoft Word 4.0 file open on the Macintosh Classic. Word 4.0 can convert Word files to RTF files for use on modern machines and with other editors. Native Word 4.0 files cannot be opened in modern versions of Microsoft Word. (I tried.)
The same Word document from the image above open in TextEdit on my 2019 MacBook Pro after being converted to a RTF file and transferred over using the FloppyEmu. Notice how formatting has been kept.

Similarly, it goes without saying that not all files from a modern computer will play nice with your vintage Mac, either. Some software just won’t run like it was intended to. My goal was to get MIDI playback working on at least the Classic, but it appears the only MIDI playback application doesn’t work correctly. (Yes, it was ConcertWare. And yes, it had the same problem it did in Mini vMac.)

It has only been a couple days since the FloppyEmu arrived, and I have yet to check out it’s more advanced features like the aforementioned HD-20 hard drive emulation mode.

However, it has opened a door of opportunities for these vintage Macs to do real work. Shortly, I’m finally getting around to doing a ground-up revamp of the Kewanee Boiler website. All of the new text and content is being written in Word 4.0 on the Classic. (I will showcase that in a later post.) Continuing the theme of web design, I was able to code a very basic HTML webpage using TeachText. Then, there’s this post. When it comes to writing text – formatted or not – these vintage Macs make the perfect word processing machine due to their simple nature. Word 4.0 has everything I need to write papers for my classes, including proper formatting for MLA and even footnotes, word count, and a spelling check tool. If I had an ImageWriter II or other printer that works with these vintage Macs, I could print the document out without the need to transfer it. Other applications, obviously, vary.

Going forward, I hope to test out some additional classic Macintosh software using actual hardware – no emulators. So stay tuned.

Additionally, the 1991 Macintosh Classic project is not over. I plan on cleaning and lubricating the floppy drive in the 1991 Classic, so I can continue to use the software I have on floppies without worry. Then I’m going to start on the Macintosh SE, which desparately needs a good cleaning all the way around. The two 800k/double-density drives in the SE will also be getting the same cleaning and lubrication treatment the Classic’s drive will get. Stay tuned for that exciting next step in completing the Macintosh Classic restoration project, and starting the “restoration” of the SE.

The copy for this entry was written on the 1988 Macintosh SE using TeachText. Transferred using the FloppyEmu.

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