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Sun LaserWriter

342 words

3K on disk

December 1986

Sun LaserWriter

Re-Badged Printer

As a kid I remember seeing a white LaserWriter with the distinctive SUN logo on it in a university computer lab, probably around 1987. Thinking back on that memory recently, I started to wonder what this odd output device was. Would Canon and Apple really have allowed Sun to re-badge one of their most important products? Or had some prankster simply put a spare SUN badge on the side of a standard Apple peripheral?

This is one of these questions is which is hard to Google, because of the age of the products involved. But it turns out the truth is exactly what I remembered: Sun sold a version of Apple’s laser printer, even calling it the “LaserWriter,” for use with Sun3 workstations. We can find a few mentions of this product starting in InfoWorld, December 1986 and continuing on to an Australian Unix Users’ Group newsletter in early 1987. Finally, the Spring 1986 BMUG Newsletter confirms “the exact same specs as the original Apple LaserWriter. It is meant to be a printer for the Sun line of computer workstations and communicates over an RS-232 communication port.”

The original Apple LaserWriter also had this RS-232 port, in addition to the serial/LocalTalk 9-pin DIN connector, so it’s possible that the Sun variant had the Mac-centric port as well. Either way, the printer I saw in 1987 was connected to an IBM PS/2 Model 60 (long story) which was doing print serving for a whole lab of PS/2 Model 30’s, so it would have gotten along just fine with the traditional serial port.

An intriguing glimpse into the market positioning of this Sun LaserWriter was the mention in the Australian journal of a bundled software package from Adobe called “Transcript.” Transcript turns out to be very hard to dig up information about, but it seems to have been a commercial troff tool, and thus would have been useful on SunOS workstations to prepare documents to send to the laser printer.

Anyone with a Sun-badged LaserWriter should take a picture and send it in…

Radius Full Page Display

1,059 words

11K on disk

September 1986

Radius Full Page Display

Two screens are better than one

We often remember 1987 as the start of the era of external displays on the Macintosh. With the enormous size of the Mac II came expandability of six NuBus slots, as well as the software flexibility of System Software 2.0 (System 3.3/Finder 5.4) with the Monitors control panel.

We shouldn’t forget earlier options, however. The November 1986 issue of MacUser proclaimed “Bigger is Better!” and showcased an impressive — and expensive — add-on to the humble Mac: the Radius Full Page Display for the Mac 512ke and Plus. Wikipedia goes so far as to call it the “first large screen available for any personal computer.”

FPD on a Mac Plus (InfoWorld)

Radius Full Page Display on a Mac Plus (InfoWorld)

Looking at this picture you probably have two questions: How could this possibly have made sense financially? How could this possibly have worked technically?


The second question is easy enough to answer. Radius was made up of ex-Apple hardware engineers, and they pulled quite a few rabbits out of their collective hat. The FPD used the security slot, of all possible things, to route the cable for external video out of the case. Notice the small video connector in the photo to the right:

This was was routed through the small security slot on the back of the classic Mac case. The Full Page Display interface sat right on top of the 68000 central processor, with additional connections to the FB1 and C35 resistors. Originally this internal card originally had to be installed in the Sunnyvale factory, and the process took a week to complete. An easier clip-on installation method was released in Q2 1987.

Permanent changes to the motherboard were also made. These presumably included the Radius ROM, which obviated the need for a special boot-up disk — a requirement of other vendors’ solutions. The integration between the Radius ROM and the Apple motherboard was evidently pretty deep: as an example, the larger PRAM in a Mac Plus allowed the precise vertical alignment between the tops of the internal and external screens to be memorized, but the 512KE had to be set manually at every boot time.

The Economics of Desktop Publishing

The financial question is more interesting. Who was spending $2,000 to add an external monitor onto a Mac Plus — let alone a 512KE?

The portrait display as a form factor, though gone from the market today, actually was quite popular in the late 80s and early 90s. The reason was simple: as the name implied, it could display a full 8.5×11 page on the screen at one time with its 640×864 pixels. This was in an era of Aldus PageMaker: Desktop Publishing was saving the entire Mac ecosystem (and arguably Apple) from being a footnote in computing history.

There are two interesting things about this FPD ad from 1988:

1988 Ad

Radius Full Page Display Flanked by a Mac and LaserWriter (InfoWorld)

The first is that the LaserWriter Plus flanks the monitor to the left: Radius envisioned the FPD as an essential part of a complete DTP setup. The second is that there’s a humble classic Mac to the right. Even in 1988, when the Mac II had been shipping for a while (notice the picture of that expandable machine lower in the ad copy), Radius still saw a market in upgrading Classic Macs with external displays for the Desktop Publishing market.

The Shock of Multiple Screens

At 15″ diagonally, the FPD had nearly the same 72 dpi pixel density as the Mac CRT, a big selling point. In fact, Radius was the only player in this nascent market who could actually both screens at the same time. Other vendors, including E-Machines and Micrographic Images, shut down the internal screen completely. This simultaneous use of both workspaces, which we all take for granted today, was as revolutionary as capacitive touch was in 2007. “As the mouse reaches the right- hand edge of the Radius, the image suddenly appears on the Mac’s screen, jumping right across the gulf between the two machines,” gushed InfoWorld. “This behavior invariably startles people the first time they see it.” Here’s Stewart Cheifet being startled this feature during a demo by Radius co-founder Mike Boich on Computer Chronicles:

“That’s pretty impressive!”

Of course, application compatibility was hit-and-miss. Even an app as canonical and central to the Macintosh as MacPaint wasn’t written to take advantage of the greater screen space. Excel would crash if you made the window too large, and MacWrite wouldn’t properly redraw the screen after formatting changes which extended off the original 512×342 pixels. Updates fixed some of these problems, but there was a reason that Radius demo’d the screen with T/Maker’s WriteNow: it was written according to the guidelines in Inside Macintosh and worked well. Raines Cohen, co-founder of the Berkeley Macintosh Users Group, saw the display at MacWorld Boston 1986 and noted “The Finder doesn’t know about the Macscreen, but can use the entire Radius.  MacPaint doesn’t know about it, of course; FullPaint does, sort of, I think… SuperPaint will let you put your pallette at top of the screen to take advantage of MOST of the screen.  ComicWorks is the best; it lets you put your tools onthe Mac screen & dedicate the whole page to graphics.”

Blazing a Trail with Software

The reason for all these problems was simple: the FPD shipped well before official support for multiple displays and the accompanying Monitors control panel (which wouldn’t have appeared on the Plus and previous models anyway). Thus Radius had to write their own software to manage this radical peripheral. Larger cursors, a screensaver, double-height menu bars, and other magnification features debuted here, to be further developed as Radius shipped countless color cards for NuBus in the years ahead. Radius even programmed an extension to add Zoom button to the top-right corner of Mac windows which lacked them. Cohen: “Andy’s software teaches most applications to have a ‘zoom box’ (like MacDraw), and cmd-zoom will zoom a window to the full Mac main screen.”  The Mac’s screen capture feature also had to be re-written, and even Radius’ own feature only grabbed 90% of the large screen. This software consistently earned rave reviews, and probably explains the leadership position which the company had in the external display market into the 1990s.

The FPD cost $1,995 retail. And for all that money, you only got a 3-month limited warranty!

MacWorld Expo 1986 Boston

18 words

0K on disk

August 1986

MacWorld Expo 1986 Boston

Attendance: 18,700

Placeholder for article to come. See the usenet post below for a good summary.


1,221 words

12K on disk

July 1986


Finder Customizer
This application allows you to easily adjust the way the Finder
displays the desktop. The font and size of the text drawn on the
desktop can be changed, as can the icon spacing and many
other parameters.

Your custom display specifications are saved within the Finder
itself and from then on they will be used whenever that Finder
is in control.

Please scroll to see more information.


Allows you to select the Finder file you wish to modify.

When the application starts up, it automatically opens the Finder
in the current System Folder. If it can’t find a Finder, it prompts
you to use the Open command to select a Finder.

If you have made changes to a previously opened Finder, you
are first asked if you want to save those changes.

Old Finders do not have the ability to be customized. If you
try to open an old Finder you will get a message to this effect.


Writes out any changes you made to the Finder so they are
permanently saved.


This command forgets any changes you have made, and restores
the settings which were last saved in this Finder. It is useful
when you want to undo all changes since the last Save or since
the application was started if you haven’t done a Save yet.


This command forgets any changes you have made, and
restores the standard default settings of a “normal” Finder,
which may or may not be different from the settings last saved
in the currently open Finder. The command is useful if you want
to undo all the changes you ever made to this Finder and return
it to normal.

This command changes all the settings. Many settings can be
changed to the standard defaults individually. For example,
you can restore the standard Small Icon spacing by double-
clicking on the grey icon in the Small Icon View window.


This command exits the program. If you made any changes, it
gives you a chance to save them first.

The Edit menu is only active when a desk accessory is being used.

Small Icon View

Selecting this command displays a grid of icons in the “by Small
Icon” format. By dragging the gray icon, you can set the hori-
zontal and vertical spacing of the grid. This spacing will be used
by the Finder whenever you issue a “Clean Up” command, when
a new icon is created, and when a “gridded drag” takes place in
a “by Small Icon” format window (see the “Always Grid Drags”
command below).

Icon View

This command is automatically in effect when the application
starts up. It displays a grid of icons in the usual “by Icon”
format. You can adjust the grid spacing by dragging the light
gray icon, and the grid offset by dragging the dark gray icon.
The grid offset vertically staggers the icons, allowing you to
space the icons a bit closer together and still read the document
titles. The grid you specify will be used when you do a “Clean
Up”, gridded drag, or when a new icon is created in a “by Icon”
format window.

Text Views

This command allows you to adjust parameters that control
the windows displayed in the “by Name”, “by Size”, “by Date”
and “by Kind” formats, as well as the printed output generated
by the “Print Catalog” command in the Finder.

When you adjust the column spacing by dragging a dotted line,
that line and those to its right are shifted over. The Finder
truncates any text which is too wide for the column (an effect
which is not simulated here), so make sure the Size, Date, Time
and other columns are wide enough. You cannot change the
ordering of the columns or eliminate any of them.

Each column can be left or right justified, and the format of the
date can be set to short (12/25/86), medium (Thu, Dec 25, 1986)
or long (Thursday, December 25, 1986). The date cycles through
the three formats when you double-click in the date column.

Default Window

This command displays a window which controls the position
and size of new windows created by the Finder. The radio
buttons in the window let you specify the kind of view given
to windows of newly initialized disks (windows of new folders
are given the same view that the “parent” window has regard-
less of the setting of the radio buttons).


When this menu item is checked, the adjustments you make to
the icon spacing in the “Small Icon View” and “Icon View” are
snapped to an invisible grid. To make fine adjustments to the
spacing, remove the checkmark. This command is not related
to the “Always Grid Drags” command described below.

Use Zoom Rects

This menu item is normally checked, which means that the
usual zooming effect will take place when the Finder opens
a window or an application. If you remove the checkmark,
the Finder will not use the zooming effect.

Always Grid Drags

This item is normally not checked, which means you can position
icons freely on the desktop. If you check this item, whenever
you drag an icon, it will snap into position on the grid
automatically without having to do a “Clean Up”.

Skip Trash Warnings

checkmark on this item, the Finder will skip the usual warning
that is given whenever you throw an application or System file
into the trash.

The Font Menu

By selecting a font name from this menu, you will change the
font of most text displayed by the Finder. This includes the
icon titles, the window top margin text, all the text in the
Text Views, and the printed text generated by “Print Catalog”.
A check is placed next to the font the Finder will use, unless
that font is not in the current System file.

The font names displayed are those which are installed in the
current System. If you later change the System fonts or use
the Finder with a different System file, the font you specified
may be missing. In that case the default font will be used.

The Size Menu

This menu displays the various sizes you can set the text to.
Font sizes which are installed in the current System file for
the checked name in the Font menu are hilighted. If you later
use the Finder with a different or modified System, the size
may not be available and a scaled font will be used.


This software is provided free of charge. Unmodified copies may
be passed on to others by any commercial or noncommercial
means of distribution. Please give away copies to your friends.

Are you interested in the APL language? MacAPL by Leptonic
Systems is the only APL designed expressly for the Macintosh.
It provides multiple open workspaces, access to ROM, online
help, a freely distributable runtime version, SANE numerics,
clipboard support, a full User Guide, free update subscription,
and many other features at a very low cost.

A demonstration version of MacAPL can be downloaded from
bulletin board systems around the nation. It contains all of
MacAPL except for the Save command. Please try it!

Leptonic Systems Design Co.
405 Tarrytown Road #145
White Plains, NY 10601
(914) 682-0377