System 6

774 words

8K on disk

April 1988

System 6

Wikipedia has a quite comprehensive article on System 6, including a matrix of hardware compatibility and a run-down of what each release brought. But from a more qualitative perspective, here are my notes on the versions:

Pre-Release System 6 – 1998

With the advent of larger hard disks, users began to hit the limits of the Desktop File. This invisible document, which stored icon positions and other metadata, had a size limit of 288K and its performance got worse the larger it grew. “It’s all one big glob the Resource Manager has to plow through,” as Raines Cohen put it [Morgenstern July 1988]. In beta versions of System 6, Apple experimented with including the Desktop Manager, a component of their AppleShare server package, as a way of re-structuring this information into separate files. But compatibility problems prevented 6 from shipping with the Desktop Manager. It would eventually see the light of day in System 7.

6.0.0 – April 1998

One of the big performance improvements of System 6 was “QuickerGraf,” a re-write of QuickDraw code by original author Andy Hertzfeld. QuickerGraf made screens redraw faster, even when managing 8-bit (256 hue) color. Hertzfeld originally made the software available separately, and System 6 marked the moment when it was integrated into an official release.

Some worried that the new features 6 brought were of use mainly to those using expensive color Mac II’s. David Morgenstern joked:

The new 6.0 System release addresses the needs of a auer iwth a Mac II with 5+ megs of memory, color monitor, and a 300+ meg hard-disk. Isn’t that what everyone is using?”

Due to the increased size of the System Folder, Apple now provided an Installer application which could create “minimal” system software installs for each supported machine (Plus, SE and II).

But the biggest issue with System 6.0.0 wasn’t its focus on high-end machines — it was its propensity to crash and bomb. 6.0.0, as the initial release, was quite buggy. BMUG documented incompatibilities with 4th Dimension, FullWrite, PixelPaint , Dollars and $ense, “and all Microsoft products.” MacUser warned of “higher than usual numbers of crashes and freeze-ups… This is the System Software Update that probably shouldn’t have been.” Ouch!

During the August 1988 Macworld Expo in Boston, people were talking about System 6.0.1A9 as the hot new version.

6.0.1 – September 1988

This emergency release fixed bugs in the Color Manager, Script Manager, and Sound Manager. Apple promised it would be out by August or earlier, but it slipped until September when it launched to support the Mac new IIx.


– This was the first version to see wide-scale release — many bugs were finally stomped out. Chances are, if you were running “System 6”, you were actually running 6.0.2. 6.0.2 was explicit, however, in not fixing one bug: the failure of styled text to display on QuickDraw-powered (non-PostScript) printers such as the ImageWriter LQ and the LaserWriter IISC.


Shipped alongside the new SE/30. MacWorld noted that it included a “revised (and improved) version of Apple File Exchange” to access DOS-formatted disks via the FDHD SuperDrive.


– Audio In perhaps?




– This was supposed to be the release of 6 that complemented System 7 — for older systems which lacked the hardware to run the newer OS, or markets such as Japan where localization would take a while. It was to include features which made working across the two Systems easier, such as support for TrueType fonts and the LaserWriter driver version 7. Unfortunately, bad bugs resulted in this release being pulled.


– This was the last version of System 6, serving the role of a complement to System 7. as described above.

Interestingly although System 6 was supposed to bring about a new era of version-number standardization — replacing the previous practice of separate version numbers for Finder and System files — some did not feel it went far enough. MacUser wrote:

Version numbering is still as screwy as always. The System version number jumped from 4.2 to 6.0, whereas the Finder went from 6.0 to 6.1. Most of the smaller files incremented their version numbers by 0.1 (the Control Panel cdev went from version 3.2 to version 3.3). However, the Font/DA Mover, the LaserWriter driver file, the Laser Prep, and some other files all jumped 0.2. This style of version numbering might be fine for internal use in a software company, but it’s ridiculous for releases to the general public. Every file in this package should have the same version number. More than ever, Apple needs a Version Number Czar to sort through the current chaos.

System 6
Kind: MacHistory Document
Size: 7740 bytes, accounts for 8K on disk
Where:Software, internal drive
Created:Tuesday, April 19, 1988 at 2:17 PM
Modified:Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 5:43 PM