It's always sad when something comes to an end, but thanks to its creator, Brian Thomas, the groundbreaking multimedia project "If Monks Had Macs" that started 21 years ago will live on as a free download.
We've written about "If Monks Had Macs" in several of our gift issues in the past; rather than attempt yet another explanation of something that seemingly tries to defy all description, I'll bring forward what we wrote in the past.
In 2003, Matt Neuburg described "If Monks Had Macs" like this: "I'm not sure whether this counts as software, a game, a multimedia experience, a book, or nostalgia. It's 'If Monks Had Macs,' which started life as a HyperCard stack before I even knew HyperCard existed, turned into a Voyager multimedia CD, and is now available cross-platform, thanks to Runtime Revolution. If Monks (as we like to call it) is impossible to describe. It's a truly visionary hyperlinked collection of books, music, art, games, and activities, plus several applications you can use separately, such as a hyperlinked journal-writer and an ebook text reader that works with Project Gutenberg files and other free online books. It's genuine New Media - a multi-dimensional, quirky vision from the mind of an eclectic thinker. If you've been wondering (and who hasn't?) what Chesterton's Father Brown, Heart of Darkness, Schubert, Thoreau, and the Kennedy assassination have to do with one another, this is your chance to find out. I remember the earliest If Monks incarnations with fondness, so this new version is on my wish list."
And I wrote in 2004: "A word you seldom see applied to software is 'thoughtful,' and in this case, I mean it literally, as in 'full of thought.' But I can think of no better label for Brian Thomas's 'If Monks Had Macs,' an interactive multimedia CD-ROM title that defies prosaic description. It's packed with original texts from the like of Henry David Thoreau and G.K. Chesterton, highly readable essays and critical analyses, a visual exploration of Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Tower of Babel painting, a telling of the story behind an underground newsletter called The White Rose from a student resistance group in Nazi Germany, and far more. A playful sub-current swirls through everything - there's an illustrated medieval text adventure game (you're a monk, needless to say) in which you find cards for a solitaire game. A journaling application helps you record your impressions and musings as you meander through the application's many byways. 'If Monks Had Macs' started out life years ago as a HyperCard stack (now converted to Runtime Revolution, supported by a separate ebook reader), and that retro aesthetic now merely adds to the whimsy."
Brian Thomas isn't just shoveling old software onto the Internet; he has worked to remake the Killing Time game (also available as a free download, and it's only about 10 MB), and has added more recent photos and essays to the main project. But as he told me, he's returning to his roots as a photographer, and is leaving shortly for Cambodia. Before he left, he wanted to make "If Monks Had Macs" available for free download.
But it's not quite as easy as it seems to distribute a 130 MB disk image, and after some discussion on TidBITS Talk, Brian opted for three disparate methods, all of which are free (to him and to downloaders, which was important), but which all have their limitations. They're outlined below for anyone else who is thinking about distributing a very large file to the public. All three download methods are linked from Brian's Web site.
- The first method uses a free Dropbox account, which will likely work well over time, but Dropbox temporarily suspends downloads from accounts that use unusual amounts of bandwidth, and for the moment, the Dropbox links just won't work.
- The second method uses the file distribution service RapidShare, which offers free downloads, but only when their servers are sufficiently available. When I tried to download via RapidShare, I was told their servers were overloaded and was encouraged to pay for a premium account.
- The third method relies on the most obvious approach - shared bandwidth via BitTorrent - and it worked well for downloading the 130 MB disk image. The problem with BitTorrent in the long term is that someone has to continue to seed (make the file available for retrieval) forever. Plus, downloading via BitTorrent requires a BitTorrent client like Transmission, so it's a bit more of a fuss for users. But if BitTorrent absorbs the bandwidth spike in the next few days and weeks, the other methods should work from then on.
- There is one other approach, which is that if you can get your order in by 18 January 2010, Brian will ship you an "If Monks Had Macs" CD for only $10. He really is leaving the country, so he'll shut down the online ordering once he (or his friends) can no longer fulfill CDs.
I would strongly encourage people to download a copy of "If Monks Had Macs" via BitTorrent soon, purely to make sure you have a copy while it's definitely still available. And, if you have plenty of bandwidth, leave your BitTorrent client running to seed the file to other people, which will lighten the load for everyone.
Kudos to Brian Thomas for refusing to let "If Monks Had Macs" simply fade away, and we wish him the best of luck.