Thoughtful, detailed coverage of the Mac, iPhone, and iPad, plus the TidBITS Content Network for Apple consultants.

"If Monks Had Macs" Available for Free

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.


READERS LIKE YOU! Support TidBITS by becoming a member today!
Check out the perks at <>
Special thanks to Walter Bixby, Gareth McClay, Hedgman Smith, and Hans
van Kessel for their generous support!

Comments about "If Monks Had Macs" Available for Free
(Comments are closed.)

Gavin Eadie  2010-01-08 20:27
Would Pando be a way to distribute the software?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-01-09 07:42
It might be as well, I haven't used Pando in a number of years, so I'm uncertain if there are limitations that would make it inappropriate for distributing Monks.
Ric Carter  2010-01-09 07:37
The Mac torrent downloaded with a .txt suffix. Removed that and the torrent worked just fine.

I bought the original and have missed it as systems changed. Nice to have it back.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-01-09 07:57
That's odd - which BitTorrent client? It came through normally as a disk image here, via Transmission.
Joe Russell  2010-01-09 10:57
Hi there Adam & TidBits gang.
I'm an ACN here in San Francisco, one of our clients is a Hindu monastery on Kauai - and they've had Macs since 1984. Apple was so impressed, that they did an internal documentary on them:


Renate Wesselingh  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2010-01-10 04:07
Currently, none of the links work. Transmission says "Torrent deleted or not in pool yet". Is this just the downside of living in Europe (it's very early Sunday morning in the US right now), or are there really no more seeds available?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-01-10 13:19
Hard to say - this is clearly the downside of BitTorrent for files that aren't extremely popular and thus are nearly guaranteed to have seeders.

Let's see if it fixes itself on Monday morning.
Brian Thomas  2010-01-10 15:23
That seeding was started in Europe.

Anyway, I will start a new torrent with Mininova tonight now that I have been approved as one of their content providers. They are based in the Netherlands and say they will keep it seeded. I will link to this new torrent from site late tonight - Sunday.

(I'm going too crazy getting ready for Cambodia to do it during these few precious daylight hours to do it right now.)
Joanne Morrill  2010-01-10 10:59
I am so very grateful to Brian Thomas both for making this excellence free to download and for having the CD available for such a low price. I downloaded a copy for myself and bought the CD as a present for my spouse (currently a PC person). This is such an incredibly rich offering that it may take me the rest of the year just to begin to appreciate its depth, breadth, and versatility. The beauty is obvious from the beginning.

Thanks to its creator and to all the TidBITS readers who helped make this download possible.
Perhaps Home of the Underdogs would have space for this app. Though there's an OS X version, it's now classified as abandonware. I've seen them mirror much larger apps.
Mike P  2010-01-11 18:06
Rapidshare servers are generally "freed up" in the late afternoon and evening, Pacific time. (For people without RS premium accounts, they run incredibly slowly during the day if a slot IS open anyway.)

RS's "free" service has suffered noticeably the last few weeks in terms of availability and speed.
Mike P  2010-01-12 14:32
It took me about 16 minutes last night to download Monks via Rapidshare. RS ran at about 120 KBs.
A successful download via Transmission, which I'm allowing to continue the seeding now. One question, though -- can I now actually burn a CD myself (and, if so, how)? Thanks!
Brian Thomas  2010-01-11 21:50
If you burn a CD the only thing that matters is that you must put the Monkbits folder at the top or root level of the CD as explained in detail in the included "How to install Monks on your hard drive document. You must still drag the If Monks folder to your applications folder 0r anywhere else - it doesn't matter.
Thank you, Brian.
Russell Guzewicz  2010-01-14 09:05
Download worked fine today via option one. Thanks for the opportunity to see this great work.
Bob Leedom  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2017-09-12 19:13
Ran across If Monks on my HD and wanted to revisit it, but the Journal app (v5.2.0.0) no longer runs -- and probably hasn't for a while. Any ideas?