Mac fan transforms 1997 Toshiba Libretto into tiny Hackintosh

Long before we all started carrying around powerful computers in our pockets, there was the tiny Toshiba Libretto. A game-changing device when it arrived in the 1990s, the Libretto downsized the entire Windows PC experience into a subnotebook the size of a paperback.

As the world’s smallest commercially available Windows PC, it certainly proved revolutionary. The only problem is the Libretto was … well, a Windows PC.

YouTuber Action Retro recently set out to right that wrong with an awesome Hackintosh project. After transforming the diminutive Libretto into a miniature Mac, he spoke with Cult of Mac about the experience (and his love of vintage Macs).

Rhapsody’s delight

Action Retro, better known as Sean.
Photo: Action Retro

“I took a Toshiba Libretto 50ct, a tiny, Pentium-based Windows laptop from 1997, and got it to boot and run Apple’s Rhapsody OS,” said Action Retro, whose real name is Sean (he opted not to reveal his surname).

Rhapsody was the precursor to Mac OS X, famously announced by Steve Jobs at Macworld Expo on January 7, 1997. Rhapsody was intended to combine parts of Apple’s in-development Copland operating system with NeXT’s own NEXTSTEP OS. It was meant to be a bold new direction for Apple. However, it wound up never shipping beyond a couple of developer previews and Mac OS X Server.

“Rhapsody is really cool in that it looks like Mac OS 8, but has similar Unix underpinnings to what today’s modern macOS has,” Action Retro said.

Action Retro — a website auditor for technical problems from Philadelphia — decided to try to get Rhapsody working on the Toshiba Libretto. He said he first saw an ad for the Libretto as a kid, and wanted one ever since. This year, he found a working model in good condition.

Turning a Toshiba Libretto into a Hackintosh

However, the tiny computer proved pretty anemic.

“Despite looking pretty, it can do precious little,” Action Retro said. “With a 75mhz Pentium processor, maxed-out 32MB of RAM, slow 800MB hard drive, and no built-in floppy or CD-ROM, it can barely cope with the installation of Windows 98 it came with.”

What it could do, at least in theory, was meet the minimum installation requirements for Rhapsody OS.

“I’ve always had this idea of making a ‘mid-90s Hackintosh’ with Rhapsody,” Action Retro said. “Putting it on the Libretto seemed like a pretty funny idea.”

Action Retro joked that he set out to “make the world’s least-useful Pentium laptop even less useful.”

Upgrades and workarounds

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Although the Libretto offered support for an external floppy and CD-ROM drive, connected via the laptop’s PCMCIA slot, Action Retro owned neither. This meant he had no way of installing the operating system on the computer.

So he came up with an elaborate workaround that involved swapping out the Libretto’s ridiculously noisy hard drive.

“When it spun up, it was as loud as someone furiously clacking away on a mechanical keyboard,” he said. “I replaced the hard drive with an IDE-to-SD card adapter, and then used an SD extender so I [could] swap out SD cards from the side of the Libretto without taking it apart. [That meant I could] install operating systems in a virtual machine on a modern Mac, and use the ‘dd’ command line tool to copy the virtual disk to the SD card, and boot the Libretto from it.”

Easy when you know how, right?

Cult of … Hack

“Hello, Cult of Mac,” indeed.
Photo: Action Retro

Action Retro grew up around PCs, but caught Mac fever as a teen when he got his hands on a classic machine.

“My family always had PCs when I was a kid,” he said. “But my first ‘real’ computer of my own was a Macintosh Blue and White G3 that I bought at a thrift store when I was in high school. I fell in love with the design and aesthetic of the machine. I also really loved experimenting with operating systems on it. It ran everything from classic Mac OS to various versions of Linux.”

He’s used loads of computers since then, but still has a thing for vintage Macs.

“Over the years since, I’ve bounced back and forth between Macs and PCs running Linux for my main machines,” he said. “But I’ve always had a soft spot for ’90s and 2000s Macs.”

Action Retro dedicates his YouTube channel to taking old machines — many of them Macs — and attempting to upgrade them well beyond their original specs. That could be anything from his Libretto Hackintosh project to installing modern Linux on a 2003 Power Mac G5 and turning it into a public Minecraft server.

“I also try to include instructions, links and disk image files so people can try out these experiments with their own machines,” he said.