The Mac OS and I, Part Two
Originally Posted: 2016.06.30
My little misadventure with an errant Mac OS 9 boot partition has allowed me this chance to step back and reconsider my computer lifestyle. Circa 2003, I was a devout Mac OS X convert, coming from a long 11 year run with the classic Mac OS. I wanted to know everything about this fantastic new powerful and stable incarnation of the Mac OS.
Although I stuck with 10.2 Jaguar, even after both 10.3 Panther and 10.4 Tiger were introduced, I never really felt left behind. Sure, most recent versions of Apple software (iLife, iWork, Safari, and Mail for a few good examples) were not available to us lowly Jaguar users. Which is where the many fantastic third party Mac software developers were willing to pick up the slack when it came to supporting older versions of Mac OS X.
THE FIRST CUT IS THE DEEPEST
Somewhere along the way between 2003 and 2005, I started falling back in love with the classic Mac OS.
I would suppose the old passions started rekindling when I acquired a never used LC 580 back in the late summer of 2003. Even the stock configuration provided me with a a system which was considerably more powerful than my first Mac, an LC II. When released in 1995, the LC 580 was a slightly inferior followup to the excellent LC 575, with an ATA hard drive and shadow-mask display instead of a SCSI hard drive and sharp Trinitron tube in the latter. Over the long haul, the LC 580 may have proven the better compromise. I prefer the LC 580 because of the low cost of adding a big ATA hard drive, the increased RAM capacity, and the greater amount of upgrade slots.
Between this Mac and a Power Mac 7300 also acquired in 2003, I had two really nice older Mac systems. I definitely spent too much money upgrading the 7300. Faster processor, more RAM, bigger hard drive, ATA card, USB/FireWire card, lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Something is clearly odd about that sentence. The motherboard eventually took an early retirement, but parting the system out enabled me to recoup a good portion of the upgrade money and overall I had fun learning about older PowerPC Macs.
The LC 580 was also a willing recipient to my upgrade fervor, but I stretched the process over two years, 2003 to 2005, and the project was merely a $5 here, $10 there hobby. In the beginning I did not abandon Mac OS X, instead continuing to happily operate within Mac OS 10.2 on a fairly modern duo — 466MHz Graphite iBook SE (purchased new from a private party in 2001) and a 500MHz Snow iMac G3 DV SE (purchased new from the Apple online store in early fall 2000). While I spent some time running Mac OS X on the Power Mac 7300, I spent most of the time within Mac OS 9.1. I found Mac OS 8.1 to be a nice system for the LC 580. This mixture of different Mac OS versions allowed me to learn more about both Mac hardware and software configurations than I ever though possible way back in the early years of System 7 and the LC II.
The more I experienced working with older Mac software and hardware, the more time I poured into finding the optimal solutions for each system. During times when I had enough space, I would acquire any and every local Mac which was released during or before early 2001. Generally, I would flip the more valuable systems (Blue and White G3s, early Power Mac G4s, Beige G3s, iMacs, and the occasional Mac laptop) for a small profit to help subsidize the time and effort spent acquiring and testing these systems. I made enough to get me by, but clearly this was no full time endeavor. At least from a monetary standpoint, obviously my addiction; er, fascination with these older systems was only growing. So much did this fascination expand, my duo of Jaguar powered Macs ended up being sent elsewhere. My G3 iMac was now my mother’s primary system and the G3 iBook was sold to a fellow out in Arizona or some other southwestern state in this grand union.
ALMOST OS X FREE, BUT ALONG CAME A SWIFT KICK IN THE PANTS
Consequence of this new found addiction were an almost total abandonment of OS X for around 12 to 18 months. I knew I could not continue using my hodgepodge of older Macs forever.
Yet, I was getting enjoyment and a surprisingly high amount of productivity from this collection — two LC IIs, LC 580, G3 upgraded Power Mac 7600, Blue and White Power Mac G3, PowerBook 520c, and PowerBook 1400c. My computing experience was sublime. Even when bad things happened, I ended up in a better situation. E.g. Power Mac 7600 CD-ROM drive goes bad, no problem, I received a free Blue and White Power Mac G3.
Until that fateful day almost one month ago in early June 2006. Formerly working so well for my mother, my old iMac started to behave inconsistently. The modem refused to maintain a connection longer than a few minutes at a time. My mom explained the symptoms to me and I figured no problem, I would be the hero riding to the rescue on the shining white horse named “Macs never die because their TCO is so much better than those other computers”. Regardless of passing the hardware diagnostic tests, there was clearly something wrong with the modem. The modem did not function correctly with any phone jack, phone cord, presence or absence of the call waiting enabling Catch-a-Call, whether dialing from OS 9 or X, any modem script, or ISP phone number. I was flummoxed but not altogether surprised. After all, the iMac had given 5 and a half years of mostly trouble free service. Things happy, systems eventually break down. The iMac was certainly worth its price of entry back in year 2000.
Down, but not out, I tapped the Low End Mac Swap list for a Keyspan Twin Serial Adapter. This fantastic little device allows older Mac serial devices (except those needing LocalTalk) to connect to newer Macs. Arriving for $10 shipped to the front door, I downloaded the drivers and connected a very reliable v.92 56k Global Village serial modem. Things went well, and a little under a week later, maybe five days total, hello LEM Swap list and two 512MB RAM modules are purchased to give the iMac breathing room. 10.2.8 was a little heavy on the installed 256MB and the bump to 1GB should make a nice improvement. Not to mention I was on the hunt for a set of Panther Install discs. Another 5 day time span and the LEM Swap list served me another reasonably priced success. Together, the three investments set me back $134, but I figured I made a wise move if these upgrades would allow my mom to wring at least another year from the iMac. She certainly loves the nice all-in-one simplicity of the G3 iMac and the neutral snow coloration helps it look at home with any room’s decor.
Everything is settled then, I am clearly to remain a classic Mac OS junkie, yet enacted forthwith was the “nothing is ever fixed that easy you dimwit” law. A little over one week later the infamous Blue and White G3 data corruption issue occurred. More than a little peeved, I did not hesitate to express my frustration to any and every person who was unlucky enough to pass within distance to my griping. One such poor victim happened to be my mother who suggested I make the move to a modern computer and cut some of my legacy ties. Not a bad suggestion, but to a Mac addict like myself, this would be tantamount to asking my lungs to stop drawing in air. Good luck. I sputter in protest to the merits of working with my creaky old systems and hardware. I attempted to relay something akin to how a G3 iMac like my mother’s would suit my needs just fine and there happened to be a slightly older iMac DV SE available for only $30. Always the prudent one, my mom shifts gears. She suggests purchasing a new computer, maybe a Mac, maybe not. She would leave it up to me suggest a suitable replacement. I could use her recently upgraded and repaired G3 iMac (yes, my old iMac).
I took that weekend to compare options and by monday I had the perfect replacement — a refreshed 1.33GHz 12″ iBook G4 at the low price of $629 out the door.
The local Apple Store obliged and now my mom had a much newer computer than I have ever owned. For almost two weeks now, not only have I been getting to know a G3 iMac running Panther, but now I have the chance to run a Tiger equipped system through it’s paces while awaiting replacement software install discs. I prefer to do a clean install after acquiring any system, new, used, or somewhere in between. Hard to do without the install discs, hence the wait for AppleCare to come through with the replacements. While the iBook G4 is considered by many to be obsolete technology with the arrival of the vastly superior latest and greatest from Apple, the new MacBook in this case, I think it fits the bill nicely for my mother. The iBook is small, very quiet, except for the fairly noisy optical drive, and blends in nicely with any room’s decor. Very soon, my mother will get to have a fully configured and customized Tiger system, just as soon as those replacement discs come her way.
Having tasted the stability and power granted by Panther on the iMac and Tiger on the iBook, I do not want to go back to a mostly OS X free Mac environment. Before the shenanigans began, I originally intended to use this space to talk about how well Mac OS 9 and below continues to function and how I plan on sticking with it a little longer as my preferred Mac OS environment. I wanted to talk about how greatly my appreciation measured for the classic Mac OS and its adherence to interface coherence. How easy it is to troubleshoot extension conflicts once you understand the basics of what extensions are necessary components and those which can be safely deactivated. I would have mentioned how fast a Mac OS 9 machine booted and the general ability to operate with lower RAM requirements. 256MB still feels like a vast amount when running a few basic applications in Mac OS 9, yet 256MB is the minimal amount needed to run Mac OS 10.4. Dragging and dropping system folders or other folders for backup or transfer is nice to do without worrying about permission woes.
Unfortunately, the inherent instability and less than heroic uptime (start directing blame towards cooperative multi-tasking and lack of memory protection) coupled to the increasingly limited support from developers, means I am ready to move back to OS X as my primary Macintosh workspace. Not completely mind you. Those Macs with sufficient RAM and the appropriate software will run OS X. Older systems incapable of running OS X, the PearPC method does not count, can continue soldering on with the classic Mac OS. I’m still going to cut down on my legacy systems, but only because of issues surrounding time and space. Odd phrasing aside, I meant to imply the lack of enough storage space and/or time to keep every system running happily with a dedicated task or two, will cause some Macs to be redistributed elsewhere.
THINNING THE HERD AND SETTING A NEW DIRECTION
Say goodbye to the Blue and White G3, G3 upgraded Power Mac 7600, maybe one LC II, and maybe the PowerBook 1400c.
If I could just get the accursed Global Village 56k/ethernet PC card to function with the 1400c, I would be overwhelmingly happy. The 1400c has a great active matrix display and superb feeling keyboard. I would hate to part company, but I need some easy networking options. Does anyone remember how slow serial networking was back in the old days? Well, I’m still there with this otherwise fantastic legacy Mac. If anyone is familiar with Mac OS 8.1 or 8.6, Global Village PC cards, and PowerBook 1400s, please drop me some information in the comments section or otherwise contact me. The LC 580 will continue to operate as a bedroom entertainment system and the PowerBook 520c still works nicely when I need basic text web browsing and a backup email machine. The LC II was my first Mac and I am not going to part with it after 14 years. I’ll find something to keep it busy. Maybe LocalTalk bridge to my ethernet network, especially handy if I decide to keep the PowerBook 1400c around. My current primary system will be the very same G3 iMac which introduced me to the modern Jobs’ Apple era six years ago. Now configured with 1GB RAM and Mac OS 10.3.9 instead of the original 256MB and Mac OS 9.0.4 from early fall 2000.
While I am not totally abandoning the various incarnations of the classic Mac OS, I am clearly prioritizing my Mac OS X systems. However, I am not totally sold on the Mac OS X way. Great system all around and I have no reason to even consider any version of Windows at this point. Yet, there is another path I am finding myself being inevitably drawn towards in my search for computing happiness.
Coming to a close?
Our trilogy is drawing ever closer to finality and many questions are still up in the air. What is the mysterious third article only briefly alluded to in Mac OS and I, Part One? What siren beckons from the shadows, hoping to entice our dashing protagonist to stray from his current path? Why did he enjoy organic macaroni and cheese for breakfast on this fine AppleSwitcher Photo Friday #12 morning? Just what answers will be revealed in the closing chapter, only the winds will know until the time strikes divine.