So I got a Wi-Fi USB adapter for my Cube

I have recently updated the configuration of my home wireless network. On the one hand, I’m finally enjoying a faster, more stable connection from my studio; on the other hand, it seems that the AirPort card in my Power Mac G4 Cube isn’t enough to keep the Cube connected to the network. The Cube tries to connect to the farthest base station, not acknowledging the one near my studio door. As far as my investigation went, it’s not because the new network configuration isn’t compatible with the older 802.11b protocol, but it appears that the second AirPort Express base station used to extend the network range sometimes broadcasts through channels that aren’t picked up by the Cube’s AirPort card.

A situation like this has many workarounds. For example:

  1. I could connect the Cube to the nearest AirPort Express base station with an Ethernet cable. The downside: the cable would be in the way when entering my studio. And I have already tripped over it in the past when I had to temporarily connect my main MacBook Pro to the network.
  2. I could connect the Cube to the MacBook Pro via Ethernet or FireWire cable and have the MacBook Pro share its Internet connection. The downside: There isn’t one, technically. The FireWire network sharing isn’t a solution for me because my Time Machine external drive is connected to the MacBook Pro via FireWire, so I could use Ethernet. Let’s say I don’t like the idea of having a Mac so dependent on another for Internet connectivity.
  3. I could set up another (vintage) Mac to connect to the home Wi-Fi network then share that connection for the Cube. The downsides: Another wireless client impacting network performance; all the redundancy and ‘waste’ of having another Mac in operation just for the sake of providing connection; and finally, like noted above, the Cube wouldn’t be an independent machine with regard to connectivity.
  4. I could search for a Wi-Fi adapter for the Cube.

Of course I chose №4, because it’s the option that makes more sense and has no significant downsides. I also went looking for USB Wi-Fi adapters, as opposed to Ethernet/Wi-Fi adapters, mostly because I thought I’d probably have more luck finding one locally (which, as it turns out, is exactly what happened).

Only one problem remained: finding a USB Wi-Fi adapter compatible with a Mac OS X version as old as 10.4 Tiger. I started searching the Web more carefully, and I also asked on Twitter and App.net for suggestions. I got two:

Both these products support Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and later versions. During my search I also found NewerTech’s MaxPower USB Wireless Adapter, but the minimum Mac OS X system supported is 10.5 Leopard.

Then I went to the city centre, to take a look around in a local electronics store. There are a lot of USB Wi-Fi adapters out there, and most of them have only Windows drivers. But after examining no fewer than fifteen different product boxes (system requirements are often in small print, half-covered by price labels and barcodes), I found this:

N150

It’s a Sitecom N150 Wi-Fi USB Adapter. On the box, it said it’s compatible with Mac OS X 10.4. After learning it costs just €12.95, I decided to take a chance and purchase it. It works, so I felt I should share, in case someone else is trying to give their vintage Macs more current Wi-Fi options.

The box contains the small USB dongle, a leaflet with instructions, and a CD-ROM with the drivers. I appreciate that the Mac drivers are neatly organised in folders with separate packages for Mac OS X 10.4, 10.5, 10.6, 10.7 and 10.8. The setup is pretty straightforward: You install the drivers, restart the Mac, insert the USB dongle, and that’s it.

On my Cube, after restarting, I noticed that an application called ‘Wireless Network Utility’ was also installed, and it opened automatically, suggesting I enabled the driver in System Preferences. System Preferences also opened, and the Network pane informed me that a new port was recognised, Ethernet Adaptor (en3). I turned off AirPort, went back to the Sitecom Wireless Network Utility, and connected to my home network:

Sitecom wnu

Of course, I can’t achieve amazing transfer speeds, since the Cube has USB 1.1 ports, but I wasn’t looking for speed — all I wanted was a reliable, stable connection. The Wireless Network Utility application is rich with features and information, and that’s quite welcome. The only minor annoyance is that there is no menu icon in the menubar, and I have to do everything by accessing this app. Also, sometimes the adapter doesn’t reconnect automatically to the network when waking the Cube from sleep, so again I have to open the app and manually select the home network. As I said, minor annoyances, since I leave the Cube on throughout the day. All in all, I’m happy with this solution, and surprised I found a network adapter with PowerPC support so easily and, above all, in a local shop.

If you have other suggestions for particularly good products in this category, feel free to add your comments. Thank you.


iPad + an Apple ADB keyboard

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While I’m waiting for my Incase Origami Workstation to arrive, a few nights ago I wanted to try something with my iPad. Admittedly, the inspiration behind my attempt comes from this article by Ben Brooks. Like Ben, I found the combination of iPad + a mechanical keyboard to be quite lovely. Having a good deal of old Apple mechanical keyboards, I wanted to try to come up with a similar setup, just for fun.

Time ago, I had tried connecting to my iPad the blueberry Apple USB Keyboard that came with the first iMac in 1998, by using the Camera Connection Kit accessory, but it didn’t work. The iPad complained that the device was not recognised, and indeed, typing had no effect.

So when the other night I assembled the contraption you see above, I really had no hopes it would work. As you can see, the parts involved are:

  • A third-generation iPad
  • The Camera Connection Kit for iPad
  • An iMate ADB-to-USB adapter
  • An ADB Apple Standard Keyboard M0116 introduced in 1987

As soon as the connection was established, I was surprised that iOS recognised and identified the iMate adapter — but it also gave the Device not supported warning. But the fact that the virtual keyboard wasn’t appearing when invoked gave me hope. I opened a text editor app (in this case the great Daedalus Touch by The Soulmen) and the keyboard was recognised right away. Once I got the layout right (I had to shift to English US), every key, modifier, and symbol were recognised correctly.

I won’t be using this setup when I’m out an about — it’s a bit cumbersome to carry around — but the experience felt really great, to the point that I ended up writing an article right there and then!


Taking the QuickTake 100 for a spin

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A couple of weeks ago, I received a fantastic donation: a working Apple QuickTake 100 camera in its original box and in like-new condition. Since I’m not the kind of Apple collector who just puts his conquests on display and routinely dusts them, the first thing I did after taking the camera out of the box was to look for the necessary QuickTake software, put some fresh batteries in, and start taking test photos in different lighting conditions.

This article is meant to be an overview and a series of impressions gathered after using the QuickTake for a few days. Still, I hope it’ll give you an idea of what is like handling a 20-year-old camera and the associated software.

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Tech specs, a refresher

The QuickTake 100 is a camera that was designed in 1992, introduced in January 1994, and discontinued in May 1995. By today’s standards, every technical aspect of the QuickTake 100 is ridiculous, and you immediately realise how far we’ve come in twenty years of digital camera technology advancements.

The QuickTake takes 24-bit full-colour images at a maximum resolution of 640×480 pixels, which means less than 1 megapixel. As for the optics, the QuickTake is equipped with a fixed-focus lens, has a built-in flash, its AE system picks a combination of aperture from f2.8 to f16 and a shutter speed of 1/30 to 1/175 of a second. The camera doesn’t have a removable flash card for storing pictures, but an internal 1 MB Flash EPROM (you read that well, one megabyte), which can hold 8 high-resolution images (640×480), 32 standard-resolution images (320×240), or a combination of the two. Images are saved in what I’d call a QuickTake flavour of the PICT format, since you need the QuickTake™ Image extension to be able to see the pictures that come straight out of the camera.

The QuickTake connects to the Mac via serial cable. If your vintage Mac comes with separate Modem and Printer ports, you should connect it to the Printer port. If you connect it to the Modem port, you’ll still be able to access the camera, but you’ll have to turn AppleTalk off (the camera software will issue such warning.)

The system requirements are rather modest and include a wide range of Macs: any Macintosh with a Motorola 68020 or faster processor, with System 7.1 or later, will do. As the QuickTake software’s Read Me document informs, The QuickTake 1.0 software works best on a Macintosh with at least 8 MB of RAM or 4 MB of RAM with 8 MB of virtual memory.

Battery life

The QuickTake 100 needs three AA cells to operate. (It supports rechargeable NiCd batteries, Alkaline, R6P, or SUM-3 NiCad or lithium batteries.) Battery life looks good so far: after a few days of use and roughly 40 shots, the battery indicator is still on ‘full.’ This is nothing conclusive, of course, since I’ve used the camera only occasionally, and shooting sessions have been brief affairs so far.

Handling the camera

I love the design of the QuickTake 100. The camera isn’t exceedingly bulky, and it invites you to handle it as it were a pair of compact binoculars — though of course you don’t need to hold the camera with both hands. You turn on the QuickTake by sliding the front lid that protects the lens, the viewfinder lens and the sensors:

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The viewfinder is a rather small window without overlays or indicators. The only thing you get is a round green light below the window, which will be on when the camera’s ready to take a photo.

I also like the design of the door covering the serial port and the power adapter port:
 
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The door doesn’t feel flimsy at all, and as you can guess by looking at the photo, to open it you have to push-and-slide, so that it’s unlikely you’ll open it by mistake when handling the camera. The battery compartment door is, again, sturdy and you’ll have to exercise a bit of force to open it.

I love the design and position of the shutter release as well. When you hold the camera, you feel it under your index and middle fingers. You don’t have to press it much to snap a photo, and it’s really quiet.

Despite having a hard plastic body (the same material of the PowerBooks of the era), the QuickTake feels sturdy and ‘full’ when you hold it. No cracking sounds or the feeling that something got loose inside, if you know what I mean. The camera, with the 3 AA cells necessary to power it, weighs exactly 500 grams; that surprised me a little, because it feels lighter during use. For comparison, my Newton MessagePad 2100 weighs 140 grams more, but feels much heavier when I hold it.

The controls on the back of the camera are, um, essential. Next to the viewfinder is a small square LCD display indicating number of pictures taken, number of pictures left, battery life, flash, self-timer and current resolution. Around it are three small buttons to alter resolution, flash settings (Auto, Always on, Always off) and self-timer, and a fourth recessed button to delete the stored images. The LCD display has a great contrast, and it’s quite readable despite not being backlit.

The software

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At the time of writing, I’ve only used the QuickTake 1.0 application, which is, again, a bare-bones yet functional piece of software. You can use it to preview the images stored in the camera (the interface nicely presents them as ‘digital slides’), open & edit a single photo if you so desire, download all images or just the selected ones to the Macintosh, and even control the QuickTake from the Mac:

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In the Camera Controls window you’ll see an exact replica of the camera’s LCD display, and you can operate all the buttons from the Mac, including the shutter release. Pretty cool, considering it’s 20-year-old technology. (By looking at the screenshot above, you can also see that the QuickTake 100 apparently suffers from the Y2K bug, since it displays 1914 instead of 2014 in the timestamp above each photo.)

The QuickTake software offers a limited set of exporting options:
 
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I wasn’t able to successfully export an image in any of these formats because just when the application was almost done writing the exported file, it crashed with an “Error 1″ if I remember well. A great alternative (with many more editing options) has been Graphic Converter, which is an application I highly recommend whether you’re using the latest Intel Macs or vintage, pre-PowerPC Macs.

Converting and exporting images in another format than the original QuickTake PICT is essential if you want to see the photos on more modern Macs or Macs lacking the QuickTake™ Image extension in their Extensions folder. You won’t see anything otherwise.

When I downloaded the first photos I took with the QuickTake, I forgot to export them, I just copied them directly to my Titanium PowerBook G4 running Mac OS X 10.4.11 (and the Classic Environment, luckily). When I opened them and saw a blank image, these are the steps I had to follow to be able to see the pictures:

  1. Put the QuickTake™ Image extension in the System Folder of the Mac OS 9 installation. (That extension can be found in the software download at the Macintosh Garden I mentioned in my previous article.)
  2. Make sure I had a QuickTime Pro registration (in the QuickTime 6 software package running in Classic).
  3. Restart the Classic Environment.
  4. Open the QuickTake PICT files with PictureViewer (or with any other graphic application running in the Classic Environment for that matter — I suggest PictureViewer because it’s included with Mac OS and it does the job).
  5. In PictureViewer, choose File > Export.
  6. Export the file(s) in JPEG format, for example.
  7. The photos will be converted to JPEG and will be visible.

The photos

Honestly, I can’t say the QuickTake 100 takes great photos. We’re talking about a 0.3 Megapixel camera with 1993-1994 technology, after all. Still, some shots taken in particularly favourable conditions turned out better than I expected, given the hardware. None of the following photos has been altered in any way except for a PICT-to-JPEG conversion.

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This last photo surprised me because, as I’ve found out, the QuickTake isn’t usually very good at taking indoor photos without flash. In this shot, instead, the camera managed to capture the exact lighting of the place without altering the colours (the cafeteria was, admittedly, a bit less dark, but still) and to retain some details in the darker areas. Again, nothing extraordinary, but keep in mind the kind of hardware and technology we’re dealing with.

The camera takes better photos in broad daylight, or even indoors provided there’s ample illumination. I rarely use the flash when photographing, no matter which camera (or portable device) I’m using. Finding a good use for the QuickTake’s flash was difficult. When shooting indoors in a poorly-lit environment without flash, the result will be a uselessly dark picture. Using the flash in the same conditions will result in the typical scene where the subjects closest to the flash are too harshly illuminated, colours generally look altered, the background is dark, and the photos look crappy overall. There were a few instances, however, where using the flash outdoors in normal lighting as ‘fill flash’ actually improved the result a bit, by slightly lightening the shadows and providing more details in areas that would have turned out darker.

By the way, I was rather impressed by the QuickTake’s reaction time between shots when using the flash. I was accustomed to my Nikon Coolpixes which generally need 1-2 seconds.

Conclusion

Shooting with the QuickTake 100 is fun, all in all. And once the workflow with the Mac is set up, things start getting less painful. At the moment, I’m using the PowerBook 5300 to download and manage the photos. I convert them to JPEG files in Graphic Converter, then I send them over Ethernet to the Titanium PowerBook G4, and from there I upload to Dropbox the ones worth keeping. I could mount on the PowerBook 5300’s Desktop the Dropbox folder of the TiBook and upload the photos right away, to save one step of the process, but often I’d like to take a better look at the pictures on the bigger screen of the TiBook before sending them to the cloud.

Of course, given the photographic capabilities of today’s cameras and devices, using a QuickTake is just something a vintage Mac enthusiast does to show what was like taking photos with a consumer digital camera 20 years ago, and little else. Still, I’ve noticed how the photos taken with the QuickTake all tend to exhibit a kind of watercolour-like patina I find rather charming, and I think it could be used creatively, as if it were some sort of artistic filter. It’s a pity this camera isn’t more powerful, because it’s really well-designed and a joy to handle and carry around.


Actual work on vintage Macs is possible

Stephen Hackett, linking to this article by Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica, comments:

Andrew Cunningham has learned what I did back in 2008: while OS 9 is fun to play with, it’s terrible for getting actual work done.

Well, that’s debatable. And it really depends on what we mean by ‘actual work.’

I’m probably in an advantageous position, since my ‘actual work’ mainly revolves around text and writing. For that, I can be rather productive even on a PowerBook 5300 (a 117 MHz machine with 64 MB of RAM) with Mac OS 8.1, as you can read in the second part of my article, In defence of the PowerBook 5300.

I’m quite experienced when it comes to vintage Macs and optimising them to make the most of them. The Ars Technica piece by Cunningham left a bitter taste in my mouth, and as I voiced on Twitter and App.net, I believe the author (perhaps due to inexperience and impatience with vintage hardware and software) hasn’t painted a completely fair picture of how these machines and systems can actually perform.

Cunningham writes:

And connecting the PowerBook to my router required a trip to the TCP/IP Control Panel to get things working—the OS didn’t just detect an active network interface and grab an IP address as it does now.

I’d like to point out that this behaviour isn’t the standard, as far as I know. I have a few PowerPC Macs that can boot either in Mac OS X or Mac OS 9, and a Mac OS 9-only machine, a clamshell iBook G3/300 with 288 MB of RAM. Whenever I connect the iBook to my router via Ethernet, I’m automatically connected to the Internet, with no need to manually configure anything. The same happens with my PowerBook 5300 on Mac OS 8.1 — it usually auto-connects when I plug in the Ethernet cable. (Sometimes I admittedly have to check the TCP/IP control panel.)

Mac OS 9 feels much faster on the 800MHz G4 than does OS X 10.4 or 10.5, and when the system is working smoothly things open and close pretty much instantaneously. That is, unless you get a pop-up message that momentarily freezes the OS, or you have an odd, possibly memory-related crash that requires a restart.

I’m sorry if that has been Cunningham’s experience, but again, he makes it sound like something that happens so often, one would think Mac OS 9 is a completely unreliable system. It’s not, at least not in my experience. Granted, if all you’ve known is Mac OS X and expect to open as many apps in a Mac OS 9 system, you won’t enjoy the same degree of general stability. That’s because Mac OS X and Mac OS 9 manage memory differently.

With regard to Cunningham’s poor email experience on Mac OS 9, I can relate. In part. Four years ago I carried out an informal investigation, where I installed as many decent classic Mac email clients as I could find and tried to configure a Gmail account in all of them. You can find a detailed account of that experiment in my article Classic email clients vs Gmail, but in short, I found that the only email clients playing nice with Gmail were Classilla Mail in Classilla 9.x, the Netscape Mail module in Netscape 7.0.2, while the two best clients capable of full Gmail support (at least at the time, in 2010) were Microsoft Outlook 5.02 and PowerMail 4.2.1.

As for publishing articles and blog posts online using WordPress, my workaround has always been posting by email, which WordPress supports. This allowed me to post articles even using my PowerBook 5300 with Mac OS 8.1 and Mailsmith 1.1.8.

Cunningham:

[…] it goes without saying that syncing files between Mac OS 9 and any other system just isn’t going to happen (I mostly use Dropbox, but the service you use doesn’t make a difference). Even using a network share isn’t possible — Mac OS 9 doesn’t support Windows’ SMB protocol, and its version of the AFP protocol is too old to interface with my Mac Mini server running Mavericks. I was only able to do some file transfers using FTP, yet another unencrypted and insecure protocol.

And that’s why I use a Titanium PowerBook G4 running Mac OS X Tiger as a ‘server’ when I need to sync files with Dropbox. Since Dropbox (bless those guys) still supports PowerPC Macs running a version of Mac OS X as old as Tiger, I connect the OS 9 iBook to the TiBook and mount the Dropbox folder in the iBook’s desktop. The experience is seamless enough.

After trying to work in Mac OS 9, Cunningham installs Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard on his test machine, a Titanium PowerBook G4 at 800 MHz. Note that Leopard has a minimum system requirement of a G4 processor running at 867 MHz. While it’s certainly possible (as Cunningham did) to circumvent this limitation and install Leopard on a Mac with a slower processor — I had managed to install it on a 500 MHz machine — you cannot expect optimum performance.

In fact, speaking of TenFourFox — the best and most up-to-date browser for G3/G4/G5 PowerPC Macs — Cunningham writes:

In any case, TenFourFox does a respectable job of rendering pages properly, and I’m sure it runs much better on newer 1GHz-and-up aluminum PowerBooks and iMacs than it does on this old titanium G4.

It does. On my 1 GHz 12-inch PowerBook G4 and 1.33 GHz 17-inch PowerBook G4 it runs very well. But it also runs fine on my 400 MHz and 500 MHz Titanium PowerBooks.

One thing I’ll say about both OS X 10.4 and 10.5 on this hardware is that it’s laggy no matter what you’re doing.

It’s a strange assessment, that doesn’t tally with my experience at all. I have Mac OS X 10.4.11 installed on these machines:

  • A 400 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 with 1 GB of RAM
  • A 500 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 with 512 MB of RAM
  • A 450 MHz Power Mac G4 Cube with 1.5 GB of RAM
  • A 466 MHz clamshell iBook G3 FireWire with 576 MB of RAM

and Tiger isn’t laggy on any of them, especially the Cube, where the Finder is actually more responsive than on my MacBook Pro with 8 GB of RAM, running Mac OS X 10.9.5. As for Leopard being laggy on a Mac that doesn’t meet Leopard’s minimum system requirements, well, I’m not that surprised.

Stuff you take for granted on a modern, multi-core computer with an SSD and lots of RAM is totally different on a system this old. Having dozens of browser tabs open at once, playing some music or maybe a video in the background, syncing Dropbox files, even watching animated GIFs consumes precious CPU cycles that an 800MHz G4 doesn’t have to spare. Exceeding the computer’s once-impressive-but-now-paltry 1GB of RAM, something you’ll do without even thinking if you fire up TenFourFox, prompts virtual memory swapping that grinds things to a halt.

There’s nothing technically wrong with what Cunningham is saying here, but “grinding things to a halt” is a bit of an exaggeration. I’m writing this on my 17-inch 1.33 GHz PowerBook G4 with 1.5 GB of RAM running Mac OS X 10.5.8, so it’s a more capable Mac than the TiBook he used, but still, here’s a list of the applications I have currently opened:

  • MarsEdit 2.4.4
  • Sparrow (yes, version 1.2.3 was a Universal Binary)
  • The latest version of TenFourFox, with 7 tabs open
  • The Spotify Mac client (version 0.6.6.10, still working on PowerPC Macs)
  • NetNewsWire 3.2.15, with three tabs open in its built-in browser
  • An instance of Fluid (again, I held on to its last PowerPC-compatible version) running TweetDeck (the Web interface) inside of it
  • Mac OS X’s Dictionary app

The PowerBook is quite stable and doesn’t feel laggy or sluggish to me.

I ascribe Cunningham’s evaluation to his fairly limited time with the test machine, which probably wasn’t perfectly optimised to provide the best experience under Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X 10.5. I insist, you can’t expect Leopard to be very smooth on an 800 MHz Mac when it requires at least 867 MHz. You can see here that such minimum requirement has more to do with the overall performance and user experience rather than something strictly hardware-related.

Back to the initial question — Is it possible to do actual work under Mac OS 9 today? — my answer is a cautious ‘yes.’ It always depends on what you actually do for a living, of course. If you work with audio/video editing tools, for example, you can find professional software. Same goes for image editing or 3D rendering. The big difference is that you’ll have to work with vintage hardware which can do the job but not as efficiently as a modern Mac with current software.

Another thing to consider is that you’ll have to invest some time to properly optimise your vintage Mac. There’s a lot of Mac OS 9 software out there, and sometimes you have to try different applications in the same category to find the best software for what you’re trying to accomplish (like what I did with email clients). I agree, it can become a tiring and bewildering exercise, especially if you never used anything older than Mac OS X.

On one thing I very much agree with Cunningham: the most problematic aspect of using Mac OS 9 today is related to Web browsing and Internet security. Classilla is the most modern browser you can find for Mac OS 9 and the most secure, but it’s all in relative terms. All other browsers are just too old to keep up with modern websites and technologies. If you’re trying to load a certain website properly, all I can suggest is to download different browsers and try them until you find the one that best renders it. Internet Explorer 5.x, Netscape, old versions of Opera, iCab, are all worth keeping around (iCab 3.0.5, the last version supporting Mac OS 9.x, isn’t that bad for example), but it certainly is tedious work and doesn’t make for a smooth browsing experience. Classilla at least tends to favour mobile versions of popular, complex websites, to offer a bit of usability at the very least — the last time I tried, I was able to tweet using Twitter’s mobile Web interface from inside Classilla.

But security? Just forget about it. I mean, I’m not talking about viruses (practically nonexistent for the classic Mac OS), but secure transmission of data. In a nutshell, I wouldn’t use a Web browser under Mac OS 9 to transmit sensitive information (financial data, passwords protecting sensitive accounts, etc.).

When we move up the ladder a bit, however, and I’m talking Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and 10.5 Leopard, then I can safely say that actual work can be done, and the experience is much less painful than under Mac OS 9. Again, it’s a matter of being patient at the beginning, and take some time to hunt down the necessary software, but I’m still using three G4 PowerBooks and my G4 Cube as secondary machines and I’m pretty satisfied with them, especially the 17-inch PowerBook G4, which is a little powerhouse despite being a Mac that’s almost 11 years old. It is, among other things, my secondary photo archive & editing machine (it runs Aperture 2 decently), my CD/DVD burning machine and sometimes my old-PowerPC-games machine (its ATI Mobility Radeon graphics card with 64 MB of memory can still perform quite well with games produced when this machine was new, games like Quake or Unreal Tournament, for example). And of course I use it for Web browsing, email, RSS feeds, writing.

Of course, if your exploration of vintage Macs and older Mac OS and OS X versions is just something you do in the spur of the moment, and is not meant to last more than just a few days, your experience as a result is going to look pretty much similar to Cunningham’s. I hope this contribution of mine will help paint a more balanced picture of what it means to use vintage Mac hardware and software today — on a regular basis.

 


I’m always trying to find and report great apps that are still available for PowerPC G3/G4/G5 Macs. So far, I’ve written 3 articles listing a few of them:

I think they’re a good enough starting point to assemble a decent software arsenal if you have a nice Mac running Tiger or Leopard in particular.


Added to the collection: QuickTake 100

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Thanks to the generous Steve W., the other day I received a beautiful QuickTake 100 camera in its original box, complete with serial cable, strap, and the battery booster pack, which is an accessory whose existence I wasn’t aware of:
 
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(From the manual: The QuickTake Battery Booster Pack (part number M2655G/A) […] extends the life of your batteries, letting you capture thousands of images before replacing the batteries. It comes with eight AA lithium batteries and plugs into the power adapter port on your camera.) Finding the original QuickTake software online wasn’t as straightforward as I thought. One of the first search results you get points to the amazingly-still-online Older Software Downloads Support Page on Apple’s site. Scrolling down to the Display and Peripheral Software Downloads section, you can find a few links relevant to the QuickTake:

  • Macintosh/Display-Peripheral/QuickTake/PhotoFlash_2.0_to_2.0.1.sea.bin
  • Macintosh/Display-Peripheral/QuickTake/PhotoFlash_2.0_to_2.0.1.txt
  • Macintosh/Display-Peripheral/QuickTake/QuickTake_for_Power_Mac_1.0.sea.bin
  • Macintosh/Display-Peripheral/QuickTake/QuickTake_for_Power_Mac_1.0.txt

The problem with that “QuickTake for Power Mac 1.0″ self-extracting archive is that you don’t get the complete QuickTake software to handle the camera. As the release notes in the associated text file inform:

When running this installer, it will prompt you for QuickTake Disk 1 and QuickTake Disk 2, which ship only with the QuickTake camera. QuickTake Disk 1 and QuickTake Disk 2 are not posted here, due to software licensing agreements.

Another problem is that if you want to use the camera with an older Mac with 68k architecture, that Apple Support page is of no use. Thankfully, the Macintosh Garden has once again proven to be a crucial resource. If you need a truly complete QuickTake software package, go to this page. In the downloadable StuffIt archive (11 MB) you’ll find:

  • Software for the QuickTake 100 camera — For Macintosh (68k and PPC architectures) and Windows
  • Software for the QuickTake 150 camera — For Macintosh and Windows
  • Software for the QuickTake 200 camera — For Macintosh
  • QuickTake Image 2.0.1 extension (Part of the QuickTake 100 and 150 installations; it appears to be a newer version than the one included in the original installations.)

In the next days I’ll post some first impressions after using the camera and the software. For the moment, I’ll link to an older article I published here some time ago: Reviews Reprinted: Apple QuickTake 100, a review that appeared on Personal Computer World (UK) magazine in 1994, when the QuickTake 100 was introduced.


Let’s talk backup

As of late, I’ve been suggesting a few great applications that are still available for PowerPC Macs (where by ‘PowerPC Macs’ I generally mean ‘PowerPC G3/G4/G5 Macs running Mac OS X’). For this article I thought I could gather a few resources and reading material related to the essential practice of backing up data.

A necessary preamble: up to the advent of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard in October 2007, my personal backup strategy was a selective, manual backup of all the data I considered vital, so I never really used any tool to perform automated backups, therefore I don’t have any real direct experience with some of the applications mentioned below. The majority of them have an impeccable reputation, though, so I guess they’ll be useful to you.

Backup tools for PowerPC Macs running Mac OS X (and Mac OS 9.2.2)

  • If you’re running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, don’t forget that a basic backup tool is built in the system itself: Time Machine. I started using it since I upgraded to Leopard and I’ve never lost a backup. Considering a few horror stories I’ve heard, I may have been lucky. My only bit of advice: let Time Machine do its job, no matter how long it takes. I never interfered, nor tinkered with it, and never had a problem.
  • Carbon Copy Cloner — A great tool to clone disks and make bootable backup copies of them. And this is just one of the many features this application offers. You can download version 3.4.7, which is compatible with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and 10.5 Leopard from this download page.
  • SuperDuper! — I have actually used SuperDuper! and it was extremely helpful in a few key circumstances. I like its interface because it really guides you every step of the way and explains what the app will do according to the options you choose. The links to download older versions of the app are provided in the sidebar of the page I’ve linked to. There are versions for Mac OS X Leopard, Tiger, Panther and even Jaguar. Customer support is fantastic. One thing worth quoting from SuperDuper’s page is this bit: Please note that SuperDuper! is not designed to back up to CDs, DVDs or Tape, and needs a location (other than the boot volume) to store the backup – typically a volume on an internal or external (FireWire) drive. SuperDuper! only copies HFS+ (Mac-native/Mac OS Extended) volumes.

SuperDuper’s developer offers another important reminder. Old-time Mac users know this already, but it may be useful especially for those who are discovering vintage PowerPC Macs only now:

Note also that USB drives do not allow booting Power PC based Macintoshes under any version of Mac OS X: this is not a SuperDuper! limitation, but one of the OS. If you would like to boot from a backup stored on an external drive, and have a Power PC based Mac, please purchase a Mac compatible FireWire drive. Intel Mac users can boot from either USB or FireWire drives.

  • Dantz Retrospect — Probably one of the backup applications for the Mac with the longest history. This is commercial software, and a licence is required even for older versions. Explore the Retrospect website and see if such software meet your needs. Older versions of Retrospect (for Mac, Windows, Linux) can be found at this page. I never used this product, but heard much praise for it over the years.
  • SilverKeeper — A free utility that used to be made available by LaCie. If you look for it on the Web, you’ll probably find the newer 2.0.2 version (for example on MacUpdate), which requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later. I have made available for download the older 1.1.4 version which supports Mac OS X 10.0 to 10.4 and can also be used under Mac OS 9.2.2. It’s a Zip archive of the SilverKeeper installer and related documentation. Let me know if you have problems extracting it.
  • SimpleBackup — I found this little utility by chance. It may be a simple solution for even older Macs. The developer calls it a “Finder alias-based backup utility.”

    In the readme file he explains how the application works: SimpleBackup is a very simple and easy to use file backup utility. I wrote it because I wanted a quick-and-easy way to back up all those files that are spread out over the hard disk, in the preferences folder, in the documents folder, certain folders and files in the applications folder, etc… I decided that I didn’t want to write a user interface for the utility, so I got the idea of letting the Finder do the work for me by using aliases. The result is a backup program that is actually easy to use! You simply navigate through your hard disk and find the files or entire folders that you want to backup that are buried in the System Folder, Applications, Documents folders etc., and tell SimpleBackup about those files/folders by using aliases.

  • SimpleBackup website (There are other interesting utilities you may want to check out there. The website is old, but the links appear to work.)

Some reading material

I think that this four-part essay on backups by Adam Engst is still worth reading and saving. It was written in 1998 but it’s full of essential pieces of advice and links to other backup software I haven’t mentioned here.

Check also this other piece by Adam Engst, written in 2001: What About Backing Up to FireWire Hard Disks?

This is a start to help you find some backup solutions and ideas, but feel free to chime in and share your suggestions/experience in the comments. Thank you!


Macintosh Classics: PopChar

The other day I was reading Longstanding Mac Apps by Shawn Blanc, and I remembered a great Mac utility that’s been around for a long time: PopChar.

PopChar was a very useful addition to my Macs and I used it regularly up to Mac OS 9.2.2. When running, it placed a little ‘P’ in the menubar (usually in the top left corner near the Apple logo, but you could customise the ‘hot spot’). Suppose you were writing a document and needed to insert a special character or a symbol and you didn’t remember the correct keyboard shortcut (or there wasn’t a direct keyboard shortcut to begin with). With PopChar installed, you clicked on the little ‘P’ and a pop-up character palette appeared. You could select the needed symbol and have it inserted right away. Fast, intuitive, and quickly out of the way.

PopChar UI

PopChar 2.7.1 in action

 

PopChar Control Panel

PopChar 2.7.1 Control Panel

 

I recalled I was using it under System 7 in the mid-1990s, but I didn’t know exactly when the very first version appeared. So I asked the developers over Twitter, and they replied:

The first version of PopChar was released in 1987. See http://www.ergonis.com/products/popchar/history/ … for a history of PopChar.

1987! Earlier than I remembered. This software has been around for 27 years. The PopChar History page does indeed save me a lot of work and you’ll find there all the details and screenshots illustrating how the software UI changed over the years. I’ll just quote here a few interesting bits:

  • PopChar has been running on all types of processors that have been used in Macs: starting with the first 68000 processors, up to the Motorola 68030, then various PowerPC models, and now Macs with multiple Intel processors in 64-bit technology.
  • Versions of PopChar have been running on all MacOS versions from System 4.2 to Mac OS X 10.8. [And of course 10.9 — evidently the page was last updated in 2012]
  • Four different development environments were involved: Turbo Pascal, Think Pascal, CodeWarrior and now Xcode.
  • Font technology has changed from simple bitmap fonts to TrueType and PostScript fonts and now OpenType.
  • To survive all these changes, PopChar has been redesigned and re-implemented from ground up again and again. These efforts were necessary to ensure steady evolution of PopChar and continuous support for our long-time customers.

Like many great applications, PopChar was born to address a specific need of the developer:

It all started back in 1987, when I tried to find a few special characters in the Symbol font. Apple’s Key Caps utility was not very helpful because I had to try all sorts of keyboard combinations to see which characters were available.

Being a software developer, I decided to write a simple utility that allowed me to select characters in a more convenient way. I wrote this utility in Turbo Pascal on a Mac Plus with 2.5 MB of memory.

It’s truly amazing to see how PopChar evolved over the years and how the developer adapted it so that it remained useful even when Mac OS started making similar features more accessible for the user.

In 2012, I decided to make PopChar even more versatile by adding features that allow designers to view and inspect fonts. New “Font Preview” and “Sample Text” views now show realistic text fragments formatted with a selected font. These new views give an impression of a font “in action”. Even more, these views can be printed to create beautiful font sheets.

I keep PopChar installed in all of my vintage Macs. It’s one of those little utilities you just can’t do without — especially if you’re discovering vintage Macs now. Once you install it, it feels like a part of the system. In all the years I’ve used it, I never encountered a single issue. It’s a well written piece of software. One last detail I want to share: it came with an elegant manual built in:

PopChar 271 manual

PopChar 2.7.1 inline documentation

 

If you have a modern Mac running the latest version of Mac OS X and you’re interested in this great little utility, you can read more detailed information at the PopChar X page on the developer’s site. The current version is available in English, German and French. Previous versions of PopChar X and PopChar Pro are available on the Downloads Archive page. By the way, if you’re a Windows user just passing by, know that PopChar is also available for Windows.


Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs (Part 3)

The launchers special

Here’s another brief addition to the list of useful apps that are still made available for PowerPC Macs by their developers. Since apparently application launchers are all the rage today, I thought it’d be nice to remind PowerPC users that they still have a few options out there.

  • Butler — From Butler’s website: Butler’s purpose is to ease all those routine tasks you do every day: controlling iTunes, opening programs and documents, switching users, searching for stuff on the web, and more. Butler can act as an application launcher, but can do a lot of other stuff. Among the many other tasks Butler can accomplish: open/move/copy files, access preference panes, manage bookmarks, enter text snippets, search the web, control iTunes, and so on. Make sure you check the extensive documentation provided on the website to learn how to make the most out of it. Here are the direct download links:
  •  

  • LaunchBar — LaunchBar is the oldest application of this kind, since it goes back all the way to NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP. Check this page for a summary of the many features (bear in mind that some of them may be missing from older versions). LaunchBar is available for any Mac OS X version. Visit the Legacy download page and pick the right one for your Mac.
  •  

  • Quicksilver — Another application launcher with a long history, and one I’ve tried to master many times. From the Quicksilver About page:

    An introduction to Quicksilver’s abilities include:

    • Accessing applications, documents, contacts, music and much, much more.
    • Browsing your Mac’s filesystem elegantly using keywords and ‘fuzzy’ matching.
    • Managing content through drag and drop, or grabbing selected content directly.
    • Interacting with installed applications through plugins.
  • From Quicksilver’s Download page you can download all present and pasts version of the app, going as far back as Mac OS X 10.3 Panther.

These are the first apps of this type to come to mind. I’ve always used Mac OS X’s Spotlight, so I may have forgotten other important applications (by the way, there’s no PowerPC version of Alfred — I checked). Feel free to chime in and provide suggestions. Thanks!

A final related mention: NotLight

Suppose you don’t particularly like the approach of these application launchers / file finders, and at the same time you’re not satisfied by what Spotlight offers with regard to search. There’s a little program I still love and use on my iBook G3/466 SE Graphite — NotLight, written by the excellent Matt Neuburg:

[NotLight is] a simple Spotlight front-end substitute. […] You can do any kind of Spotlight search; seven search keys are built in, and you can add more, and you can even view and edit a search as text if you like. You can use wildcards or not, specify word-based, case-insensitive, and diacritic-insensitive searches, and construct complex searches with AND, OR, and NOT. A Date Assistant translates dates into Spotlight’s query language for you. Results are a simple list of filename and paths. Download it here.

Here’s a review of NotLight by Dan Frakes on Macworld.

 


 
Previously:

  • Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs — Part 1
  • Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs — Part 2

  • Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs (Part 2)

    My previous article, Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs, published at the end of last year, got a lot of attention. I’m always looking for older PPC versions of great Mac applications graciously made available by their developers, so I thought I’d post a quick follow-up to the aforementioned article.

    Here are a few more apps you can enjoy on your PowerPC Macs (running Mac OS X 10.4 and above):

    • Ulysses — Ulysses III is one of the best Mac applications for writers. If you own a PowerPC Mac, you can’t install the latest and greatest version, but The Soulmen have made available previous versions of the app on their site. Read carefully the descriptions near each package at the link provided. The only version that is completely unlocked and doesn’t require a licence is Ulysses 1.6, for Mac OS X 10.4 and above. I installed it on my 17-inch PowerBook G4 and works just fine.
    • CloudApp — CloudApp is a very nice app to quickly share screenshots and all kinds of files. It installs a menu extra in the menubar and then it’s just a matter of dragging and dropping. It’s now on version 2.0.2, but you still can download version 1.0.3 — the last to support PowerPC Macs — at the link provided. (Requires at least Mac OS X 10.5).
    • Transmit: The best FTP client for the Mac, period. You can download older versions of Transmit from Panic’s archives at this page. I think the last version supporting PowerPC Macs is 4.1.9 — I have it on my G4 PowerBooks running Mac OS X 10.5.8 and when I select Check for Updates from inside the app, Transmit says it’s “currently the newest version available.” Of course you’ll have to purchase a licence to use the app.
    • Other Panic apps — Panic has made available previous versions of all the apps they made over the years. Check out The Panic File Museum, where you can find other great apps like CandyBar, Stattoo and Unison.
    • NetNewsWire — One of the best RSS readers for the Mac. Now in version 4 Beta, you can still download version 3.2.15 — the last supporting PowerPC Macs running at least Mac OS X 10.5 — from the Version 3 page. It’s worth reminding that older versions of NetNewsWire now can only be used to check RSS feeds manually, as they don’t support RSS services like Feedly, FeedBin, etc., that came after Google discontinued their Reader service.

    Apple will end support for AIM iChat logins on older versions of Mac OS X

    The other day, this post by MacRumors caught my eye — Apple to End Support for AIM iChat Logins on Older Versions of OS X Starting June 30:

    Apple has announced in a recent support note (via ZDNet) that it will end AIM iChat login support for users running versions of OS X below 10.7.2 Lion on June 30, 2014.

    The change will affect those who use their mac.com and me.com addresses as AIM IDs to log into iChat on older systems, as users running compatible versions of OS X Snow Leopard and OS X Lion can upgrade to OS X Mavericks for free.

    Guess what? I’m exactly among the users affected by such change. It is not a major inconvenience, but it’s an inconvenience nonetheless. My preferred setup for chatting is my 17-inch PowerBook G4 with an external iSight camera attached, and I typically use my mac.com address as AIM ID to chat. This change feels arbitrary and a ‘planned obsolescence’ kind of move on Apple’s part, and it does affect quite a number of people. (Note that, at the end of the article, it’s mentioned that the share of systems running older versions of OS X affected by this latest change is 19%, which is not exactly a small number.) When you open iChat on an older version of Mac OS X, you get this message:

    #alttext#

    So you’re given some vague security concerns as an excuse (same goes for the linked Apple support note). I see it more as yet another move to get users to update to newer systems, and I’d like to point out that, while there are people who prefer older systems for the geekiest reasons, there are also people who still use high-end G4 and G5 Power Macs because they invested thousands of dollars (euros, pounds, etc.) on these machines — still very capable systems — and perhaps they simply can’t afford to upgrade just yet.

    Again, it’s not a huge inconvenience, but I think that when it comes to chatting, users should be left with the widest possible range of options. Anyway, bear in mind that you still can use iChat with other account types:

    #alttext#

    After June 30, 2014, “MobileMe account” and “Mac.com” account will no longer be viable options, but you’ll still be able to use regular AIM accounts, Jabber accounts and Google Talk accounts. I suppose that ‘security’ keeps being just fine with these accounts…


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