Box is friendlier than Dropbox for older Macs

Ever since Dropbox dropped support for PowerPC Macs running Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5, I’ve been trying to find a viable alternative to sync selected files and folders between my main Intel Mac, my iOS devices, and my various PowerPC machines. It was so great when Dropbox worked because I generally use my main Intel Mac at home, and tend to bring with me my PowerBook G4s when out and about. As I mentioned in A modicum of synchronisation, “When Dropbox worked, my workflow was excellent. I kept everything in sync without effort. I started working on documents on the PowerBook G4 to finish them later at home on the MacBook Pro, and vice versa. It was a seamless process.”

In the comments to that article, I was pointed to this thread at MacRumors, which explains how to make Dropbox work again if you’re using a PowerPC Mac with Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. I haven’t tried this solution because I also have three Macs running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, and I’d really like to sync as many machines as possible.

In addition to the options I outlined in A modicum of synchronisation, in recent times I have often resorted to browsing my Dropbox archive using the web interface. However, and I don’t know since when exactly, I haven’t been able to simply download files from Dropbox to my local machine through the web interface (using TenFourFox, which seems to be the only browser to at least load the Dropbox web interface properly). Instead of regular files, like, say, chapter-23.rtf, I get things like wjdv6xxq.part. Frustrated, I’ve simply copied all the folders I want to keep in sync to my Box.com account, and have started using Box, which has a much friendlier web interface, that loads faster and is generally more reliable.

But it’s not all. The other day I discovered that Box supports WebDAV. In this support article, they explain how to set it up, the known issues, and so on. This is a great option because you can use (as suggested) a third-party client to access and manage the files and folders in your Box account, and it’s much more convenient than using the web interface to download and upload files. I have used Panic’s Transmit 4.2 and it works great, though I haven’t been able to use the Transmit Disk feature to mount the remote volume on the desktop and use this solution in a more Dropbox-like way (when I try, a kernel panic is triggered). You can download Transmit from here, but remember that it’s not freeware: you’ll have to purchase a licence to use it.

It gets better: you can use Goliath, a long-standing, more bare-bones WebDAV client, which presents some advantages: it still works, it’s free, and it’s available for much older versions of Mac OS: the classic Mac OS version requires Mac OS 8.1 or higher. The Carbon version runs on any Mac OS X version greater than 10.0.4. This means that you can theoretically use even older Macintoshes to connect to Box via WebDAV. (I say ‘theoretically’ simply because I haven’t tried myself yet, but I will soon. I’ll use my iBook G3/300 running Mac OS 9.2.2 and my PowerBook 1400 running Mac OS 8.1 and will update this information at a later date.)

Goliath’s interface is simple and effective:

#alttext#

You can expand folders by clicking on the triangle next to their names, or you can double-click on a folder and have it open in a new window. It’s very easy to upload a file to a folder in your Box account: you just drag from the Finder and drop it on the destination folder in the Goliath window. To avoid having to type the WebDAV address of your Box ‘drive’ and your credentials every time, you can save them by selecting File > Save connection (⌘-S).

#alttext#

Next time you need to access your Box stuff with Goliath, you simply select File > Open connection (⌘-O). I really hope Box doesn’t remove the WebDAV functionality in the future, because it’s really useful and convenient to have quick access to your files stored in the Box cloud even from older machines. It’s another little feature that helps to put them to good use.

Addenda

[Update 1 – 19 Jul 2017] • Jeremy Sherman reminded me that WebDAV is supported directly by Mac OS X’s Finder itself since Mac OS X 10.0 (!). This means that you can simply select Go > Connect to Server (⌘-K) in the Finder, and enter Box’s WebDAV server address (https://dav.box.com/dav). In the following dialog, you’ll be requested your Box account credentials:

Box WebDAV from Finder.png

 
The good thing is that this solution is even more integrated with the system and works with basically any version of Mac OS X. I maintain my suggestion to use Goliath because on older machines with G3 processors it feels a little bit faster, and because it’s still a good option for Macs running Mac OS 8.1 to 9.2.2.

[Update 2 – 20 Jul 2017] • I performed some tests on my clamshell iBook G3/300 running Mac OS X 10.3.9 and Mac OS 9.2.2. I tried connecting to my Box account via the Finder under Mac OS X 10.3.9, but I got an error -36. Using Goliath, everything went well. Under Mac OS 9.2.2, I had no problems connecting to my Box account with Goliath. Navigating folders and accessing files was pleasantly fast. Now I’m updating this article while out and about, using my 12-inch PowerBook G4, and I can add this screenshot that was uploaded directly to Box from the iBook with Mac OS 9.2.2:

#alttext#

Maybe I’m not the first to have realised it, but I think this is a big deal, and a huge improvement to my workflow, much more seamless than before. Thanks to WebDAV support in Box, and thanks to a client like Goliath, you can have access to a modern cloud service with — in this instance — an 18-year old Mac running a 16-year old system software. Tonight I will conduct further testing on the PowerBook 1400c with Mac OS 8.1. If all goes well, I’ll be able to connect to Box using a Mac from 1996 running an OS version introduced in 1998.

It’s also a big deal because transferring files between obsolete Macs, vintage Macs, modern Macs and even iOS devices has become much faster and much more seamless than before. And I can quickly upload to the cloud any file I may have archived on vintage media (floppies or ZIP disks, for example) without having to figure out which vintage Mac I have to use as intermediary to move files from a machine to another.

[Update 3 – 21 Jul 2017] • I finally had the chance to do some testing on my PowerBook 1400c (with Sonnet Crescendo G3/333 upgrade) running Mac OS 8.1. I downloaded and installed Goliath, but when I launched it I was greeted with an error, saying that the application couldn’t be opened because the file ICAp;InternetConfigLib was missing. After a bit of research, it appears that the reason was that I needed a newer Internet Config Extension than the one installed in the PowerBook (v. 1.3). Using TomeViewer, I extracted a newer version (2.0.2) from the Installation CD of Mac OS 8.5, hoping it wasn’t too new, and dropped it in the System Folder. I restarted the Mac, relaunched Goliath, and all was well. After filling in the relevant credentials, I was able to connect to my Box account:

#alttext#
 
One thing I noticed is that — presumably to maintain a proper secure connection — when I attempted a few copy operations at first, I frequently saw this dialog popping up:

#alttext#
 
But it went away after checking the Install certificate option and confirming a couple of times.

I’m very glad this is working even under Mac OS 8.1. Accessing Box via WebDAV really gives this cloud service the widest system compatibility. I have two other PowerPC machines running Mac OS 8.1, the PowerBook 5300ce and the Power Macintosh 9500, that are even slightly older than the 1400; it’s exciting to be able to exchange files through Box with these older Macs I still use. Of course, another thing I’ve noticed is that uploading and downloading isn’t a particularly fast operation, possibly due to the slower network speeds and slower CPUs of these machines. But it’s still useful when uploading the occasional screenshot or image, or a bunch of text files. It may not be a fast process under Mac OS 8, but it’s still seamless. I can write without distractions on the PowerBook 1400c, upload the document to Box, then finish it (if necessary) on the iPad or MacBook Pro.

Another thing worth noting: I don’t know if this happens when mounting the Box WebDAV volume with the Finder as opposed to using Goliath, or if this happens no matter which method you use to access your Box account and files, but every copy operation leaves a ‘ghost’ file bearing the same name of the file you copied, but preceded by ‘._’ — you can see it when accessing Box from an iOS device:

#alttext#
 
It’s a bit of an annoyance, but I think these files can be deleted without problems.

[Update 4 – 24 Jul 2017] • Jeremy Sherman again (a very big thank-you to him, by the way): Suspect those ghost files are Apple Double files – they’re the resource fork of your files. Data fork goes in SomeFile, resource fork in ._SomeFile. And I agree. Jeremy’s been reminding me of things I knew but forgot over time.

This document will be updated as more information becomes available.
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Added to the collection: Mac mini G4

Christian is a reader of this blog who first contacted me when I complained that the internal hard drive of my Power Mac G4 was failing, and very generously sent me two 80 GB hard drives so that I could upgrade my system. (Unfortunately now the Power Mac G4 is not working at all, very probably due to a bust power supply unit).

The other day I received another package from him:

Mac mini in the box

For little more than the cost of shipping, Christian was so kind as to send me a very nice Mac mini G4. It’s a first-generation PowerPC mini (introduced in January 2005, discontinued in February 2006), but it’s the high-end model, with a 1.42GHz CPU, built-in AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth, 80 GB hard drive, and a SuperDrive that can burn CDs and DVDs. It comes with 512 GB of RAM, and Christian also sent me the little grey box with the original Mac OS X 10.3.7 install disc and — quite useful — the Mac OS 9 Install Disc. As he later informed me via email, this is not a bootable installation disc, but provides a complete Mac OS 9 installation in various languages, to be used with Mac OS X’s Classic Environment. It’s handy nonetheless, especially when you need to quickly install/reinstall Mac OS 9 on a PowerPC Mac with Panther or Tiger.

Mac mini connected

After unboxing the mini, I searched for the various bits and pieces to set it up. The mini has a DVI video port, and luckily my 17-inch Eizo FlexScan S1721 display has both VGA and DVI connections, but it took me a while before finding the cable (the display was previously connected to the Power Mac G4 via VGA). Once ready, I booted up the mini and I was quickly presented with a standard, fresh installation of Mac OS X 10.3.9. I had forgotten Panther came with games like Nanosaur 2 and Marble Blast Gold, both still very fun to play. It also came with AppleWorks and, among other things, a copy of Zinio Reader. It was probably common to include a full digital magazine for demo purposes; still, I was very happy to see it was the complete December 2003 issue of Macworld!

Macworld Dec 2003 cover

 

Macworld Dec 2003 TOC

Leafing through the magazine was a real blast from the past — for the subjects discussed, the ads for software and hardware products, and so on and so forth.

I’m truly grateful to Christian for sending me this Mac mini. I was impressed by its general snappiness under Panther, especially app launch times. It’s crazy that many of them launch just as fast as on my MacBook Pro with OS X 10.11.6 and a solid state drive. Today I’ve updated the mini to Tiger, and I don’t intend to install Leopard before at least putting 1 GB of RAM in the machine. I still haven’t decided the main task to assign to this new entry in my humble collection, but it certainly won’t be left gathering dust. Once again I’m reminded of how much compact, versatile, and powerful the Mac mini can be, and having neglected this product line since 2014 is just criminal on Apple’s part.

The Duo 280c is alive after all

From Duo System

I’ve always loved the idea behind the PowerBook Duo system, so much I think it could still be handy today without feeling obsolete. (Today we have notebook computers that can transform into tablets, no? So the concept still stands). I was really happy back in 2000 when I acquired a full Duo system consisting of a PowerBook Duo 280c, Duo MiniDock, the DuoDock II, a 14-inch Apple colour display, and an AppleDesign keyboard plus ADB mouse II. I remember using this system rather frequently in the 3-4 years following the acquisition and before purchasing a second-hand clamshell iBook G3/466. I had a battery for that Duo with enough juice to last me about a couple of hours, so I could use the Duo 280c while commuting, then recharge it while I was at the university, then more writing on the train back home and, once home, I would insert the Duo in its Dock and continue where I left off, but on a bigger display and with a full-sized keyboard.

Then the problems started. One day, after a power surge, the DuoDock II power supply died. At the time I didn’t have the options I would have today if I wanted to search for a replacement. At a local shop and Apple reseller they told me they could import the part, but when they gave me an estimate of the final price, I decided it was not worth the trouble. From then on, I would use the Duo MiniDock instead. The loss of the DuoDock meant having to extract the internal hard drive (that was bigger in storage size than the 230 MB internal one of the Duo 280c) and put it in an external SCSI enclosure. Not being able to use the DuoDock floppy drive was another loss, as it was one of the most reliable units I had ever used. Luckily I still managed to handle floppies by connecting the external floppy drive of my PowerBook 100 [image source]. I also lost Ethernet connectivity (the Duo MiniDock doesn’t have an Ethernet port), but since it was mainly used for transferring files locally, I switched to LocalTalk; slower, but better than nothing. I was still able to use the Duo in desktop configuration by connecting the 14-inch display and the AppleDesign keyboard via the MiniDock.

Then the problems continued: the display stopped working, but I had another available from another acquisition; but then of course the DB15 cable broke down. At that point I didn’t have much time to take care of what appeared to be a streak of Duo-related bad luck, so I just used the main Duo 280c unit when out and about, because it was still the lightest, most compact option for writing when not at home.

Fast forward to late 2014: one day, for no apparent reason, the Duo 280c stopped working. By that time, my vintage Mac collection had grown, and I had other machines readily available to keep carrying out the tasks I used the Duo for. But no other portable Mac was that compact and lightweight. Losing the PowerBook Duo 280c was a blow.

Imagine my joy when a very generous donor contacted me and sent me — among many other things — a complete Duo workstation with another 280c unit that was even better configured than mine (more RAM, more storage space). For a while, I enjoyed having such a workstation on my desk again. It was a bit like going back to those years when I was making the most out of it. Unfortunately, the power supply in that newer DuoDock II died shortly after. That generous donor was awesome enough to send me another power supply — which lasted for about three months. Both power supply units showed the dreaded ‘tick of death’.

Fast forward to three days ago. I’ve now moved to another apartment, and after finally settling down, I’m doing a general check-up of all my vintage machines. I plug in the Duo, and it doesn’t boot. Since everything was working seven weeks before, the first thing I thought was that I had to reset the Power Manager. I followed the instructions, but to no avail. The Duo still didn’t boot. This useful article on TidBITS reminded me to try the trick of disconnecting the internal backup battery and perform a full Power Manager reset. Nothing. The Duo wasn’t showing any sign of life.

(As you can see, at this point I could very well give a title to this saga, something like The vintage Mac conservator and the curse of the PowerBook Duo, but it seems there’s a happy ending after all.)

Now, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt after 30+ years of dealing with computers and related accessories is that everything can just stop working out of the blue, no matter its apparent reliability — and so I thought: what if the Duo’s AC power adapter is the culprit? Regrettably, I don’t have the necessary tools to test whether an adapter is working or not, so the only empirical test I could perform was to connect another adapter and see whether the Duo booted. The only viable candidate was the Macintosh PowerBook 45W AC adapter I use with my PowerBook 1400c.

AC Adapters

The connector is the same, but since it’s a more powerful adapter than the M2693 that came standard with the Duo, I was hesitant about connecting it right away. Checking the specifications, it appears that both adapters feed 24 Volts to the computer, but the slight difference in amperage (1.5A for the original Duo adapter, 1.875A for the 45W AC adapter) got me concerned. So I asked for advice on Twitter and other social networks. Thomas Brand chimed in and suggested that, provided the two adapters feed the same voltage and have the same polarity, there was no harm in connecting the 45W AC adapter to the Duo. Given his extensive experience, I trusted him and proceeded with the test.

The PowerBook Duo 280c booted instantly:

The Duo is alive

Conclusion

I apologise if it took me so long to get to the point of this post. I wanted to offer a good amount of context to explain how sad I felt when even this second Duo 280c unit appeared to be dead. I decided to write about this because perhaps there are other vintage Mac enthusiasts out there who encountered a similar situation and asked themselves: Could I just switch adapters? Will this other one work? In this case the swap worked. The general advice is: pay attention to the AC adapter’s specifications, and to the things Thomas Brand mentioned above. And be wary of third-party adapters, especially if they came cheap and from ‘unknown’ manufacturers. I hope this helps.

Reminder

As indicated in my vintage wishlist, I’m still looking for a PowerBook Duo 2300c, in whatever configuration provided the machine works. If you have one and want to donate it, I’ll assure you it will go to a good home, and I will pay the shipping costs, of course. Thank you for reading!

2016 in review

Overall I’m glad to be leaving 2016 behind, as it wasn’t a particularly great year. However, as far as vintage computing goes, I can’t complain at all.

State of the vintage Macs

My smallish collection of vintage Macs had a good year. Touching wood, the older group of beige Macs — SE, SE/30, Classic, Colour Classic, LCII, Performa 630CD, Power Macintosh 9500 — hasn’t manifested any faults or new issues after the latest check-up. Sadly, yet another power supply in the DuoDock II has failed, and I still haven’t had the time to take care of the problems afflicting the Quadra 950. A minor problem has just occurred with the Power Mac G4 — its internal hard drive is on its way out, only managing to complete the boot occasionally and with effort. Repetitive mechanical noises during the boot process are a certain sign that it’s failing. (If you have a spare IDE drive in good health, of at least 60 GB capacity, please let me know.)

As for the older Mac laptops, the PowerBook 1400 with upgraded G3/333 processor remains my most used portable Mac of the pre-PowerBook G3 era. It has a bright display, a fantastic keyboard, and it’s the quickest machine to take out when I have to check old media (it has a floppy module, a ZIP 100 module, and a CD-ROM module, so it’s easy to just insert the one I need and get going), or when I have to pass files from one vintage media to another when I need to perform some kind of data retrieval.

The PowerBook 5300 still works fine, but opening and closing the lid has become really problematic due to cracks in the hard plastic of the display assembly near the hinges, so I’m using this Mac only occasionally. One day maybe I’ll get a better display assembly on eBay and fix this issue, but as you can imagine, it’s not exactly one of my top priorities.

The ‘new’ PowerBook Duo 280c (generously donated to me in February 2015) is working fine and I’m using it mainly as a font database server and as a very portable solution to download and manage the photos taken with the QuickTake 100.

Speaking of Macs of more recent vintages, my four most used PowerPC Macs in 2016 have been:

  • The 12-inch 1 GHz PowerBook G4 — still my lightest, most dependable machine when out and about. I’ve used it for writing, email, Web, some image editing and even for watching videos and movies when I was on holiday last August.
  • The 17-inch 1.33 GHz PowerBook G4 — It’s the fastest, most capable G4 I have, and I use it for pretty much the same things I use the 12-inch for, but when I either need a bigger screen or power is more important than portability. It also has a reliable CD-DVD burner, and it’s a great Mac for exchanging files with various different sources, since it’s equipped with two USB 2 ports, a FireWire 400 and a FireWire 800 port, and a PCMCIA card slot (I use a PCMCIA CompactFlash adapter to quickly exchange files between this PowerBook and the PowerBook 1400, for example).
  • The Power Mac G4 Cube — Always a trusty sidekick, it remains on the left of my main MacBook Pro desktop setup, and its big 22-inch Cinema Display is great for checking additional pages on the Web and my RSS feeds, for performing the occasional image editing, running older applications in the Classic Environment (including games), and it’s also been my scanning workstation for almost 10 years now (I own a 15-year old Canon USB flatbed scanner that has always worked reliably, and its Mac OS 9 drivers and management software are still a tried-and-trusted solution, so why fix what’s not broken?)
  • The 17-inch iMac G4 — Donated to me almost a year ago, it has proved to be another workhorse. It’s a bit of an all-purpose machine (again, I use it for writing, checking RSS feeds, email, browsing the Web, burning CDs and DVDs for archival purposes (its SuperDrive is quite reliable), and it’s also a great Mac for listening to music (local audio files in iTunes, audio CDs, Spotify) thanks to the Apple Pro Speakers delivering a surprisingly rich and powerful sound.

Other Mac laptops (the two clamshell iBooks, the PowerBook G3/400 ‘Lombard’, the two Titanium PowerBook G4) have been used more sporadically, but they still work just fine considering they’re 16/17-year-old machines. I’ll say, the blueberry iBook G3/300 still manages to make heads turn when I use it in some coffee shop or in a library. The battery of one of the Titanium PowerBooks still lasts approximately 2 hours and a half, and I know it’s not much in the era of MacBook Airs that last more than 12 hours on a single charge, but I find it impressive nonetheless, given that that battery is at least ten years old. I still use the TiBook(s) when I want a fast Mac OS 9 machine on the go, or to use some OS 9 and OS X applications and dictionaries whose licences are tied to a specific computer.

iOS devices

Okay, normally this wouldn’t be the place to talk about iOS devices, but considering the fast pace at which both iOS hardware and software are moving, all iOS devices in my collection are vintage tech now, so they’re worth mentioning. I have:

  • A 32 GB iPhone 5 (current main device), a 16 GB iPhone 4, a 16 GB iPhone 3GS and a 16 GB iPhone 3G. All working except the 3GS.
  • A 64 GB fourth-generation iPod touch, a 32 GB third-generation iPod touch, and a 16 GB first-generation iPod touch. All working.
  • A 32 GB third-generation iPad (Wi-Fi only), working very well, with a battery that still manages to last almost 2 days on a charge.

The iPhone 5 and the iPad 3 are my main devices, and the reason I’ve been accumulating other vintage iOS devices is that I’m working on a small book on iOS and I need to have working devices with different iOS versions installed. So far, I have iOS 3 to iOS 10 covered, except for iOS 8. On a practical level, these older devices still retain a degree of usefulness. They’re all still great for listening to music, or even podcasts; or for playing old games or using old apps that still serve a purpose. The iPhone 3G is still in use as my secondary phone, and the iPhone 4 is perfect as a personal hotspot when I visit my parents in Italy and need to use yet another SIM with a great data plan to connect to the Internet.

Newton devices

My Original MessagePad, MessagePad 2100, and eMate 300 are all still in use, but I’ll admit I’ve been only using the MessagePad 2100 on a regular basis in 2016. And sadly I’m in the process of cleaning this unit after discovering that the last batch of alkaline cells I put into it leaked, and leaked badly. The MessagePad 2100 is my true digital notebook, it’s always by my desk when I need to take some notes that a) I know won’t get lost, and b) I can just naturally write down in longhand instead of typing on the relatively small iPhone virtual keyboard. I know it may sound quirky or quaint, or perhaps even cumbersome, but bear in mind I’ve been using a Newton MessagePad since mid-2001 — that’s a lot of time, fine-tuning, and muscle memory; note taking on a Newton is very easy and handy for me.

Conclusion

Not long ago, I received an email out of the blue from someone who plainly asked me: How do you manage all that, all those machines and devices? It must be exhausting. Two or three years ago, for a brief period, I experienced a sort of crisis due to ‘vintage tech saturation’, for lack of a better expression. A few of my vintage Macs had developed a series of issues at the same time, and I felt overwhelmed, because I wanted to fix everything but had no time to do so. I started thinking that the fun of tinkering with vintage technology kind of vanishes when it all become a maintenance game. I was weary and stressed and for a moment I even considered the idea of selling or throwing all away and embrace tech minimalism. Of course I didn’t go through with it. When you have a collection of aging vintage machines and devices, you have to come to terms with the fact that you can’t take care of everything all the time, especially if, like me, you have a family, a job (translating/localising), a vocation (writing fiction), and other things you’re equally passionate about (photography).

So you just take it easy. You maintain these machines and devices the best you can, focussing on those you feel you rely on the most, and addressing issues one at a time when they surface. Thankfully, Macs are especially long-lasting, dependable computers, and in the end the real problems a G3 or G4 laptop may present, for instance, all revolve around hard drives, optical drives and batteries. I always try to look for spares when I have some time because I know these are the weakest spots for aging laptops. It’s a bit like having always fresh backups in case of emergency. Still, sometimes I’m caught by surprise — like with the Power Mac G4’s hard drive failure — and I have to wait a bit before I can take care of it.

As a final note, I continue to be amazed at what these 13-to-17 year old Macs can still do (provided you have a clear idea of their limits today and adjust your expectations accordingly). Given the current lukewarm interest Apple seems to display towards the Mac, it feels oddly reassuring to be surrounded by older yet reliable Macs and Mac OS software with which I still can carry out a certain amount of tasks rather effortlessly.

The second-best browser for PPC Macs

Every time someone with a vintage G3/G4/G5 PowerPC Mac asks me what browser would be my preferred choice for such systems, I always suggests TenFourFox, because it’s stable, secure, and actively maintained. However, you may have a Mac that barely meets — or doesn’t meet at all — TenFourFox’s minimum system requirements:

TenFourFox requires a G3 Power Macintosh, Mac OS X 10.4.11, 200MB of free disk space and 512MB of RAM. 1GB of RAM and a G4 or G5 processor is strongly recommended. Video playback is likely to be poor on systems slower than 1.25GHz; a G5 is recommended. Mac OS X 10.5.8 is supported. Although the browser may run under Mac OS X Server, it is not currently supported.

For example, I have three machines I use from time to time:

  • A blueberry clamshell iBook G3/300, with 288MB of RAM, running Mac OS X 10.3.9;
  • A graphite clamshell iBook G3/466 SE, with 576MB of RAM, running Mac OS X 10.4.11;
  • A PowerBook G3/400 ‘Lombard’, with 256MB of RAM, running Mac OS X 10.4.11.

Of these, the only Mac that can (barely) run TenFourFox is the iBook G3/466.

So, which is the best alternative when your Mac isn’t powerful enough to smoothly run the excellent TenFourFox? In my opinion, it’s Camino.

Camino’s development ceased in 2012. Other alternatives, such as an older version of Opera, or the last version of Safari you can run under Panther or Tiger, are simply too old to be useful. Opera 10.63, the last version you can run under Tiger, was released in 2010. Camino is newer, and it also appears to be less resource-hungry.

Using my PowerBook G3/400 ‘Lombard’ as a test machine, I did an informal comparison between Safari 4.1.3 (the last version running under Tiger), Opera 10.63, and Camino 2.1.2. I’ve loaded some of the websites I visit most frequently, and assessed how each browser could render it. Camino always ended up serving the best or most usable version. As an example of a site that’s complex enough but not overly challenging, I’ll show here how the three browsers rendered the home page of Digital Photography Review.

This is Safari 4.1.3:

DPReview-Safari.png

Note the message in the status bar: 83 errors occurred in opening the page.

 

This is Opera 10.63:

DPReview-Opera.png

Not much different from Safari.

 

Finally, this is Camino 2.1.2:

DPReview-Camino.png

 

Definitely better. Admittedly, while loading the site in Camino, this warning appeared:

DPReview-Camino-warning.png

I just clicked on Continue and DPReview loaded without issues. The unresponsive script mentioned in the warning is probably the website’s Twitter widget (as you can see above, it didn’t load). Nothing major.

Here’s another couple of examples, Macworld and The New York Times:

MacWorld-Camino.png

(Yes, curiously the ‘Macworld’ logo didn’t load.)

 

NYT-Camino.png

 

It’s worth pointing out that web browsing on a G3 Mac with just 256MB of RAM generally isn’t much fun. Websites take a bit to load, even those that look simple on the surface. Camino’s speed on such a Mac is the most acceptable in my experience.

Download and links

  • Camino 2.1.2 can still be downloaded from the official website. It requires Mac OS X 10.4. If your Mac won’t go past Mac OS X 10.3.9 (Panther), you could try Camino 1.6.11.
  • You can download processor-specific optimised builds of Camino from this website. While you’re there, check the home page, and you’ll find optimised builds of Firefox, Thunderbird, and SeaMonkey for PPC Macs.
  • The Wikipedia page for Camino offers a good overview of its history, timeline, and version compatibility.

Added to the collection: accessories and materials

With regard to acquisitions for my small collection, I can say that May was a really good month. After the very nice haul I talked about in my previous entry, I received a package from Morgan which contained a few items of interest:

  1. Macally 10BaseT/10Base2 Combo LC PDS Ethernet Adapter. After finally installing a similar Ethernet card in my Colour Classic, now I can give an Ethernet connection to my Performa 630, too.
  2. #alttext#

  3. PowerBook 1400 series User’s Guide in Italian. I’m a so-called ‘power user’, but it’s nice to have these manuals handy anyway. I really miss the quality of this kind of printed documentation.
  4. #alttext#

  5. Macintosh Advantage Information Kit. I saved the best for last. It seems that in the mid-1990s, Apple would send these materials for free to anyone who wanted to evangelise and spread the word about the superiority of the Macintosh platform. Here’s a scan of the envelope:
  6. #alttext#

 

And now the contents.

  • An introductory letter:

#alttext#

It should be readable, but here’s the full text:

Dear Mac Enthusiast:

Thank you for your order. Apple Computer is happy to provide you with these materials free of charge to help you spread the word about the Macintosh Advantage.

It’s easy to talk about the advantages of using a Macintosh if you think of them as belonging to one of these six groups:

Ease of Use: Making sophisticated technologies simple to use has always been one of Apple’s strengths. From true “Plug and Play” to active help through Apple Guide, now more than ever, the Macintosh is the easiest computer to own, use, and enjoy.

Multimedia: It takes more than capture boards, software and input devices to produce and view high quality multimedia. To combine such diverse media types as audio, video, MIDI, text, and animation, you must have an integrated solution; one designed from the ground up. With Apple’s QuickTime technology, three-dimensional graphics, video capture/playback, speech recognition and speech syntheses built into most Macintosh models, Macintosh is clearly the leader in multimedia and will continue to dominate this market.

Internet: Apple makes access to the Internet simple with the Apple Internet Connection Kit. And more web sites are authored on the Macintosh than any other platform. According to a recent Georgia Tech study, over 36% of web sites on the Internet are served by Macintosh servers.

Power: Powerful RISC technology now ships with every Macintosh. And with the introduction of the Power Macintosh 6500/300 with a 300 MHz 603e, and the 3400/240 with a 240 MHz 603e, Apple is producing some of the fastest consumer desktop and laptop computers on the planet!

Compatibility: The Macintosh fits in with almost all multi-vendor environments and can work seamlessly with PCs running MS-DOS, Windows 95 or Windows NT. For the ultimate in compatibility, the Power Macintosh 7300/180 PC Compatible with a PowerPC 604e running at 180 MHz and a Pentium 166 MHz chip on a daughter card allows you to run both Macintosh and Windows programs simultaneously.

Value: Apple is concerned about your investment. That’s why many Macintosh models ship with processors on daughter cards so they can be replaced with newer, faster processors as they become available, without having to purchase a new computer. Now configured with more RAM, bigger hard drives, faster CD ROMS, video in/out (many models), speech recognition, and the advanced features of the Mac OS, there has never been a better time to purchase a Macintosh.

Have you found more Macintosh advantages? Email us at whymac@apple.com. Thank you for your support.

Apple Computer

Platform Marketing

 

  • A 4-page leaflet titled Apple and NeXT — Information about Apple’s OS strategy, January 1997:

#alttext#

 

  • A brochure titled Why Macintosh?, which reiterates a few points made in the accompanying letter. Here’s the introductory text:

More than 10 years after the debut of the Apple Macintosh computer, Microsoft released its Windows 95 operating system. But while Microsoft is just now adding to its Windows operating system features that Macintosh users have enjoyed since 1984, Apple has been busy moving Macintosh to the next generation of personal computing.

Apple remains the only personal computer company that makes both the hardware and the operating system, and we use that advantage to integrate advanced features quickly and seamlessly into our computers. That’s why Macintosh will continue to provide important advantages over PCs running Windows 95 in four major areas: Ease of use. Power. Multimedia. Compatibility.

 

  • A 14-page brochure titled 75 Macintosh Advantages — Why Macintosh computers are better than PCs running Windows:

#alttext#

As you have guessed, it’s a list of subjects and aspects where the Macintosh displays a clear advantage over a PC running Windows (Windows 95 at the time). The list covers different areas (Ease of use, Multimedia, Internet Technology, Power, Compatibility, Value — The same six areas introduced in the accompanying letter), and each point is explained in more detail.

Overall, it’s a fair assessment in my experience (I was both a Mac and PC user back then). There are points that made me smile, such as №5 Windows is loaded with ‘mystery’ files such as DLLs, INFs, and SYSs; Points that really sound dated today, such as №48 The Macintosh gives you 100 percent pure Java; Points that are a bit exaggerated, such as №27 The Macintosh trash can is easier to use than the Windows recycle bin, and №30 The two-button mouse used with Windows can cause confusion; And also points that are still valid today, such as №69 Macintosh computers retain their usability and value longer. It’s a fun read.

 

  • A 38-page booklet titled Why do People Prefer Macintosh?:

#alttext#

This is essentially a collection of testimonials of people who switched to the Mac from the PC. The introduction says:

Why do people prefer Macintosh?

Or more specifically, why do people think Apple Macintosh computers are better than PCs running Windows 95?

We asked this question on our web site (http://www.apple.com/whymac/), and thousands responded with their view of the Macintosh Advantage.

And you know what? We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

See for yourself by looking at these excerpts from some of the responses. Find out how computer users — young and old, novice and experienced — sum up what they feel are the most compelling reasons to choose a Macintosh computer.

The booklet is full of different experiences, and it’s hard to pull quotes out of their context. There are, however, a few funny quips here and there:

“A Macintosh is better than Windows 95, because it connects to a Microsoft network easier!” (Hans Sorensen, Canada)

“We’re replacing my grandfather’s PC with a Power Macintosh 7500/75. And that’ll be the end of his late-night calls telling me he just wiped out his SYSTEM.INI file again.” (Tristan Bostone, Virginia)

“DOS, WIN, DLL, PIF, INI, DMA, IRQ.

MAC… The only three letters you really need to know.” (Marc Kodama, California)

“I have now connected my video camera and VCR to my Mac, and have been pumping video (and audio) in and out of my Mac. One of these days I’m going to open those manuals and really learn how to do this stuff!” (Walter Alexander, New Jersey)

This one sums it all up:

“Once you go Mac, you’ll never go back.” (Wade H. Nelson, Colorado)

 

  • A brochure titled Personal Computer Satisfaction — An Independent Study of People Who use Both Macintosh and Windows 95 Computers:

#alttext#

 

  • A brochure titled World Wide Web Server Cost-of-Ownership Study – June 1997:

#alttext#

 

  • And finally, some nice goodies:

#alttext#

I still haven’t had the time to properly explore the MacAdvocate II and the Mac OS 8 Demo Tour CD-ROMs (the latter is still shrink-wrapped!), having been ill for the past 2-3 weeks. The two items below the Mac OS 8 Demo Tour CD are two identical booklets containing information and statistics about the Macintosh platform as of January 1997. The three items on the right are stickers with the original rainbow Apple logo to place inside your car window. (The text on the back of the sticker reads: Show your Apple colors! Static ‘no glue’ logo for the inside of your car window. Call 800-373-0877 for more!).

Here’s how the Go figure booklet expands:

#alttext#

I may return on some of these items in future posts, and offer more details and comments. For now, I’ll just wrap this up and wholeheartedly thank my friend Morgan for sending me these materials. I had previously found a couple of low-resolution images and PDFs for one of the brochures mentioned above, but having the real thing in my hands is a whole other story!

Added to the collection: Power Mac G4 and other accessories

PowerMac and iMac

These past years, my vintage collection has expanded mostly thanks to generous — sometimes very generous — donors. These last additions, instead, came from a ‘rescue mission.’ It’s been a while since I did my last, and I had missed the fun. Thanks to a valuable tip from my brother-in-law, I learnt that a local design studio was getting rid of a few vintage Macs and assorted accessories and peripherals, and they were basically telling people on social media to come and get them.

If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll probably understand how I felt. I couldn’t pass up such an opportunity. From the photos the design studio put online, I knew I couldn’t take much with me (there were bulky printers, several beige desktop Macintosh G3 machines, a couple of older Power Macintosh 7300, an 8600, and a few graphite Power Mac G4s, plus three boxes of miscellaneous things covered by an intricate web of Apple ADB mice and SCSI cables), so I resolved to look for useful peripherals for my data retrieval service, and to rescue at least one of those Macs. I wish I could have taken more stuff away with me, but unfortunately I just don’t have the space.

As much as I love older machines, my interest was piqued by those graphite Power Macs. When I got there, I noticed that one of them had already gone. The remaining two were very similar, but one had an internal ZIP drive, the other did not. I have several ZIP disks, plus my PowerBook 5300 and PowerBook 1400 both have ZIP modules, then I have two other external ZIP drives — one SCSI, one USB — so ZIP disks are often a quick way to pass files among my vintage Macs. So, this Power Mac G4 with an internal ZIP drive was already drawing my attention. Still, I wanted to check the specifications of both Macs to see which was the better machine. Thankfully, Apple has this nice habit of indicating a Mac’s base configuration either on a label or by printing it on the computer itself. I wasn’t in a comfortable position, crouched behind the Power Macs, trying to read the tiny labels, but I managed to catch a 400 MHz on the label of the ZIP-less Power Mac, and a 500 MHz on the ZIP-equipped one, so I chose the latter.

Then my attention turned to the various accessories scattered nearby. There were a couple of Apple Extended Keyboard II keyboards, so of course I picked up one:

AEKII

I already have one, but it has the older QZERTY Italian layout, which I find particularly difficult to adjust to. This has the equally older Spanish layout, but it’s QWERTY, and shares more keys in the same position as the US/UK/ITA Pro layout I’m more accustomed with. (I still haven’t cleaned the keyboard thoroughly, but it’s not bad after a first pass, and believe me, you didn’t want to see a photo of its original condition!)

Next up, another very interesting peripheral:

Fujitsu MO drive

It’s not a bulky floppy drive, but a 3.5″ Fujitsu 230 MB SCSI Magneto-optical drive. There was a SCSI cable in good condition attached to it, plus that SCSI passthrough terminator you see in the photo. I took the whole package.

Last month I thought to myself, It’s a pity I don’t have a USB floppy drive, it could be useful for quick data retrieval without having to take out a floppy-equipped Mac every time I need to read one. Guess what I found among the tangle of SCSI cables:

USB floppy drive

It is the typical ‘Made in China’ unbranded affair, but I briefly tested it, and it works. So no complaints here.

I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. There were other things I could have picked up — keyboards, mice, cables — and other things that would have needed further inspection and more time. Then there was at least one thing I regret not taking: a 17-inch CRT Apple Studio Display, but I really really have no space for such a cumbersome item.

Studio17 side

If you’ve never seen one in person, you can’t imagine how imposing this thing is. To give you an idea, it’s bigger than an iMac G3, and is closer to an eMac in size and bulk. It would have made a nice companion for the Power Mac G4, but I guess I’ll look for the flat-panel 17-inch Studio Display, certainly more manageable.

Just as I was leaving, beneath a pile of other non-Mac equipment, there was this nice-looking cassette deck, a TEAC V-210C, manufactured around 1988:

TEAC cassette deck

I still have hundreds of tapes, and my Sony stereo cassette deck broke down a couple of years ago, leaving an old Aiwa walkman as my sole means to listen to cassette tapes. I asked the guys of the design studio whether it worked or not and they told me something along the lines of Who knows, but take it home and find out yourself, heh heh. So I did. And it works!

More about that Power Mac G4

IMG 1173

Above I said that I chose what appeared to be the better Power Mac by having a cursory glance at the label with the base configuration attached on the back of the machine. Once home, I examined it more carefully, and I was pleasantly surprised by a little detail I’d missed. The label actually says: 500 MHz / MP / 1M CACHE / DVD-V / 256MB SDRAM / HD 40G / 56K MDM. That “MP” stands for Multi Processor, making this a Dual 500 MHz Power Mac G4!

Another bonus: it actually came with 640 MB of RAM, and equipped with a SCSI card as well, which never hurts. The Mac was apparently last used in December 2008 and contained three user accounts which were basically empty. I had to use the Mac OS X Tiger DVD to boot the Mac and enable the root account, which I used to inspect the user accounts and then delete them. Among the software goodies: a full installation of Adobe CS3, plus FreeHand, StuffIt 12, and NeoOffice.

I was happy to find four 512 MB RAM sticks in my stash, which happened to be the exact type supported by this Power Mac, and voilà — I have brought it to the maximum RAM supported: 2 GB.

About this Mac  PMG4

The Mac came indeed with a 40 GB IBM Deskstar hard drive, which I discovered to be a 7200rpm drive. A quick check with Disk Utility didn’t find any problems with it. It’s rather fast, although a bit on the noisy side. The Mac also has a Combo optical drive: it reads CDs and DVDs, and writes CD-Rs and CD-RWs. My initial tests show that it works reliably when it comes to reading discs, not so much when writing them. But what I’m most bummed about is the ZIP drive, which doesn’t seem to work. System Profiler sees it, the unit appears to work when inserting disks, but nothing happens afterwards, and disks (even formatted, known-to-work disks) aren’t mounted on the desktop or detected by Disk Utility.

I thought it was a matter of drivers, but Mac OS X Tiger doesn’t need them to read ZIP disks from an internal drive. I thought it was a matter of jumper configuration on the back of the unit, but I’ve read that its current jumper-less configuration is the right one. I’ve seen units like this go for €25-30 on eBay; I also have an excellent DVD-RW/CD-RW drive salvaged from another computer — I might replace both in the future and have a fully-working Power Mac G4. Still, I really can’t complain. The Mac works very well, and the combination of dual G4 processors, 2 GB of RAM, and a 7200rpm drive makes for a surprisingly snappy machine overall. TenFourFox is quite responsive, possibly even more than under Mac OS X Leopard on faster machines. This is the Gigabit Ethernet Power Mac G4, so network transfers are very fast as well. This Mac has space for another two internal hard drives, so I’m thinking it’s a good candidate to act as a home server of sorts. I can’t wait to put it through its paces.

Everything else works

The Apple Extended Keyboard II only has one unresponsive key, but I’m reserving judgment until I have a chance to clean it thoroughly (it’s very dirty under the keys). The USB floppy drive works. The Fujitsu Magneto-optical drive works too: I was donated a 230 MB magneto-optical disk and last night I was finally able to access it on the PowerBook 1400:

MO drive and PowerBook 1400

And, as I already mentioned above, that TEAC cassette deck works as well. I’m very happy to be able to listen to tapes (and old mixtapes) again on my hi-fi stereo.

In conclusion, I wish I could have rescued more stuff (oh, that Studio Display!) but I’m quite satisfied with what I ended up selecting. The Dual 500 MHz Power Mac G4 is the most powerful machine of all those that were up for the taking, so… mission accomplished nonetheless!

The strange case of the resurrected drive

When you have a few different vintage Macs to maintain, and not enough space to keep them all set up all the time, you have to perform routine check-ups to see if everything still works or if some Macs have started showing signs of old age and need attention.

A few days ago I reconnected everything in my Power Macintosh 9500/132 system after borrowing display, keyboard and trackball for other projects. The original setup of this Mac included two internal hard drives, a 2GB Seagate and a 540MB Quantum Lightning, the latter being the startup volume. After acquiring an external SCSI 4GB hard drive, I even managed to enjoy a triple-boot system for a while, with Mac OS 9.1, Rhapsody Developer Release 2, and Mac OS X 10.2 Server (installed with the help of XPostFacto).

Sometime around 2012, however, both internal drives died at the same time while trying to boot the Mac. After repeated, unsuccessful attempts at retrieving data, I took them out of the machine and, in turn, put them in an external enclosure to see if I could mount them on other vintage Macs and perform further diagnostics. I soon realised that the 2GB Seagate was a true goner after hearing the kind of mechanical noises it made after powering it up. The other drive was just silent, it didn’t even spin up. Since I didn’t know where to drop it at the time, I ended up putting it back inside the Power Macintosh 9500. The surviving drive was the external 4GB unit running Mac OS X 10.2 Server. I deleted the installation and reinstalled a fresh copy of Mac OS 9.1, and that became the startup and only volume for this Mac.

Remember, this was happening four years ago. In the following years, I’ve used the Power Macintosh 9500 on several occasions. The 540MB internal hard drive never gave the slightest sign of life, to the point that I genuinely forgot about it.

When I switched on the Mac a few days ago, it had problems booting, and appeared to get stuck at the ‘Happy Mac’ screen. It also sounded noisier than I remembered. Then I glanced at the external drive enclosure and noticed that it was turned off. So why was the Mac trying to boot anyway? And where did that noise come from? And then I remembered the dead internal drive… I switched on the external drive, force-rebooted a couple of times, and finally the Power Macintosh completed the startup process successfully. After installing a newer version of the excellent FWB Hard Disk Toolkit, here’s what it presented me after an initial scan:

#alttext#

The 540MB Quantum Lightning drive was detected on the SCSI chain. I selected it, told Hard Disk Toolkit to mount it, and it appeared on the desktop a few seconds later. Then I ran Disk First Aid. It reported minor problems that were promptly repaired. Finally — and still quite amazed — I proceeded to browse the contents of the ‘lost’ drive and everything was there, just like four years ago. I have booted the Power Macintosh 9500 several times over the past few days, and now the internal drive I thought dead years ago consistently mounts on the desktop and appears to be working properly.

This is not the first time in my long experience when a drive or peripheral goes back to functioning after an apparent death, but it is definitely the first time that such resurrection has happened four years later. I still can’t believe it.

→ The Macs Apple was selling in 1996

I thought it would be interesting to offer an overview of the Macintosh models Apple was selling in 1996 and make a few related observations. In a nutshell: there was some level of organisation in what many have called the chaos of Macs available back then, and despite the long list of Mac models, the families and form factors were just a few; one of the main causes that generated confusion in the Macintosh product line was the frequent rebranding, and the progressive meaninglessness of the Performa line as the consumer choice versus the Power Macintosh as synonymous of ‘Pro’ machine.

Continue reading the article on my main website.

Turning my third-generation iPod into a flash-based device

iPod 3G in box
 
After successfully upgrading my iPod mini, replacing its failed 4 GB MicroDrive with an 8 GB CompactFlash card, I wanted to try to do the same thing for my older third-generation iPod. It’s my very first iPod, a 10 GB model purchased in 2003, and it has a great deal of sentimental value to me. Sadly, its internal hard drive stopped working sometime in 2009, and I never got round to fix it. By 2009 I had many other alternatives to listen to music on the go — I had the iPod mini, an iPod shuffle, and an iPhone 3G — so what was once my only iPod was now left in a box with its accessories. Every now and then I would take it out to recharge the battery (while feeling guilty because I was neglecting it), and every now and then I would search online for a new Toshiba hard drive of bigger capacity, but prices have always been a bit too high for my tastes. But recently I started considering the CompactFlash route, and when I stumbled on a very cheap 1.8-inch drive to CF adapter on eBay, I decided to go for it.

What follows is my personal experience, not a proper guide, so your mileage may definitely vary.

Disassembling the iPod to remove the hard drive

I followed the excellent iPod 3rd Generation Hard Drive Replacement guide by iFixit. Opening the iPod was hard and cost me lots of patience, attempts, a few tiny scratches on the iPod’s white surface, and a moment of panic when I thought I had broken something inside with the putty knife I used to separate the plastic front from the metal rear of the iPod. Follow the guide faithfully and pay special attention to the warning at Step 7 regarding the disconnection of the internal headphone jack connector.

Inserting the CompactFlash card

Unlike the iPod mini, for which it was simply a matter of swapping the MicroDrive with a CF card, in this case a 1.8-inch drive to CF adapter is needed. This is what I found and bought on eBay for a few Euros:

CF adapter

At first I thought I’d have trouble inserting it the right way, but I soon found out that there’s really no risk of making mistakes once you examine how the original hard drive connects to the drive connector. A small obstacle in my path at this point was a small plastic protrusion that enters a hole in the hard drive plastic edge near the 50-pin connector (evidently to help you insert the drive in the correct orientation and to align the pins properly). When I pushed the CF adapter down, this small protrusion prevented one edge of the adapter’s connector to insert all the way down. So I clipped it with a pair of small scissors, just enough to eliminate the interference.

Then I slid the CF card in. I was satisfied with the price and quality of the 8 GB SanDisk Ultra card I got for the iPod mini, so I purchased a 16 GB card of the same brand and model.

iPod with 16 GB Card

Connecting to the Mac and iTunes

Dealing with the hardware for this kind of upgrade hasn’t been particularly challenging. But as I was browsing the Web for information in the past weeks, I stumbled on a few different horror stories of third-generation iPods being especially fussy with this upgrade, some not recognising the card, some not being recognised by iTunes, some needing firmware modifications to work, and so on and so forth. I was ready to face troubles and complications, so after inserting the CF card and connecting the drive and headphones connectors, I didn’t close the iPod just yet.

Now, this generation of iPods was the last to be able to connect to Macs and sync with iTunes over FireWire. And being the first iPod with the long-lasting 30-pin Dock connector, it could effectively connect to Macs via FireWire and to PCs (and Macs) via USB. Tempted as I was to connect it to my Intel MacBook Pro over USB, I instead connected it to the same-vintage iMac G4 over FireWire. Like I did with the iPod mini, I just put the CF card inside without formatting it, assuming it was ready to use with a DSLR camera (therefore being preformatted in FAT-32 format).

Lo and behold, iTunes 10.6.3 on the iMac instantly opened and recognised the iPod and the CF capacity, but not the Serial Number and the Software Version, though it prompted me to update, telling me that “A newer version of the iPod software is available (version 2.3)”. (Also note “Format: Windows”)

IPod recognised 1

And the quirkiness begins

Naturally, I click on Update, and the (very fast) update process begins. iTunes downloads the iPod software version 2.3, copies it on the iPod, then — a typical final step in any iPod update — the iPod disappears from the iTunes sidebar, reboots, and remounts. iTunes warns about this with a dialog box that auto-dismisses itself after a few seconds. But the iPod doesn’t reboot. On the iPod’s display the message “OK to disconnect” appears. So I disconnect, then reconnect the iPod to the Mac. iTunes opens and warns that there’s an iPod with a corrupted drive connected (Uh-oh!) and offers to restore it and update the software. I let iTunes do its thing, and I’m presented with the same situation as before: the iPod should reboot (iTunes is telling me so) but it doesn’t. On the display, again, “OK to disconnect”.

I stop and think: evidently the iPod isn’t able to complete the update process by rebooting, so this time instead of disconnecting it, I manually reset it (by holding the Menu and Play/Pause buttons). It’s the right move, because after rebooting, under the Apple logo a progress bar appears. And since there’s now a CF card inside, the firmware update proceeds at an amazing speed. After 5 seconds, the Language Setup screen appears and the iPod is fine. I quickly go to Settings > About and all information shows up correctly: iPod name, capacity, available space, Software Version, Serial Number and Model Number. Success! But…

But now iTunes doesn’t see the iPod.

I reboot the iPod, nothing. I reboot the iMac, nothing. I disconnect and reconnect the iPod, nothing. Then I remember something I read on the Web… someone complaining that after the CompactFlash upgrade their iPod could only sync with iTunes via USB. So I take a USB cable and connect the iPod to the iMac via USB. iTunes opens and immediately recognises the iPod:

IPod recognised 2

Note that now everything appears correctly, and the Format is Macintosh.

Since I don’t have music yet on the iMac, before closing the iPod for good, I want to try copying some music on it, and to check if everything is okay when plugging the headphones. So I connect it to my MacBook Pro and — whew — no problems with the latest version of iTunes. As predicted, transferring music to the flash-based iPod is really fast, and once I plug in the first pair of earphones at hand, I can hear music just fine. However I notice an interesting detail: the iPod is not charging despite being connected to a high-powered USB 2.0 port directly. Quite baffling. I disconnect it, take a FireWire cable and connect the iPod to the G4 Cube. iTunes doesn’t open, but now the iPod is charging. So, was what I read in that forum true then — that after upgrading a third-generation iPod to use a CF card, it can only be synced over USB and only be charged over FireWire?

At this point I’m still utterly puzzled by the initial fact that, after updating the iPod to the latest software version, it stopped being recognised by iTunes over FireWire and just developed this behaviour. It’s not logical. In the end, what I’ve done is just replacing the hard drive with another ‘drive’, only it has flash storage. And then I have an idea. I connect the iPod to the MacBook Pro again over FireWire (like this: [iPod] → [30-pin to FireWire 400 adapter] → [FireWire 800 to FireWire 400 cable] → [MacBook Pro]). As predicted, the iPod starts charging but iTunes doesn’t recognise it. Then I put the iPod into Disk Mode manually. With this iPod, the procedure is as follows: you toggle the Hold switch on and off (set it to Hold, then turn it off again), you press and hold the Play/Pause and Menu buttons until the Apple logo appears, then immediately press and hold the Previous and Next buttons until the Disk Mode screen appears. (Source: Apple Knowledge Base).

As soon as the iPod enters Disk Mode, it gets recognised by iTunes as usual and it keeps charging!

And then another quirky thing happens: transfer speeds when copying music on the iPod are really slow. Not exactly USB 1.1 slow, but certainly slower than USB 2.0 or FireWire 400. I still haven’t had time to figure out this particular detail, and if I find something I’ll update this article.

Other minor quirks noticed so far

  • The iPod freezes every time I eject it from iTunes after syncing. For both iTunes and the Finder, the iPod has been ejected correctly, but the iPod’s display remains stuck on the “Do Not Disconnect” screen. Rebooting the iPod puts everything in order.
  • I’ve also noticed occasional hiccups: earlier today, I selected a song and playback wouldn’t start, as if I had pressed Pause right away. The whole interface was fully responsive and registered every button press, but songs wouldn’t start playing. Putting the iPod to sleep and waking it again solved that.
  • The battery icon appears to have become rather unreliable at displaying exactly how much charge there’s left (more on this below).

Battery life

When it was a new model in 2003, this iPod had an advertised play time of 8 hours. I used it very often back then: 2003 to 2007 were the years of most intense use. Its hard drive failed gradually, and in the last weeks before finally stopping working, it got quite loud and sometimes copying music was painful, with intermittent transfer speeds, aborted copies, and so on. What I had started noticing in these circumstances was that the iPod got unusually warm, and that battery life had decreased dramatically. So I didn’t expect much when I started my test this morning after leaving the iPod to recharge overnight.

All in all I’m not disappointed. The iPod played continuously for just about three hours (backlight set to its minimum setting, 2 seconds; frequent interactions to change album and sometimes the volume). Honestly, I didn’t think it would last this long, considering the little 630 mAh lithium ion battery is 13 years old.

I also didn’t think it would last that long because the battery icon in the status bar completely misbehaved during my testing. When I disconnected the iPod after leaving it on the charger all night, I expected to see a full battery icon. Instead it was at about 60%, and during playback it trickled down to zero in about an hour. I thought that’s what little life there was left, but the iPod kept going, kept going, and played music for two more hours with the battery indicator completely empty.

Conclusion

Working iPod
Overall, I’m happy with how things turned out. The 16 GB CompactFlash card and the adapter didn’t cost much, and I spent about three hours between the ‘surgery’ and the tinkering. It hasn’t been a smooth ride like with the iPod mini, but at least I have revived this third-generation iPod, the very iPod that started the ‘digital music revolution’ for me. The iPod I used as a boot drive to work from my 12-inch PowerBook G4 when its internal hard drive failed and I was waiting for a replacement. I’m glad to see this old buddy playing music again after being left in a drawer for seven years. I still can’t fathom why this specific iPod generation is so fussy when you perform the CompactFlash upgrade, but these quirks I’ve encountered are nothing insurmountable. Ultimately what counts is that the iPod is perfectly usable (by the way, I also put it in Diagnostic Mode, and it passed all the tests), and the occasional hiccup can quickly be resolved with a reboot.