Macintosh classics: USB Overdrive

USB Overdrive

Let me first say that, unlike other Mac utilities I previously mentioned here, I have never been a USB Overdrive user. But that doesn’t mean I don’t recognise its remarkable usefulness for many other Mac users. I consider it an all-time essential utility for the Mac: written by Alessandro Levi Montalcini, it basically exists since USB debuted on the Macintosh back in 1998-1999 with the original iMac. Plus, it’s still around and has been updated over the years, so the latest version works with Mac OS X Snow Leopard.

You can find all the information you need about USB Overdrive on its site, of course, but if you want a quick answer to what it does, Daniel Chvatik, in ATPM’s review of USB Overdrive 1.3 (Issue 6.07 – July 2000) explains:

USB Overdrive extends Apple’s USB support by providing better control over the features of USB mice, trackballs, joysticks and game pads. This means you can get any USB device of the listed types, even if it is PC-only, and it will work reasonably well on your Mac. You won’t be able to use any functions that are particular to the driver software (like chording) or any extra-special features, like force-feedback; but you will be able to use extra buttons, wheels, etc. the way you want. USB Overdrive can either use Apple’s mouse driver, or if you have problems with Apple drivers or can’t install them for some reason, it can use its own custom driver.

USB Overdrive got my attention recently thanks to a discussion on the Mac OS 9 List. Dan Knight asked for help:

I would love to be able to use the scroll wheel/scroll ball on my mouse to scroll my apps running in Classic Mode, and I seem to recall it having worked at some point in the past (perhaps OS X 10.2 or 10.3). I’m running OS X 10.4.11 and have a variety of USB and wireless mice that scroll in OS X – Logitech M705, Apple Mighty Mouse, Logitech MX 700, no name optical mouse from China.

When I read his message, I realised USB Overdrive could be of help, but before I could answer, other people already pointed it out. The classic version of USB Overdrive appears indeed to do the trick. You can still download it from CNet Download.com (which incorporated VersionTracker, remember?) at this page.

I also think it’s interesting to report the essential excerpts of an informative post by member ‘Mole’ (always from the Mac OS 9 List). ‘Mole’ wrote:

I had forgotten the name, but USB Overdrive is what I used to solve all my mouse and Flash Disk compatibility problems in OS 9. I highly recommend USB Overdrive to anyone that is using USB devices in OS 9 (Native Install OR Classic 9 in OS X), especially if you are running a PowerPC and/or use mixed PC/Mac USB hardware.

I’ve used USB Overdrive with great success with the Mac and devices below:

  • G3 Yosemite 450 MHz Tower: the 2 built-in USB ports worked in OS 9 for my mouse, but I think it made the right-click button add a context menu (like in OS X, Windows, etc.).

Tested/working with the following USB devices:

  • USB Flash Drives: Transcend 4 GB, TransMemory 4 GB, DataTraveler 2 GB, Optima Attaché 4 GB, SanDisk Cruzer 16 GB [retractable] — I use these drives regularly for transferring data between Macs & PCs using Windows or Linux. I also like to create “Persistent” & “Live CD USB Installs” to try out new OS’s and for carrying a personal OS in my pocket that will boot up from almost any new PC, without touching the Hard Drives. For info on this hobby, visit this link.
  • USB Mouse: Logitech Wheel Mouse M/N: M-BJ58
  • LaCie USB 2.0 PCI Card: M/N: PTI-2051 (Rev. B, w/ the weird 5th external USB port inside)
  • DVD/R: I/O Magic Portable 8x DVD-RW, M/N: IDVD8P (I didn’t try to burn anything)
  • I have no device failures to report, although I didn’t waste my time trying to use devices (like MagicJack) that I know won’t work in OS 9.

That’s pretty much it. For a quick overview of the software, I think the aforementioned ATPM review is a great read to get you started. I have downloaded USB Overdrive (the Classic version) from CNet and will make it available on my public Dropbox folder in case it’ll disappear from the Web due to link rot. If you go to USB Overdrive’s Download page, you’ll find version 3 for Mac OS X 10.4 and later, and you can also find the older release for Mac OS X 10.2.8 and 10.3. If you find it useful, please buy a licence and help support this great software.

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2 thoughts on “Macintosh classics: USB Overdrive

  1. I am pretty happy using USB Overdrive with Classic Mode, but I have to report that sometimes the scrollwheel gets carried away and doesn’t want to stop. Don’t know if this is some odd interaction between Teleport, Logitech Control Center on my Leopard “master”, and USB Overdrive on the shared Tiger Mac running Classic. It is better if I set scrolling in Tiger to the slowest setting and change USB Overdrive from Accelerated Up and Accelerated Down to Scroll Up and Scroll Down – which should be the defaults. Great app!

  2. How did you get the IO Magic IDVD8P drive to be recognized? I installed USB Overdrive but still the io magic drive is invisible (only powers up – never displays icon). Also the only way I can start USB Overdrive is to reinstall it. Can’t tell the location where it’s being installed. I’m on a MacBook Pro Retina Lion 10.8.2. Thanks.

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