Prepping the Lombard: software for basic tasks

These last months I have been neglecting my vintage Mac hardware (with the notable exception of my Newton MessagePads, which I use daily), mostly because my job as a freelance translator kept me quite busy. That’s why I still haven’t finished prepping the PowerBook G3 Lombard the good Thomas Brand donated me in July. So, while I’m still waiting to find a working solution for wireless connectivity (I have two PCMCIA cards but neither works, apparently because of chipset incompatibility and/or lack of proper Mac drivers), I’ve started perfecting a minimal software setup for all the basic tasks a PowerBook G3 with a 400MHz processor, 256MB of RAM, stock 6GB hard drive, and Mac OS X 10.3.9 can still perform today. The following list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s enough to keep me going in cases of emergency or when I just want to do some light work off-site on a vintage machine. (Asking why I should want to work that way when I have a powerful and quite capable mid-2009 MacBook Pro is like asking a vintage car collector why he’s going on a weekend trip with his 1959 Giulietta Spider instead of taking his modern VW Golf. Because he can and he loves it).

  • Email — Mac OS X’s Mail app is sufficient. I have set it up to handle my email correspondence related to vintage Macs and emails I receive from readers of this blog.
  • Web browsing — In this case I think it’s better to rely on more than one browser. Safari 1.3.2 (the highest version supported by Panther) can still render websites in a decent way, but I’ve found that on Panther the best browsing experience is with Opera 10.10. Versions from 10 to 11.60 of Opera are available for download at this page. Older versions can be found in the Opera archive. Version 10.10 is the last supported by Mac OS X Panther. I’ve also added iCab 4.8 for good measure. (By the way, for vintage Macs the most updated browser around is TenFourFox, which supports G3, G4 and G5 PPC Macs. TenFourFox is the one that guarantees better compatibility with modern websites and it works great on my G4 Macs. You will need at least Mac OS X 10.4.11, though, so if you’re on Panther you’re out of luck).
  • Twitter — The best solution for Mac OS X 10.3 Panther I’ve found so far is Twit Menulet.
  • Text managementTextEdit for rich text formatting is enough, as is BBEdit 7.1.x for sophisticated text editing and code writing. BBEdit 7 is the last version supported by Panther. (I’m still looking for a reliable link to provide you with a legal download of this version, which is too old to appear on the Bare Bones Software website; System 7 Today has a download link for BBedit Lite 6, though, which may be enough for most people).
  • RSS feed reading — I think the only usable option for reading feeds on a Mac OS X Panther machine is to use an older version of NetNewsWire. I managed to download version 2.1.5 long ago, but that link doesn’t work anymore, so I’ve made it available on my public Dropbox folder. You won’t have Google Reader syncing, of course, but you’ll be surprised at how well NetNewsWire works overall.
  • Image editing — The best ‘Swiss army knife’ solution is obviously to download an older, suitable version of Graphic Converter. If your machine doesn’t support anything more recent than Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, Graphic Converter 6.5 X (CFM) is what you’re looking for (first link at the top of the list). For my needs, that is simply too much, so I’m sticking with an interesting little software called ToyViewer by Japanese developer T. Ogihara, who generously provides older versions of the application for earlier versions of Mac OS X as far back as 10.1 (Puma). As you will see, this software is quite lightweight and versatile enough to allow for basic image editing. Then, of course, you can use Mac OS X’s Preview, also for handling PDF files. Included on Panther’s installation discs is also iPhoto 2.
  • Font managementFont Book will probably be enough. I find the free FontExplorer X 1.2.3 by Linotype more pleasing and flexible, though. You can download it here.
  • Miscellaneous software — One evening I wanted to control my Lombard remotely from my MacBook Pro. Since my other vintage Macs with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger are easily controlled via Mac OS X’s Screen Sharing, I thought it would work with the Lombard as well. It turns out that, with just Mac OS X 10.3 Panther on the other machine, it doesn’t. Or maybe I missed something obvious. Anyway, Vine Server did the trick. The setup is rather easy, then you basically start Vine Server on the PowerBook G3 and it becomes visible and accessible from any Finder window on the modern Mac.
    For those who are accustomed to using solutions like Quicksilver to perform searches and launch applications, the good news is that there is a Mac OS X Panther compatible version you can download straight from the developer’s site.

As I said, this list is just a starting point, but with these little additions my PowerBook G3 Lombard is proving to be quite the functional machine. I can also watch DVDs if I want, but only after rebooting into Mac OS 9 — read more about this here. As for iTunes and QuickTime, I’ve already talked about them in this previous ‘Prepping the Lombard’ entry. If you have other Mac OS X 10.3-compatible software suggestions, you’re welcome to mention them in the comments.

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