Ars Technica takes another trip to the past

After Andrew Cunningham’s experiment in 2014 with a PowerBook G4 running Mac OS 9.2.2, another tech writer from Ars Technica goes vintage, with an even older, but more fascinating setup: a Macintosh IIsi (introduced in late 1990), running System 7.5.5, and connected to a Macintosh Portrait Display (similar vintage). Back then, I wasn’t particularly satisfied with how Cunningham approached his exploration, and I wrote an article in response detailing my observations: Actual work on vintage Macs is possible.

This time I must say I enjoyed Chris Wilkinson’s article so much more than I did Cunningham’s. Chris’ approach seemed more open, and he sounded definitely more patient and willing to deal with the most challenging aspects of using a 28-year-old machine today. His is an excellent write-up of the experience, and I urge you to give it a read. As for my personal observations, I have very little to add.

In his conclusion, Chris writes [emphasis mine]:

In contrast, taking the IIsi through its paces was a joy. The limitations of the machine, with barely enough power to run more than one application at once, demands your attention to be 100 percent devoted to any single task. Paradoxically, it often felt like I was more productive with significantly fewer resources at hand. It captured and holds my attention on a single problem, rather than splitting my attention across dozens of unrelated tasks. Coming in with low expectations and knowing roughly what 20MHz can do for me these days, I came away from my sojourn pleasantly surprised.

This is something I have experienced myself numerous times when using my vintage Macs, and it’s the main reason I generally prefer to bring a vintage Mac with me when I’m not working from home (if you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed the occasional ‘Today’s vintage mobile office‘ photo). It really helps me stay focused, especially when I need to do some creative writing.

As I said, I really liked how Chris approached his vintage challenge. A couple of things I may have done differently: first, I’d have probably got more performance out of the IIsi by keeping it on System 7.1 — less feature-rich than 7.5.5, but also less RAM-hungry. And the second thing is related to music. Instead of pushing the Macintosh IIsi to its limits by handling MP3 files, I would have looked for an external SCSI CD-ROM drive, and just listened to audio CDs while working (the Control Strip had a handy module for quick access to CD playback controls). But this is just nitpicking.

Enjoy the article: 1990, meet 2018: How far does 20MHz of Macintosh IIsi power go today? by Chris Wilkinson.

 

 

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Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs (Part 4)

Links and information — the February 2018 update

According to WordPress’ analytics, my little Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs series of articles is one of the most viewed here on System Folder. I have realised, however, that some of the links and information provided in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 are old and in bad need of an update. So here we are.

First thing first: browsing the Web

I’ll reiterate what I wrote in Part 1: If you want to browse the Web on a PowerPC Mac with a modern, secure browser that’s still in active development, then your choice shall be TenFourFox. It runs best on G4 and G5 machines, but it’s also available for G3 processors. If you don’t like TenFourFox’s app icon, I created an alternative one you can download (see TenFourFox custom icon). If you’re running Mac OS 8.6/9, then you should use Classilla, from the same developer, Cameron Kaiser. Classilla works great also under Mac OS X 10.1.5 to 10.3.9 in the Classic Environment.

Another couple of favourites are Camino and Stainless.

I wrote about Camino in The second-best browser for PPC Macs, saying that it’s still a fine choice if your Mac isn’t powerful enough to run the excellent TenFourFox smoothly:

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.

Check that article for the relevant download and links.

As for Stainless, see below, at the end of the next section.
 

Updated information for the apps mentioned in Part 1

(Whenever you see “Original information and links are still valid”, go back to Part 1 to retrieve them.)

AppZapper: Get the 1.8 version (compatible with Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5) at this direct link.

Acorn: Original information and links are still valid.

Bean: Original information and links are still valid.

Audion: All versions of Audion are now available in its directory at The Panic File Museum.

Dropbox: Dropped support for PowerPC Macs running Tiger and Leopard a while back. If you’re using Leopard on a PPC Mac, check this link. I take no responsibility if things go wrong or don’t work. This link was suggested to me some time ago, and I’m just passing it along. My recommendation is to try Box instead — see this article.

Linotype FontExplorer X 1.2.3: Original information and links are still valid.

Mailsmith: Original information and links are still valid.

Notational Velocity: Original information and links are still valid.

Skim: The new link to the project’s homepage is this one, though the old one still redirects correctly. (Note: the last Tiger-compatible version is 1.2.7, which you can download here).

Xee and The Unarchiver: These and other apps by Dag Ågren have been acquired by MacPaw.

  • The new Xee website only allows you to download the latest Xee 3 version, which doesn’t work on PowerPC Macs. Here’s a direct link for the older Xee 2.2.
  • The new website for The Unarchiver is theunarchiver.com. The latest version of the utility supports Mac OS X 10.7 Lion and newer. If you click where the page says “For earlier versions click here”, you’ll be able to download version 3.11.1, a Universal Binary that should work under Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and 10.5 Leopard (and 10.6 Snow Leopard, for those who use early Intel Macs).

Find Any File: Original information and links are still valid.

iStumbler: Previous versions of the app (dating as far back as to support Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar) are available at the Changelog page.

Disco: Original information and links are still valid.

f.lux: Older versions of this great utility aren’t available anymore, apparently. Here are two direct links to the PPC versions (thanks, MacUpdate!)

  • f.lux 15.0 (Mac OS X 10.5 or later, Intel32/PPC32, please disable updates)
  • f.lux 11.0 (Mac OS X 10.4 or later, Intel32/PPC32)

Stainless browser: There’s something strange going on with the Stainless homepage. It still gives information about the project, but the Downloads page has a series of links that do not work. The original developer stopped developing it circa 2013, and the last official release was 0.8. The current website talks about updated versions (1.0 through 1.1.5), and that a mobile app for iOS and Android is available, but no links are provided, and a search in the iOS App Store shows that there’s no mobile browser with that name. I suspect the stainlessapp.com domain has been purchased by other parties and, well, it just smell fishy to me. You can still explore the old, genuine site, and download Stainless 0.8 through Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine. Here’s the link. (Remember, Stainless requires Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard).

 

Updated information for the apps mentioned in Part 2

(Whenever you see “Original information and links are still valid”, go back to Part 2 to retrieve them.)

Ulysses: In my previous article, I wrote: “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.” It’s not available anymore. The oldest version currently provided on the Ulysses website is 2.2.2, which doesn’t work on PowerPC Macs.

CloudApp: You can’t download version 1.0.3 (the last to support PowerPC Macs) from CloudApp’s website anymore. I’ve made it available here. It should still work, although of course it’ll have a more bare-bones set of features than the current 4.x version.

Transmit and other Panic apps: Original information and links are still valid.

NetNewsWire: Version 3 (which works with PowerPC Macs) is not available anymore on the official NetNewsWire website. Here are some useful links:

 

Updated information for the apps mentioned in Part 3

(Whenever you see “Original information and links are still valid”, go back to Part 3 to retrieve them.)

Butler: Original information and links are still valid.

LaunchBar: Original information and links are still valid.

Quicksilver: Original information and links are still valid.

NotLight: Here’s a slightly more accurate link (you still have to scroll down a bit). Check out other apps by Matt Neuburg, like SyncMe, which you may find useful.
 

Some additions

[Updated 26 February 2018]

iScroll2: The app website tells pretty much everything you need to know: “iScroll2 is a modified trackpad driver that adds two-finger scrolling capabilities to supported pre-2005 PowerBooks and iBooks on OS X 10.3 and up. Supported models include most aluminum PowerBooks introduced from 2003 to 2004 as well as most G4 iBooks.” I have it on my 12- and 17-inch PowerBook G4 and it’s really great.

Docker: Technically, this app isn’t available anymore, since the original website has gone (domain not renewed, then purchased by someone else). But I wanted to add this app anyway because it’s perhaps the best tool I’ve used to customise my Dock. The old Blocksoft website can still be accessed via Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine, and from there it’s still possible to download version 1.6.7, which I believe to be the latest. Check out this quick review at OS X Daily, for a bit more information. Docker is a Universal Binary and should work under Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard to 10.7 Lion.

Aqua Extreme: Speaking of customisation, I really love this little utility by Max Rudberg (you may remember him, among other things, for developing Obsidian Menu Bar, a hack that gave us a black menu bar in OS X before Yosemite). Here’s the original description of what Aqua Extreme does:

Mac OS X introduced a new GUI called Aqua. The initial Aqua interface had quite a different look from the Aqua we know today. Buttons had a more distinct 3D-appearance, with stronger gloss and heavier shadows. The 10.2 installment of OS X brought a more refined style with a flatter, more crisp button appearance. Almost every element had been refined, except for the scrollbars and progressbars which was overlooked. What’s puzzling is that it has been continuously overlooked ever since. I first introduced my own refined scrollbars and progressbars for 10.2. I had a falling out and did not update them for Leopard. But now that Snow Leopard is here, still using the 10.0 style elements, I thought it was time to do something about it. This installer will replace the large and small versions of both the scrollbars and progressbars with ones that better match the appearance of the rest of the interface. They look flatter and more crisp and work with both the Blue and the Graphite appearance settings. If you decide you want to revert to the original Aqua style, please run the separate Restore Aqua installer.

You can download Aqua Extreme for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard (and OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard) using the links at the bottom of the Obsidian Menu Bar homepage (see link above). If you like it, you can send Max a donation.

OmniDiskSweeper: A really nice utility from The Omni Group that’s been around for a long time. Their description: “OmniDiskSweeper is really great at what it does: showing you the files on your drive, in descending order by size, and letting you decide what to do with them. Delete away, but exercise caution: OmniDiskSweeper does not perform any safety checks before deleting files!”

It appears that version 1.7.2, the last to support Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and 10.5 Leopard, isn’t available anymore from their site. Once again, the WayBack Machine is your friend. You can view the older OmniDiskSweeper page and download version 1.7.2 of the app. (You’ll be redirected a couple of times, be patient.)

Pacifist: Another terrific utility that’s been around for a long time. From the website homepage: “Pacifist is a shareware application that opens Mac OS X .pkg package files, .dmg disk images, and .zip, .tar, .tar.gz, .tar.bz2, and .xar archives and allows you to extract individual files and folders out of them. This is useful, for instance, if an application which is installed by the operating system becomes damaged and needs to be reinstalled without the hassle of reinstalling all of Mac OS X, or if you want to inspect a downloaded package to see what it will install before installing it. Pacifist is also able to verify existing installations and find missing or altered files, and Pacifist can also examine the kernel extensions installed in your system to let you see what installer installed them, and whether the installer was made by Apple or a third-party.” You can download older versions of Pacifist (that go back to Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar) from this page.

DragThing: Another venerable Mac utility, a sort of smart Dock on steroids (but read more on the About page). The developer, James Thomson, still offers older versions for PowerPC Macs from the Download page. (Support goes as far back as Mac OS 7.5.5!)

Please note that, if you install DragThing and you want to purchase a licence from within the application, you will be directed to proceed through the old Kagi payment system, and since Kagi is no more, nothing will happen. I asked James directly via email and he confirmed that, if you purchase a licence for version 5 (the latest at the time of writing) by following the Buy Now link on the website, everything will be fine. James also told me that:

Currently we don’t have a mechanism to purchase older [version] 2 and 4 serial numbers in place right now, but if anybody bought the current version I’d be happy to send them an older number.

Default Folder X: You can download version 4.5.12 for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard (and 10.6 Snow Leopard, it works under Rosetta), and version 4.3.10 for Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger from the FAQ page (scroll down until you reach the “What version of Default Folder X do I need?” question in the Default Folder X Compatibility section.)

JollysFastVNC by Patrick Stein. It’s a very nice “secure ARD and VNC client. Its aim is to be the best and most secure VNC client on the Mac.” Its home page is here. Older versions of the app are available at the bottom of the page. Check also other apps by Patrick, particularly ScreenRecycler, which lets you use an older computer as an additional display for your Mac. JollysFastVNC is not free. You can activate a trial licence, that will let you use the app for a couple of days, but you are encouraged to purchase a licence, which costs €26.95.

Snapz Pro X: If you’re a long-time Mac user, this software application doesn’t need an introduction, but in case you don’t know what it does, here’s the description from the developer’s website: “Snapz Pro X allows you to effortlessly record anything on your screen (Except DRM-protected content), saving it as a QuickTime® movie or screenshot that can be e-mailed, put up on the web, or passed around however you want.”

Ambrosia Software still makes available to download legacy version 2.3.3 for Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, 10.5 Leopard, and 10.6 Snow Leopard from this page.

• Here are a couple of Torrent clients:

  • Transmission: older versions for Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, 10.4 Tiger, and 10.5 Leopard, are available at this page.
  • µTorrent: the older stable version (1.6.5) with PPC support is available at this page. I’m not sure it works under Tiger. I was able to use it under Leopard, but after installing it on my G4 Cube running Tiger, the app would quit on launch.

xScope: This great utility consists of “A powerful set of tools that are ideal for measuring, inspecting & testing on-screen graphics and layouts.” The Iconfactory still provides links to download previous versions of xScope from this Support page. You’ll have to be running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard at the very least and, of course, you’ll still have to purchase a licence since it isn’t freeware.

DiskWarrior: This essential disk repair and data recovery utility by Alsoft still supports PowerPC Macs running at least Mac OS X 10.5.8. Make sure you check the Requirements page on Alsoft’s website for the details. Alsoft still offers version 2.1 for pre-OS X PowerPC Macs. There is no direct download, though; you’ll have to contact the company’s Tech Support.

• This is a useful resource maintained by Matej Horvat, if you want to check it out: Last versions of applications for Mac OS X on PowerPC.

 

Looking for more?

Check out this list of recommended interesting websites for users of vintage Macs. You’ll find several links to software archives for PowerPC Macs and even pre-OS X machines.

 
If you have trouble with any of the links to download the apps I’ve mentioned, let me know. I’ll provide a link to a copy I keep in my archives. Thanks!

My new old keyboard

While I don’t have particular problems typing on flat keyboards with scissor-switch mechanisms, or membrane-based mechanisms, I honed my typing skills on fully mechanical keyboards, and I’ve always tried to go back to a mechanical keyboard for my main setup (currently a 2009 MacBook Pro often in desktop configuration). One of the most practical and rather comfortable keyboards I’ve used for a long time was the 2003 Apple Wireless Keyboard (A1016). While not being a fully mechanical keyboard (it’s technically a dome-switch keyboard), the shape and feel of its keys provided a similar experience; typing was comfortable; it was a full-size extended keyboard; and it was wireless. I used it until it broke down and a fair amount of keys stopped responding.

Its replacement was equally great if not superior. After finding a Griffin iMate (ADB-USB adapter), I could go back to my true favourite among Apple keyboards, the Apple Extended Keyboard II. This setup lasted another good while, then the ‘P’ and ‘M’ keys started acting up and I had to switch to the second-best option I had at the time — the Apple Desktop Bus keyboard (A9M0330), the first ADB keyboard, introduced with the Apple IIGS. After this keyboard showed issues with the ADB connector, I turned to the Apple Standard Keyboard (M0116).

I kept using the Apple Standard Keyboard until the iMate stopped working. My backup plan, while looking for another iMate, was to use an Apple Pro Keyboard (M7803). Then, recently, in the tech recycle bin at the university library where my wife works, I found a discarded vintage-looking PC keyboard made by BenQ. Touching its keys, they gave that pleasant clicky response, not the muffled, mushy feedback so many modern PC keyboards give. The interface was PS/2, not USB, so I figured it was vintage enough. I proceeded to free it from other pieces of electronic junk, and took it home. I would test it, see if all keys were recognised, and in case the keyboard turned out to be dead or otherwise unusable, I would return it to the recycle bin myself the day after.

But in order to connect it to my Mac, there was something I had to get first: a PS/2-to-USB adapter, of course. Given that it’s not exactly a trendy device, I figured it would have been hard to find in a brick-and-mortar shop; but before returning home and trying online, I decided to go to the city centre and try my luck. And lucky I was! For €15, I found exactly the adapter I was looking for, made by Hama, and it was the last unit on display. Was this a sign, I wondered. And what if the keyboard turned out to be faulty? Well, an adapter such as this is always useful; if the keyboard doesn’t work, I’ll just look for another mechanical PC keyboard with a PS/2 connector.

(By the way, the adapter is very nice, it’s Y-shaped because at the PS/2 end, it actually splits and has two connectors, for keyboard and mouse.)

Anyway, once I got home, I immediately connected everything and tried the keys. By another stroke of luck, the BenQ keyboard was fully functional. All keys were recognised, all keys gave a consistent feedback and nothing appeared broken. The keyboard had been discarded simply because it was of no use anymore. Until now. What remained to be done was:

  • Getting more information on the keyboard
  • Cleaning the keyboard
  • Remapping some keys to make it more Mac-friendly

More information on the keyboard

After a brief search on the Web, I found the exact model and more details on this page in the Deskthority forums. That is exactly the keyboard I rescued, a BenQ 6312-TA with Spanish layout. It appears to have been manufactured in 1999. Now, the original poster says this keyboard has Acer keyswitches, and another points out that this BenQ is actually a rebranded Acer keyboard. That piqued my curiosity, because I expected Alps keyswitches (the feel is similar to the Apple Standard Keyboard and Extended Keyboard I’ve used in the past). It turns out that — according to the Deskthority Wiki — The Acer switch is a spring-over-membrane switch from Acer. Acer switches are clicky and tactile and use Alps mount keycaps. The wiki also states:

Opinion on the feel of Acer switches varies, but the overall consensus is negative. The force curve is balky, similar to Xiang Min KSB series Alps clones, and to some the membrane feel is too obvious.

I must say I’ve been using this keyboard for about two weeks now, and I have no issues with the feel or feedback. All keys sound and behave uniformly, with the possible exception of the Enter key, which is just slightly softer.

Cleaning

Cleaning was, thankfully, a quick and trivial affair. Remove keys, apply compressed air, a gentle sweep with the vacuum cleaner, and the final touch with a soft cloth and a bit of mild detergent.

Remapping

When using PC Windows keyboards on a Mac, the first thing to do is to invert the position of the Alt and Win keys, because on a Windows keyboard, Alt is located where on a Mac keyboard you’d find the Command key, and the Win key is located where on a Mac keyboard you’d find the Alt/Option key. Then you go to System Preferences > Keyboard, click on the Modifier Keys button and do the remapping on the software side:

Key remapping

After doing this, I really disliked not having a real Apple ⌘ key, so I looked into my Apple ADB keyboard stash, and finally I found that the Command key of the Apple Design Keyboard was a nice fit. The profile is only slightly different, but it’s really nice having a key with the Apple logo. It’s even faster to find when typing Command+[key] shortcuts:

Command key

A couple of quirks

This keyboard has a Spanish layout, and Spanish labels on the keys. Well, not all keys, though. These are in English:
English keys

Also in English are the three labels of the LEDs on the right side of the keyboard above the numeric keypad — Num Lock, Caps Lock, and Scroll Lock.

Another funny thing: pressing and holding down the Power key turns off the display (like pressing Crtl-Shift-Eject), and it’s actually very handy since I keep forgetting that sequence of keys.

Moving down the middle section of the keyboard, the Mac recognises those three keys (Impr Pant/Pet Sis, Bloq Despl, and Pausa/Inter) as F13, F14, and F15 respectively:

F13-F14-F15

Now, given that the only missing thing on the keyboard at this point are the media keys, and the media keys I use most often are Volume Up, Volume Down, and Mute, I thought about finding a way to map these functions to these F13, F14, F15 unused keys. After a brief search, I found out that these Services scripts written by Grant Skinner in 2011 for OS X 10.7 Lion still work under OS X 10.11 El Capitan. After assigning the ⌘-F13, ⌘-F14, and ⌘-F15 shortcuts to Volume Down, Volume Up, and Mute respectively (to mimic the position of the media keys in the Apple Pro Keyboard I was using before), I decided to give it a personal touch with an added label, to help me reach each function quickly:

Media keys

Later I found an even better tool for keyboard remapping and customisation: Karabiner. As you can read in the online manual, Karabiner is a really powerful and versatile tool, especially useful if you’re a fan of custom mechanical keyboards with programmable or very different key layouts. For now I’m happy with my simpler solution, but I have downloaded Karabiner just in case.

Conclusion

It’s not like using my good old Apple Extended Keyboard II, but I’m very satisfied with the outcome of my little vintage rescue. For only the price of the PS/2-USB adapter, I now have a decent, pleasant mechanical keyboard again. My typing speed and accuracy are finally back at the levels I reached with past Apple and PC keyboards, and my fingers don’t hurt anymore after long writing sessions. Another advantage of this keyboard is that it’s more compact than the AEKII while offering a similar feedback. Another vintage peripheral still serving a purpose!

BenQ keyboard on my desk

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.

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: 17-inch iMac G4

iMac G4 (front)

This year, Christmas came a bit earlier. Richard — the same generous soul responsible for this amazing donation — surprised me again with this marvellous Christmas gift that arrived on my doorstep on 21 December. It’s a first-generation (2002-2003) 17-inch iMac G4, with an 800 MHz PowerPC G4 7450 v2.1 processor, 768 MB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, tray-loading 2x SuperDrive capable of writing CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R and DVD-RW discs. It came with a fresh installation of Mac OS X 10.5.8, and even if technically Leopard isn’t supported on this machine (the minimum requirement being an 867 MHz G4 processor), the iMac handles it quite well. I’ve already started installing a minimum set of applications and, at least for now, I have no reason or interest to downgrade to Mac OS X Tiger.

iMac G4 (back)

As you can see in the photos, this iMac is in excellent condition, and thanks to Richard’s careful packaging it arrived safely to my house without unfortunate accidents during shipping. The display arm is tight and sustains the display in any position and at any angle I’ve tried it. The display is bright and flawless. The polycarbonate white is still uniformly white and, thankfully, there’s no trace of yellowing or other colour alteration I happened to see on other iMac G4 models in the past. It really looks like new.

(The blueberry Apple USB Keyboard and round USB mouse are, of course, a temporary solution. Only the main iMac unit was given to me. They were the original keyboard and mouse that came with my previous iMac G3.)

A tiny dream come true

Adding this iMac G4 to my collection means a lot to me. I’ve wanted this type of iMac since it was introduced back in early 2002. But with a starting price of €1,599 (for the 15-inch iMac G4/700 model), I just couldn’t afford it at the time. Or rather, I could have afforded it, but not after making a decision that felt right then, and foolishly sentimental in retrospect. In late 2001, my beloved iMac G3/350 blueberry broke down due to a nasty thunderstorm frying its motherboard and analogue board. I was finishing one of my first big assignments as technical translator, and that iMac G3, purchased in late 1999, had accumulated a lot of sentimental value to me. When it broke, I was really bummed and panicking because I had work to deliver on a close deadline, so my first gut reaction was to have it repaired at all costs. The technicians at the repairing centre where I took it, once they assessed the damage, told me that it would have been much more cost-effective to throw it away and buy another iMac G3 second-hand. I was too stubborn and too saddened by the loss of my iMac to listen to reason, so I ended up spending more than €1,000 to have it fixed.

When the first iMac G4 was introduced shortly after, in January 2002, I wanted to eat my hat. If I had known, I would have saved that money and used it to purchase the new iMac G4, instead of holding on to a machine that was getting old fast. And you know what happened just a few months later? The iMac G3 broke down again, thanks to another sudden, violent thunderstorm (and certainly to the poor electrical system of the old building I was living in at the time). Lesson truly learnt, I threw away the iMac G3 for good, but then I only had money for a second-hand iBook G3/466 SE FireWire. (I’m not complaining, that iBook is still working today, the only two things I’ve replaced are the battery and the DVD drive.)

But since then, two Macs always remained at the top of my wishlist: the Power Mac G4 Cube, and the iMac G4. I got my Cube itch scratched in 2006, and now, finally, unexpectedly, it’s the turn of the iMac G4. Both the Cube and the iMac G4 are, in my opinion, the coolest desktop Macs in relatively recent times — for the platinum era, I’d say the winner is the Macintosh Colour Classic, and the all-time winner remains of course the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh.

While the Cube has undoubtedly a few design quirks (the position of the ports is rather unfortunate and impractical), the iMac G4 is such a joy to use. Despite having an internal fan, it’s not much louder than the fanless Cube, and the display design is just amazing because it is such a perfect combination of wonderful æsthetics and sheer usefulness. You can have the display in front of you at just the right angle, you can easily move it to the side to show something to someone else, and when you’re sitting at the iMac, it’s like having the screen float before your eyes.

The iMac G4’s design was a staggering departure from the previous G3 model, but was also a true improvement inside and out. It was a lighter computer, with a smaller footprint, and thanks to that display design, it felt even lighter, airier. Only the short-lived 20-inch model was a little unbalanced and out of proportion — that 20-inch display was perhaps too big and heavy for the overall design of the iMac.

However, when the first iMac G5 was introduced in mid-2004, its design was a huge letdown for me. Sure, I appreciated the engineering feat of basically having a display with a whole computer inside, and having a faster G5 processor in a consumer-grade product was great, but at the time I felt that the design was a step back compared to the move from the iMac G3 to the iMac G4. Even today, when I look at the whole iMac line, the white G5 and later white Intel models are just ugly, thick desktop beasts, something rectified by the later aluminium models. And speaking of these later aluminium models, while they’ve got thinner, more beautiful and functional year after year, their design is fundamentally unchanged since 2007. They’re simply boring compared to the iMac G4, whose unique, iconic design has remained quite fresh and a reminder of that whimsical touch Apple seems to have forgotten.

Put to good use, as always

This new entry in my small collection, like other vintage Macs I own, is not going to just sit idly in my living-room as a museum exhibit. I haven’t yet decided a specific purpose for it, but its placement as the only desktop Mac outside of my studio makes it an excellent candidate for writing and collecting my thoughts in a less visually cluttered environment. It could also serve as a good media server, and it’s certainly a fantastic solution to listen to music — both my local iTunes library and streamed music via Spotify (the old PowerPC client still works and its interface is actually better than the current one).

Years ago I was given the Apple Pro Speakers you see in the photos above, by a friend who thought they were the Apple M7963 USB Speakers for the Power Mac G4 Cube. They look similar, but can’t be used with the Cube, so I kept them all this time just in case, in an unknown condition because I couldn’t attach them to any other Mac in my possession to test them. Well, it turns out they work fine and deliver a surprisingly rich sound and loudness for their size.

Having another Mac capable of writing DVDs doesn’t hurt, either. I still use optical discs as a backup solution for old files and archives. So I immediately installed the excellent Disco app to easily handle future disc burns.

As for other software, I added the usual set of essentials (for me): TenFourFox for browsing the Web, Sparrow for email, Transmit for FTP, The Unarchiver for unarchiving basically any compressed file, Hazel for a bit of automation in file handling, MenuMeters for keeping an eye on network speeds, TextWrangler and Notational Velocity for text editing and synchronised note-taking, the old Cloud.app version I’ve kept, which still works and syncs with the CloudApp service, and NetNewsWire 3.2.15 to check my feeds. Even if I don’t find a specific task for this iMac, it’s still a great general-purpose machine for doing a lot of light work — and a very cool-looking one at that.

Once again, my deepest, heartfelt thanks to Richard for his generosity.


And finally, thank you to all of you for reading and following this humble blog. My apologies for having updated it so intermittently over the course of 2015 — I’ll try to do better next year. Have a great 2016, everybody!

A modicum of synchronisation

I’m still irked by Dropbox dropping support of PowerPC Macs running Tiger and Leopard. I know I’m not a typical Mac user, and that expecting support for an architecture that — at least on the Mac — was left behind in 2006 is a bit too much, especially given the short memory technology has nowadays. Still, I use a bunch of PowerPC Macs as secondary machines, they’re still useful and capable enough. When I work on some of my projects away from home, I often leave the Intel Mac at home and bring with me one of my G4 PowerBooks. 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.

Dropbox wasn’t the only thing I used to keep stuff in sync, but it had the best interface for handling files. Now that I’m left without it, here’s a brief overview of the tools I still use — tools that still work on PPC machines — to retain a modicum of synchronisation between my PowerPC Macs and more modern Apple devices:

  • Notational Velocity — This is an amazing tool for keeping notes in sync. The app is a Universal Binary that works great on a system as old as Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and as new as Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan. The syncing service is through Simplenote, so all my notes and bits of text are also available and in sync on iOS devices thanks to the Simplenote app.
  • CloudApp — It’s a great software/service for quickly sharing screenshots and all kinds of different files (images, videos, code snippets, documents, etc.), and I also use it as a sort of ‘Dropbox Lite’ whenever I need to pass one or more files from my MacBook Pro to my G4 PowerBooks and vice versa. I was an early adopter, and version 1.x of CloudApp was available for PowerPC Macs running at least Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. Surprisingly, it still works. Up until a few months ago, if you went to CloudApp’s Download page, you could still download older versions (unsupported, of course). Not anymore. But the WayBack Machine is your friend. And if that archived link should stop working as well, I have saved version 1.0.3 for PowerPC Macs here.
  • Firefox Sync — I only recently had the proverbial ‘eureka moment’, when I realised that by creating a Firefox account, not only could I keep browser tabs, bookmarks, passwords, history, add-ons and preferences synchronised between my MacBook Pro and my iOS devices, but I could also include my PowerPC Macs because TenFourFox supports Firefox Sync — at least for now. It’s great and very handy.
  • FTP — Always an option, of course. I resort to FTP when dealing with big files. I upload them on my server and use Transmit to handle my stuff. You can download older versions of Transmit from Panic’s archives at this page (the last version supporting PowerPC Macs should be 4.2 — You’ll still need to purchase a licence to use the app, naturally).

This is an important subject: having some form of synchronisation available to create a bridge between vintage Macs and modern devices is essential in order to keep older Macs useful. If you have other ideas, use other methods, or know about other applications/services which still support PowerPC Macs, feel free to chime in. Recently, I became interested in BitTorrent Sync, but it doesn’t explicitly support PowerPC Macs. However, by looking at the supported platforms, I was thinking that maybe there was a way to make the FreeBSD versions work… I’m not fluent enough in UNIX, though; if you are, your suggestions are welcome!

Accessing Gmail from an older version of OS X Mail

I have lost more than thirty minutes trying to solve a small but annoying problem. The solution is rather simple, but it may not be apparent at first. I hope this post can help others who have stumbled upon the same issue.

I have a low-traffic Gmail account I usually check on my Power Mac G4 Cube using Mail.app in Mac OS X 10.4.11. Since it’s low-traffic, I don’t check it very often. But today I felt that a check was long overdue, so I opened Mail, clicked the Get Mail button, and I was presented with the annoying dialog box I sometimes see when there’s a network problem, the password confirmation dialog box. It appears that the pop.gmail.com server rejected my account password, so I was prompted to insert it again. I did, repeatedly, but to no avail.

So I logged in via the Web interface — without any problem — and found a message from Google that told me Google prevented the sign-in because it is from “an app that doesn’t meet modern security standards.”

At first I thought Google had updated/changed the server ports for incoming/outgoing mail, and after tweaking a few settings (I had the outgoing server port still set to ’25’ instead of ‘465’), I tried again to download my email messages. No joy. I then tried to look for an answer in the Gmail support pages, but my frustration and annoyance prevented me from finding what I was looking for more promptly.

I was about to give up, when I noticed an error message in Mail from the Gmail server that thankfully contained the link I was searching, and access to Gmail from Mail.app under Mac OS X Tiger was restored. The essential page is this one: Allowing less secure apps to access your account. You have to make sure you reach this page after you have signed in the problematic account via the Web interface.

Look down the page until you find this bit:

Gmail less secure

Click on the “Less secure apps” section of MyAccount link and you’ll be taken to the Less secure apps page. Click the Turn on radio button to allow access for less secure apps. Now go back to Mail, check for new mail, and the messages should start downloading.

Again, I hope this helps. And I hope it’s clear that in so doing, you’re choosing to weaken the security of your Gmail account(s) in exchange for the convenience of accessing the account(s) from a vintage Mac with older software. In my case, it’s not an important or primary email account, I have been downloading mail on the Cube from that account for the past six years, and I wanted to continue to do so.

Not that everything was great with Palm devices, either

Netwon and WorkPad

Commenting on the final part of this article by Landon Dyer, where Dyer talks about the reasons the Newton failed compared to the Palm Pilot, Thomas Brand writes:

One of the miracles of the Palm Pilot was the reliability and ease of use of the out-of-box HotSync. The Newton came with a lot of features advertised on its box, faxing, beaming, emailing, and placing phone calls, but often those tasks were obstructed by the purchase of additional hardware and the required complication of the day.

I won’t discuss the reasons Dyer enumerates; he was a Newton developer, so his insights have certainly more value than mine. I’m just a Newton enthusiast who discovered the Newton ‘posthumously’ in 2001 and I’m still using it daily. I’m not finding particularly difficult doing stuff with my MessagePad 2100, my Original MessagePad and my eMate 300, but that’s probably because I’m using a few tools developed after the Newton was discontinued.

What I wanted to say is that — from the admittedly limited experience I’ve had with a Palm Pilot device of the same vintage — I just don’t understand how Palm users back then could put up with one drawback that strikes me (Newton user) as huge: non-persistent memory.

A few years ago I was kindly donated an IBM WorkPad 30X (which is a rebadged Palm IIIx). As you can see above and in this Flickr album I created back then, its size compared to a Newton MessagePad 2000 makes it a clear winner in portability. When I received this gift, being unfamiliar with Palm PDAs, I did some research and started looking for apps and software to make the most of the little guy. Along with the WorkPad I was also given a cradle to connect/sync with a Windows PC, so I installed HotSync and the Palm Desktop software on an old Toshiba Satellite I use when I need to connect legacy devices. I put some fresh AAA batteries in the WorkPad and started fiddling around with it for a while. I admit I liked (and still like) the WorkPad’s form factor and its well-balanced stylus.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been a regular Newton user since 2001 and I’m accustomed to how the Newton handles handwriting recognition, but learning Palm’s Graffiti system was hard. It felt awfully slow and frustrating while writing, and I never got better or faster at it. A few weeks without using the WorkPad were enough to have to re-learn Graffiti, or at least to re-acquire the speed I had gained before with some training.

But imagine my surprise when one afternoon, while I was out, the batteries in the WorkPad died, and after purchasing new ones on the fly, I found out that all the new applications I had installed and all the notes I had entered were gone. I naïvely thought that the WorkPad would behave like my Newtons and store such information safely in the event of battery failure. Now, not all was lost. I soon discovered that it was enough to connect the WorkPad to the computer and launch a HotSync session. The software correctly restored everything as it was — at the time of the last sync, of course. So not exactly everything.

This however means that if you brought the WorkPad / Palm IIIx with you on a trip (or other Palm devices characterised by the same non-persistent memory feature), you should either make sure you put powerful, long-lasting batteries in it, or bring the computer along to constantly keep things in sync. This strikes me as a bit impractical, and when that first incident happened, I was surprised at how the WorkPad and similar Palm devices were/are so dependent on a frequent, constant connection with the computer. Thankfully the Palm Desktop software is indeed very good and reliable (even the Windows version I’m using). Newtons may have less efficient sync procedures, or it may be more cumbersome to extract information from a Newton device, but I find Newtons to be more reliable and more self-sufficient PDAs. I can see the appeal a smaller, cheaper device may have had back then, but — though I’m certainly biased here — I’m not sure I understand how Palm users put up with devices so prone to potential data loss (unless duly babysat), and so dependent on syncing software and a computer. I guess Palm had a different approach to what ‘personal digital assistant’ meant, and its devices were to be considered just handy portable instruments to store information in a more transient way. Newtons have always felt more like ‘portable computers’ to me.