Finally: bringing Internet to my Colour Classic

Among the various goodies Richard donated me there was an Apple-branded Comm Slot Ethernet card (Part № 820-0607-A), which I hoped I could attach to my Colour Classic to bring Ethernet connectivity — and therefore Internet — to my favourite compact Mac. Now, the original Colour Classic motherboard doesn’t have a Comm Slot interface, its only expansion comes in the form of a PDS slot. Luckily, years ago I also acquired the motherboard from a Macintosh LC 580, which fits perfectly in a Colour Classic and makes for a nice overall upgrade (it has a Motorola 68LC040 at 33MHz CPU versus the original 68030 at 16MHz of the Colour Classic, and the RAM can be expanded to a maximum of 52 MB instead of the meagre 10 MB of the original motherboard). The LC 580’s motherboard also sports a Comm Slot interface, and the aforementioned Ethernet card can be installed without problems [Update: It’s actually a Macintosh LC 575 motherboard; see my clarification]:

Comm Slot Ethernet card installed

The first snag I encountered was right when I attempted to insert the motherboard with the attached Ethernet card back inside the Colour Classic. The top edge of the card, in fact, collided with a piece of plastic inside the Mac’s chassis that helps to keep the cables of the hard drive power connector in place. I took measurements and, not without difficulty, managed to cut away exactly where the plastic was blocking the card’s passage. Once firmly inserted the motherboard, I turned the Colour Classic on. The Mac booted normally, but there was no video. Suspicions fell immediately on the new card. Since the system had no way of recognising it, I thought, perhaps it defaulted to thinking that a video card was inserted in the Comm Slot, so it shut down internal video and expected an external connection. I had to make the system recognise the card.

Fortunately I had my copy of Apple’s Network Software Installer 1.5.1 on a floppy disk, which updates AppleTalk to version 58.1.5 and installs the most updated versions of a series of network extensions and drivers. I turned the Mac off, removed the card, turned the Mac on again, inserted the floppy and launched the Installer. After a few moments, AppleTalk was updated, the Apple Ethernet CS driver and related extensions installed (the following screenshot comes from a previous attempt, before I updated to AppleTalk 58.1.5):

Network install

To see if everything worked, once again I had to turn the Colour Classic off, remove the motherboard, install the Ethernet card, reinsert the motherboard and turn the Mac on. This time there was video, and the Mac booted normally.

Another good sign was when I connected an Ethernet cable from my router to the Colour Classic: the LED above the port turned on (that didn’t happen when I first attempted an EtherTalk connection between the Colour Classic and the PowerBook 1400). At this point it was merely a matter of configuring MacTCP:

MacTCP setup

The easiest way to set things up in MacTCP is to do a manual configuration. I did things right thanks mostly to two useful resources: Vintage Mac World’s Old Macintosh System Software and TCP/IP page, and the fantastic Classic Mac Networking page (scroll down until you find the MacTCP section). On this page in particular was a really useful clarification:

It is a common mistake to associate the “Server” mode of MacTCP with “DHCP Server”: this is not the case. Server mode is used with hardware MacIP routers like the GatorBox which assign the client a specified IP address from a pool of IP addresses, or with PPP which does a somewhat similar affair.

So I simply selected Obtain Address Manually, specified a Class C Address in the IP Address area, and entered my provider’s DNS addresses in the Domain Name Server Information area.

At this point, the only thing that was missing to check if the connection worked was a browser. On another floppy I had a copy of one of the earliest Mac browsers, Samba (MacWWW). I installed it and launched it. It threw some errors because it attempted to load pages at the old CERN website that are no longer at the original addresses, but once I entered a valid URL (I figured the afore-linked page at Vintage Mac World was simple enough to be loaded correctly), the webpage loaded almost instantly. I had to share my triumph:

But MacWWW 1.03 is indeed a very old browser, and today’s Web, unless you really know where to look, is too complex for this browser to load pages properly without throwing a bunch of errors. The day after I found a slightly newer browser in MacWeb 2.0. After installing it, and pointing it to the same Vintage Mac World’s webpage, the result was definitely prettier:

MacWeb 2.0

This browser, like MacWWW, can’t handle secure connections and the like, but at least is capable of loading embedded images in HTML pages correctly. The overall responsiveness is remarkable, considering the age of the hardware and the software involved.

I’m so happy that I’ve finally managed to bring the Colour Classic online. Not that I’m planning to browsing the Web much on this machine, but now that I know that it can access the Internet, I’m ready to move on to the next step, which involves configuring an email client and an email account, and even an FTP client (I’m thinking an old version of Fetch), so that I can exchange files with the Colour Classic via my own server if need be.

A curious form of Mac evangelism

The “featured letter” of MacFormat’s Issue 63 [May 1998] is rather funny. It’s titled What in the (PC) world…?, and the reader indeed shows an ingenious, albeit complicated, form of promoting Macs:

I am always dismayed when I go to our local PC World computer superstore by the lack of things Apple, and the fact that the only two Macs on display are always tucked away in a corner and ignored. So this is what I’ve taken to doing…

First, I take time to go through all the Control Panels to set things up correctly on each Mac, including turning the speaker volume up to full. Then I find the SimpleText application and open it. I type something like: Apple Macs are the world's best computers; ask for them by name. Apple Macs -- designed by geniuses, marketed by morons! I then select all, copy it, paste it five times; and select all again, copy, paste five times; and go back and repeat it again and again. In just a matter of seconds I have over 250 copies of the phrases. Next I make the window quite small and invoke the “WindowShade” feature to roll the window up into a tiny title bar. I can then position it right down by the Trash can, sticking off the edge of the Desktop. This is repeated on the other Mac, too.

All that’s left to do is select all the text and, after a quick tour of the store, come back and press Command-J (“Speak Selection”) and walk away. Just a glance over the shoulder before leaving the store and you’ll see salespeople wondering what’s going on!

Another way you can annoy them is…

Peter Bell
United Kingdom

The letter is interrupted, probably edited by the MacFormat editorial staff. Their answer, in fact, is: We’d just like to say that all the opinions expressed on this page are those of the writers, not necessarily those of MacFormat or Future Publishing Ltd, and we cannot possibly condone hooliganism or endorse the commission of pranks. Just thought we’d make that clear.

But where is their sense of humour?! Heh, probably in choosing this letter as the “featured letter”, thus granting the guy a prize. For this issue it’s a Pace 56K Voice modem and a year’s Internet access account with leading service provider Direct Connection. (Apparently a worthy prize, by the way: This great prize is worth over £300 and comes courtesy of Direct Connection.)

Probably the letter was picked at random — I can’t help but pointing out the irony of not “condoning hooliganism or endorsing the commission of pranks” yet granting the reader a £300 prize…

A tour of Mac OS X 10.0.3

Yes I know, Mac OS X in this blog should be out of place and off topic. But after growing so accustomed to the last incarnation of OS X, when I installed 10.0.3 on an external disk connected to my clamshell iBook SE 466 MHz (FireWire), I couldn’t help feeling ‘the vintage vibe’. Six years and four versions separate Mac OS X 10.5 from Mac OS X 10.0, and when the installation of Mac OS X 10.0.3 was over and I was looking at the desktop, I admit I didn’t remember all that aqua blue, those drop shadows behind the system font, those striped bars and gummy, pulsating buttons. I do think Mac OS X looks much more elegant now, but I can’t deny there was something playful and provocative in the look and feel of the first versions, from the Developer Previews to Mac OS X 10.1 (Puma).

My first contact with Mac OS X was with this latter version, but I had seen screenshots of what was before, and I really wanted to put my hands on some previous version. So when I saw that someone on the LEM Swap list was selling the original installation disk of Mac OS X 10.0.3, I had to have it.

So here’s a tour of Mac OS X 10.0.3, with my observations regarding what was there and what has changed over time.

First of all, reading the “READ BEFORE YOU INSTALL” PDF document, I was a bit worried I couldn’t even install Mac OS X on the partition of the external FireWire drive I had prepared for the occasion, since it was written that installation on external USB or FireWire volumes was not supported. I decided to try anyway and there was no problem — the Installer recognised both partitions of my external drive.

The installation was quick, took less than 20 minutes; quicker than more recent versions of Mac OS X, which is obvious, since there was actually less software to install. And here’s what I saw when I restarted in Mac OS X 10.0.3:

Mac OS X 10.0.3 Desktop

Ah, that deep blue Apple menu icon. Wasn’t it lovely? Other notable details: the keyboard layout menu was attached to the application menus, and it was not a menu extra on the right corner of the menu bar. The “Computer” icon in the Finder window toolbar was an iMac G3 (it would become an iMac G4 and then a more faithful representation of the actual Mac model in use). Then it’s interesting to see some elements in the Dock that would disappear as soon as version 10.1. They were called docklings and you can see three of them: the Displays dockling (between System Preferences and QuickTime Player), the Battery Monitor and the AirPort Signal Strength.

Apple quickly abandoned the use of docklings, but at this time it seems pretty evident that the Dock was designed to be a versatile center of operations, acting as a Launcher, a navigational tool (by putting folder aliases on the right side of it), an application switcher (taking the function of the Application menu in the Mac OS ‘classic’ Finder) but also as an evolution of the Control Strip.

By the way, the ‘dockling’ concept wasn’t that bad. With hindsight, using the Dock for status icons could have been a better idea, since the Dock is more expandable and eventually has more room for icons rather than the menu bar. The menu bar in my PowerBook G4 is quite crowded, and when an application has a lot of menus, they end up covering some of the menu extras in the upper right corner. Conversely, no matter how many icons you add to the Dock, it stretches to accommodate all of them and they’re all always visible.

I sure love that Battery monitor, by the way. Much nicer than the black & white & gray little menu extra that came afterwards…

But I digress, so on with the tour! Here’s the mandatory About this Mac screenshot:

About this Mac

No processor speed, just the processor type, and no direct links to System Profiler or Software Update, like now with Leopard.

Let’s see… That’s Internet Explorer. Can’t wait to get rid of it, but first let’s have a look at its interface:

Internet Explorer 5.1 Preview Release

Wow, Version 5.1 Preview Release! And yes, I opened the Clock application and there it is in the Dock. I miss the analogue clock a bit.

And now, System Preferences:

System Preferences and Signal Strength dockling

Sorry, I left the System Preferences application behind and grabbed a screenshot with the Signal Strength dockling in the foreground. (And did I mention I love that Battery monitor thing?). Things to note: the app name was shortened — “System Prefs” — and the various panes weren’t grouped in different categories. I haven’t dug much, but apparently there isn’t a direct way to change the desktop picture. There is a Screen Saver pane, but it’s only for the Screen Saver, and I found nothing under Displays either. Let’s click on the Internet pane…


…and here you are, iTools! For those who have been living under a rock these past seven years, iTools is the father of the .Mac (dotmac) service (so it’s MobileMe’s grandfather, then, heh). And it was free, also. I wonder what’s going to happen if I click on “Free Sign Up”. Oh wait, I can’t connect to the Internet. If you go back at the previous screenshot, you’ll notice that the AirPort dockling sees a lot of wireless networks of the neighbourhood. Mine is “AirBook Express”, but it’s a WPA Personal-encrypted wireless network and Mac OS X 10.0.3 still didn’t have the capability of connecting to such kind of networks (when I enter the network password, it says “Password incorrect”).

Let’s have a look at Mail now:

Mail 1.0

Mail 1.0 in all its glossy, striped glory.

It’s Sherlock’s turn now:


You know what? I miss Sherlock. Call me crazy, but the search method in the pre-Spotlight era was not that bad. If you consider how messed up the “Show All” Spotlight window has become under Leopard, Sherlock’s search window and search results pane was a breeze. Spotlight may be faster, but often the time you save with a Spotlight search is wasted afterwards when you try to decipher the search results. I have the feeling that Sherlock (and Finder) searches were slower but more efficient, results-wise, if you know what I mean.

Last but not least, QuickTime Player. Its Dock icon in Mac OS X 10.0.3 was ugly for sure. Let’s launch it.

QuickTime Player 5.0

QuickTime Player 5.0, ladies and gentlemen, with its peculiar mix of Aqua elements (stripes, glossy buttons) and brushed-metal inserts. Its look has definitely got better over the years.

As you can see, there was no iTunes at that time (iTunes 1.0 came a little later, with Mac OS X 10.1), and no iChat (iChat 1.0 would appear with Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar). The Applications folder wasn’t very populated. I haven’t got a screenshot for that, but the list of applications with Mac OS X 10.0.3 was as follows: Address Book, Calculator, Chess, Clock, Image Capture, Internet Connect, Internet Explorer, Mail, Preview, QuickTime Player, Sherlock, Stickies, System Preferences and TextEdit, plus the Apple Script, Dock Extras and Utilities folders. In the Dock Extras folder were the aforementioned Battery Monitor, Displays and Signal Strength docklings:

Dock Extras

If you notice, docklings have a “.dock” extension. It’s clear that the intent was to follow the Control Strip Modules model of Mac OS 9 and earlier versions. But then Dock Extras became Menu Extras, and the menu bar started getting crowded.

If you want to have an idea of how other applications looked in all this Aqua blueness, here’s a screenshot of Acrobat Reader 5.0:


But when I tried to open something newer (MacStumbler), this is what I got:

Unexpected quit

Wow, look at that exclamation mark! Dialog boxes are worse than I remember.

Two interesting things I noticed while finding my way around this old version of Mac OS X: firstly, performance. Mac OS X 10.0.3 was not yet a mature system, but felt quite fast and snappy with my 466 MHz G3 iBook. Snappier than Tiger (10.4.11), which is what I use daily. Another strange thing was the speaker volume, much louder than it is under Tiger. Don’t know why, but I’ll investigate soon.

That’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed this brief tour. Now back to System 7!

Adventures in Vintage (part 2)

The first part of the task to restructure my home network — where I put a PowerMac 9500 in place of a Quadra 950 to create a bridge between modern Macs and vintage machines — told the vicissitudes resulted from an unfortunate setback (two internal SCSI hard drives both dead on the same day). Reinstalling Mac OS 9.1 on the surviving internal hard drive of the PowerMac, as my exhausting story showed, has been far less trivial than expected, and when I finally succeeded, the first part of the story (and post) closed with a last catch:

I disconnect everything and restart the PowerMac 9500. The system loads correctly, but the Mac is suspiciously slow. Twelve minutes from the happy Mac icon to the fully loaded desktop are indeed too much. […] Starting with extensions off everything works fine and the PowerMac is quite reactive, I’d say even more than before. The problem is obviously one or more extensions, or even a conflict amongst them. Perhaps by not installing Mac OS 9.1 directly on the PowerMac and instead using a Titanium PowerBook, some components might have been added that trigger a rejection in the PowerMac. Now starts the Hunt For The Evil Extension, in pure pre-Mac OS X style, and if the topic has entertained you so far and was fun to read, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Now, I don’t know whether the topic was entertaining and fun to read or not, but since I always like to get to the bottom of things, here’s the sequel of my adventure in vintage.

Before practicing the infamous “take away extension 1 / restart your Mac / put extension 1 back, take away extension 2 / restart your Mac / etc.” dance (long-time Mac users surely remember it as one of the most tedious and quite un-Mac-like experiences ever), I wanted to try to better understand that strange slowness of the PowerMac 9500 at startup. After a more careful analysis, the phenomenon was as follows: the whole boot process was taking place as if it were in slow-motion, with the extensions loading one at a time with a considerable pause between one and another. When the desktop was finally loaded, the entire graphical interface reacted to mouse clicks and keyboard input with great delay, in such a way as to make the Mac look frozen. (A similar scenario in Mac OS X would occur if, for whatever reason, a process could manage to suck 100% of CPU resources and to choke the CPU to the point of severely affecting the speed of the mouse pointer). In short, the Mac seemed so busy to handle something behind the scenes, that was not responding to external stimuli. I couldn’t hear any crunching or grinding activity from the hard drive (and this 500 MB unit is otherwise obscenely noisy), so I thought it could be some memory-related issue. After a few minutes in this state, however, the Mac ‘regained consciousness’ to be its old snappy self as it had always been, and everything was working smoothly. No errors, no unexpected nasty messages.

Perplexed, there wasn’t much to do but start the aforementioned ‘extension dance’, opening the Extension Manager control panel and starting to turn off unnecessary components (like FireWire Support, the numerous ATI extensions, the OpenGL related components, and so on). After every restart the situation did not change: Mac in slow-motion until the desktop was fully loaded, then a handful of minutes spent in a state of semi-dizziness, and then again back to being ‘snappy Mac’. When even selecting the “Mac OS 9.1 base” extensions preset (which is proposed as a default set to use in case of conflicts with third-party extensions) the PowerMac continued to behave in this strange way after a restart, my patience was gone. (Consider a quarter of an hour for each reboot, multiply it by at least a dozen reboots and you start getting the picture of how much time you can lose with this kind of troubleshooting). It was crucial to install Mac OS 9.1 directly on the PowerMac, without workarounds and shortcuts.

So I connected the glorious SyQuest 5200C SCSI unit to the PowerMac and inserted a 200 MB cartridge with a clean installation of Mac OS 7.6; I restarted the Mac from this drive and deleted the Mac OS 9.1 System Folder on the internal volume. The idea was to try to put the Mac OS 9.1 CD-ROM back in the PowerMac’s optical drive and retry the installation. However — blame it on my fatigue — I forgot that the CD-ROM wouldn’t be recognised by the older drivers of Mac OS 8 and earlier versions. So I found myself back to square one once again, with a PowerMac only bootable from the SyQuest cartridge with Mac OS 7.6. I absolutely did not want to pull everything out, start disassembling the PowerMac 9500, removing the hard drive, etc., yet another time, therefore I thought about using again the PowerBook 5300 as a conduit between the Mac OS 9.1 CD-ROM (inserted in the Titanium PowerBook G4’s optical drive and shared from there) and some other external device where to install at least a minimum Mac OS 9.1 System Folder, in order to start the PowerMac from there later. Having the SyQuest at hand, I looked for a cartridge with enough free space, but in vain.

The situation was getting grotesque at best, but the idea of using another vintage device proved successful. In fact, I managed to install a minimum Mac OS 9.1 installation on a magneto-optical disk, resurrecting an old MaxOptix SCSI drive and a 652 MB double-sided disk (300+ MB per side). With Mac OS 9.1 installed on the magneto-optical disk, I connected the MaxOptix unit (it weighs as a Macintosh SE, by the way) to the PowerMac, restarted from there, inserted the Mac OS 9.1 CD-ROM in the PowerMac’s optical drive and finally performed a full installation of OS 9.1 on the internal hard drive. I then copied Vine Server for Mac OS 9 and placed it in the Startup Items folder, and at long last I managed to see the PowerMac 9500 from the 12-inch PowerBook G4 via Screen Sharing:

PowerMac 9500 controlled by the PowerBook G4

Since the screen resolution is set at 640×480 (it’s what the 14-inch CRT Macintosh Color Display can offer, apparently), the window is really small. I thought about some way to gain more screen estate, and I recalled an application I had tried years ago: SwitchRes. To my surprise, after a quick Web search I’ve discovered that the application is still supported, and there is a version for Mac OS X (SwitchResX) and for Mac OS 9 and earlier (SwitchRes 2). I downloaded SwitchRes 2.5.3, passed it over to the PowerMac and tried it. You have to be careful with this program, because you can easily try the wrong screen resolutions and find yourself with a black screen and the only thing you can do is a hard reboot. Fortunately, since I was controlling the PowerMac with the PowerBook G4 via VNC, I was still able to see the PowerMac’s desktop on the PowerBook even at higher resolutions (800×600 in the image below).

SwitchRes and a 800×600 screen

I registered SwitchRes 2 (I remembered well, it is a great program) and having now finished with the PowerMac 9500’s configuration, I went to see if the 4 GB external hard drive with Rhapsody Developer Release 2 was still as I left it almost a year ago. I connected it to the PowerMac but of course it wasn’t possible to restart directly in Rhapsody, since with the death of the first hard drive I had lost the Multibooter. This application/control panel can recognise Rhapsody-formatted volumes (Rhapsody doesn’t use the Mac HFS or HFS+ filesystems, but UFS, a UNIX filesystem) and you can select them as startup disks (provided, of course, there is a valid Rhapsody system installation on them). Therefore, I inserted the Rhapsody DR2 CD-ROM and copied Multibooter to the hard drive. I launched Multibooter, and the external drive with Rhapsody was immediately recognised:

Rhapsody DR2 Multibooter

The figure shows the volumes being recognised: 9500 (Mac OS) is the PowerMac internal hard drive; Rhapsody DR2 (Mac OS) and Rhapsody DR2 (Rhapsody) are the two partitions on the Rhapsody CD-ROM, so that it can be mounted by both Mac OS and Rhapsody; and finally Titan1T7 (Rhapsody) is the external 4 GB hard drive, only visible from Multibooter (it’s not mounted on the desktop — and can’t be, for the reasons above). Note how this application/control panel would become the Startup Disk preference pane in Mac OS X, with the same horizontal display of selectable boot volumes.

After selecting the external drive and restarting, I was back into Rhapsody, with the windows opened in the Workspace Manager right where I left them in late 2007. I’ll talk more about Rhapsody another time: I want to reacquaint myself with this operating system first. I guess the next adventure will be about bringing the PowerMac 9500 with Rhapsody to surf the Web by trying to reinstall OmniWeb (yes, OmniWeb has been around for a while now). If that won’t work, well, there’s always Lynx!

Adventures in Vintage (part 1)

These days I’ve been renovating my Mac home network. I wanted to make some improvements, but some incidents happened on the way, creating a ‘snowball effect’, and taking me back to the classic Mac OS troubleshooting era. I love old Macs and love to maintain them, putting them to good use whenever possible — I wouldn’t have opened this very blog otherwise. But one thing should be said: in a pre-OS X environment, the process of solving problems when everything goes wrong may soon become a bit of a nightmare, and the time needed to isolate the cause and find a solution or a workaround may be unacceptably long. This to refresh the memory of those few who are still pining for those good old Mac OS 9 times.

It all started in a simple, even trivial way. In my home network the link between the more recent Macs and the vintage Macs has always been a Quadra 950. Sometimes a PowerBook 5300, but only temporarily. I wanted a machine that is versatile and expandable, and the Quadra 950 seemed the ideal choice, since you can insert up to a maximum of five hard drives in it. With the addition of an Ethernet card, the Quadra is the ideal bridge between the modern PowerBooks and the serial-based LocalTalk network populated by the Colour Classic, the PowerBook Duo 280c and occasionally a Macintosh SE.

The Quadra 950 has done its job quite well so far, but having a PowerMac 9500 with more processor power (a 133 MHz PowerPC versus a 33 MHz Motorola 68040), more RAM (272 MB versus 28 MB), and also a CD-ROM drive and a USB card, I thought about putting the PowerMac 9500 to do the Quadra’s job. The reason why I have not done this before is that the Quadra had its own ‘office space’, with its beautiful 14-inch CRT Macintosh Color Display (which weighs several tons), the keyboard and everything. Having to make room and then remove the monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc.. I thought I could use the Quadra 950 in a headless setup, controlling it remotely from the PowerBook G4 with a VNC client. But for this the best candidate is the PowerMac 9500 hands-down: in addition to the aforementioned advantages, the 9500 can run Mac OS 9.1, and simply installing Vine Server for OS 9 (formerly OS9vnc) is enough to do the trick.

The migration was fast, the PowerMac configured within minutes, and everything worked at once. At boot, the PowerMac automatically turned AppleTalk on over the Ethernet port and activated Sharing. Vine Server was initiated too (just put it in System Folder > Startup Items). On the PowerBook G4 I launched Screen Sharing, manually entered the PowerMac 9500’s IP address, and in a few seconds, a window with the PowerMac desktop appeared.

Four hours later, the beginning of the end: the internal 8 GB SCSI drive with a complete Mac OS 9 system and some folders containing backup stuff stopped working, just like that, without even a farewell rattle. Any attempt to open files or folders gave me an error (element not found) and after a restart, the hard drive was no longer recognised. So I tried to reboot from the other internal 500 MB drive, but there wasn’t installed any valid System capable of running a PowerMac 9500 — only the minimum System 7.1 installation included in A/UX.

I turned off the PowerMac, disconnected everything, opened it, removed the dead drive, and while I was at it, I looked for another good one. Rummaging in my cartons filled with old hardware, I could find a 1.3 GB Quantum Fireball which in a previous life was the boot disk of a Quadra 700. I connected it and restarted the PowerMac 9500. The Mac restarted exactly from that volume, which (I had remembered well) still contained the Mac OS 8.1 installation of the old Quadra 700. At that point the idea was to insert the Mac OS 9.1 CD-ROM and update the existing Mac OS 8.1, but — surprise — the Mac did not see the CD. Why? Long story short, after some researching I discovered that in order to recognise that CD, the PowerMac needed the updated Apple CD-ROM extension… from Mac OS 9. It was not even possible to boot directly from the CD by holding down the C key during startup. And I was stuck in a vicious circle.

And there’s more. To further complicate things, after one of the many restarts, the recently found 1.3 GB hard drive died too (or at least was hanging in a loop and you could hear a repeated clicking noise, much similar to a car not revving up, so to speak). The Moral: No matter if you are experiencing a moment of unique shakespearian inspiration — never, ever call a pair of hard drives “Rosencrantz” and “Guildenstern.”

My work at this point gets complicated, because unfortunately the last survivor is also the less capacious disk, only 500 MB (and 180 free). The optical drive of the PowerMac does not see the Mac OS 9.1 CD-ROM, then one possibility is to extract the disk, insert it in an outer SCSI shell and connect it to the PowerBook 5300. This PowerBook, connected to the Titanium PowerBook G4 via Ethernet, can see and access all the volumes connected to the Titanium. So I inserted the Mac OS 9.1 CD-ROM in the TiBook, had the PowerBook 5300 mount it on its own desktop, and from there I launched the OS 9.1 Installer, specifying a base installation on the 500 MB hard drive of the PowerMac 9500, now temporarily become an external unit. At approximately 60% of the process, the installation failed because the Installer apparently couldn’t extract files from the Big System Morsels compressed archive. Also, the Ethernet connection with the TiBook fell suddenly.

I started thinking that perhaps the problem was the OS 9.1 CD itself. Plan B is soon put in place: restore the Ethernet connection between the TiBook and the PowerBook 5300, and brutally copy the System Folder on the Mac OS 9.1 CD, which is a bare-bones system setup to be able to boot the Mac from the CD. The plan is expected to proceed this way: reinsert the hard drive in the PowerMac 9500, restart the PowerMac using the minimum System Folder previously copied into it, and finally put the OS 9.1 CD in the 9500’s optical drive (which now should be recognised) and do a full installation of Mac OS 9.1.

The installation fails twice: the first time for an undefined error during copying; the second time because, near the very end of the process, there’s no more disk space left (now that we’re all spoiled by having gigabytes and gigabytes of storage, we have forgotten “Disk Full” errors). But now, thanks to the minimum OS 9.1 System Folder, the PowerMac’s Ethernet port is recognised in the AppleTalk control panel, so I can retry the installation by putting the OS 9.1 CD in the TiBook and mounting the CD on the PowerMac’s desktop. (In the previous Mac OS 8.1 installation, I had removed all Ethernet-related extensions, since the Quadra 700’s Ethernet connection was AAUI and not 10Base-T — that is why I had to remove the hard drive and link it to the TiBook via the PowerBook 5300).

I try the installation one more time and during the process the connection between the two Macs falls. The last resort before surrender is to do a full install of Mac OS 9.1 on an external FireWire drive connected to the TiBook, mount the disk on the PowerMac 9500’s desktop (the 9500 being connected to the Titanium via Ethernet), and copy that System Folder – now truly complete — from the FireWire disk to the one inside of the 9500. This time everything goes smoothly.

I disconnect everything and restart the PowerMac 9500. The system loads correctly, but the Mac is suspiciously slow. Twelve minutes from the happy Mac icon to the fully loaded desktop are indeed too much. (As an aside, I can’t help noticing how starting times with Mac OS 9 and earlier are always much faster than any version of Mac OS X. The old Quadra 950 with System 7.5.3 is ready in 40 seconds. The PowerMac 9500 before the disaster did a complete boot in just over a minute, with Mac OS 9.1). Starting with extensions off everything works fine and the PowerMac is quite reactive, I’d say even more than before. The problem is obviously one or more extensions, or even a conflict amongst them. Perhaps by not installing Mac OS 9.1 directly on the PowerMac and instead using a Titanium PowerBook, some components might have been added that trigger a rejection in the PowerMac. Now starts the Hunt For The Evil Extension, in pure pre-Mac OS X style, and if the topic has entertained you so far and was fun to read, I’ll let you know how it goes.

I know that the first reaction, after reading this adventure, is to think that I must have a lot of time in my hands, and that I must have nothing better to do. In reality I only spent a couple of mornings with this. I found myself with some free time and I just wanted to have some fun, most of all. The beauty of these undertakings is to never give up and see who succeeds. The beauty lies in succeeding and having a diversified and efficient home network, with the PowerMac 9500 mounting all the volumes of my vintage Macs, thus allowing me to access all my files from one location. But if you don’t consider the playful side of this and look at all I went through to make things work from a strictly productive point of view, then we can see how life with Mac OS X is much, much easier.

Almost a modern road warrior

First things first

In the past months, I slowly rediscovered the underlying potential of my PowerBook 5300, and I’ve been using it more and more regularly. To the point of upgrading it. I already did a ‘survival experiment’ a couple of years ago, to demonstrate that, in the unlikely event of a general failure of all my modern Mac hardware, I could still get work done using only the PowerBook 5300. But recently I wanted to go a bit further, purchasing two small upgrades for the PowerBook and tailoring the set of installed software to render it a modern portable machine, almost up-to-date with current technologies and solutions.

But first, to have an idea of what sort of capabilities this machine offers, let’s take a look at its hardware profile:

PowerBook 5300 series
General Info

Introduced: August 1995
Discontinued: October 1996
Processor: PowerPC 603e
Processor Speed: 100 MHz (5300/5300cs/5300c) or 117 MHz (5300ce)
Coprocessor: Built-in FPU
Cache: 16 KB data, 16 KB instruction L1
System Bus: 33.3 MHz
Hard Drive: 500 (5300/5300cs/5300c), 750 MB (5300cs/5300c), or 1.1 GB (5300ce)
Media: 1.44 MB floppy
Original Mac OS: System 7.5.2 (PowerBook 5300 Enabler)
Maximum Mac OS: Mac OS 9.1


Maximum RAM: 64 MB
Graphics Card: None
Graphics Memory: 512 KB or 1 MB
Built-in Display: 9.5″ DualScan gray scale passive matrix (5300), 10.4″ DualScan color passive matrix (5300cs), 10.4″ Active matrix color (5300c/5300ce) LCD
Resolutions: 640 x 480 (5300/5300cs/5300c) 800 x 600 (5300ce)
Display Connection: Mini-15


Expansion Slots: 2 – Type II or 1 – Type III PC Card
Expansion Bays: PB 5300 Bay (90-pin)
Hard Drive Bus: ATA
Ethernet: None
Infrared: 1 – 1 Mbps
Modem: None
ADB: 1
Serial: 1
USB: None
FireWire: None
Audio In: 1 – 3.5-mm analog input jack, 1 – Built-in microphone
Audio Out: 1 – 3.5-mm analog output jack, 1 – Built in speaker


Introduced in August 1995, the PowerBook 5300 was the first PowerPC PowerBook, and the first to include a sleep-swappable drive bay. Available in multiple screen configurations, and 2 RAM/HD configurations, many 5300s shipped DOA (This was the main cause of Apple’s reputation for faulty products in the mid 90s). An IR transceiver for wireless networking was also included. The 100 MHz 5300 8/500 sold for $2,300 U.S.. The 100 MHz 5300cs, with dual-scan color, sold for $2,900 U.S. for 8/500, and $3,700 U.S. for 16/750. The 5300c with active matrix color, sold for $3,900 U.S. for 100 MHz 8/500, and $4,700 U.S. for 100 MHz 16/750. The fully loaded 117 MHz 5300ce 32/1.1GB sold for $6,800 U.S.

[Created by Mactracker, copyright 2001 – 2008 Ian Page —

The hardware, revamped

My PowerBook 5300 has all the specifications of the 5300ce, the later and better model, although curiously enough System Profiler reports that its processor speed is not 117 MHz, but 100 MHz. Anyway, my model has 64 MB RAM, a 1.1 GB hard drive, and when I bought it second-hand in 2002, the previous owner kindly gave me two floppy drive modules, so that I have a spare in case of failure. At that time I was wise and immediately purchased an Ethernet PCMCIA card. Wise because the PowerBook 5300 is not compatible with modern 32-bit (Cardbus) PCMCIA cards; instead, it uses the older 16-bit ones (like the Newton), and are a bit harder to find today. As regards to the system installed, although this PowerBook supports up to Mac OS 9.1, I chose to stay with Mac OS 8.1. I think it’s the best compromise between features offered and resources (memory and processor cycles) consumption.

Old PowerBooks with PC Card slots are the best to keep updated, because PCMCIA cards offer a variety of options, including USB ports (but you have to be brave and the PowerBook must support Mac OS 9), Ethernet and wireless connectivity. With the Ethernet card, my PowerBook 5300 was immediately able to be part of my home office network, exchange files with more modern Macs, and access the Internet. With the LocalTalk Bridge control panel, I could extend the possibility of accessing the home office network to all the vintage Macs, with the PowerBook 5300 being the bridge — both physically and metaphorically — between two networks, LocalTalk and EtherTalk, merged together. This way my Colour Classic could communicate with the PowerBook G4 and the iBook G3 seamlessly. All the machines could ‘see’ one another easily.

As I mentioned at the beginning, recently I wanted to expand the capabilities of the PowerBook 5300. So, just for kicks, I bought a wireless card (Wavelan Silver card by Lucent Technologies) and tried to access my home office network wirelessly.

PowerBook 5300 with Wavelan 802.11b card installed
Detail of the PC Card slots of the PowerBook 5300. Above you can see the Lucent Wavelan Silver wireless card. Below (not visible, apart from the cable coming out) there's the Comet Ethernet 10/100 PC Card.

It was a bit tricky. The Wavelan Silver card only supports WEP encryption, so I had to ‘downgrade’ the WPA Personal protection of my home network first. Then, the software to manage the 802.11b card is nowhere near the intuitiveness of the AirPort interface under Mac OS X. But it worked, and I was able to surf the Web at an acceptable pace.

The second purchase was a (somewhat rare to find) VST Zip 100 drive module. The 5300 series, as mentioned in the profile above, were the first PowerBooks to include a swappable drive bay. This means that the floppy drive is removable and another device can take its place. The only alternative in the 5300 was indeed the VST Zip 100 drive. (The PowerBook 1400 and 3400 also had the option of a CD-ROM module; later PowerBook G3s had even more options, including DVD-ROM modules and even a second battery).

Detail of the VST Zip 100 Drive module inserted in the PowerBook 5300 expansion bay. The Iomega driver (ver. 6.0.7) correctly recognises the Zip drive and Zip disks.
Detail of the VST Zip 100 Drive module inserted in the PowerBook 5300 expansion bay. The Iomega driver (ver. 6.0.7) correctly recognises the Zip drive and Zip disks.

Since I already own a Iomega Zip 100 USB drive that I can use with my iBook G3 and my PowerBook G4s, file exchange has got even quicker. Plus, 100 MB Zip disks offer more storage for the PowerBook 5300 than 1.44 MB floppies. If you consider that the applications and the system itself at the time of Mac OS 8 and earlier were much less bloated than now, you’ll realise that 100 Megabytes of storage (ok, 94 MB in a formatted disk) are a lot.

Software for all purposes

So, what can be done with a thoughtfully customised PowerBook 5300, a machine which is now 13 years old and runs Mac OS 8.1? More than you think. Sometimes the necessary software for a specific purpose is a bit hard to find, but not that hard if one is determined. So, to sum up, here’s what I do with my PowerBook 5300:

  • Web browsing — the best options are iCab 2.99, Opera 5, Netscape Communicator 4.7 and, yes, Internet Explorer 5 (but I haven’t installed it).
  • Email — usually the recommended options here are Claris Emailer and some appropriately vintage version of Eudora, but I use Mailsmith 1.1.8 (I have to thank Rich Siegel of Bare Bones Software for sending me a copy of Mailsmith 1.1.8, which can’t be obtained anymore from the Bare Bones Website. He’s been a true gentleman and helped me with my little vintage experiment. Thank you, Rich!)
  • Reading RSS feeds — there are some interesting applications out there. I found Acuity 1.0b8 to be the most Mac-like. Some feeds are problematic, but most I follow are not.
  • Accessing my iDisk — here’s the great thing: under Mac OS X, I’ve always found iDisk access via the Finder to be painfully, annoyingly slow. So I’ve been using Goliath 1.0.1, a WebDAV client that can provide a much faster access. I didn’t realise until recently that the good guys at have been offering also a version for Mac OS 9 and earlier! And that’s what I use on my PowerBook 5300. And it’s (relatively) fast.
  • Connecting to VPNs — a rocky road, but doable with an application called NTS TunnelBuilder.
  • Controlling other machines through VNC — there are both VNC clients and VNC servers for vintage Macs. A good, simple and small VNC client running under Mac OS 8.1 is VNC Viewer. For instance, I can see the screen of my PowerBook G4 12-inch and control it with the PowerBook 5300. And with a VNC server like OS9vnc Server PPC (which, despite its name, can also be used under Mac OS 8), I can control the PowerBook 5300 from my PowerBook G4 with Mac OS X 10.5.4 using Screen Sharing (inserting the host address manually).
  • Reading CD-ROM images created with Toast — Toast 3.0.1 does the trick.
  • Word Processing & Text Editing — the options here and endless: from WriteNow to WordPerfect, from Nisus Writer to Word, and then of course the ever-present BBEdit (version 4.6).
  • Spreadsheet — Microsoft Excel. Undeniably good at what it does.
  • Reading PDF documents — under Mac OS 8.1 I think the perfect tool is Acrobat Reader 4.05.
  • Image editing — old versions of Photoshop are OK but probably overkill. I stick with Graphic Converter 4.
  • And more… — other applications installed include ClarisWorks 4, FileMaker 3, Norton Utilities 3.1 (the perfect version before this stuff became crappy), Aldus Pagemaker, and so on and so forth.

I manily work with text documents and the occasional HTML coding and image editing, so I generally don’t need ultra-powerful machines. With my PowerBook 5300 configured this way, it still can be used to reach the end of the work day productively. Yes, a 13-year-old machine, with 64 MB RAM and a 100 MHz processor. Yes, the infamous PowerBook many consider one of the worst Apple produced.

(The next upgrade will be a working battery, so that I really can use it wire-free!)


Since I use both modern Mac OS X equipped Macs, and classic 68k machines, one of the crucial things to be productive in both environments is to try to maintain consistency when using the keyboard. I already have to fight with different keyboard layouts and different key placements (in this regard, I practically type on at least four different keyboards), so, whenever possible, I’d like to find the same keyboard shortcuts. The Macintosh UI has been fairly reliable and coherent through the years. The shortcuts for common operations like Cut Copy and Paste remain unchanged, even the key combination for taking a screenshot (Command-Shift-3) has been the same from System 6 to the latest version of Mac OS X.

What I was missing is the very handy Command-Tab shortcut, to cycle through the current active applications and pass from one to the other. Using Mac OS X for many hours a day, it’s practically hard-coded in my fingers. On a classic Mac, you have to use the mouse and click on the application menu on the far right of the menubar. Thankfully, there’s a nifty control panel called LiteSwitch which brings this handy feature to vintage Macs. It works in exactly the same way as in Mac OS X, and it’s also customisable (you can select the preferred modifier-keys combination: Alt-Tab, Command-Tab or Ctrl-Tab. You can quit an application pressing Q or X while it’s highlighted, and you can even hide it by pressing W or H. And it works really well — it’s very responsive on my PowerBook 5300 with Mac OS 8.1. Definitely recommended.

Adding a keyboard layout to my PowerBook 100

The other afternoon, my PowerBook 100 resurrected from the dead, in a way that has even a creepy flavour, if you like. As I wrote in the 68k Macintosh Liberation Army forums:

After trying resetting the PMU countless times, disassembling the PowerBook 4 times, checking the checkable — and re-checking, I was pretty sure it was all a matter of battery. “The lead-acid battery has drained beyond repair and unless I find another one, this good old PowerBook won’t power up”, this I said to myself the other day. As a last resort (and because there’s always hope) I left the PowerBook 100 connected to the power adapter and with the battery inserted, hoping it could recharge a little.

Well, today I went out and returned home after a few hours, quite worried because there was a sudden, violent rainstorm and I was concerned for all the Macs left sleeping, the AirPort Express bases, etc. I rushed to my studio and heard a strange whirring sound… it was coming from the PowerBook internal speaker… I remembered that whirr very well… I opened the PowerBook, turned it on and bling!

Looking at my alarm clock on the nightstand, I noticed that the thunderstorm caused a temporary black-out while I was away. I don’t know but, could that power interruption / resumption have provided the “boost of life” to the PowerBook? In any case, it’s alive, and I’m amazed.

Since its internal hard drive had failed a few months ago, I’ve been trying to find another one. Not exactly easy, since this model of PowerBook needs a 2.5” SCSI hard drive with a smaller footprint than other ones. The one that came with my PowerBook is a 40-Megabyte Conner CP2045 manufactured in 1990, and I was lucky enough to find an identical one on eBay recently. What to do with a hard-drive-less PowerBook 100? Why, you use temporary alternatives: the external floppy drive, but most of all you create a RAM disk. The PowerBook 100 has a nice feature: a ‘persistent’ RAM disk. It means that when you turn the PowerBook off, you don’t lose the contents of the RAM disk (provided, of course, the 3 button lithium backup batteries on the back aren’t drained). So I devoted 3 of the 6 MB of RAM to a RAM disk and installed a minimal version of System 6.0.8 (the System Folder is only 750 KB — almost unbelievable), but I was missing the Italian keyboard layout: in the Keyboard control panel the only option was US.

I had downloaded some keyboard layouts from the Web time ago, but simply copying the Italian layout and pasting it inside the System Folder didn’t accomplish anything. A bit of research, and I found the right tip in the 68000 Mac FAQ:

Q: How to add keyboard layouts?
A: Info-mac has some localized keyboard layouts. With System 6, open the System file and the KCHR resource within it with ResEdit. Open the keyboard layout you want to add and the KCHR resource within it as another window. Copy and paste the KCHR layout to the System file’s KCHR resource list and save changes. Select the layout from the Keyboard Control Panel. With System 7 and up you can just drag ‘n drop the layout on top of the System Folder.

And it worked very well. It was so good to do some little ResEdit-ing again! I miss something like ResEdit in Mac OS X.

By the way, the Info-Mac mirror cited in the 68000 Mac FAQ is still working and is a real repository of delightful things, not only for Macs. Keyboard layouts can be found there, too.

On a final note, it’s worth mentioning that the notorious key combination for taking screenshots, Command-Shift-3, was already implemented under System 6. There was no ‘camera click’ sound, and the image files generated were in PICT format.