Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs (Part 3)

[Update – February 2018: Some of the links and information provided here are old. Check out Part 4 for updates.]

The launchers special

Here’s another brief addition to the list of useful apps that are still made available for PowerPC Macs by their developers. Since apparently application launchers are all the rage today, I thought it’d be nice to remind PowerPC users that they still have a few options out there.

    • Butler — From Butler’s website: Butler’s purpose is to ease all those routine tasks you do every day: controlling iTunes, opening programs and documents, switching users, searching for stuff on the web, and more. Butler can act as an application launcher, but can do a lot of other stuff. Among the many other tasks Butler can accomplish: open/move/copy files, access preference panes, manage bookmarks, enter text snippets, search the web, control iTunes, and so on. Make sure you check the extensive documentation provided on the website to learn how to make the most out of it. Here are the direct download links:


    • LaunchBar — LaunchBar is the oldest application of this kind, since it goes back all the way to NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP. Check this page for a summary of the many features (bear in mind that some of them may be missing from older versions). LaunchBar is available for any Mac OS X version. Visit the Legacy download page and pick the right one for your Mac.


    • Quicksilver — Another application launcher with a long history, and one I’ve tried to master many times. From the Quicksilver About page:

      An introduction to Quicksilver’s abilities include:

      • Accessing applications, documents, contacts, music and much, much more.
      • Browsing your Mac’s filesystem elegantly using keywords and ‘fuzzy’ matching.
      • Managing content through drag and drop, or grabbing selected content directly.
      • Interacting with installed applications through plugins.

From Quicksilver’s Download page you can download all present and pasts version of the app, going as far back as Mac OS X 10.3 Panther.

These are the first apps of this type to come to mind. I’ve always used Mac OS X’s Spotlight, so I may have forgotten other important applications (by the way, there’s no PowerPC version of Alfred — I checked). Feel free to chime in and provide suggestions. Thanks!

A final related mention: NotLight

Suppose you don’t particularly like the approach of these application launchers / file finders, and at the same time you’re not satisfied by what Spotlight offers with regard to search. There’s a little program I still love and use on my iBook G3/466 SE Graphite — NotLight, written by the excellent Matt Neuburg:

[NotLight is] a simple Spotlight front-end substitute. […] You can do any kind of Spotlight search; seven search keys are built in, and you can add more, and you can even view and edit a search as text if you like. You can use wildcards or not, specify word-based, case-insensitive, and diacritic-insensitive searches, and construct complex searches with AND, OR, and NOT. A Date Assistant translates dates into Spotlight’s query language for you. Results are a simple list of filename and paths. Download it here.

Here’s a review of NotLight by Dan Frakes on Macworld.




Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs (Part 2)

[Update – February 2018: Some of the links and information provided here are old. Check out Part 4 for updates.]

My previous article, Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs, published at the end of last year, got a lot of attention. I’m always looking for older PPC versions of great Mac applications graciously made available by their developers, so I thought I’d post a quick follow-up to the aforementioned article.

Here are a few more apps you can enjoy on your PowerPC Macs (running Mac OS X 10.4 and above):

  • Ulysses — Ulysses III is one of the best Mac applications for writers. If you own a PowerPC Mac, you can’t install the latest and greatest version, but The Soulmen have made available previous versions of the app on their site. Read carefully the descriptions near each package at the link provided. 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. I installed it on my 17-inch PowerBook G4 and works just fine.
  • CloudApp — CloudApp is a very nice app to quickly share screenshots and all kinds of files. It installs a menu extra in the menubar and then it’s just a matter of dragging and dropping. It’s now on version 2.0.2, but you still can download version 1.0.3 — the last to support PowerPC Macs — at the link provided. (Requires at least Mac OS X 10.5).
  • Transmit: The best FTP client for the Mac, period. You can download older versions of Transmit from Panic’s archives at this page. I think the last version supporting PowerPC Macs is 4.1.9 — I have it on my G4 PowerBooks running Mac OS X 10.5.8 and when I select Check for Updates from inside the app, Transmit says it’s “currently the newest version available.” Of course you’ll have to purchase a licence to use the app.
  • Other Panic apps — Panic has made available previous versions of all the apps they made over the years. Check out The Panic File Museum, where you can find other great apps like CandyBar, Stattoo and Unison.
  • NetNewsWire — One of the best RSS readers for the Mac. Now in version 4 Beta, you can still download version 3.2.15 — the last supporting PowerPC Macs running at least Mac OS X 10.5 — from the Version 3 page. It’s worth reminding that older versions of NetNewsWire now can only be used to check RSS feeds manually, as they don’t support RSS services like Feedly, FeedBin, etc., that came after Google discontinued their Reader service.

Apple will end support for AIM iChat logins on older versions of Mac OS X

The other day, this post by MacRumors caught my eye — Apple to End Support for AIM iChat Logins on Older Versions of OS X Starting June 30:

Apple has announced in a recent support note (via ZDNet) that it will end AIM iChat login support for users running versions of OS X below 10.7.2 Lion on June 30, 2014.

The change will affect those who use their and addresses as AIM IDs to log into iChat on older systems, as users running compatible versions of OS X Snow Leopard and OS X Lion can upgrade to OS X Mavericks for free.

Guess what? I’m exactly among the users affected by such change. It is not a major inconvenience, but it’s an inconvenience nonetheless. My preferred setup for chatting is my 17-inch PowerBook G4 with an external iSight camera attached, and I typically use my address as AIM ID to chat. This change feels arbitrary and a ‘planned obsolescence’ kind of move on Apple’s part, and it does affect quite a number of people. (Note that, at the end of the article, it’s mentioned that the share of systems running older versions of OS X affected by this latest change is 19%, which is not exactly a small number.) When you open iChat on an older version of Mac OS X, you get this message:


So you’re given some vague security concerns as an excuse (same goes for the linked Apple support note). I see it more as yet another move to get users to update to newer systems, and I’d like to point out that, while there are people who prefer older systems for the geekiest reasons, there are also people who still use high-end G4 and G5 Power Macs because they invested thousands of dollars (euros, pounds, etc.) on these machines — still very capable systems — and perhaps they simply can’t afford to upgrade just yet.

Again, it’s not a huge inconvenience, but I think that when it comes to chatting, users should be left with the widest possible range of options. Anyway, bear in mind that you still can use iChat with other account types:


After June 30, 2014, “MobileMe account” and “” account will no longer be viable options, but you’ll still be able to use regular AIM accounts, Jabber accounts and Google Talk accounts. I suppose that ‘security’ keeps being just fine with these accounts…

In defence of the PowerBook 5300

PowerBook 5300

Whenever I stumble on some article listing Apple’s ‘worst Macs’ — sometimes called Road Apples, sometimes called lemons — even before looking at the list I already know that there’s one particular Mac I’m going to find: the PowerBook 5300. I won’t say that this PowerBook was completely issue-free, but I believe that its ‘lemon’ fame is in part undeserved.

Somehow, there’s a common denominator between the PowerBook 5300 and the Newton. Both got a bad reputation for what essentially was a non-issue, and from there it was just throwing the baby out with the bathwater. With the Newton it was the handwriting recognition (yes, it was not extraordinary in version 1.x of NewtonOS, but got amazingly better in version 2.x). With the PowerBook 5300 it was mainly the famous issue with the exploding batteries. As Dan Knight of Low End Mac writes (emphasis mine):

Originally designed to use LithIon batteries, Apple recalled the 5300 after some of the new batteries burst into flames on the assembly line. Not only was this an embarrassment to Apple, but the PowerBook 5300 became the butt of many jokes even though none of the troublesome batteries ever made it to market.

The PowerBook 5300 got included (obviously) in this recent article by Stephen Hackett, Some of Apple’s Lemons, which is otherwise a very well-informed and spot-on piece.

I strongly suspect that, among the tech writers who have written such lists of ‘worst Macs ever built’, there isn’t a single one of them who has actually used a PowerBook 5300 for as long as I have. I acquired my 5300ce second-hand in late 2001. It has a 117MHz PowerPC processor, 64MB of RAM and a 1.1GB hard drive. The original owner got it new in 1995 and took good care of it, to the point that when he sold it to me, the PowerBook was in mint condition after being in use for five full years. (Only the piece of plastic covering the ports on the back was missing, but I wouldn’t consider it a big deal.) The battery still held a 40-minute charge.

I’ve been using this PowerBook for the past 12 years without issues. Amazingly, the battery still holds enough charge to allow the PowerBook to complete the boot process.

Apart from my specific PowerBook 5300 unit, I have a certain expertise with Macs of this vintage because during the 1990s I did a lot of freelance Mac tech support, so I handled quite a number of these laptops.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the issues summarised by Hackett and review them one by one:

Cracks in the plastic casing.

I’ve witnessed this issue on very few PowerBook 5300 models. Comparatively, I’ve seen cracks in the plastic casing occurring much more frequently on clamshell iBooks, particularly around the small Apple logo beneath the screen; a problem possibly caused by tight hinges.

My PowerBook 5300 has started showing a small crack in the casing a couple of months ago, therefore 18 years after being manufactured. I’m willing to cut it some slack at this point, eh?

Vertical lines present on the display due to pinched ribbon cables in the hinges.

I’ve never seen this issue in person. I was told about one case by a fellow Mac consultant years ago. I personally saw this happen a lot with PowerBook 180 and 190 models, though.

Cracking hinges.

A few cases, yes, and in all of them the owner admitted to not treating the PowerBook with much care. I’m not denying the issue, of course, but let’s just say that in my career as a Mac tech support freelancer, I’ve seen more cracked hinges on Titanium G4 PowerBooks than on PowerBook 5300 units. Strange that the Titanium PowerBook G4 never gets a mention among the ‘road apples’ for that, no?

Poor performance due to the lack of a L2 cache.

Here I can only speak subjectively. At the time it was introduced (1995), the PowerBook 5300 wasn’t certainly as fast as some of the desktop Power Macintoshes of the same era (especially the 8500 and 9500 series), but as far as laptops went, it wasn’t exactly sluggish either. Having the maximum RAM installed (64MB) and upgrading to System 7.5.3 or 7.5.5 helped a lot, too. Theoretically, the PowerBook 5300 supports system software versions up to Mac OS 9.1, but in my experience you’ll want to stop at Mac OS 7.6.1 or 8.1, and I suggest going Mac OS 8.1 only if you have maxed the RAM.

Having used my PowerBook 5300 rather frequently over the past 12 years, I can say that, while it may not be the fastest pre-G3 PowerBook, it has proven to be a capable and reliable machine. For example, at the moment I’m writing this very article in BBEdit Lite 3.5.1 on the PowerBook 5300 itself, and there are a few apps opened in background as well:

  • Internet Explorer 5.1.7, opened on my main website.
  • Acrobat Reader 4, which by the way opens in less than 2 seconds and with two PDF documents open it only takes up less than 10MB of memory.
  • iCab 2.99, opened on Low End Mac’s website.
  • Graphic Converter 4.01, with a PICT file I needed to crop and convert to JPEG.

There are still 39MB of contiguous RAM available, and switching from an app to another is rather seamless, considering I’m on a 19 year-old machine using Mac OS 8.1.

Fires due to a bad Sony lithium ion batteries that overheated while charging.

As I emphasised at the beginning by quoting that bit written by Dan Knight, that problem happened internally during production and therefore did not impact users directly.

In conclusion, I’ve written about my personal experience with a PowerBook 5300 over 12 years of use and recalling the direct experience I had with these laptops as a freelancer doing Mac tech support in the 1990s, when these machines were new. I’m sure there are other experienced Mac users and technicians out there who will have different stories to tell; but from my perspective, I really can’t count the PowerBook 5300 among Apple’s lemons.

30 years of the Mac: my personal celebration

On my main website, I’ve published a small contribution, a personal way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Mac:

In case you didn’t notice, the Mac turns 30 today. Apple has created a fantastic mini-site to celebrate this milestone. I wanted to celebrate in my own way, going down memory lane with a bunch of photos of the Macs in my collection, the majority of which still work today.

Continue reading: Celebrating 30 years of the Mac

Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs

[Update – February 2018: Some of the links and information provided here are old. Check out Part 4 for updates.]

2013 has been an incredibly busy year for me, and regrettably I didn’t spend much time using my oldest Macs and a Mac OS system version older than 8.1. This is the main reason I haven’t updated this blog as frequently as I wanted (but hopefully this is the kind of space one comes to visit for its archives, more than just looking for the latest piece).

Still, I have spent a generous amount of time with a few Macs of more recent vintages:

  • A 12-inch PowerBook G4 (1GHz, 1.25GB RAM, 80GB hard drive), running Mac OS X 10.5.8, which was my main machine from 2004 to 2009.
  • A 17-inch PowerBook G4 (1.33GHz, 1.5GB RAM, 80GB hard drive), running Mac OS X 10.5.8, which was donated to me in 2012 and has quickly turned out to be a very dependable workhorse and possibly the G4 laptop I’ve used the most throughout 2013.
  • A Titanium PowerBook G4 (500MHz, 1GB RAM, 30GB hard drive), running Mac OS X 10.4.11, which I carried around a lot since I acquired a second battery that still lasts 2 hours and a half with moderate use.
  • The trusty Power Mac G4 Cube (450MHz, 1.5GB RAM, 60GB hard drive) running Mac OS X 10.4.11 that’s an integral part of my main setup — and it has been since 2008.
  • A clamshell iBook G3 FireWire (466MHz, 576MB RAM, 10GB hard drive) running Mac OS X 10.4.11, and another blueberry clamshell iBook G3 (300MHz, 288MB RAM, 3.2GB hard drive) which has now become a Mac OS 9.2.2-only machine.
  • A PowerBook G3 ‘Lombard’ (400MHz, 256MB RAM, 6GB hard drive) running Mac OS X 10.3.9 but experimentally updated to 10.4.11 by creating a modified OS X Install DVD. This is probably the nicest PowerBook for long writing sessions. I love the keyboard and the comfortable palm rest area, not to mention its bright 14″ screen.

All these Macs, save for the Titanium PowerBook, sport minimalist installations and all non-necessary software has been removed. Of all the apps installed, some are PowerPC-only or Universal Binary versions that are no longer available for download but that I managed to find in my backups and archives. Then there’s a selection of apps which are still quite useful and whose developers have been kind enough to keep around on their websites even if they have stopped developing them for the PowerPC platform. Here’s a brief overview.

  • AppZapper — Great utility to remove applications and all related files. As you can read in the Support page, you can still download version 1.8 for Mac OS X Tiger and Leopard. (It’s not free, though, you still need to purchase a licence.)
  • Acorn — A very nice, simple yet powerful image editor. As mentioned at the top of the FAQ page, you can still download version 1.5.5 for Mac OS X Tiger and later. (Again, not free, you’ll have to purchase a licence. But if you own later versions of Acorn, you don’t have to. Read the FAQ for more information.)
  • Bean — A great word processor (alas, no longer being developed). At the time of writing, you can still download version 3.1.1 for PowerPC Macs running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, and version 2.4.5 for PowerPC Macs running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. (Bean is free.)
  • Audion — Still a fantastic option to play MP3s in a lighter package than iTunes. From the download page you can still download Audion for Mac OS X (requires at least Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar) and even a version for Mac OS 8.6/9, plus a few nice extras. Audion is free. Panic’s folks are the best.
  • Dropbox — Incredibly, the latest version of Dropbox still supports PowerPC Macs running at least Mac OS X 10.4.11.
  • Linotype FontExplorer X — The free, non-Pro 1.2.3 version is no longer available from the Linotype website, but you can still find it on the Web. A quick search turned up this page at Softpedia, for example. (A lot of clutter on that page, but download works.)
  • Mailsmith — A powerful, versatile email client. Still supports PowerPC Macs running at least Mac OS X Leopard (10.5.8 recommended). And it’s free.
  • Notational Velocity — I just love this little app, and I still use it on a daily basis to keep all my notes synchronised across vintage Macs, newer Macs, and also iOS devices (it syncs via Simplenote). It’s a Universal Binary that supports PowerPC Macs running at least Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. (Free)
  • Skim — Great tool for handling PDF documents. From its main page, you can download older versions which will run on PowerPC Macs with Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and 10.4 Tiger. (Free)
  • Xee — From the website: “Xee is an streamlined and convenient image viewer and browser. It is similar to Mac OS X’s, but lets you easily browse the entire contents of folders and archives, move and copy image files quickly, and supports many more image formats.” I really like this app, and from this page, you can still download the (free) 2.2 version, compatible with PowerPC Macs running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and higher.
  • The Unarchiver — From the same developer of Xee, this is a must-have utility for unarchiving many different compressed archive formats. You can find older versions at this page. Version 1.6 works with PowerPC Macs running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and higher. The Unarchiver is free, but I suggest you make a donation to its generous developer.
  • Find Any File — Great search tool, more useful than Spotlight. As I wrote in this old article, When I need to perform searches that dig deeper into the system, or I need a more readable & customisable search results window, I resort to Find Any File, which I love because its UI is based on the Find File application in the Classic Mac OS, and also because it lets me search for files even inside application packages and in places of the System where Spotlight is not allowed to snoop. From the app’s website, you can still download version 1.8.6 for PowerPC Macs (see right sidebar).
  • iStumbler — From the website: “iStumbler is the leading wireless discovery tool for Mac OS X, providing plugins for finding AirPort networks, Bluetooth devices, Bonjour services and your GPS Location with your Mac.” A very nice, free network utility that’s still available for download for PowerPC Macs, supporting Mac OS X versions as far back as 10.2 Jaguar.
  • Disco — A reliable tool to burn CDs and DVDs. Works with both PowerPC and Intel Macs. It’s not developed anymore, but it still works great and I never encountered any problem with it. Read my review for more information.
  • f.lux — This little, free utility has really changed my life in front of a computer. From the website; “f.lux […] makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day. Tell f.lux what kind of lighting you have, and where you live. Then forget about it. f.lux will do the rest, automatically.” It really works as advertised and since I often stay up late at night, it has saved my eyesight. No more going to bed with tired, red, bleary eyes. f.lux’s developers still offer a PPC version (v11) for download from the home page. Look for the small print below the big Download f.lux button. Remember to disallow updates if you install it.

A nice resource to download other discontinued Mac apps for the PowerPC platform is PowerPC Software Archive. Among other things, here you’ll find the last working Skype version for PowerPC Macs, not to mention Adium, or the official Spotify client.

Special mention: browsing the Web

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 (on my PowerBook G3/400 it’s not very snappy, but I guess it’s mainly because it only has 256MB of RAM. On my iBook G3/466 with 576MB of RAM, things get better). 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 personal favourite is Stainless, which runs on PowerPC Macs with Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. It’s no longer developed by its author, who has open sourced it. One of the features I really like (other than its general lightness and low CPU impact) is parallel sessions, which “allow you to log into a site using different credentials in separate tabs at the same time.”

I also like Plainview by Barbarian software, a “Fullscreen kiosk-style presentation content viewer” that is also a fullscreen Web browser. Read more information at this page, where you can also download the browser.

Both Stainless and Plainview are WebKit-based browsers, and their general performance on your PowerPC Mac will be similar to Safari. If you want a secure, up-to-date browser, you should definitely choose TenFourFox. (I even created a custom icon for it, by the way).

That’s all for this year, folks. Thank you to all those who visited System Folder or sent very nice appreciation emails. May you all have a fantastic 2014!

[Updated March 8, 2014 to add f.lux to the list.]

Prepping the Lombard: software for basic tasks

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

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

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

Prepping the Lombard: iTunes and QuickTime

After my DVD Player discoveries, my next step after applying the Mac OS X 10.3.9 Combo Update and installing all the aforementioned updates, has been to look for the latest versions of iTunes and QuickTime supported under Panther. Strangely, these updates are not included when you run Software Update, and the versions of iTunes and QuickTime in my installation — 4.0.1 and 6.4 respectively — were obviously too outdated, albeit functional (I was able to listen to some Internet radio stations on iTunes).

Now, I must admit that the Wikipedia was quite helpful in this regard, and my hunt ended way before I had expected. Wikipedia has two very useful pages:

  1. iTunes version history, and
  2. QuickTime ~ Platform support

In both cases you’ll find an exhaustive table outlining each Mac OS system version with the correspondent latest version of the software, with direct links for downloading (or at least with updated links to Apple Support pages from where you can download the desired version). So, within a few minutes I knew that the latest version of QuickTime supported by Mac OS X Panther is 7.5 and the latest version of iTunes is 7.7.1.

After installing both updates, I launched iTunes and tried to access the iTunes Store, but when I tried to sign in with my Apple ID, iTunes threw a strange error about not finding the keychain and suggested I ran Keychain First Aid from inside the Keychain Access application. I searched for a solution on the Web and turns out that Panther had a small bug of some sort affecting keychains and the possibility to access secure pages on Safari and iTunes (hence the strange error). Among my findings, the quick and dirty solution has been to launch Keychain Access, go to Keychain List and check the Global option for my account keychain and for the System keychain. Back to iTunes, I was able to log into my account, only to be shown this page as the Store home page:

iTunes 7.7.1
Sorry, Apple, I can't upgrade to iTunes 10 on a PowerBook G3.

Which means that I couldn’t access the iTunes Store. Also thanks to my Twitter contacts, I soon discovered that you can’t access the iTunes Store anymore if you don’t have at least iTunes 9.2.1 (in other words, unless you have a Mac with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and a G4 CPU). At first I considered this limitation just another silly caprice on Apple’s part, then I remembered that it was a technical issue. Again, the Wikipedia came to the rescue:

Store pages are delivered using standard HTML with a special header. This change was made when iTunes 9.0 was released. iTunes uses WebKit to render these pages on the screen.

Prior to iTunes 9.0, The iTunes Store was delivered using a custom XML format that describes the position of all of the elements, boxes, album art and all of their properties — including whether a reference link can be dragged out of iTunes and into another document. The App Store portion of the store is still rendered in this fashion.

In the next part of my operation ‘Prepping the Lombard’ I will talk about the minimal set of tools I’ve put together to be able to use the Lombard for a series of basic tasks in case of emergency.

DVD Player, Mac OS X, and the PowerBook G3 Lombard

While today has been “OS X Lion day” for basically everyone, I was updating my recently acquired PowerBook G3/400 ‘Lombard’ to Mac OS X 10.3 Panther. The installation was a long process, surely longer than I remembered, and after installing the Mac OS X 10.3.9 Combo Update (which luckily I had on a CD I burnt a while back, along with the Mac OS X 10.1.5 and 10.2.8 Combo Updates), I still had to wait for more updates, as Software Update promptly informed me:


When finally everything was updated and after rebooting for the nth time, I noticed a missing piece: DVD Player. This Lombard came with a stock installation of Mac OS 8.6, and a 2x DVD-ROM drive in the right expansion bay. I played a couple of DVDs and was surprised to see how well the PowerBook handled them. That’s because this model has a built-in hardware decoder. So it was strange that Panther didn’t install its very own DVD Player software. Well, I assumed that OS X could detect that the PowerBook was able to play DVDs and act accordingly. I did a brief search on the Web and I found a discussion forum where a user was lamenting the same problem with the very same hardware. Someone suggested to use Pacifist to extract DVD Player from the Mac OS X Panther Install CD 1, but it had no effect: DVD Player would refuse to run, warning that the hardware was not compatible. I dug more, and on another discussion I found this quote:

The version of the DVD Player provided with Mac OS X is not compatible with the Lombard G3, as it does the decoding in software and your computer’s processor isn’t fast enough to effectively handle it. Mac OS 9’s DVD Player works by accessing the computer’s hardware decoder, for which there are no Mac OS X drivers.

Corroborated by this Apple technical note, from which I quote this relevant bit:

DVD Player 3.0 requires an Apple computer originally equipped with a built-in DVD-ROM drive and AGP graphics. It is installed and will open on computers that meet this requirement.

The following computers may meet the DVD Player requirements:

  • iBook – see Notes 1 and 4
  • iMac – see Notes 1 and 4
  • PowerBook (FireWire)
  • PowerBook G4
  • Power Mac G4 Cube – see Notes 2 and 4
  • Power Mac G4 – see Notes 3 and 4

So, in a nutshell, if you have a PowerBook G3 (Bronze Keyboard) a.k.a. ‘Lombard’, and you install Mac OS X on it, your only option to watch DVDs decently is to reboot in Mac OS 9. And no, you can’t run Mac OS 9’s ‘Apple DVD Player’ from the Classic Environment, you’ll really have to reboot. Some suggested to download third party software like VLC, but since it can’t rely on the hardware decoder either, I suspect performance would be too poor to watch anything.

Perhaps this information is obvious to many, but since it’s the first time I’ve found myself in this situation, I thought it’d be useful to share anyway.

Before the bloating

Duo 280c and Photoshop 3.0.5
PowerBook Duo 280c and Photoshop 3.0.5

Apologies for the low quality of the photo, it was taken with my iPhone 3G.

The other day I was thinking about keeping this blog more lively by publishing short pieces and brief observations (like this), so that it doesn’t look half-abandoned all the time. In the above picture you can see my PowerBook Duo 280c running Photoshop 3.0.5. I decided to fire up the old buddy after a long time of inactivity, trying to figure out a way to use it more often. Sadly, this machine is limited to local tasks, since it can only access my home network in the ‘LocalTalk Suburb’, as I call it, i.e. it connects via LocalTalk cable to my PowerBook 5300 just for the occasional file exchange. I know I could use IPNetRouter on the PowerBook 5300 to make it act as an EtherTalk/LocalTalk bridge, but it doesn’t look worthwhile since the older PowerBooks don’t have a fixed location in my home, and I’d really prefer a more straightforward solution, like using the Newer Technologies Ethernet Microdock (it’s in my Wishlist, by the way) and have the Duo connect to the home network directly via Ethernet.

But I’m digressing. What is worth mentioning is how amazed I was when I ran Photoshop 3.0.5 on the Duo for a quick-and-dirty image editing on an old scan from a Tim Buckley’s CD. I was really impressed by the general responsiveness of the whole experience. Photoshop felt snappy and usable and it didn’t give me the feeling that it could quit on me unexpectedly like more recent versions have done. Sure, I didn’t stress the software or the Duo’s CPU with intensive tasks, but I’m still talking about a Mac with a Motorola 68LC040 processor at 33 Megahertz, with 24 MB RAM, running Mac OS 7.6.1. The more I look at most of pre-Mac OS X software, the more I can’t help but notice how fast and responsive it is compared to modern hardware and the latest Mac OS X. Not that today’s MacBook Pros or iMacs aren’t fast, but when you measure software responsiveness and snappiness and find that it’s more or less the same on two Macs separated by 17 years, 2627 MHz (my MacBook Pro is a 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo), 3976 MB RAM, etc., well, you really start wondering.

(Also, you got to love the difference in the RAM used by the System in Mac OS 7.6.1 — 5 MB — and the RAM used by the Finder and all system processes in Mac OS X 10.6.6 — 700+ MB).