Turning my third-generation iPod into a flash-based device

iPod 3G in box
 
After successfully upgrading my iPod mini, replacing its failed 4 GB MicroDrive with an 8 GB CompactFlash card, I wanted to try to do the same thing for my older third-generation iPod. It’s my very first iPod, a 10 GB model purchased in 2003, and it has a great deal of sentimental value to me. Sadly, its internal hard drive stopped working sometime in 2009, and I never got round to fix it. By 2009 I had many other alternatives to listen to music on the go — I had the iPod mini, an iPod shuffle, and an iPhone 3G — so what was once my only iPod was now left in a box with its accessories. Every now and then I would take it out to recharge the battery (while feeling guilty because I was neglecting it), and every now and then I would search online for a new Toshiba hard drive of bigger capacity, but prices have always been a bit too high for my tastes. But recently I started considering the CompactFlash route, and when I stumbled on a very cheap 1.8-inch drive to CF adapter on eBay, I decided to go for it.

What follows is my personal experience, not a proper guide, so your mileage may definitely vary.

Disassembling the iPod to remove the hard drive

I followed the excellent iPod 3rd Generation Hard Drive Replacement guide by iFixit. Opening the iPod was hard and cost me lots of patience, attempts, a few tiny scratches on the iPod’s white surface, and a moment of panic when I thought I had broken something inside with the putty knife I used to separate the plastic front from the metal rear of the iPod. Follow the guide faithfully and pay special attention to the warning at Step 7 regarding the disconnection of the internal headphone jack connector.

Inserting the CompactFlash card

Unlike the iPod mini, for which it was simply a matter of swapping the MicroDrive with a CF card, in this case a 1.8-inch drive to CF adapter is needed. This is what I found and bought on eBay for a few Euros:

CF adapter

At first I thought I’d have trouble inserting it the right way, but I soon found out that there’s really no risk of making mistakes once you examine how the original hard drive connects to the drive connector. A small obstacle in my path at this point was a small plastic protrusion that enters a hole in the hard drive plastic edge near the 50-pin connector (evidently to help you insert the drive in the correct orientation and to align the pins properly). When I pushed the CF adapter down, this small protrusion prevented one edge of the adapter’s connector to insert all the way down. So I clipped it with a pair of small scissors, just enough to eliminate the interference.

Then I slid the CF card in. I was satisfied with the price and quality of the 8 GB SanDisk Ultra card I got for the iPod mini, so I purchased a 16 GB card of the same brand and model.

iPod with 16 GB Card

Connecting to the Mac and iTunes

Dealing with the hardware for this kind of upgrade hasn’t been particularly challenging. But as I was browsing the Web for information in the past weeks, I stumbled on a few different horror stories of third-generation iPods being especially fussy with this upgrade, some not recognising the card, some not being recognised by iTunes, some needing firmware modifications to work, and so on and so forth. I was ready to face troubles and complications, so after inserting the CF card and connecting the drive and headphones connectors, I didn’t close the iPod just yet.

Now, this generation of iPods was the last to be able to connect to Macs and sync with iTunes over FireWire. And being the first iPod with the long-lasting 30-pin Dock connector, it could effectively connect to Macs via FireWire and to PCs (and Macs) via USB. Tempted as I was to connect it to my Intel MacBook Pro over USB, I instead connected it to the same-vintage iMac G4 over FireWire. Like I did with the iPod mini, I just put the CF card inside without formatting it, assuming it was ready to use with a DSLR camera (therefore being preformatted in FAT-32 format).

Lo and behold, iTunes 10.6.3 on the iMac instantly opened and recognised the iPod and the CF capacity, but not the Serial Number and the Software Version, though it prompted me to update, telling me that “A newer version of the iPod software is available (version 2.3)”. (Also note “Format: Windows”)

IPod recognised 1

And the quirkiness begins

Naturally, I click on Update, and the (very fast) update process begins. iTunes downloads the iPod software version 2.3, copies it on the iPod, then — a typical final step in any iPod update — the iPod disappears from the iTunes sidebar, reboots, and remounts. iTunes warns about this with a dialog box that auto-dismisses itself after a few seconds. But the iPod doesn’t reboot. On the iPod’s display the message “OK to disconnect” appears. So I disconnect, then reconnect the iPod to the Mac. iTunes opens and warns that there’s an iPod with a corrupted drive connected (Uh-oh!) and offers to restore it and update the software. I let iTunes do its thing, and I’m presented with the same situation as before: the iPod should reboot (iTunes is telling me so) but it doesn’t. On the display, again, “OK to disconnect”.

I stop and think: evidently the iPod isn’t able to complete the update process by rebooting, so this time instead of disconnecting it, I manually reset it (by holding the Menu and Play/Pause buttons). It’s the right move, because after rebooting, under the Apple logo a progress bar appears. And since there’s now a CF card inside, the firmware update proceeds at an amazing speed. After 5 seconds, the Language Setup screen appears and the iPod is fine. I quickly go to Settings > About and all information shows up correctly: iPod name, capacity, available space, Software Version, Serial Number and Model Number. Success! But…

But now iTunes doesn’t see the iPod.

I reboot the iPod, nothing. I reboot the iMac, nothing. I disconnect and reconnect the iPod, nothing. Then I remember something I read on the Web… someone complaining that after the CompactFlash upgrade their iPod could only sync with iTunes via USB. So I take a USB cable and connect the iPod to the iMac via USB. iTunes opens and immediately recognises the iPod:

IPod recognised 2

Note that now everything appears correctly, and the Format is Macintosh.

Since I don’t have music yet on the iMac, before closing the iPod for good, I want to try copying some music on it, and to check if everything is okay when plugging the headphones. So I connect it to my MacBook Pro and — whew — no problems with the latest version of iTunes. As predicted, transferring music to the flash-based iPod is really fast, and once I plug in the first pair of earphones at hand, I can hear music just fine. However I notice an interesting detail: the iPod is not charging despite being connected to a high-powered USB 2.0 port directly. Quite baffling. I disconnect it, take a FireWire cable and connect the iPod to the G4 Cube. iTunes doesn’t open, but now the iPod is charging. So, was what I read in that forum true then — that after upgrading a third-generation iPod to use a CF card, it can only be synced over USB and only be charged over FireWire?

At this point I’m still utterly puzzled by the initial fact that, after updating the iPod to the latest software version, it stopped being recognised by iTunes over FireWire and just developed this behaviour. It’s not logical. In the end, what I’ve done is just replacing the hard drive with another ‘drive’, only it has flash storage. And then I have an idea. I connect the iPod to the MacBook Pro again over FireWire (like this: [iPod] → [30-pin to FireWire 400 adapter] → [FireWire 800 to FireWire 400 cable] → [MacBook Pro]). As predicted, the iPod starts charging but iTunes doesn’t recognise it. Then I put the iPod into Disk Mode manually. With this iPod, the procedure is as follows: you toggle the Hold switch on and off (set it to Hold, then turn it off again), you press and hold the Play/Pause and Menu buttons until the Apple logo appears, then immediately press and hold the Previous and Next buttons until the Disk Mode screen appears. (Source: Apple Knowledge Base).

As soon as the iPod enters Disk Mode, it gets recognised by iTunes as usual and it keeps charging!

And then another quirky thing happens: transfer speeds when copying music on the iPod are really slow. Not exactly USB 1.1 slow, but certainly slower than USB 2.0 or FireWire 400. I still haven’t had time to figure out this particular detail, and if I find something I’ll update this article.

Other minor quirks noticed so far

  • The iPod freezes every time I eject it from iTunes after syncing. For both iTunes and the Finder, the iPod has been ejected correctly, but the iPod’s display remains stuck on the “Do Not Disconnect” screen. Rebooting the iPod puts everything in order.
  • I’ve also noticed occasional hiccups: earlier today, I selected a song and playback wouldn’t start, as if I had pressed Pause right away. The whole interface was fully responsive and registered every button press, but songs wouldn’t start playing. Putting the iPod to sleep and waking it again solved that.
  • The battery icon appears to have become rather unreliable at displaying exactly how much charge there’s left (more on this below).

Battery life

When it was a new model in 2003, this iPod had an advertised play time of 8 hours. I used it very often back then: 2003 to 2007 were the years of most intense use. Its hard drive failed gradually, and in the last weeks before finally stopping working, it got quite loud and sometimes copying music was painful, with intermittent transfer speeds, aborted copies, and so on. What I had started noticing in these circumstances was that the iPod got unusually warm, and that battery life had decreased dramatically. So I didn’t expect much when I started my test this morning after leaving the iPod to recharge overnight.

All in all I’m not disappointed. The iPod played continuously for just about three hours (backlight set to its minimum setting, 2 seconds; frequent interactions to change album and sometimes the volume). Honestly, I didn’t think it would last this long, considering the little 630 mAh lithium ion battery is 13 years old.

I also didn’t think it would last that long because the battery icon in the status bar completely misbehaved during my testing. When I disconnected the iPod after leaving it on the charger all night, I expected to see a full battery icon. Instead it was at about 60%, and during playback it trickled down to zero in about an hour. I thought that’s what little life there was left, but the iPod kept going, kept going, and played music for two more hours with the battery indicator completely empty.

Conclusion

Working iPod
Overall, I’m happy with how things turned out. The 16 GB CompactFlash card and the adapter didn’t cost much, and I spent about three hours between the ‘surgery’ and the tinkering. It hasn’t been a smooth ride like with the iPod mini, but at least I have revived this third-generation iPod, the very iPod that started the ‘digital music revolution’ for me. The iPod I used as a boot drive to work from my 12-inch PowerBook G4 when its internal hard drive failed and I was waiting for a replacement. I’m glad to see this old buddy playing music again after being left in a drawer for seven years. I still can’t fathom why this specific iPod generation is so fussy when you perform the CompactFlash upgrade, but these quirks I’ve encountered are nothing insurmountable. Ultimately what counts is that the iPod is perfectly usable (by the way, I also put it in Diagnostic Mode, and it passed all the tests), and the occasional hiccup can quickly be resolved with a reboot.

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Extending the life of my iPod mini

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Second-generation iPod mini — Introduced in February 2005, discontinued in September 2005

I own a second-generation 4 GB blue iPod mini that my wife passed to me when she was given a first-generation iPod touch in 2007. This iPod was never heavily used, and so it has remained fully operational — and with good battery life — for ten years, until sometime around October 2015 its internal hard drive (Hitachi 4 GB MicroDrive) failed while transferring some files. That saddened me. For some reason, despite the obvious convenience of using my iPhone to listen to music, I’ve always preferred the classic iPods for that activity. And my third-generation 10 GB iPod already died in 2008 (another hard drive failure), so now that my iPod mini stopped working too, I was left with just my iPod shuffle.

But while the easiest way to repair a third-generation iPod is to find another small-sized Toshiba hard drive for it, the iPod mini is notoriously easier to upgrade. These iPods used MicroDrives as internal storage solutions, and they are essentially small hard drives with the same dimensions (and most importantly, same connection) as CompactFlash cards. Which means that you can replace them with CompactFlash cards and enjoy a few advantages in return:

  • Today, you can easily find 8, 16, and 32 GB CompactFlash cards at reasonable prices. These cards are usually designed for heavy-duty usage with professional DSLRs.
  • They are long-lasting and offer much higher transfer speeds than the old MicroDrives.
  • Along with having more storage space (iPod minis originally came with 4 GB and 6 GB MicroDrives), CompactFlash cards do not have moving parts, which means better battery life.

The original 4 GB of storage space never felt really tight for me. While I do have a lot of music in digital form, I was never one of those people who have to copy their whole iTunes library on an iPod. I’ve always transferred just a small selection of favourite albums I love listening when out and about. I also didn’t want to get too big a CF card for fear of some unexpected incompatibility or similar issues, so when it was time to purchase a CF card to make the upgrade, I opted for a conservative 8 GB card:

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Then I looked online for tutorials on how to proceed with the part replacement. The first stop was iFixit, of course, but this tutorial over at Instructables helped too.

The process isn’t extremely complicated, you just need to be a bit cautious, but the hardest step is definitely the first: removing the white plastic on the top bezel. If you look at the aforelinked iFixit guide, this step appears deceptively simple:

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Source: iFixit.com

The problem is that the piece of white plastic is securely glued to the metal underneath, and it won’t come off easily. If you don’t proceed with patience and keep pulling up with a screwdriver, you’ll likely bend or break the plastic. Instead of a screwdriver, I used a small putty knife and tried to gently separate the white plastic from the metal casing. But the best tip to make this step even easier was given to me by Peter Emery on App.net (and it’s also suggested in the Instructables tutorial): use a hair dryer to soften the glue.

I know it sounds dangerous to expose the iPod to heat this way, but my iPod wasn’t harmed in any way. Just to be cautious, I used the hair dryer on the minimum setting and directed hot air on the top of the iPod in short bursts. After 5-6 times of gently prying and heating the plastic, it finally came off. It’s virtually impossible to avoid scuffing the white plastic top a bit — just think that, at least, you’ll have a working iPod later.

Same story with the piece of white plastic on the bottom (surrounding the 30-pin Dock connector), but in my case this came off much more easily. I didn’t even need to use the hair dryer. The iFixit tutorial has the best images, so follow the steps until it’s time to remove the MicroDrive. This tutorial is for a hard drive replacement, so once you get to Step 13, what’s left to do is to carefully remove the MicroDrive from its connector (get rid of the black tape and the blue bumpers), insert the CF card (make sure you keep the label on top — see Step 4 of the Instructables tutorial), and reattach the connector to the iPod’s motherboard. Another great advice is given here in the Instructables tutorial: You don’t need the rubber bumpers or tape but you will need a small piece of double sided foam tape to attach the card to the motherboard and keep it from rattling around inside your Mini. I suggest you follow it. The CF card is lighter and thinner than the MicroDrive — it will rattle if you don’t secure it.

The hardware part of the upgrade was done, but before reassembling everything, I wanted to make sure the iPod was properly recognised and formatted, so I connected the ‘naked’ iPod to my MacBook Pro and iTunes 12 immediately recognised it as a Windows-formatted 8 GB iPod mini. I tried copying an album to it, and the copy went smoothly and was insanely fast compared with the original MicroDrive. But since I read online that a good practice at this point is to do a full Restore using iTunes, that’s what I did, and iTunes 12.3.2 failed to complete the operation, throwing a ‘1430 error’. This Apple Support article (unsurprisingly) wasn’t really helpful. The solution was connecting the iPod to my PowerBook G4 with Mac OS X Leopard and iTunes 10.6.3, which correctly recognised and restored the iPod right away and without problems.

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Now the iPod was ready to be reassembled:

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Since upgrading the iPod, I’ve roughly filled half of it with music, and I’ve instantly noticed the benefits of having a CompactFlash-based iPod: file transfer is really fast, the battery appears to last more than before (I’m still testing, but in the last period with the 4 GB MicroDrive, battery life was quite poor), and the iPod remains cool. With the MicroDrive, the iPod started getting warm after a while; I don’t know if it’s normal for a MicroDrive to get warm or if that was a sign of imminent failure, but with the moving parts of a hard drive and the heat, it’s no wonder battery life was impacted. Now the situation is definitely better on this front, and I’m actually amazed that a 10-year old battery is still capable of holding such a charge.

Here are a few more photos. As you can see, the backlight is still very bright after all these years. Long live the iPod mini!

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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.

Older Opera versions: untangling the mess

(This is just a quick update of some information contained in this old post.)

If you’re using a Mac with a PowerPC G4 or G5 (or a fast G3) processor, the Web browser I recommend is without doubt TenFourFox. Some people prefer Opera, and I myself have witnessed that it may be a better option on certain G3 machines — a little faster than TenFourFox, a little better than Safari itself. TenFourFox remains the most secure option, of course, but sometimes one has to accept some compromises.

The problem with Opera is understanding the minimum requirements for your machine, considering the great number of versions released during its history. In other words, you may ask yourself: I have a Mac with Mac OS 8.6, or 9.1, or OS X 10.2 Jaguar, or 10.4 Tiger, etc. — what is the most updated version of Opera I can download for my vintage system? (You can download older versions of Opera from the Opera archive.)

In the past, finding an accurate answer to that question was certainly easier than today. A quick search on Opera’s support site revealed a great page titled Opera System Requirements that neatly outlined the minimum system requirements for each version of Opera from 5.0 onward. Then, sometime in the last two years, it has been removed and modified. I searched past snapshots of that page using the ever-useful WayBack Machine and one of the most recent is this one from February 2013.

For redundancy’s sake, and to provide an easier way to retrieve this information, I’ve copied the relevant contents of that page and I’m posting them here. I hope it may be of help.


 

Opera 12
Mac OS X Leopard (10.5), or greater.
32-bit and 64-bit Intel systems supported.

Opera 11.50 to 11.64
Mac OS X Leopard (10.5), or greater.
Only Intel-based systems supported.

Opera 11
Mac OS X Tiger (10.4) or higher.
Only Intel-based systems supported.

Opera 10
Last release: version 10.63
Mac OS X Tiger (10.4) or higher.
Intel- or PowerPC-based systems supported (hence the larger file size).
[Addendum from personal experience: Opera 10.10 works under Mac OS X 10.3.9]

Opera 9
Last release: version 9.64
Mac OS X Panther (10.3) or higher [OS X Jaguar (10.2) may work but is officially unsupported]
Intel- and PowerPC-based systems supported (hence the larger file size).

Opera 8
Last release: version 8.54
Mac OS X Jaguar (10.2) or higher.
PowerPC-based systems supported.

Opera 7
Last release: version 7.54
Mac OS X Puma (10.1) or higher.
PowerPC-based systems supported.

Opera 6
Last release: version 6.03
Mac OS 9 or higher.
PowerPC-based systems supported.

Opera 5
Mac OS 7.5 – Mac OS 9 [Opera 5 will not run on OS X]
PowerPC-based systems supported.


Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs (Part 3)

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.

 


 
Previously:

  • Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs — Part 1
  • Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs — Part 2
  • Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs (Part 2)

    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.

    Great apps still available for PowerPC Macs

    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 Preview.app, 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.]

    Useful Macintosh shortcuts

    Last week I needed to force my Macintosh Colour Classic to boot from an external SCSI hard drive, and I couldn’t remember the correct keyboard shortcut to hold down at boot. After some research on the Web, I found this useful resource by Charles Poynton. Since many websites with vintage-Mac-related contents in my bookmarks are increasingly suffering from link rot, I decided to ‘reprint’ the table of keyboard shortcuts made available by Poynton. (His page also links to an even more complete shortcut list collected by Dave Polascheck: Magical Macintosh Key Sequences, where you can download a handy PDF.)

    The document written by Poynton begins after the line break. I hope you’ll find these resources as useful as I did. Feel free to point out any mistakes in the comment section.


    When a Macintosh is powered-up or Restarted (“booted”), various pieces of Mac ROM and System software examine the keyboard, and take special actions if certain keys are held down. This page summarizes the actions.

    Booting involves several phases; startup keys take effect at different times depending upon the phase. Sometimes the same key has a different effect depending upon which phase it is sensed. Generally, you should hold the indicated keys down until the desired action takes place.

    Boot ROM

    Command-Option-PR Zap PRAM (double boot)
    R Force PowerBook to reset the screen
    Command-Option-AV Reset AppleVision Display (1.5.2 or later)
    Command-Option-TV Force Quadra AV (only) to use TV as a monitor
    Command-Option-XO Force Mac Classic (only) to Boot from ROM
    Mouse button Eject Floppy, then boot from SCSI
    Command-Option-Shift-Delete Bypass the device that is selected in the Startup Disk control panel; boot from the first bootable device other than that.
    Command-Option-Shift-Delete-# Boot from a specific SCSI ID, where # is 0
    through 6
    C Boot from internal CD-ROM
    (Most late model Macs)
    N Boot from network (iMac and later models)
    D Boot from the internal hard disk if the default boot device has been set to something else
    Z Boot from an internal Zip drive
    OF Access Open Firmware (on G3 and later models)
    T Boot into FireWire Target Disk mode (on certain
    FireWire-equipped Macs)

    Upon appearance of the happy face, let go of any boot keys you may have needed, then immediately press any keys you need to control…

    Mac OS System startup

    Control Invoke MacsBug upon startup.
    Option In Mac OS 9.x, on a startup disk having multiple system folders, invoke dialog to choose System Folder.
    Command Boot with Virtual Memory off
    Shift Disable all Extensions and Control Panels. Release Shift when the message “Extensions disabled” appears in the welcome box.
    Space Open extension manager before loading Extensions or Control Panels. Release the Space bar when the Extensions Manager displays its screen.

    Holding the Shift key early in the boot sequence disables all Extensions and Control Panels. Individual Extensions and Control Panels may disable themselves upon seeing the Shift key later in the boot sequence, but the timing for this is difficult to achieve! Upon loading, an Extension or Control Panel is supposed to display its icon in the “icon parade.” If the icon is displayed at boot time, but the Extension or Control Panel disables itself because the Shift key is held or some error condition is detected, it is conventional for a red X to be drawn over its icon.

    Immediately upon the appearance of the (blank) menu bar, press any keys you need to control …

    Finder startup

    Command-Option Rebuild Desktop
    Option Don’t open Finder windows
    Shift Disable “Startup Items”

    After startup

    Lots of Finder shortcuts are documented in the online Finder Help. (p.s. Don’t delete that file: Certain Apple installers refuse to function unless that file is in its proper place.)

    Command-Shift-1 (or 2, or 0) Eject a Floppy Disk [FKEYs]
    Command-Option-ESC Force current app to quit.
    Command-POWER Invoke the debugger (if MacsBug is installed)
    G to return to interrupted code

    Restart, Sleep, Shutdown

    If you have a Power key, it is at the top of your keyboard, at the center or on the right hand side; it carries an incused triangle symbol.

    POWER Present Restart, Sleep, Shutdown dialog – key
    R for Restart, S for Sleep, ESC for cancel, or
    Return for Shutdown.
    Control-Command-Option-POWER Fast Shutdown
    Command-Option-POWER Put late model PowerBooks & Desktops to
    sleep
    Control-Command-POWER Unconditional, forced reboot (the “three-finger salute”)

    This document may be freely distributed for noncommercial purposes, provided that it is distributed unmodified and in its entirety, and that this copyright notice remains intact.

    Charles PoyntonMac

    Copyright © 2001-07-15

    The Essential Mac

    Essentialmac homepage

    I was looking for some SCSI-related information for an article I’m working on, and I stumbled upon a lovely website dedicated to the classic Mac OS: The Essential Mac. It’s like entering a time machine and being brought back to 1997, but definitely in a very good way. (Edited to add: The Essential Mac is actually a website that has been around since 1997, in case you’re wondering.)

    I rarely feature other vintage Mac websites — my endorsement is usually made explicit by adding them to my blogroll on the sidebar, but The Essential Mac is worth a mention because it’s very well made. It covers a variety of topic in detail, it is organised like a beginner’s guide to the Mac (the pre-OS X Mac, of course), but most of all, it’s really well written. The writing style reminds me of those excellent printed manuals of the 1980s and 1990s: informative, concise, and a pleasure to read. Take a look at SCSI Voodoo, the section about the SCSI interface, to have an idea.

    If you’re a Mac user who has no experience of what it was before Mac OS X, and who has just started exploring the world of vintage Macs maybe after scoring an old PowerBook for a few dollars, you’ll definitely want to check this site. And even if you’re an experienced or long-time Mac user, you’ll want to add The Essential Mac to your bookmarks to have a quick, useful classic Mac OS reference when you need one.

    A real terminal

    Although it doesn’t directly relate to vintage Macs or the classic Mac OS, I couldn’t not link to this: A VT220 serial console (circa 1983) set up as a terminal for a Mac Pro (circa 2010).

    This post made me smile for a number of reasons: firstly, it’s a cool setup, and I’m glad it works because it took quite the effort on Justin’s part — this is far from being a ‘plug & play’ combination. Secondly, Justin’s explanation includes a precious link that I had lost during my recent bookmark summer cleaning: Paul Weinstein’s post about setting up an Apple IIc as a terminal (and here you have a vintage Apple link, so I’m back on topic!).

    Last but not least, I’m in full agreement with Justin when he concludes:

    I learned a lot about how terminals work over the last couple weeks and the final result is quite satisfying, a soft amber glow and one less window on my desktop. It’s also a nice reminder that we didn’t get to where we are overnight, user interfaces and software development have been evolving in an unbroken chain for a long time and some of the old ideas are so solid that they persist 30 years later. Why not use the proper hardware?

    Ah, to think I could have done something similar! When I was still living in Italy I had been given an IBM 5291 terminal [like this one], but regrettably I had to dispose of it during my relocation: I had too much vintage gear to fit in my flat here in Spain, and at the time I had no real use for it, so it had to go. I’ll always remember his large, heavy, all-metal keyboard, giving a literal meaning to the phrase ‘built like a tank’…