The second-best browser for PPC Macs

Every time someone with a vintage G3/G4/G5 PowerPC Mac asks me what browser would be my preferred choice for such systems, I always suggests TenFourFox, because it’s stable, secure, and actively maintained. However, you may have a Mac that barely meets — or doesn’t meet at all — TenFourFox’s minimum system requirements:

TenFourFox requires a G3 Power Macintosh, Mac OS X 10.4.11, 200MB of free disk space and 512MB of RAM. 1GB of RAM and a G4 or G5 processor is strongly recommended. Video playback is likely to be poor on systems slower than 1.25GHz; a G5 is recommended. Mac OS X 10.5.8 is supported. Although the browser may run under Mac OS X Server, it is not currently supported.

For example, I have three machines I use from time to time:

  • A blueberry clamshell iBook G3/300, with 288MB of RAM, running Mac OS X 10.3.9;
  • A graphite clamshell iBook G3/466 SE, with 576MB of RAM, running Mac OS X 10.4.11;
  • A PowerBook G3/400 ‘Lombard’, with 256MB of RAM, running Mac OS X 10.4.11.

Of these, the only Mac that can (barely) run TenFourFox is the iBook G3/466.

So, which is the best alternative when your Mac isn’t powerful enough to smoothly run the excellent TenFourFox? In my opinion, it’s Camino.

Camino’s development ceased in 2012. Other alternatives, such as an older version of Opera, or the last version of Safari you can run under Panther or Tiger, are simply too old to be useful. Opera 10.63, the last version you can run under Tiger, was released in 2010. Camino is newer, and it also appears to be less resource-hungry.

Using my PowerBook G3/400 ‘Lombard’ as a test machine, I did an informal comparison between Safari 4.1.3 (the last version running under Tiger), Opera 10.63, and Camino 2.1.2. I’ve loaded some of the websites I visit most frequently, and assessed how each browser could render it. Camino always ended up serving the best or most usable version. As an example of a site that’s complex enough but not overly challenging, I’ll show here how the three browsers rendered the home page of Digital Photography Review.

This is Safari 4.1.3:

DPReview-Safari.png

Note the message in the status bar: 83 errors occurred in opening the page.

 

This is Opera 10.63:

DPReview-Opera.png

Not much different from Safari.

 

Finally, this is Camino 2.1.2:

DPReview-Camino.png

 

Definitely better. Admittedly, while loading the site in Camino, this warning appeared:

DPReview-Camino-warning.png

I just clicked on Continue and DPReview loaded without issues. The unresponsive script mentioned in the warning is probably the website’s Twitter widget (as you can see above, it didn’t load). Nothing major.

Here’s another couple of examples, Macworld and The New York Times:

MacWorld-Camino.png

(Yes, curiously the ‘Macworld’ logo didn’t load.)

 

NYT-Camino.png

 

It’s worth pointing out that web browsing on a G3 Mac with just 256MB of RAM generally isn’t much fun. Websites take a bit to load, even those that look simple on the surface. Camino’s speed on such a Mac is the most acceptable in my experience.

Download and links

  • Camino 2.1.2 can still be downloaded from the official website. It requires Mac OS X 10.4. If your Mac won’t go past Mac OS X 10.3.9 (Panther), you could try Camino 1.6.11.
  • You can download processor-specific optimised builds of Camino from this website. While you’re there, check the home page, and you’ll find optimised builds of Firefox, Thunderbird, and SeaMonkey for PPC Macs.
  • The Wikipedia page for Camino offers a good overview of its history, timeline, and version compatibility.

A modicum of synchronisation

I’m still irked by Dropbox dropping support of PowerPC Macs running Tiger and Leopard. I know I’m not a typical Mac user, and that expecting support for an architecture that — at least on the Mac — was left behind in 2006 is a bit too much, especially given the short memory technology has nowadays. Still, I use a bunch of PowerPC Macs as secondary machines, they’re still useful and capable enough. When I work on some of my projects away from home, I often leave the Intel Mac at home and bring with me one of my G4 PowerBooks. When Dropbox worked, my workflow was excellent. I kept everything in sync without effort. I started working on documents on the PowerBook G4 to finish them later at home on the MacBook Pro, and vice versa. It was a seamless process.

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

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

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

Accessing Gmail from an older version of OS X Mail

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

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

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

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

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

Look down the page until you find this bit:

Gmail less secure

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

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

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.


Actual work on vintage Macs is possible

Stephen Hackett, linking to this article by Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica, comments:

Andrew Cunningham has learned what I did back in 2008: while OS 9 is fun to play with, it’s terrible for getting actual work done.

Well, that’s debatable. And it really depends on what we mean by ‘actual work.’

I’m probably in an advantageous position, since my ‘actual work’ mainly revolves around text and writing. For that, I can be rather productive even on a PowerBook 5300 (a 117 MHz machine with 64 MB of RAM) with Mac OS 8.1, as you can read in the second part of my article, In defence of the PowerBook 5300.

I’m quite experienced when it comes to vintage Macs and optimising them to make the most of them. The Ars Technica piece by Cunningham left a bitter taste in my mouth, and as I voiced on Twitter and App.net, I believe the author (perhaps due to inexperience and impatience with vintage hardware and software) hasn’t painted a completely fair picture of how these machines and systems can actually perform.

Cunningham writes:

And connecting the PowerBook to my router required a trip to the TCP/IP Control Panel to get things working—the OS didn’t just detect an active network interface and grab an IP address as it does now.

I’d like to point out that this behaviour isn’t the standard, as far as I know. I have a few PowerPC Macs that can boot either in Mac OS X or Mac OS 9, and a Mac OS 9-only machine, a clamshell iBook G3/300 with 288 MB of RAM. Whenever I connect the iBook to my router via Ethernet, I’m automatically connected to the Internet, with no need to manually configure anything. The same happens with my PowerBook 5300 on Mac OS 8.1 — it usually auto-connects when I plug in the Ethernet cable. (Sometimes I admittedly have to check the TCP/IP control panel.)

Mac OS 9 feels much faster on the 800MHz G4 than does OS X 10.4 or 10.5, and when the system is working smoothly things open and close pretty much instantaneously. That is, unless you get a pop-up message that momentarily freezes the OS, or you have an odd, possibly memory-related crash that requires a restart.

I’m sorry if that has been Cunningham’s experience, but again, he makes it sound like something that happens so often, one would think Mac OS 9 is a completely unreliable system. It’s not, at least not in my experience. Granted, if all you’ve known is Mac OS X and expect to open as many apps in a Mac OS 9 system, you won’t enjoy the same degree of general stability. That’s because Mac OS X and Mac OS 9 manage memory differently.

With regard to Cunningham’s poor email experience on Mac OS 9, I can relate. In part. Four years ago I carried out an informal investigation, where I installed as many decent classic Mac email clients as I could find and tried to configure a Gmail account in all of them. You can find a detailed account of that experiment in my article Classic email clients vs Gmail, but in short, I found that the only email clients playing nice with Gmail were Classilla Mail in Classilla 9.x, the Netscape Mail module in Netscape 7.0.2, while the two best clients capable of full Gmail support (at least at the time, in 2010) were Microsoft Outlook 5.02 and PowerMail 4.2.1.

As for publishing articles and blog posts online using WordPress, my workaround has always been posting by email, which WordPress supports. This allowed me to post articles even using my PowerBook 5300 with Mac OS 8.1 and Mailsmith 1.1.8.

Cunningham:

[…] it goes without saying that syncing files between Mac OS 9 and any other system just isn’t going to happen (I mostly use Dropbox, but the service you use doesn’t make a difference). Even using a network share isn’t possible — Mac OS 9 doesn’t support Windows’ SMB protocol, and its version of the AFP protocol is too old to interface with my Mac Mini server running Mavericks. I was only able to do some file transfers using FTP, yet another unencrypted and insecure protocol.

And that’s why I use a Titanium PowerBook G4 running Mac OS X Tiger as a ‘server’ when I need to sync files with Dropbox. Since Dropbox (bless those guys) still supports PowerPC Macs running a version of Mac OS X as old as Tiger, I connect the OS 9 iBook to the TiBook and mount the Dropbox folder in the iBook’s desktop. The experience is seamless enough.

After trying to work in Mac OS 9, Cunningham installs Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard on his test machine, a Titanium PowerBook G4 at 800 MHz. Note that Leopard has a minimum system requirement of a G4 processor running at 867 MHz. While it’s certainly possible (as Cunningham did) to circumvent this limitation and install Leopard on a Mac with a slower processor — I had managed to install it on a 500 MHz machine — you cannot expect optimum performance.

In fact, speaking of TenFourFox — the best and most up-to-date browser for G3/G4/G5 PowerPC Macs — Cunningham writes:

In any case, TenFourFox does a respectable job of rendering pages properly, and I’m sure it runs much better on newer 1GHz-and-up aluminum PowerBooks and iMacs than it does on this old titanium G4.

It does. On my 1 GHz 12-inch PowerBook G4 and 1.33 GHz 17-inch PowerBook G4 it runs very well. But it also runs fine on my 400 MHz and 500 MHz Titanium PowerBooks.

One thing I’ll say about both OS X 10.4 and 10.5 on this hardware is that it’s laggy no matter what you’re doing.

It’s a strange assessment, that doesn’t tally with my experience at all. I have Mac OS X 10.4.11 installed on these machines:

  • A 400 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 with 1 GB of RAM
  • A 500 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 with 512 MB of RAM
  • A 450 MHz Power Mac G4 Cube with 1.5 GB of RAM
  • A 466 MHz clamshell iBook G3 FireWire with 576 MB of RAM

and Tiger isn’t laggy on any of them, especially the Cube, where the Finder is actually more responsive than on my MacBook Pro with 8 GB of RAM, running Mac OS X 10.9.5. As for Leopard being laggy on a Mac that doesn’t meet Leopard’s minimum system requirements, well, I’m not that surprised.

Stuff you take for granted on a modern, multi-core computer with an SSD and lots of RAM is totally different on a system this old. Having dozens of browser tabs open at once, playing some music or maybe a video in the background, syncing Dropbox files, even watching animated GIFs consumes precious CPU cycles that an 800MHz G4 doesn’t have to spare. Exceeding the computer’s once-impressive-but-now-paltry 1GB of RAM, something you’ll do without even thinking if you fire up TenFourFox, prompts virtual memory swapping that grinds things to a halt.

There’s nothing technically wrong with what Cunningham is saying here, but “grinding things to a halt” is a bit of an exaggeration. I’m writing this on my 17-inch 1.33 GHz PowerBook G4 with 1.5 GB of RAM running Mac OS X 10.5.8, so it’s a more capable Mac than the TiBook he used, but still, here’s a list of the applications I have currently opened:

  • MarsEdit 2.4.4
  • Sparrow (yes, version 1.2.3 was a Universal Binary)
  • The latest version of TenFourFox, with 7 tabs open
  • The Spotify Mac client (version 0.6.6.10, still working on PowerPC Macs)
  • NetNewsWire 3.2.15, with three tabs open in its built-in browser
  • An instance of Fluid (again, I held on to its last PowerPC-compatible version) running TweetDeck (the Web interface) inside of it
  • Mac OS X’s Dictionary app

The PowerBook is quite stable and doesn’t feel laggy or sluggish to me.

I ascribe Cunningham’s evaluation to his fairly limited time with the test machine, which probably wasn’t perfectly optimised to provide the best experience under Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X 10.5. I insist, you can’t expect Leopard to be very smooth on an 800 MHz Mac when it requires at least 867 MHz. You can see here that such minimum requirement has more to do with the overall performance and user experience rather than something strictly hardware-related.

Back to the initial question — Is it possible to do actual work under Mac OS 9 today? — my answer is a cautious ‘yes.’ It always depends on what you actually do for a living, of course. If you work with audio/video editing tools, for example, you can find professional software. Same goes for image editing or 3D rendering. The big difference is that you’ll have to work with vintage hardware which can do the job but not as efficiently as a modern Mac with current software.

Another thing to consider is that you’ll have to invest some time to properly optimise your vintage Mac. There’s a lot of Mac OS 9 software out there, and sometimes you have to try different applications in the same category to find the best software for what you’re trying to accomplish (like what I did with email clients). I agree, it can become a tiring and bewildering exercise, especially if you never used anything older than Mac OS X.

On one thing I very much agree with Cunningham: the most problematic aspect of using Mac OS 9 today is related to Web browsing and Internet security. Classilla is the most modern browser you can find for Mac OS 9 and the most secure, but it’s all in relative terms. All other browsers are just too old to keep up with modern websites and technologies. If you’re trying to load a certain website properly, all I can suggest is to download different browsers and try them until you find the one that best renders it. Internet Explorer 5.x, Netscape, old versions of Opera, iCab, are all worth keeping around (iCab 3.0.5, the last version supporting Mac OS 9.x, isn’t that bad for example), but it certainly is tedious work and doesn’t make for a smooth browsing experience. Classilla at least tends to favour mobile versions of popular, complex websites, to offer a bit of usability at the very least — the last time I tried, I was able to tweet using Twitter’s mobile Web interface from inside Classilla.

But security? Just forget about it. I mean, I’m not talking about viruses (practically nonexistent for the classic Mac OS), but secure transmission of data. In a nutshell, I wouldn’t use a Web browser under Mac OS 9 to transmit sensitive information (financial data, passwords protecting sensitive accounts, etc.).

When we move up the ladder a bit, however, and I’m talking Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and 10.5 Leopard, then I can safely say that actual work can be done, and the experience is much less painful than under Mac OS 9. Again, it’s a matter of being patient at the beginning, and take some time to hunt down the necessary software, but I’m still using three G4 PowerBooks and my G4 Cube as secondary machines and I’m pretty satisfied with them, especially the 17-inch PowerBook G4, which is a little powerhouse despite being a Mac that’s almost 11 years old. It is, among other things, my secondary photo archive & editing machine (it runs Aperture 2 decently), my CD/DVD burning machine and sometimes my old-PowerPC-games machine (its ATI Mobility Radeon graphics card with 64 MB of memory can still perform quite well with games produced when this machine was new, games like Quake or Unreal Tournament, for example). And of course I use it for Web browsing, email, RSS feeds, writing.

Of course, if your exploration of vintage Macs and older Mac OS and OS X versions is just something you do in the spur of the moment, and is not meant to last more than just a few days, your experience as a result is going to look pretty much similar to Cunningham’s. I hope this contribution of mine will help paint a more balanced picture of what it means to use vintage Mac hardware and software today — on a regular basis.

 


I’m always trying to find and report great apps that are still available for PowerPC G3/G4/G5 Macs. So far, I’ve written 3 articles listing a few of them:

I think they’re a good enough starting point to assemble a decent software arsenal if you have a nice Mac running Tiger or Leopard in particular.

eWorld again

Apple eWorld

Image from Vintage Computing & Gaming

Last year on this day I forgot to update this blog with the traditional eWorld mention. eWorld was Apple’s ill-fated online service that debuted in June 1994 — almost 20 years ago — and was shut down on March 31, 1996. Every March 31, from 2010 on, I published an eWorld-related post with some interesting links and resources about eWorld. Here are a few more:

Past eWorld entries here on System Folder:

Classilla and Readability

Since the release of Classilla 9.2, I’ve noticed its increase in speed and overall performance on my Power Macintosh 9500/132 (which is at the moment the slowest Mac I’m running Classilla on), so I’ve put it to the test by just browsing all the sites I usually visit, and so far I haven’t encountered problems worth to mention. Small misalignments when rendering this or that site are fine by me, provided the general readability is not compromised.

And speaking of readability, the other day I discovered by accident that Readability — the useful and elegant JavaScript bookmarklet created by the fine folks at Arc90 — actually works in Classilla, and works well. Here’s an example:

Classilla & Readability

The only catch is, of course, that JavaScript must be enabled for the website you’re visiting, otherwise the Readability bookmarklet won’t work. In Classilla JavaScript is disabled by default and can be activated on a per-website basis by clicking the ‘S’ icon in the lower right corner. So, if you usually read articles from BBC News or CNN, for instance, you can put those sites in a whitelist and enjoy further readings by giving the articles a Readability treatment. You’ll read better and Classilla will feel faster, especially on older Macs. Admittedly, there were some sites that gave me some trouble — trying Readability on a couple of New York Times articles made the browser quit unexpectedly — but in my (limited) experience that was the exception rather than the rule.

I was about to notify Cameron Kaiser, the mighty developer of Classilla, but reading the Mac OS 9 List I found out he discovered this functionality himself, and added:

For [Classilla] 9.2.1 I am actually going to incorporate Readability into Classilla as C-D-Article. This means Readability becomes chromed, meaning it will operate even with NoScript (well, in 9.2.1, Script-B-Gone) blocking scripts, and will make layout much simpler and help with troublesome sites until the 9.3 layout rewrite.

Let me know what you think of this or if anyone thinks this would be a bad idea.

I actually think it’s an excellent idea.

HTML5 vs Newton – Gracefully degraded content.

Since Apple published a series of pages dedicated to HTML5 on its site, I’d been thinking about a little experiment: get on the Web with my Newton MessagePad 2100 and try to access those pages, just to see how they looked. Well, my friend Grant Hutchinson just beat me to it.

HTML5 on the Newton

He writes:

This series of screenshots shows Apple’s questionably named HTML5 and web standards showcase pages displayed on a Newton MessagePad 2100.

The Newton was running Eckhart Köppen’s lightweight, text-only Courier web browser, as well as Steve Weyer’s more capable Newt’s Cape browser.

Keep in mind that both browsers were developed prior to the existence of HTML5. While neither piece of software supports the advanced interaction or layout effects afforded by JavaScript and CSS3, the clean HTML5 markup is completely accessible.

That’s called gracefully degraded content.

Indeed. As Steve Jobs would say, Isn’t it cool? — Oh, and don’t miss the rest of the set on Flickr.