TenFourFox Gives Us Firefox 4 Beta 7 for PowerPC Macs

2010 – As an OS X 10.4 Tiger holdout on my two beloved 10-year-old Pismo PowerBooks, I’ve been tracking the accelerating rate of attrition in Tiger-compatible Web browser support, but there are a few encouraging signs of life for those of us whose Macs don’t support more recent versions of the OS.


“Mozilla left you. Apple left you. But we didn’t,” say the TenFourFox folks, referencing Mozilla.org’s decision to drop support for OS X 10.4 after version 3.6 of its Firefox browser.

“We love Mozilla software. We love Firefox and Camino,* they continue. We think Mozilla 2 has every possibility of kicking WebKit back into the margins where it belongs. But we were horrified when Mozilla delivered the one-two punch of dropping both support for Tiger and our beloved Power Macs from Firefox 4. A quad 2.5 GHz G5 isn’t worth using to surf the Web? Really? And you guys still support Windows XP?”

Well, it might be about Windows XP still running on 59% of personal computers (HitsLink, October 2010).

Especially for Tiger Holdouts (and PowerPC Leopard Users, Too)

As an OS X 10.4 holdout myself – my two beloved 10-year-old Pismo PowerBooks still average about four hours of production use daily – I’m obliged to concede that Apple itself has been giving us Power Mac users the proverbial middle digit since 2006. If you’re still running a perfectly good older G3, G4, or G5 Mac and want to (or need to) continue using your perfectly good OS 9 software in Classic Mode, OS X 10.4 Tiger is the last, best choice unless you are inclined to get into the hackaround world of SheepShaver. Classic Mode in Tiger does the job for me.

In most respects, Tiger is still a more than satisfactory operating system, but one area where it’s been suffering is Internet application support, especially browsers and email clients. Fewer and fewer software developers are choosing to continue supporting OS X 10.4, and it appears that browser support may well turn out to be the tipping point that makes our old PowerPC Macs functionally obsolete.

The latest Tiger browser casualty is Mozilla’s Firefox, for which, as noted above, OS X 10.4 support was terminated after version 3.6. Firefox 4 requires OS X 10.5 and later, and Beta 3 was the last version to support PowerPC Macs.

This doesn’t set well with the TenFourFox developers, who are also behind Classilla, an adaptation of Mozilla for the Classic Mac OS. They observe that if there’s one thing they’ve learned from years of using Macs, it’s that they outlast anything else out there: “Why shouldn’t an iBook be able to look at embarrassing pictures on Facebook, or Twitter about our lunch break? These are our computers, dang it. We paid good money for them. They still work. There’s no technical reason they can’t do everything that a MacBook can. So if you want something done, you do it yourself, and we did. The result is TenFourFox.”

In addition to supporting OS X 10.4 Tiger, TenFourFox also lets Leopard users run Beta 7 on their G4 and G5 Macs.

Tuned for Your Operating System and Processor

Why is this called TenFourFox and not Firefox? Because, the developers explain, even though it uses the Firefox code base, it’s not Firefox. It uses PowerPC code tuned for OS X 10.4 (and compatible with 10.5) and adds “the glue” necessary to get most of Firefox 4’s advanced features working on our older computers. It also comes in tuned builds for G3, G4, and G5 systems, something Mozilla never offered.

Nevertheless, it’s almost all the same code as Firefox 4 and has nearly all the same features, including claimed dramatically faster JavaScript, WebM video, and HTML 5 and CSS 3 support. TenFourFox is claimed to be significantly faster overall than Firefox 3.6, yet it supports so many more new and emerging Web features that your dear old PowerPC Mac will still be able to do what you need online for years to come.

Well, hopefully a year or two more anyway.

Low End Mac and TenFourFox home pages displayed in TenFourFox

Thumbnails of Low End Mac and TenFourFox home pages displayed in TenFourFox.

TenFourFox is currently in beta (like Firefox 4), but you can test-drive it now. When Firefox 4 goes full-release, so will TenFourFox.

The beta is based on the nightly build after the beta 7 code freeze. For this reason, the application will appear as Minefield, which is the Mozilla codename for a nightly build. However, the code is substantially the same. It will appear in your Dock as TenFourFox.

Using TenFourFox

So what’s TenFourFox like to use?

I downloaded a copy of the G4/G5 version to try out on the Pismo and used it for a couple of days. Performance seems to be pretty much on par with the latest builds of the Camino and SeaMonkey Mozilla Gecko variants, which still support PowerPC Macs and OS X 10.4, although users of faster hardware than my 550 MHz G4 machines may see more advantage from the more advanced coding in the Firefox 4 engine.

However, that “Minefield” warning proved appropriate, and I found TenFourFox somewhat buggy and managed to crash it – something that rarely happens with OS X browsers these days. It also seems to be a memory hog, and I actually ran out of memory to run OS X Classic Mode with TenFourFox running, which convinced me that this browser isn’t quite production-worthy yet, but I’ll be watching its development with great interest.

I like Firefox 4 on my Intel Mac, and it’s nice to think that the Mozilla browser engine may have more of a future on PowerPC than had been apparent.

Meanwhile, it’s back to SeaMonkey for me on the Pismos. For some reason, and I suspect it could have something to do with that browser’s relatively simple user interface, it seems to be the best performer among the several Gecko alternatives for my old G4 machines. The Camino development team released Camino 2.0.6 on November 16, and I checked it out for a couple of days but found it still doesn’t match SeaMonkey for speed and tractability on the Pismos. For some reason, Mac-only Camino, which I’ve tried hard to like, has never really clicked with me.

Anyway, as noted, there are two versions of Mac-only TenFourFox:

  • TenFourFox for G3 processors
  • TenFourFox for G4 and G5 processors

The G3 version will run on any supported Macintosh, but it will not take advantage of the additional features of G4 or G5 processors, especially the AltiVec velocity engine. The G4/G5 version will not run correctly on a G3 Mac.

Update: There are now four versions of TenFourFox – one for G3, one for G5, and two for G4 depending on which version of the CPU your Mac has.

Known Issues:

  • Does not currently support WebGL or out-of-process plugins, and Indic, Arabic, and other scripts requiring glyph reordering or ligatures may not appear correctly.
  • Self-updates are not yet supported.
  • Repeatedly trying to open the click-hold menu on the back and forward buttons may cause TenFourFox to crash. Right-clicking them for the menu is safe. This will be fixed in the next beta.
  • Crash reporting is intentionally disabled to avoid polluting Mozilla’s crash tracking system with TenFourFox reports.

TenFourFox requires a G3 Power Macintosh or later, Mac OS X 10.4.11, 100 MB of free disk space, and 256 MB of RAM. 512 MB of RAM and a G4 or G5 processor is recommended. Video playback is likely to be suboptimal on systems slower than 1.25 GHz. Mac OS X 10.5.8 is supported.

Intel Macs are not supported, but the G3 build is known to run under Rosetta in 10.5.8. It has not been tested with Snow Leopard.

* Camino 2.0, our favorite browser at Low End Mac headquarters (Firefox takes second place) still supports Mac OS X 10.4. dk

Keywords: #tenfourfox #osxtiger

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