TenFourFox and Flash: The Future of PowerPC Macs on the Web

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Web browsing on older Macs is harder. How long can the PowerPC platform survive? I use my iBook for web work and writing – nothing heavy – but this is becoming more and more tricky as each month passes.

I’m a lover of older Macs, and at the moment I am not in a financial position to jump to Intel, so my iBook G4 will have to suffice me for now. Hardware-wise, it is one of the fastest Macs I have owned in the past few years, and it is more than enough for what I need.

Mozilla left PowerPC (PPC) owners behind with version 4 of Firefox, and Adobe left PPC owners behind with version 10.1 of Flash. Without a current up-to-date browser and Flash plugin, how long do we have before we run in to problems?

What options do we have?

Let’s start with browsers. This is an area I write about a lot, and I switch browsers every so often to try to get the most out of Macs I have – and the best possible speed.

In terms of browsers, there are three contenders: Safari, Camino, and TenFourFox. The latest versions of Camino and TenFourFox support both Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5, but the latest version of PPC Safari (version 5) is for Leopard only. Safari for Tiger stopped at version 4.

Camino: PPC Future Uncertain

Camino is great, but it too suffers from the decision by Mozilla to ditch PPC support, so while it is still a currently maintained browser (at version 2.0.9, with 2.1 in beta), it is built using an older version of Gecko. Camino uses Gecko 1.9.2, the same version as Firefox 3.6. As of Firefox 4, Mozilla moved to Gecko 2.0.

Low End Mac as displayed with Camino

Low End Mac as displayed with Camino 2.0.9 and OS X 10.4 Tiger.

It looks like future versions of Camino will switch to a WebKit base, the same as Safari and Android browsers. However, it might mean Camino no longer supports PowerPC, as WebKit2 is Intel only.

Safari: No More PPC Updates

Safari has come a long way since it was released in June 2003. Until version 4, it really was a poor browser with bad compatibility. Version 4 came, and it was a massive improvement. I started using it again. Version 5 really stepped up the game, and I have been using it for a few months. It is fast, and I have had no compatibility or rendering issues. However, version 5.1 was released for Snow Leopard only, leaving Leopard users – both PowerPC and Intel – with 5.0.6, meaning no more Safari updates for PowerPC users.

Low End Mac as displayed with Safari

Low End Mac as displayed with Safari 4.1.3 and OS X 10.4 Tiger.

TenFourFox: The Last, Best Option for PowerPC Macs

So that just leaves TenFourFox. Mozilla dropped support for PowerPC Macs and Firefox at version 3.6.22. The Intel world is happily running Firefox 6 at present, with betas of version 7 floating around.

TenFourFox 4 was good – not the best in terms of speed, but a step in the right direction. TenFourFox 5 was a serious improvement, and it became my browser for a while – until I went back to Safari. I was running it on a 500 MHz Titanium PowerBook using Leopard, and Safari was the fastest browser.

Low End Mac as displayed with TenFourFox

Low End Mac as displayed with TenFourFox 6.0.1 and OS X 10.4 Tiger.

Now I am using 1.07 GHz iBook G4, so picked up TenFourFox again. I skipped version 6 and am currently running TenFourFox 7 Beta 1. TenFourFox is looking like the only browser that is still in production and still updated – and according to the developers will continue to.

TenFourFox shows some love for Low End Mac in its 'About' screen

TenFourFox shows some love for Low End Mac in its “About” screen.

Cameron Kaiser and his team are the same people behind Classilla – the OS 9 port of Mozilla versions 1.7 with some capabilities from 1.8 and 1.9 thrown in for good measure) that is also still in development (currently at version 9.2.2, with 9.2.3 due soon). With this in mind, it gives you a good sense that a PowerPC browser will be here for a long time to come.

TenFourFox 7 is shaping up to be superb browser. With each version TenFourFox gets faster and more stable, and 7 is looking to continue this trend. Even in beta, it is incredibly fast, and I have been using it for a few days now as my main browser.

There is a drawback. TenFourFox 6 disabled plugins by default, meaning Flash is not there. This can be enabled easily by doing the following:

In the address bar type ‘about:config’ and press enter. Look for ‘tenfourfox.plugins.enabled’ and set it to ‘true’ this will enable Flash. The developers advise against this as it may cause instability issue, but if you need Flash then you have no option. I haven’t had any problems so far and Flash content like YouTube seems to run faster than it did in Safari 5.

There is plenty of discussion on the Web that people should break away from Flash content, and while this might be true for the future, right now the Web is still heavily dependent on it.

It is looking like TenFourFox is the way forward for us PowerPC users; it is looking like our only option.

Flash

However, we aren’t so lucky on the Flash front. Adobe has left PowerPC Macs at 10.1. If any content requires 10.2 or 10.3, we are going to struggle. So far this hasn’t happened, but it will. What we really need is someone to port newer versions of Flash to PPC, but I doubt that is going to happen since Flash is not open source.

Linux is not option either. PowerPC Linux has always trailed behind x86 Linux, and with no Flash in Linux, this makes it even worse. The guys at MintPPC (the unofficial PowerPC port of Linux Mint) are trying to get Flash working and are looking at porting gnash to PPC, but this is an older version of Flash, which leaves you in the same boat as Mac OS X.

All we can hope for is that the Web moves away from Flash content quickly, or that other alternatives come about. Then we could live without it and just use TenFourFox.

One certain thing, while the hardware might still be up to the job, software is killing the PowerPC platform. This is becoming more common as the months go on. Software developers are leaving us in droves.


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