The Low End Mac Mailbag

Switching from Mac to Windows, Really Clearing a Hard Drive, OS X and Viruses, RAM Disks, and More

Dan Knight - 2003.02.26 - Tip Jar

HTML programs

After reading Claris Home Page 3.0: Still Irreplaceable?, Eric McCann writes:

I'm somewhere right in the middle, as far as HTML coders go.

I have three small websites I work on - my hobby site ( my wife's site ( and a site that, admittedly, is not quite finished yet, but in some ways is related in spirit to LEM - Gaming on the Cheap (

I code them by hand - it's part of what drove me to use style sheets (changing a color scheme on one page instead of 50 is a present from Heaven.) What I would like, though, is this:

  1. Let me define a basic "boilerplate" page by hand. I have this already, actually, with "obviously wrong entries" (on the hobby site, for instance - Kitname in the boilerplate). It makes it easy to find the exact spot I'm modifying.
  2. Let me open this in a WYSIWYG editor that will take these (I'll give it a specific "tag" if need be) and just let me input forms.
  3. The editor should not go through and add a bunch of garbage to the page (my biggest complaint, and part of why I want to retch when people say they edit in "Microsoft Word" or "Frontpage").

Essentially, what I want is something that will take a boilerplate page and turn it into a form, using the styles I've defined in a style sheet.

It doesn't exist. So I code by hand with an editor that uses syntax styling (LiquidFX on Windows, CoolCat in BeOS, or BBEdit - if not SimpleText - on the Mac).

I don't know how many people would be interested in such an editor, but as far as a WYSIWYG like you mentioned - why hasn't the Mac community turned open source and tried to develop its own? Open source is not just for *nix, after all.

Just a thought.

Don't even get me started on the abominable HTML that Microsoft Word puts out - it makes Microsoft Frontpage look reasonable. Home Page may be outdated, but at least it's not stupid.

The HTML editor in Mozilla may come closest to doing what you want. Try it. I didn't like it, but then I don't hand code, either. The Mozilla editor at the very least didn't seem to change code on the page it opened. And it's free.

Like you, I would like nothing better than to see an open source project create something a lot like Home Page - but with all the bugs and outdated problems fixed.

Printing from an LC 475

Stuck with a dead printer, Gabriele writes:

The printer for my Mac LC 475 is broken I need to buy another one but now all the printer have the USB connection. How can convert the USB to a serial cable? There is a converter to do that?

Short answer: No. There are adapters that will let you use old Mac serial devices on USB ports, but nothing that works in the opposite direction. I believe Epson was one of the last companies to supply printers with old fashioned Apple serial support. You might check with local Mac dealers if any are still available.

Wiping a Hard Drive Completely

Hoping to preserve her personal information, Jill Carey writes:

You have an awesome virtually-one-man-operation going here. Very impressive. I used to be somewhat of a Mac expert many years ago, and have completely lost touch! You're an immeasurable resource for us long-losters.

I've completely forgotten the whole "clean sweep" process. My question: I'm giving two Macs (old G3 beige tower and old 6500/250 tower) to someone. My concern: I don't want my old personal banking, medical, insurance data, etc. accessible. I want to remove it completely so it cannot be retrieved in any way, neither intentionally nor accidentally.

How do I do that? Is doing a standard "clean install" the answer? I hear that it's virtually impossible to totally remove all data from PCs unless you replace the hard drive itself. Is that the case with Macs also?

Thanks for any and all help you can provide. You and your site are much appreciated!!

I do have several writers and a lot of assistants on the email lists, but I do all of the design and editing at Low End Mac, as well as a fair bit of the writing. Not quite a one-man operation, but close.

As anyone who watched Alias or CSI should be aware, it's basically impossible to wipe a hard drive to the extent that your data is absolutely unrecoverable. That's why the federal government often physically destroys old hard drives.

A "clean install" won't do a thing to protect your data. All it does is place a clean copy of the Mac OS on the hard drive. Any files on the disk are retained.

To protect your files from the average user, you should use a utility that zeroes every byte of every sector on your hard drive. Probably the best and easiest solution would be to boot from a Norton Utilities CD, delete all the files on your hard drive, and then run Speed Disk with the "zero" option.

Then reboot with your Mac OS CD and do a clean system install. Your data will be gone to all but the most dedicated black ops types. For most of us, that's good enough.

CD-RW Driver for Performa 5260

Looking for help, Ib Roslund writes:

I'm a Danish journalist who recently got an iBook to replace my old Performa 5260/120 from 1997.

Now I wan to transfer the stuff on my old machine to the new. But the old machine has no USB-connection as the new has. It has no CD writer. Then I got me a old 2x CD writer that I can connect through the SCSI-port. But I got no driver for it.

Do you know where I can find and download such a driver?

Such drives usually come with drivers, and the first place to look would be the website of the drive's manufacturer. They may have free drivers available.

I don't know of any free or shareware drivers, but if you can't locate the drivers that came with the CD burner, you should be able to use one or more of the following commercial products: CharisMac Discribe, Intech CD/DVD SpeedTools, Roxio Toast.

OS X and Viruses

On the subject of viruses, which we discussed in Further Thoughts on Windows and Viruses, Peter da Silva responds:

I do try to keep in touch with viruses and worms, though, as they are perhaps the biggest Mac advantage in the era of cheap hardware and pretty stable versions of Windows.

I must admit I haven't heard of serious Mac virus problems since the end of the BBS era cut out their main means of transmission. The OS itself didn't have any particular protection against that, though, and even gave the viruses a nice easy spot to hide in the resource fork.

OS X is a completely different beast, of course. I was pleased to see the way OS X lets you selectively enable root privs for administration rather than just making it "Administrator or not" the way Windows does - that should help immensely, and I don't expect to ever see OS X have even as many virus issues as OS 9 and earlier.

Like you, I'm surprised Microsoft hasn't done more to bulletproof Windows.

The thing that really gets my goat is that they have acted systematically to reduce security and make viruses more likely, even when ordered to undo the actions that caused the problem by a judge!

And I'm still wondering when we'll see the first worm or virus written specifically for Mac OS X....

Malware writers are likely to just add Mac OS X exploits to their Unix server worms. Luckily those tend to get fixed pretty quick.

I got a real kick out of an article I read yesterday on ZDNet UK, Is Linux as vulnerable as Windows? After the Slammer virus nearly crippled South Korea and even took down parts of Microsoft's network, they not only make the claim that Unix/Linux systems can be as readily compromised by worms and viruses as Windows.

And then the author states, "The report also points out that Apple is becoming vulnerable." Becoming vulnerable? What exactly does that mean - that nothing has breached the OS yet, but it just might happen some day?

With that kind of reasoning, I guess we could all talk about becoming dead since that's something that will eventually happen to us. That's the kind of convoluted "logic" used to make OS X and *nix appear as vulnerable as Windows.

One really nice feature of Mac OS X is that Apple ships it with a lot of typical *nix services turned off, making it less likely someone will be able to take advantage of the common *nix security issues. Still, I'm sure that someone will be able to create the first OS X virus someday - although getting it to propagate among 5 million OS X users on an Internet of hundreds of millions of computers will be a whole different issue.

OS X and RAM Disks

After reading Why OS X Doesn't Need a RAM Disk, Andrew Prosnik notes:

I was curious recently and looked some stuff up: 020530084607311&query=Ram+Disk

Particularly appropriate:

Thought you might be interested in their thoughts about how useful RAM disks are in OS X.

That article pretty much matches with my observations: For heavily accessed files, a RAM Disk can be advantageous. For less often accessed files, you'll probably find the disk caching in OS X works out best - and that caching is a world better than it was in the classic Mac OS.

It boils down to who knows better how to use the memory in your Mac, you or the operating system. If I had more memory - and 512 MB sure seemed like a lot when I got my TiBook - I'd give the new version of ramBunctious a try. But with well over a dozen programs and the classic environment up and running at all times, Do I Need More Memory says I've only got 12 MB of spare RAM at the moment. Memory Usage Getter pegs it at 7 MB.

What's really fascinating is that the Classic Environment is only using 52 MB, despite the fact that I'm running Claris Home Page, Claris Emailer, BBEdit Lite, Mizer, TextSoap, and WebChecker.

Maybe it's time to look into one or two 512 MB modules for the old TiBook. Then I'd have the elbow room to try out ramBunctious.

How SpamBouncer Works

In reply to my comments on Fighting Spam, Tom Mulhern writes:

True, there is an issue with false positives, and my best friend's grandparents email was the first to get caught. The nice thing about SpamBouncer is it addresses those issues. There are several folders that are used, and one is the spam folder. Anything in there is spam.

If there is a question at all, it ends up in the block folder. If so, if will send a message to the sender that their email was blocked and they only need resend it with the code word that is included in the reply. This is quite effective, and I just add the sender to my email list so I don't have that happen again.

As long as the sender is in my email list, they will get through, regardless if they are sending from within a blocked IP range. I can also turn on and off filters that use the blacklists, Spamcop's is very effective. I also go in and delete the spam, and it takes very little time at all, and I am doing this less and less as I see SpamBouncer perform better and better.

One problem I have is that the more novice users don't know what spam is. I would never call LEM a spammer; I know better. My sister has no idea what spam is, so anything she doesn't want in her inbox is spam. It makes no sense, but that is because we are dealing with the masses and there is a wide range of understanding.

Despite my happiness with SpamBouncer, I have to say I am always looking for a better way. I did learn of one of the best filters out there, CRM114. ( I think that looks like something I want to try. But for now, this is bliss. My inbox is mine again.

I've been using Mail for several weeks now, and I'm amazed at how much spam doesn't get flagged even though I've deliberately selected several email addresses that get lots of spam. I'm training, but Mail seems to be a slow learner. And I'm getting a lot of false positives.

I don't like the idea of a mail server blackholing spam automatically. I like the way you describe SpamBouncer as working - when in doubt, it puts it in a separate folder. Maybe the next version of Mail can add a "questionable" flag for mail that may be spam.

However, I don't like the idea of having to send a message to a server telling it that I really did intend to send that email so please let it through. My policy is that I won't reply to those messages. If someone wants to create that high a wall around themselves, I'm not going to fetch a ladder. IMHO they would rather cause others inconvenience so they can avoid spam. It's selfish behavior.

The better way would be for a program such as SpamBouncer to ask the recipient whether to add the sender to their whitelist or label the message as spam.

Why That G4 Won't Work in a Beige G3

After reading Dropping a G4 into a Beige G3, Adam Hope clarified:

I think the simplest explanation for this one is that the Beige G3 uses a ZIF socket where as the Sawtooth uses a completely different type of connector that is in no way compatible! (you mentioned that older machines used the same socket as the beige G3, but didn't explain the different socket in newer machines before you went on to talk about the memory bus which was a little confusing).

However if the 366 is not already overclocked, there is a strong possibility of it being able to achieve 400 MHz. This requires little more skill than actually swapping the processors over. Finally, if he buys an upgrade for the Sawtooth from someone like, they will let him trade in his old Sawtooth processor towards the cost of a new one.

Thanks for clearing that up, Adam. I no longer have access to Power Mac G4s (our newest desktop is a beige G3/266), so I had no way of checking whether the two sockets were identical.

We have information on overclocking the beige G3 that explains how to change the J16 jumpers and modify the computer's speed.

Switching from Mac to Windows

Peter Breis, who recently discovered Low End Mac, writes about his choice of Windows over Mac OS X when switching from the classic Mac OS. I hope Apple is listening.

I discovered your site and am very impressed by how well you presented your argument.

If only Apple could do the same! Unfortunately, I must tell you I have come to a different conclusion based on personal experience.

I know it won't help your argument, but I'd like to let you know why after 19 devoted years on the Mac I am laying down hard cash for my first workstation PC (I already have a hand me down PC that the wife uses).

Whilst it is not a decision that seems to benefit the Mac cause, it is a hard one for me, and if Apple ever learnt from my and many others experiences, it would be a stronger contender in the computer market.

I am a designer and Mac fanatic. I fell in love with the Mac when I first saw it presented as the Lisa way back at the beginning of the 80s. As soon I was able and could afford it, I bought my own Mac and got many organisations I worked for or was associated with to follow suit.

For a time I even sold and supported Macs in advertising studios. This was when my eyes were first opened to what an arrogant, ignorant, and spiteful company Apple could be. As I and my associates worked our butts off trying to get Macs into studios, we were treated with suspicion and contempt by Apple apparatchiks who seemed more concerned with control than results.

I got out of that line realising that whilst I could win the battle with PCs, ultimately Apple would undermine us from the rear. Since then I suffer schadenfreud every time I see another victim of Apple's incompetence bite the dust. I am in Australia, and the trail of destruction is horrific to witness.

This would be history if it wasn't an ongoing running sore. Apple is so decimated here as to be almost invisible. I have given up recommending Macs to people because I no longer can believe it is in their best interest to pay top dollar and not get their money's worth.

There are a number of issues which are pushing me to my decision to switch.

...I have watched as Apple has eroded the Mac's ease of use and usability to bring it about on par with Windows in most matters and below Windows in many others.

Principally I have watched as Apple has eroded the Mac's ease of use and usability to bring it about on par with Windows in most matters and below Windows in many others.

Designers adopted Macs for a few good reasons. It was like a sharp pencil; if you saw it on the Mac, it was there and usable. I am talking about software, artwork, files, fonts, peripherals, and networks.

All these facets were generally easy to install and maintain. Not any more. Apple must have a check list it is working down to totally break studios' productivity. Many of these concern hardware changes, but most are because of OS X.

I am not against change for the better; in fact, I am all for it, but Apple has had a bad habit of burning bridges on short notice, leaving most of its followers on the wrong side of the river. It gives them no feasible alternative means to cross and then makes a fashion statement out of being on the "right side." Apple and it's acolytes disparage the victim's without looking at Apple's role in their predicament. Why be surprised when the users move to Windows after being doubly punished with pain and contempt?

Since getting my G4 in preparation to move to OS X, my studio has staggered from one crippling problem to another.

The G4 came with the original hockey puck mouse and keyboard that missed certain essential keys. It also lacked a floppy - and SCSI to let me connect to my peripherals. I had to replace the hardware I just paid for with third party products and get supplementary cards just to keep working. It was a stupid additional expense and has proved temporary, as OS X breaks one piece of hardware after another.

The keyboard that worked fine prior to OS X 10.1 started to fail to work after every second restart. ADB bridges, to make essential dongles work, cost extra, only to fail randomly and inexplicably during use.

The external USB floppy drive, bought to patch Apple's abandonment of the bottom line for PC transfer, causes intermittent freezes. Most of my SCSI devices (which all up cost vastly more than the Mac they are attached to) either don't work (like the $6k scanner) or work only with problems.

I cannot network with my older computers running OS 8.6, so I am cut off from my alternative method of reading floppy disks. Attempts to share the older Macs just causes them to bomb. Apple's tech support has been totally useless on this point, as on every other point I have raised. I jokingly said I am going to go in the Guinness book of records for the most unanswered Apple tech issues. My work around was to install a FireWire card in one the Macs on the working part of the network and manually transfer files via the drive. "Slightly" clumsy for the "digital hub," no?

I got VDSL broadband connection for the studio and was very impressed with how easy it was to connect with OS X. However I cannot get it to work through my 10/100Base-T switch and am forced to manually plug and unplug my ethernet cables to either be on the Net or to be able to print. I can't do both simultaneously.

The G4 bombed straight out of the box when I bought it. This gave me hell for six weeks till I had to have it fixed at my own expense (Apple disowned the "software" problem - which I assume was theirs as it came with their unaltered installation). I bought a FireWire drive to give me an alternative startup system so I would never suffer the same fate again.

Unfortunately, Apple's OS installer disks refuse to install on the FireWire drive! So I am still as vulnerable as ever. Oh, by the way, I discovered the G4 installer CDs have no networking software in their system when I tried to fix my initial problems via a networked Mac. It was gotcha after gotcha.

Now down to the failings of OS X, which is going to be our unavoidable future if we stick with Apple.

I do like a lot to do with OS X. It's stability (with some failings), it's true multitasking, the native pdf format (excellent), the ease of connection with the Net, its speed in copying files, and its ability to address vast amounts of hard drive space and RAM.

However this all comes at considerable cost.

It is slower than OS 9 still (I am on OS X 10.2.4).

It annoyingly conceals new files in the Finder, column view, and save/open dialog box. In both the column and open/save dialog, it badly truncates file names in the middle to the point of illegibility and total confusion. The muddle with metadata and file extensions is an ongoing nagging problem and not going to get better.

The problem of file name length is an utter farce when transferring files or viewing them separately in OS 9 and OS X, adding to the already confusing User interface that makes finding the correct file as bad or even worse than in Windows. instead of actually having usable longer file names, I have shorter names to accommodate the dot.file extension, and if I want to be able to see the name in the open/dialog, it must be shorter still!

Fonts are a disaster. They are undistinguished by type, appearance, or location, which can be almost anywhere of 7 different folders. Helvetica and Courier constantly are reported as either missing or duplicated, evidence to the contrary not withstanding. This causes me endless grief when distilling pdf files. The antialiasing has reduced their appearance down to the level of Windows displays, with small characters being hard to distinguish or blurring together. In AppleWorks the fonts have bizarre spacing problems on screen.

Fonts appear at wrong weight on screen.

Disappearing files/folders

Unicode works very well in Windows. It is well supported by the system, email, applications, and fonts. In OS X and OS 9, it is virtually undocumented and has holes in it you could drive a truck through. I have struggled endlessly with it since it was supposedly implemented in OS 9. In fact, this is the principal reason I am switching to Windows.

Monitor resolutions and color

OS X makes bizarre and incorrect monitor resolution choices. These seem to change with versions of OS X, as does the screen color. Under Windows, my monitors have a huge choice of resolutions and frequencies. In Mac OS X, I have two - both ridiculously low - which I am forced to override.

Keyboard shortcuts interfering with work

cmd-opt-D makes the dock pop in and out. cmd-opt spacebar rotates my keyboards

Language kits?

interfering and lack of documentation. Korean was making my Address Book and Mail render in Hangul. Can't get right to left scripts to work correctly. Difficulty with Chinese.

Stupid pointless changes

Stupid pointless changes and annoyances like cmd-opt-N for a new folder. The folder name is selected - and immediately unselected before I can type. In mid-name typing in the Finder pops the selection and jumps to other file names.

Failings of "solutions" like Office X and VPC
AppleScript - time

The solution that doesn't seem to have answers. I can't record actions in OS X, and a simple script I wrote to disconnect from the Net at a set time seems to fail chronically (pun intended).


I am put off by the noise of the new high end Macs. Macs used to be quiet, but then they used to be a lot of things. My existing G4 makes horrid grinding noises, as does a client's G4 of the same vintage.

PC price, performance, compatibility, warranty and support

For a fraction of the price it would cost me to buy a current Mac, I can afford to take chances and make more frequent changes on the PC. Being up to date is affordable. I am not forced to pay for mediocre components I do not want; I just ask for them to be removed or replaced and pay only for what is installed. On top of which I get a 3 year on site warranty.

In summary, I am like the 90 year old Jewish woman in court to divorce her husband. When asked by the judge why she is divorcing him after 70 years of marriage, she announces, "Enough is enough!"

There's been a great thread on MacInTouch over the past few days. Mac OS X Justification begins with a well intentioned tech support type reporting the problems designers have experienced since he migrated them to Mac OS X last year. The nearly universal response has been a bit more polite than "YOU IDIOT" - but that's what it boils down to for design shops, especially those mired in Quark, using older peripherals, and so forth.

Apple has not made it as easy for Mac users to switch as it has for Windows users, and nowhere is this more evident than in the graphics industry, where a lifetime of learned habits have been broken, many older peripherals lack OS X support, and the sluggish performance of Quark in classic mode vastly reduces productivity.

Switching should be a personal choice. Users should be exposed to OS X, perhaps even required to use it one afternoon a week in companies that want to migrate, but they should never have their productivity impaired to the extent we see in this lengthy discussion on MacInTouch.

It took me a year to make the transition; today I wouldn't go back. Yes, I miss the sprightliness of OS 9, the ease of several utilities, the familiar way of getting things done - but I appreciate the stability of OS X, the intelligence of Safari (still a beta!), and teaching Mail about spam. (Yes, there's something therapeutic about teaching your email program to identify spam. Mail has some real limitations, but this feature is enjoyable.)

By going to Mac OS X, it have full compatibility with my old software. I'm still using Claris Emailer, Claris Home Page, Mizer, Photoshop 5.5, WebChecker, QuicKeys, MenuChoice, BBEdit Lite 4.6, Mizer, and a few others. They work beautifully, although Home Page is much more sluggish about uploads than it was under OS 9. (Home Page is my main productivity application.)

I'm not going to try to talk you out of your decision. Windows XP just works, and it's probably no more alien than OS X after 19 years on the Mac. I'd be scared to trust my business to Microsoft's operating system, programs, licensing schemes, and monopolistic practices, not to mention the greater potential for worms and viruses, but as a Mac user I'm sure you're intimately familiar with the shortcomings of the dominant platform.

If only Apple were equally conscious of their shortcomings. Mac OS X is a great operating system, but it sacrifices performance and ease of use for stability and a pretty interface, as noted in The Mac OS: Two Out of Three Ain't Bad.

Although Apple has never been a dominant part of the personal computing market (see Apple Has Always Been a Niche Player), they have been below the 10% mark for nearly a decade and today have about 3% of the market. That's 3 million computers a year, but the PC side of the industry sells over 100 million units a year.

And this from the company that created the hottest MP3 player on the market. And the hottest single computer on the market for the first year the iMac was out.

I can't tell Apple what to do, how to grow their market share, how to get old Mac users to buy new hardware. I can tell Apple what they have to stop doing - driving people away with poor customer service, beta quality hardware (no, Safari is better than the noisy power supply in the Power Mac G4 MDD), overpriced software and services (how many still haven't paid for Jaguar? how many gave up on iTools when it became .mac?), and refusing to offer low-cost hardware that would make upgrading to newer hardware easier for current Mac users.

Apple can't afford to lose Mac users, because they will become reverse evangelists, which will further decay Apple's minuscule market share. If Apple really wants to grow to 5% of the computing market, they need to pay more attention to their customers.

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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