The Low End Mac Mailbag

Panther and the Beige G3, Unreadable CD-Rs, Free Music, and More

Dan Knight - 2003.07.08 - Tip Jar

Panther on the Loose

After reading Beige G3 Abandoned by Panther? Is It Really Inevitable?, Peter da Silva writes:

Some comments, and a bit of a supporting rant...

If they don't support Rage II video, then there's always the option of installing a Rage 128 card. They really need to define their requirements in terms of functionality, and check on that functionality, rather than checking on specific models. You need OpenGL-capable video cards? Check for one, don't just assume that the computer you're installing on doesn't have a Radeon because it didn't ship with one....

And having to partition your drive should not be seen as a drawback. The idea of putting personal data on the system partition (the one most likely to need drastic measures if your computer runs into OS problems) or the system on a partition that sees frequent file creation and writing (which is, after all, most likely to cause file system damage) doesn't seem entirely logical. And of course for a dual-boot system you're going to want to peel a third partition off for OS 9.

And with OS X based on an open source platform, it should be an easy matter to toss the older drivers (even the ones like the video drivers that aren't technically part of Darwin) over the wall and let the community take over their support.

One thing I'm not sure I agree with is that this doesn't increase Apple's market share. It will . . . oh, not in terms of boxes shipped today, but in terms of boxes shipped next year, and in terms of copies of OS X sold. See, even if Apple doesn't directly benefit from reuse, there are all kinds of second order effects. Mac users, particularly the kinds who are willing to nurse a 5 year old computer along, are enthusiastic evangelists.

The ability to keep using a Mac for years longer than a PC helps justify the significantly higher price. So does the resale value, and that depends on being able to keep the machine in active use. And the long-term support for Macs is good, but it's not really that much better than Windows if you're not looking for leading-edge performance: I can install XP on Wintel machines as old as my 7600. And I can install the latest IE (if I were insane enough to want to) on Windows 2000.

From the buzz I've seen on the Web in recent days, it looks like USB is going to be the minimum requirement for Panther, just as a G3 was for Jaguar. (Thank goodness Ryan Rempel was able to get Panther to install on models with G3 upgrades. Better yet, he's already working toward a version of XPostFacto for Panther. With any luck, third-party USB cards will allow G3 and pre-G3 systems to run OS X 10.3.)

It's nice when the community can come through with drivers, just as long as someone gets the job done. There's still the beta quality floppy driver for beige G3s that's never been finished as one example of the open source community dropping the ball on a project.

I'm a huge fan of partitioning. My current drive has 40 GB for the OSes (9 and X), applications, and almost all of my other files. The second partition is for my websites. This makes for very easy backup. The third is a shared volume for everyone on the network, which keeps people from getting into my files on the other partitions.

There are lots of good reasons for partitioning, but as OS X grows, even 8 GB is going to get small. I had a heck of a time getting it on an iMac 333 with a 6 GB drive, and then had to run updaters in small batches to accommodate the limited amount of free space.

I agree that every OS X user is another feather in Apple's cap. If it doesn't sell hardware today, at least it sold a software license and got one more Mac user to migrate from the classic Mac OS to OS X. That's one less obstacle to buying a future Mac that won't be able to boot the classic Mac OS.

End of OS X on Low End Macs

Responding to the same article, Bill Hornbuckle says:

Sorry, I think you're indulging in wishful thinking when you hope Apple will fix up an installer for machines that are falling off the performance curve. It would be nice for the people who have those machines, but probably not good business.

First, these campers are not going to be happy with the performance even if they do get it to load. Second, as current statistics indicate, not many of these machines are getting upgraded to OS X, probably because people don't feel the need and are also apprehensive about the performance. Third, it will actually take Apple a lot of effort to build the installer you describe, and once they do that, where do you draw the support line? Should they support the installer but not the install?

It is a slippery slope that ends up pissing off more customers who think they should get support for $129. In the end, I think the right thing for Apple to do is draw the line at full support or let the older machines fall off the bottom and depend on the after market to take care of them.

It's a cruel world, and progress marches on. I don't think Apple wants to support machines that can't really run the software.

Apple could create OS X in such a way that it couldn't be installed on unsupported hardware; they chose not to do that and instead rely on the installer to prevent unsupported installations. The only limitation with 10.2 is that it requires a G3 or G4 processor. With XPostFacto, it's possible to install Jaguar on PCI Power Macs that have processor upgrades.

That's an unsupported installation. Apple's installer doesn't allow it, and the OS X user license apparently doesn't allow it, either. Still, it can be installed, it can function, and users are reporting that OS X is growing on them - even on such ancient hardware.

It would take nothing but a check for Apple to obtain such an installer. I'm sure they could license XPostFacto for a song if they bundled it with every copy of OS X sold. The question is whether they want to facilitate unsupported installations, and so far they don't.

Part of the reason I'm promoting this solution is that people have been buying beige G3s because of Apple's promise to support them in OS X. There was nothing in that promise that said, "We'll only let you run OS X up to version 10.2.x. After that, we're going to abandon you." Besides, its more work to take out support for ADB, serial ports, and SCSI than to just leave to code in there. If it's not causing any problems, why remove it?

To turn you question around, will Apple tick off more customers by abandoning the beige G3 completely in 10.3 (or later) - or by giving them a way to install the OS understanding that they'll have no support from Apple?

Panther a no-go on Beige G3

Ed Hurtley confirms:

Well, I just confirmed it. When I got the developer preview, I had been planning on putting it on my backup iMac, as it's my 'testing development' Mac. But after reading your column, I checked, and lo and behold, the readme does just say "Power Macintosh G3 (Blue & White)". I had thought it said it supported the beige, but no.

So I decided to try on one of my beiges anyway. The beige in question is a Rev. 1 with Rev. A ROMs. It has stock processor, using onboard 2 MB Rage IIc video, 512 MB of RAM, and PCI FireWire, USB, and 10/100 ethernet cards. Stock 4 GB hard drive and CD-ROM, with an external SCSI CD-RW drive. I turned off the CD-RW drive for this test. It has 10.2.6 installed, with all the latest updates as of last night. It does not have an OS 9 system folder. (All my OS X-capable Macs are OS X-only.)

I inserted the Panther DP CD, double clicked "Install Mac OS X", entered my password, and watched the computer reboot.

It restarted, showed the nice dark-gray-Apple-logo-on-light-gray-background just like normal, then the monitor made a sound like it was being sent a video signal it couldn't handle. Then the monitor turned off. (It's an old Apple Multiscan 17", 1024 x 768 max.) I let it sit for about 5 minutes, thinking maybe it would change resolutions. Nope. The CD stopped spinning, the hard drive sounded idle, and nothing was going on. So I restarted. Now I get the good old 'can't find boot disk' flashing floppy with a question mark. If I try forcing it by holding down 'X', I get open-firmware-esque 'can't OPEN:' repeating about 30 times, then the question floppy.

So now I'm booting off an OS 9.2 CD, (I'm going along as I'm typing this message now, with pauses in typing to see what happens.) The Startup Disk control panel still shows my hard drive as a valid OS X boot drive, so I've selected it, and I'm rebooting now. I'm back to OS X.

So let's try that Panther install again.

Same thing. Apple logo on light gray, then monitor goes out. Maybe when I feel like cleaning off my desk, I'll take out the PCI cards and nonstandard DIMMs and try again. (I had to do that to get Jaguar to install, but it at least would start running the install.)

Two notes on Panther: The PDF viewing part of Preview really is as fast as demonstrated. Even on an old 350 MHz iMac. And iChat AV on Panther crashes if you try to use Rendezvous.

Thanks for the feedback - and I hope you're not violating any NDAs by providing this information.

Really looking forward to Preview on Panther. PDFs are excruciatingly slow in Jaguar.

The end of the Beige G3?

Dr. Joseph Ballo writes:

What is one of make of articles such as this? How is one to evaluate an article interspersed with statements [but the beige already lacks DVD support and has a video subsystem that's challenged by Aqua, to say the least] that are simply not true [I watch DVDs on my beige all the time] or misleading [I have an ATI 7000 card that works well with Aqua although 'QE does not work and the analogous PVI Extreme is more trouble than it is worth'].

With friends like this poor ol' Apple doesn't need enemies.

On the other side of the fence, the Wintel user puts up with garbage but meekly submits to it and appears defensive and hostile when you point his position out to him. On our side of the fence the Mac user hardly seems to miss an opportunity to trash his own platform. A simple misinformed rumor ['Panther is not going to support the Gossamer platform'] and the sky is said to be falling.

And on the same day I read that Ryan R's XPostFacto is expected to support Panther without difficulty. Does that mean that my 8500 server is OK but my Beige is not?

Phooey. Gotta keep my temper under control.

You do that, and I'll do the same. I get a bit miffed when someone tries to paint me as a traitor to the cause for pointing out hardware limitations, whether on new hardware or old. Would you rather we glossed over Apple's mistakes?

I know of one beige G3 owner who sued Apple because he couldn't watch DVDs using OS X, something that his hardware supported under OS 9. Anne Onymus raked Ward W. Vuillemot over the coals for his gripes. Since Mr. V. hoped to start a class action suit against Apple over DVD support in OS X, I kinda assumed that just maybe he wasn't able to watch DVDs when he ran OS X.

From all I've read, the Radeon 7000 is a fine card with Aqua, but it doesn't support Quartz Extreme without a hack, and with the hack a lot of users have reported problems. Better to just use it as Apple and ATI intended.

It's no news to anyone that the beige G3, which hits its sixth birthday in November, really isn't an ideal platform for OS X. From the factory it had 2 MB of VRAM, a 6 GB hard drive on a 16.67 MBps bus, and only officially supported up to 192 MB of RAM. To get decent OS X performance you need a faster hard drive and a lot more memory. A good third-party video card is also a wonderful addition, as I'm sure you realize.

Then again, Apple creates installers for their hardware, not for unsupported configurations such as you have. And for whatever reason, the installer for the developer preview of Panther will not run on the beige G3.

As for your 8500 being able to run Panther but not your beige G3, I think that's pretty unlikely. It's more likely that Ryan Rempel will be able to support both or just the beige G3. A recent comment from him on our Unsupported OS X email list:

"...motherboard USB is a handy way of distinguishing between "Old World" Macs and "New World" Macs. So, the 'Panther requires onboard USB' rumor really equates to a 'Panther requires a New World Mac' rumor.

"As to whether I can solve the rumored problem, I will certainly try. In theory, it ought to be possible, but there are several issues to deal with, and the degree of difficulty depends on certain details that aren't totally apparent yet."

As for keeping the faith, did you actually read my article where I proposed that Apple actually include installers for unsupported hardware with the OS? This is Low End Mac, after all, and we'd just as soon see those old Macs remain in productive use as long as possible.

G3 Support not Quite Win-Win

Wayne Folta writes:

I don't know that support of G3s is quite the win-win you describe. Some tradeoffs:

1. The time and energy spent modifying the installer to do checks, etc., is time that could be spent fixing a bug in the Finder or tweaking performance for a Mac that isn't geriatric. Maybe this time is small. As an ex-programmer, I can say it's very easy to underestimate the level of effort required. (Including Q&A, meetings, coordination, documentation, etc.)

Add in, as you mention, SCSI support, ADB support, etc., and it would be a literal nightmare that I, as a user with a new Mac, would strenuously object to. It would be handicapping us to make a small sale to users of ancient computers who want to upgrade even though their computer works just fine as-is, doing the things they've been doing for years.

2. Apple will probably get way more negative press from it than positive. Regardless of how many "Click Here to Agree that you're doing something not really sensible" notices the installer has, people will install it, then jump on forums to complain about bugs or slowness, and extol how much faster Mac OS 9 is. (Witness Applelinks, where Mr. Moore has made his living for the last year complaining about Mac OS X's performance and lo, it turns out he's installed it on a geriatric system in a tiny little partition and runs all kinds of haxies to try to make it look like Mac OS 9. After a year or more of kvetching and rallying the troops against Mac OS X, he finally got an iBook and, well, Mac OS X ain't the dog he made it out to be.)

Even if users don't give Apple bad press, they'll constantly be getting a negative Apple impression as their machine struggles along with software that requires more than their old machine can deliver. (I disagree with your statement that Panther, being more efficient, should run better on G3s. It's more efficient on G4s with reasonable memory, disks, and graphic cards. That doesn't necessarily translate to G3s. For example, more widespread use of AltiVec will make everything snappier on G4/G5s, but does not apply with G3s.)

3. Six years is a good life to get out of a machine. I had a Mac SE that I used for years, then handed to my sister who used it a couple of years, then handed it to a church that used it. I pushed my Mac 9500 hard for 6 years before it finally gave up the ghost. You'll be happier and more efficient with a newer machine.

Obviously, your budget is what your budget is. But I fear your suggestion is like The Karate Kid quote: "If you walk on left side of road, ok. If you walk on right side of road, ok. But if you walk down middle of road, SQUISH, just like grape."

We're not talking about adding in ADB, SCSI, and Mac serial support. They already exist in the OS X code base from the beta through 10.2.x. It shouldn't be a nightmare to keep them - probably more work to remove them.

The OS X installer already checks your configuration to make sure you have a G3 or newer processor and sufficient drive space. Having it check the gestalt ID or ROM version on older Macs should be trivial, as would asking the Mach kernel for information on the hard drive and the install partition.

I've never done system level programming, but the fact that someone like Ryan Rempel can make OS X install and run on officially unsupported hardware tells me that some of Apple's decisions are a bit arbitrary, perhaps more driven by marketing than by the market.

You seriously understand Charles Moore and myself, who kept running notes on our experiences with OS X for over a year. Neither of us "made a living" by dissing OS X. We make our living by providing helpful information for Mac users - and the sluggishness of OS X on older hardware is definitely useful information for those with aging Macs.

Truth is, Jaguar was a lot slower on my 400 MHz TiBook with a fast hard drive and 512 MB of RAM. It was even slower on Moore's G3 Pismo. Today I'm running a 700 MHz eMac, and OS X finally feels fast. Moore says the same of his iBook. Faster processors, plenty of RAM, and Quartz Extreme have helped us move beyond complaining about sluggish performance - but that doesn't mean it's gone on the older hardware.

If someone wants to stick with OS 8.1, 9.2, or 10.2 on their beige G3, that's their call. But if they're sold on OS X, have upgraded their machines with lots of RAM, a big fast drive, and a better video card, why should Apple force them to sell it and move up to at least a B&W G3 so they can migrate to the next version of OS X?

If Apple won't do it - and I don't expect them to - at least we know Ryan Rempel will give it his best shot.

Reading CD-R in an Old Mac

Bill Doty wonders:

I have an LC 580 (OS 7.6) connected to a LaserWriter 4/600ps and networked to a G4 Quicksilver (10.2). I made a CD copy of the 580's hard drive as a back up. When I put it in the 580, the computer would not read the CD-R formatted disk. (The 580 is running fine, I just want to be able to restore it if it crashes.)

The question: Where can I find an extension or driver for the LC 580 that will allow the computer's original CD drive to read CD-R and CD-RW formatted disks?

It's not a matter of drivers. The ancient 1x, 2x, and many 4x CD-ROM drives were designed and built before CD-R became popular. They were only designed to read mass produced CDs, which are silver. CD-R and CD-RW discs are usually gold, so they don't reflect as much light, and the older drives are not able to read them.

Your no cost solution to make a boot floppy with network support and boot from it if your 580's hard drive crashes. Then mount your backup CD in the G4's drive, share it, connect over the network, and copy your files.

The alternative would be to find a Mac bootable SCSI CD-ROM that can read CD-R and use it to replace the old drive in your LC 580.

Mailbag Musings

Chris Kilner has several suggestions:

Re: Mark Florida's suggestion to differentiate between Q's and A's, how about using italics for the questions?

Re: Steven Palm's iChat AV comments, note that the KB article he cites only deals with using DV cameras; the minimum requirements for video (with a non-DV camera?) are a 600 MHz G3 or a G4 (see Requirements for iChat AV (Public Beta)) so Steven's 900 MHz iBook should work with USB and FW webcams. He might want to check MacFixIt or MacInTouch for other troubleshooting (i.e., firewall problems, etc.).

Re: Ryan Scott and putting a SuperDrive into a G4/400. First, why put a SuperDrive in the Zip bay? Just replace the regular drive with the SuperDrive and put the CD-RW FireWire drive neatly on top of the tower. Second, as someone who just put a SuperDrive into a B&W with a G4/400 processor, I can assure Ryan that the CPU will really limit the ability of the machine; he needs to be prepared to let iDVD render iMovies overnight.

Also, if he goes the cheaper OEM DVR-105 route instead of getting a DVR-A05, he needs to be prepared to have his SuperDrive come without a manufacturer's warranty. As someone who has spent the last year and nearly $1,000 souping up a Rev. 1 B&W G3 tower ($350) with G4-400 ($120), 768 MB RAM $70), 6 GB + 40 GB($100) + 40 GB($60) HDs, 4X SuperDrive($170), 17" Multiscan($15), ATA 133 PCI($70), FW PCI($20), and iLife($18 on eBay), I can definitely recommend buying a new MDD 1.25 with a SuperDrive for $1,499. That extra $500 to get a new Mac gives you with a 312% faster processor, a 67% faster system bus, faster memory, a faster IDE bus, a faster and bigger stock hard drive, a better video card, better included software, and a warranty.

Last item first, Ryan Scott emailed me, "Thanks for the advice. Though I am seeking out either a 1 GHz or 1.25 DP G4 from January, as the current G4s being sold by Apple are lacking both FireWire 800 and Airport Extreme." He's planning ahead and making a wise move.

On the second item, iChat has no support for USB cams. The linked page specified FireWire. Too bad. I think Apple is really limiting their market by insisting on FireWire. Besides, one users see how bad USB cams really are, maybe they'll be more likely to upgrade.

As for italic type, it's always harder to read than regular type. How much harder varies with the font on the user's system, their OS, their browser, whether antialiasing is enabled or not, and what size text they have as their default. For the sake of legibility, I try to avoid using italic on the Web.

Another source of "free" music

In response to MP3 Sharing Isn't Piracy - and It Isn't Legal, Either, Carl Bachellier writes:

I was reading your article on copyright infringement and MP3s. One source of pure digital music that has been overlooked (in Canada anyway), is the music service called Galaxie (http://www.galaxie.ca/anglais/0/) provided on "upper" channels on local cable and satellite systems. My Bell ExpressVu satellite system has many digital music channels. Commercial free. If you leave the channel on, the title and artist act as sort of a screen saver on the TV.

Top 40, classical, alternative, rock, 70s. Quite an impressive selection. The quality is top rate. What would stop someone from just turning on the VCR and taping the top 40? With devices like TiVo, why not capture 12 hours onto a hard drive? You see what I mean?

I rarely remember these channels exist. They are great when company comes over and you don't want to fiddle with the CD player. I suppose no one ever thinks of recording radio stations, because the quality is low, but why doesn't anyone care about the "free" channels that the cable/satellite providers throw in? It's top quality, better than anything you could download from the Internet. In fact, why even download it? It's right there.

Installing OS X on a FireWire Drive

Mark J. Mirsky

Usually I encounter you on the [SuperMacs] list, but recently I have been trying to install OS 10.0.3 on a FireWire drive in order to play with my daugher's G4 without disturbing anything on her hard disk.

The CD does not recognize the FireWire drive, an OWC Mercury. Is this because it is too early a version of OS 10? Or am I doing something wrong? Is it possible to get an upgrade disk without installing this version of OS 10 if this is so?

Sounds like a "chicken and egg" situation. Any version of OS X should see a FireWire drive as long as it's connected to the FireWire port on the motherboard. Can you see the drive when the G4 is booted into OS 9? Has the drive already been formatted? If not, the OS X installer won't see it.

The first generation Power Mac G4 models (Yikes! and Sawtooth) support FireWire drives, but they cannot boot from them. That capability didn't come along until later. I believe the "Two Brains Are Better Than One" Gigabit Ethernet models were the first that could boot from FireWire, although I can't find this documented on Apple's site.

So even if you can see the drive and install the OS to it, you may not be able to boot from it. Here's hoping you have a model that does support booting from a FireWire drive.

Building a Clone

SFJ writes:

I just read the article in Macworld about building a clone. I have an old but dependable Power Tower Pro that I want to perform the upgrade tricks described in Macworld, especially the move to OS X. is this doable for an advanced novice, or am I pissing up a rope?

I finally got around to reading the new Macworld over the weekend. It was nice to see Low End Mac mentioned as a great resource for building up your own Mac for a lot less than the cost of a new one. Too bad that article doesn't seem to be on their website.

I'm not personally familiar with the Power Tower Pro, but it appears to be based on the same motherboard as the Power Mac 9500. Both, in turn, are similar to the SuperMac S900 I used to use. With six expansion slots, room for at least a gig of RAM (which nobody could afford in 1996), and lots of drive bays, it's a great candidate for upgrading under either the classic Mac OS or OS X.

The best places to ask for advice are our Power Computing and Unsupported OS X mailing lists. The first group will be more familiar with the hardware issues of the various Power Computing clones, and the second group has hands-on experience with OS X on a wide range of unsupported hardware. Ryan Rempel even posts once in a while.

Between the two lists, you should be able to get a lot of good advice about SCSI hard drives, which CD burners work best, what brands of USB and/or FireWire cards are recommended, which video cards have the best support, and so on.

iChat AV Letter

Responding to iChat AV Trouble Shooting, David Neumann writes:

I think the person's local lab problem is that he's using the same AIM account to attempt the chat. He either needs to register for another AIM account or simply use the Rendezvous buddy list instead of the AIM buddy list. No config at all for that one. Macs just auto-show up when iChat is active. That's what I did anyway.

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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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