Mac Metamorphosis

LinuxPPC Chronicles, Part 3

Blame it on Mac OS

- 2001.01.29

A friend and I were having a "Mac OS stinks" discussion one day when, for once, he brought up a valid point on why the Mac OS does in fact stink: When you hold down the mouse button, the whole operating system comes to halt. Should anything interactive be running when you do that, it will stop being interactive even though it is still running. [At my last job, we used an iMac to serve our site. One day someone set a stack of paper on top of the mouse, which held down the button, which hung the entire server. This can be a significant problem. ed.]

As I am typing this article I am streaming an MP3 from one of my file servers, as I normally do. When a song ends and my MP3 player goes to load another track, all visual operations stop. This is sometimes quite frustrating when I am really getting into a good rhythm while writing or doing just about anything.

When I am streaming an MP3 everything is fine - at least it is now. My Mac OS X Server, which acts as my main file server, streams just fine, as it has for many months now. However, when I started to use LinuxPPC for daily things, I needed to find a new method for streaming my music; there is no AppleShare client support for Linux. There was a project going on for a little while, but it is extremely broken and doesn't even compile.

The obvious choice was to use NFS (Network File System) and just enable the server option in Mac OS X Server. I have spent a month trying to get NFS to work on OS X Server, read every TIL and message board, and so on. The bottom line is that NFS on OS X Server is broken. That was okay, because I just needed to stream MP3s; any other files I needed I could ftp off my Mac OS X Server when using LinuxPPC.

What about accessing my MP3s when using the Mac OS? The cool thing about Linux is that, while it cannot do AppleShare as a client, it can be an AppleShare server. Compile the kernel with AppleTalk DDP support, edit the /etc/AppleVolumes.system file, reboot, and you have an AppleShare server.

My MP3s take up about 3 gigs worth of space (one day I got the idea to rip all my CDs), and since I didn't have a SCSI drive that was larger than 2 GB, I hit my first road block. Currently an IDE card from Sonnet costs about $100, and I cannot justify spending that much money on an IDE controller.

As fate would have it, a friend of mine had a Power Mac 6400, which uses an IDE hard drive, so I traded him some old PCs for the 6400 and decided to use that as my MP3 server. I dropped in a 5 GB Western Digital hard drive that spins up at 5400 rpm. Even running Linux, the 6400 is a very slow machine, as it took me around 45 minutes to compile a kernel on it. But who ; I was just going to stream MP3s.

After I got everything set up on the 6400, I mounted my MP3 volume on Mac OS using AppleShare, copied over an MP3, and played it. Because the 6400 is extremely slow, the Mac OS had to spend a little more time waiting for the data to come across my network. The result of this was visual lockups about every five seconds, making everything I was trying to do a very painful experience.

First, I got mad, and then decided to try to get NFS going on Mac OS X Server again. That went nowhere, so I gave up on that idea all together. After all was said I done, I had no choice but to grab one of my 233 MHz Pentium-based machines and use that as my MP3 server. The Pentium runs like a champ, and I am streaming MP3s as I write this article. Everything runs smoothly, and I can type without being interrupted.

The irony of this I find very amusing. Mac OS X Server drove me back to Intel, and I really hate working on PCs these days. Granted, all this will change on March 24th when I install Mac OS X, and then I could run my MP3 server from my Quadra 605 and never even notice that there was a performance issue.

I looked at every other option before setting up my Intel server. I could find no other way to accomplish what I wanted without having to spend money. I changed the rate at which my MP3 player (SoundJam) buffered, tried different MP3 players, and so on. The bottom line was that because the server needed an extra second to get it's stuff in order, the Mac OS decided to stop completely while it waited to be fed more data.

This is the one time I find myself agreeing with my friend Chris about the Mac OS. A Windows user could build a 486 based MP3 server and play files without even noticing that the file was being streamed from a server. On the other hand, I have a G4 that pauses whenever the most minuscule thing happens.

I am not returning to Windows and will continue to use the traditional Mac OS until Mac OS X comes out. Even then, I will still use the Mac OS on a few of my machines.

Still, what really gets me is that this project should have taken an hour, not a month.

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