Charles Moore's Mailbag

3 Reasons to Use a Mac, and Pismo Troubleshooting

Charles Moore - 2008.10.15 -Tip Jar

3 Reasons I Use a Mac

From Chris in response to What's So Great About a Mac?Plenty!:

Oh, hello, it's me.

(Well I couldn't resist that one.)

I'm sure you don't really remember me, but I was the one who wrote awhile back about USB booting and problems with disc 1 of Tiger. I'mback to confirm that USB booting is possible on both G3 and G4 systems.I managed to boot of a Tiger install disc on a USB drive while holdingoption and choosing the CD drive as a boot disk. Worked just fine, andTiger installed slowly, but fine.

Still, that's not the reason why I am writing, but rather inresponse to the article by Alex Gallegos. I still use Windows for variousreasons (mostly games). But there are three reasons why I use aMacintosh.

The first one is choice.

I like to have a choice in operating system, not what themanufacturer decides is right for me.

And Mac OS X is the biggest commercially viable alternative toWindows out there right now.

Let's have a look at the other alternatives: Amiga OS? Whatever theAmiga aficionados might want you to believe, Amiga OS is soundly dead.Cold as Haagen-dazs. It's a cool system to fiddle with but not exactlyup for prime time.

BeOS? Very much dead.

OS/2? IBM pulled the plug on that one.

Mac OS 9? Dead, dead, dead. Even deader with the Intel machines -they won't even boot in OS 9.

Linux: Ah, now here is a bone of contention. Linux is making stridesinto mainstream with Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Linux Mint, Gentoo,Puppy, and Xandros. Asus even sells their Eee laptops and boxes withLinux. Which is great - they are the first manufacturers to actuallyoffer Linux in a mainstream machine. However Linux is still not readyfor prime time; unlike Windows or Mac OS, you still can't buy the appsin a store - you have to download them, and let's not talk about games.(Don't dismiss games; it's a multibillion dollar industry that thrives.Playing games these days is just as important as running office suitesused to be.) Linux is just not ready yet.

Unix and Unix like? Too difficult and oblique.

So what does that leave us with then? Mac OS X its the easiest andonly really viable competition to Windows right now. That's the firstreason I use Mac OS X.

Second reason: I am rather sick of Microsoft' s anti-piracy crap. Iknow they are trying to protect their operating system against piracy,and they have that right. But they are going to draconian measures. Ihave several original legal versions of Windows XP, and I'll be damnedif I will let them call home to Microsoft and ask for permission to beactivated.

Those are my computers, and it's none of Microsoft's business howmany times I decide to reinstall XP or not. Another reason I preferWindows 2000 over XP - it at least still has a normal serial.

Apple doesn't use such ridiculous draconian measures, so that'sanother very good reason.

And the third reason has actually been discussed in your article.Malware. I'm wary of going online with Windows. With Mac OS X Iknow I don't really need to worry.

Of course I'm still careful and scan my downloads and files, becauseI still have Windows machines, but still I don't need to worry about alink that will bring my whole system down.

Those are my reasons - now lets add some commentary to Mr. Gallegos'arguments about why Windows is better.

Mac OS X looks like a Fisher Price toy.

If Mac OS X looks like a Fisher Price toy, then Mr. Gallegos hasn'tbeen paying attention or looking at Windows in the past two years.Vista is even more gaudy and brightly colored than Mac OS X is.Even the stark ugliness of Leopard can't trump Vista in this regard.And that trope really is antiquated. XP looks rather candy cane like aswell with the Luna theme, and one could argue that all GUI's lookinherently childish and toy-like. Even the Spartan and utilitarian bycomparison Windows 95 and Mac OS 7.

It's all about software stupid.

On this one I have to disagree with you, if only for personalpreferences. Mac OS X doesn't really give me a better or moresatisfying working experience, only a different one. It's a simple factfor me, that a Macintosh doesn't make me inherently more or lesscreative any more or less than a PC does. They are both tools and letme get on with my work. I only prefer to do my writing on MS Word 2000on a PC, because I prefer to do it like that. If only because I havebeen using MS Word since 1997 and some habits are hard to shake. If thesoftware is better or not, is up to the individual user.

Malware doesn't matter.

At this point I'm starting to wonder on what planet Mr. Gallegosreally is living.

Malware does matter; it's one of the biggest reasons people moveaway from Windows, because they are sick of worrying about every littleclick, every new link, and every new email with an attachment. Thereare hundreds of thousands of viri out there waiting to strike on anyunsuspecting Windows users.

Mac users by comparison have it easy.

With the transition to Intel and the ability to run Windows, now isthe best time ever to jump to Apple. All the security of Mac OS Xwithout having to give up certain apps for Windows. (Games, mostly, butalso certain applications you can't be without. ACDSee and MS Word 2000in my case.)

Macs are for lazy folk.

By this point Mr. Gallegos utterly destroys any credibility he hasleft. "Macs are for people who don't really understand computers andwant it as easy as possible."

Right, I wonder where that leaves me, a user of computers for thepast 12 years. I have been pulling them apart and putting them backtogether for the past 10 years (and usually they work too). And a Macuser of 5 years. I wonder how I fit in that little trope. Mr. Gallegosdoesn't seem to realise that it's the ease of use that makes theMacintosh so appealing.

Instead of having to jump through hoops or deal with vagueconflicts, a user can just install the software and get on with what heor she needs to do with it, confident that every other Macintoshapplication will behave in the same way, using the same short cuts.Yes, Windows does follow that set of rules globally, but Windows,especially Vista, tends to get in the way with warnings and overheadand asking for permission. (Then again Tiger is sluggish on my eMac 700.)

The OS should only come to the foreground when it's absolutelyimperative - when it needs you the user to do something, authorisesomething, or when something has gone wrong. Otherwise it should getout of the way and let the user do what they want. Microsoft seems tobe struggling with the concept that the OS doesn't matter any more. Thedesktop metaphor is long gone, and it's about content andconnectability these days. Asus already demonstrates that new way ofthinking with the Eee and Xandros. There is no desktop any more, thereare only tabs with different actions and applications. The OS is safelytucked away in the background.

Mac OS X isn't there yet but might get there, after all Finder isnot the OS, it's just the application that lets us interact with theOS.

Still there is every hope that Mr. Garregos will grow up and stopthese rather ridiculous fanboy rants.

Windows isn't perfect, but then neither is Mac OS X. And I find thatthey are suitable to different purposes. Mac OS X for my onlinepurposes, Windows for offline. I'm sure other people have otherpurposes.

Chris

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the report about booting and installingTiger on a USB drive. Good to know that it can be done, especially withFireWire 400 support eroding. Scuttlebutt has it that the new MacBook Prowill have a FireWire 800 port but no FireWire 400 port. I hope thatrumor is incorrect.

Thanks also for the commentary. We mostly agree. I cutmy computing teeth on Microsoft Word 4 and 5.1 for the Mac, but longsince switched to Tex-Edit Plus for most things, and if there's an appI simply couldn't abide being without, it's TE+ (and it's Maconly).

Charles

Hello.

It can be done with Tiger and maybe with Panther. Something I mightbe apt to finding out soon.

I only tried it with an an eMac G4 and a iBook G3, but there is noreason to assume it can't be done with other models. FireWire is prettymuch on its last legs, seeing that USB 2.0 offers the same speeds, itbecomes less and less needed to keep it going.

Personally I would not miss FireWire, because in the Netherlandsit's pretty much a non-issue. The only FireWire hardware I ever had wasan second gen iPod; it's USB here all the way. Still it could be worse,Apple could remove FireWire all together from the MacBook.

I would not put that past them; Apple tends to go where othercompanies fear to tread.

ACDSee 2.4 is nothing more then a JPEG viewer and organiser, but itis able to move copy and duplicate files and folders, and all that witha keyboard. I tend to use ACDSee as a replacement for the interface ofWindows it self, so when I use Windows I am pretty much dependent onACDSee.

It has become less and less these days, but when I am using Windows,ACDSee is always open.

Good to know that we mostly agree.

As far as virtualisation software goes, VMware Fusion stands headand shoulders above the competition. Its hardware features andintegration are just so much better. I already liked it as version 1.3,version 2.0 just made an already good product even better. I alsomanaged to score a 'new' iBook G3 500 to replace my agingone. A 500 MHz with 64 MB RAM, 10 gig hard drive, and a Combo drive andthe adapter all for 66 Euro (about $70). A very nice catch, especiallybecause I love the iBook G3s, the 500 and 600 models in particular.

My old one is falling apart at the seams, yet still holding on andtenaciously clinging on to life and running Tiger just fine. I havebeen inside that machine so often I can open it up and disassemble itin 10 minutes.

Its Combo drive is dead, the backlight of its screen goes on and offand needs persuading to stay on. And it's held together by maybe 12screws, yet it keeps going. Now that is quality. And I'm glad I havebeen able to secure a second one.

And perhaps that's another reason what's so good about theMacintosh, the enduring hardware quality. They just keep going andgoing and going and going.

Regards
Chris

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the further comments and observations.Again, we mostly agree. I'm a FireWire fan, and I do have severalFireWire peripherals (scanners and an external hard drive), but it doesseem like Apple is phasing out FireWire support, alas.

My 700MHz G3 iBook served me faithfully as my production workhorse formore than three years and is still going strong as my wife's computer.It's never given any significant trouble. Great deal you got on that500 MHz unit.

Charles

Pismo AirPort Stopped Working

From Bill:

Charles,

I just finished reading your online article about the PowerBook Pismo, greatarticle about a great machine.

I'm a proud original owner of a Pismo that about 6 months agoquit starting up. The Pismo serves as a second computer to our iBook G4, and after some fiddling and readingonline I discovered that with the PRAM battery disconnected the machinewould start up and run great (OS 9). Problem is now it does notrecognize the AirPort card. I did try removing and reinstalling thecard, but I was wondering will the AirPort card work without a PRAMbattery? I intend to order a new PRAM battery, I just haven't gottenaround to it.

It seems weird that everything else would work great but not theAirPort card. The Li-Ion battery has been dead for years, and we onlyuse the computer from A/C power, but AirPort was working great beforethe PRAM died. Thx for any experience you can share.

Regards,
Bill

Hi Bill,

This is a new one for me. I suppose it's conceivablethat the AirPort card might want a functional PRAM battery, but I don'tknow one way or the other. It would be interesting to try a WiFi PC Card to seeif the machine would recognize it, but that's not likely practical foryou. Getting a new PRAM battery will also be a useful diagnostic.

However, that the Pismo will evidently not boot withthe PRAM battery connected may indicate other problems afoot.

Perhaps someone in Low End Mac readerland will be ableto shed some light on this.

Charles

Pismo Kernel Panics

From John:

Hi, Charles,

If I've asked you this before, bear with me. I looked back thru oldemail exchanges we've had and didn't see anything on this question.

Every so often when I boot up the Pismo, I get the apple, followedby the spinning gear, but then a black box comes up with whitelettering. It says in four languages, "You need to restart yourcomputer," followed by some instructions that only a robot would need.Have you ever seen this? Sometimes it will take three or four rebootsto get past it. There's no discernible frequency either. I've run DiskUtility, Cocktail, and Onyx to repair permissions.

Maybe I need to leave this computer running overnight for awhile. Ithink your column that introduced me to Onyx talked about thelate-night maintenance scripts that run on Macs. Mine's probably notgetting any of that. What do you think?

Thanks.

John

Hi John,

What you're experiencing is what is known as "KernelPanics." They were fairly common with older versions of OS X, butI have had very few with Tiger and I don't think any with Leopard.

According to Apple, "A kernel panic is a type of eventthat occurs when the core (kernel) of an operating system receives aninstruction in an unexpected format or that it fails to handleproperly. "

The kernel panics I used to get with my old G3 iBookseemed to often be associates with USB peripherals, and at least in the0S 10.2/10.3 era, are almost always related to a hardware issue of somesort, with USB hubs frequently mentioned along with several otherpossible culprits.

In MacOS X: The Missing Manual, David Pogue also says thatkernel panics are "almost always the result of a hardware glitch."

This web page - http://www.macmaps.com/kernelpanic.html- suggests that there are three main potential causes of kernel panics,In summary:

  1. A directory failure or user accidentally moving .kext files thatshould be left alone. The directory may fail due to an accident causedby Norton Utilities or Systemworks, which may at random corrupt adirectory even when trying to repair it. Norton Anti-Virus will not dothis, but Disk Doctor and Speed Disk have a history of doing this.
  2. Peripherals that aren't Mac OS X native may cause a kernel panic,Mac OS X 10.2.5 has been known to kernel panic at certain USBhubs, and it is recommended you upgrade to 10.2.6 to avoid thisissue.
  3. RAM and motherboards are the least likely suspect in kernel panics,but if you just have a new system, and/or just installed new memory andyou get a kernel panic, that's the most likely place to startlooking.

Hope this information is helpful.

Charles

Thanks, Charles. The only thing I've added recently to this Pismo isa Wegener G4 processor, which was several months ago. Sounds like itwould be worthwhile to reseat the processor board and the RAM for goodmeasure. Interestingly, I left this machine running overnight last weekso it could do its late-night repairs. It's been running smoothly sincethen.

I've read about kernel panics in the past, but didn't know what itmeant or what the symptoms would be. I'm running 10.3.9, BTW.

I appreciate your help.

John

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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