Charles Moore's Mailbag

Going Hackintosh, Aperture 3 Abandons PowerPC, 1995 LaserWriter Still Working Fine, and More

Charles Moore - 2010.02.17 - Tip Jar

Going Hackintosh

From Luke in response to 90% of 'Premium' PCs Sold Are Macs:

I used to think this was 100% true. But lately its hard for me to agree. Mostly because of my own experience. My old standby, which has been my workhorse computer for over seven years, is my MDD Dual G4. It's served me well for thousands of purposes. But PowerPC and OS X Tiger are almost old school now, and many modern requirements want at least Leopard 10.5.x or Snow Leopard 10.6.x and Intel Mac infrastructure.

I looked at all my options for upgrading; there was little to go with. My MDD maxed its RAM at 2 GB a while ago, I put in the best AGP 4x/8x video card I could buy, and the only processor upgrade from Sonnet is over $600 and is still PPC G4. What I could do is run various cards like a 5-port USB 2.0 card and a SATA PCI card and swap out old slow EIDE/ATA hard drives for SATA hard drives.

Oh, and OS's - my MDD since this past summer 2009 has run Native OS 9.2.2, Mac OS X 10.4.11 Tiger, and Novell's openSuSE 11.1 PPC w/ GNOME 4.x, each one on their own hard drive.

But this was not enough. More applications and even games I want to be able to use on my computer. The big problem: Apple no longer made a computer that fit my wants/needs. The only tower computer they sell, the Mac Pro, is prohibitively expensive. Even brand new, my old MDD Dual G4 was still around $1,500 configured at that time with 1 GB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, SuperDrive, and GeForce 4 Ti 4600 128 MB video, Mac OS X 10.3 Panther.

The next choice is the iMac. Although I've toyed with the idea of it, I've never liked the aspect of anything all-in-one. It took me three years to get used to the idea of having a fax/copier/scanner/printer device. Problem is iMacs are notorious for having a component go south, such as the screen. Plus iMacs are limited in internal expansion. Sure, the display is awesomely big and beautiful and a sight to behold, but when it dies, how do you use the Mac that's inside with another monitor? I don't know, because I never owned one.

Last options are go all mobile with a MacBook. Either or both the regular and pro MacBook's are awesome for portability, but still there's plenty of things it does not have that would require more parts and doodads to make it work as a replacement for my workhorse Mac.

Or the Mac mini. This was the closest option I could bring myself too. Essentially a headless iMac. It offered almost everything I want except for one thing: limited graphics. Okay, yes the Nvidia GeForce 9400M is a great GPU, why not, its used as the GPU of choice in all the current low-end iMacs, MacBooks, and Mac minis. It uses shared system RAM, and it can't be upgraded or bypassed. What if one day the GPU dies, or what if one day the 9400M isn't as powerful as you would want it to be? I was a very vocal minority on Macintouch.com forums and other Mac lists crying for Apple to make something akin to a middle Mac. Something like a small micro or mid tower Mac with all the power and functionality of the Mac mini and iMac, but with good ol' expandability of the old Mac towers.

Of course everyone knows that never happened - and in all likelihood will never happen. I accepted my fate to being a left out Mac lover whom Apple does not give a care about. I was resigned to saving up my hard earned cash and get a Mac mini to replace my aging MDD Dual G4. The Mac mini, from everything I've read and seen, can run circles around my old G4 tower except for expandability. And that always bugs me. I am an old school computer geek who loves to tinker and squeeze all the power and juice out of every computer I ever own. If there is something I don't know how to do, I try to read and learn what I can and expose myself to trial and error and trial until I gain success or learn acceptance.

An online buddy told me, You don't have to conform to Apple's status quo. You can do what I did and build your own computer and put Mac OS X on it and have a Mac with room to grow and expand. So I jumped in and learned all I could. And here I am almost six months later" I am running a home built custom configured dual boot Intel system with two 500 GB hard drives - one that boots Windows XP and the other that boots Mac OS X Leopard. It was not easy. Don't ever think its easy to build a "Hackintosh". It was a lot more than I ever bargained for. But for all intensive purposes, it works. I am very happy.

Last summer I learned about PPC Linux and installed and setup openSuSE on a hard drive in my MDD. Without having some basic Linux knowledge, I could not of gone ahead with building my "Gigamac", as I like to call it.

I know its not legal. But what can I say? It is a legal retail universal edition of Mac OS X 10.5.6 Leopard DVD I purchased and used originally to upgrade my MDD. I decided not to upgrade the MDD and decided to use it for my "Gigamac". And all the parts that make up this computer are bought and paid for properly. Its just not a real Apple. Well, I guess I had to take a page from Steve Jobs' book about being a pirate. Except Steve forgot what it was like to be a pirate and be a rebel against the old IBM world.

How is my Gigamac? It's pretty darn fast. Not perfect though: Drivers are a main pain in the behind. Leopard works for now for the most part. My build has some sound and LAN issues I am working through, but technically it boots up and the graphics work and Photoshop scans in photos and I can fool around with Pages and Keynote with iWork 09, which I purchased legally. There is a lot that I need to do, and there is no guarantee everything will work if I ever upgrade it to Snow Leopard. That's the #1 advantage a real Apple Mac has - it's been tested and 99.9% works with all the hardware it's built around. And a real Apple Mac you can go ahead and shell out the dough for AppleCare, which will come to your rescue when something gets fried. With a custom Hackintosh, something goes south, it's all on you to decipher.

Thanks for reading my Rant & Rave.

Peace,
Luke

Thanks Luke. I enjoyed reading your saga.

Different strokes for different needs and tastes. I've pretty much always been an AIO (all-in-one) guy - counting laptops as AIOs. I've owned more than a dozen Macs over the years, and only two have not been AIOs - a SuperMac S900 and a G4 Cube.

I might enjoy tinkering with electronics if I had the time, but I am probably more inclined to woodworking, which I hope to get back to if I ever retire.

As for hackintoshing, I can't recall ever hearing of Apple going after a private user for violating the OS X EULA, which despite its broad brush scope I think is in fact pretty much exclusively focused on keeping operations like Psystar at bay. Philosophically, I'm of a mind that if you buy a copy of OS X you should be within your rights to install it on whatever computer you want, and I think the DMCA is an insult to fair use and justice, notwithstanding its technical legality. Interesting how Mr. Jobs went from being the guy who said "It's better to be a pirate than to join the Navy" to being one of its most powerful admirals.

Personally, I just assume I'll be upgrading my system every three years or so and that whatever's available at the end of those intervals will be able to blow the proverbial doors off even a hot-rodded three-year-old machine. That doesn't stop me enjoying my Pismo PowerBooks. There's more to computing than raw speed.

Charles

Aperture 3: Leaving PowerPC Behind

From Dan:

It's been flashed all across the usual Mac news services, but I'm surprised it hasn't hit here. Apple put out the next iteration of Aperture yesterday with Aperture 3.

As a photographer who's been using and loving Aperture since the 1.5 build, I was pretty excited. There were definitely some long overdue features that had me ready to shill out $100 for the upgrade. When I got home, I was disappointed to find that, yet again, Apple has proven to be moving toward "Intel only".

I was unfortunate enough to invest in a 1.67 GHz PowerBook G4 mere months before the Intel switch. I've got to tell you, I've been getting along just fine with G4 up to this point. Sure, emulating Windows to run AutoCAD was painful initially, and I've given up on doing that at all at this point. And movie encodes and 3D rendering have always been a weekend process, but I've gotten used to the wait. And there was always a limit to how far I could take Logic projects, even with mixing down whenever possible. When 10.6, a mere $29 for someone like me running Leopard, came out as "Intel only", I figured it wasn't all that attractive anyway, since it wouldn't do my system much good.

However, this is the straw that's breaking my back. There's stuff in this update that could really help my business, and they're not even processor-intensive features, but Apple seems to want to drop PPC support altogether. Aside from added cost, I have to wonder, why?

Perhaps it's their shoot-out with Lightroom that lead them to include video support. That tells me this is going to be another behemoth like iTunes that does every type of media, and then some since the announcement of the iPad. I could deal with not being able to use iMoveHD - I'm not a video kind of guy in general, though that may change once my kid gets here. Perhaps they wanted everything to "just work" and didn't want anyone out there to be using hardware that made Aperture look slow and unresponsive.

Whatever the reasons, the result is that I don't know if I can use my aging Mac to do work anymore. I've been dreaming and saving for a Mac Pro, but a new wife, new mortgage, and baby on the way have really shifted the cash flow for other essentials. Whatever your reasons for keeping your old Mac, how do you guys survive if you're doing anything besides media playback, web browsing, and word processing? I ask because of your noted experience, and I might be stuck gimping along for who knows how long.

Best regards,
Dan

Hi Dan,

I share your pain, as there is building momentum to dropping PPC and/or Tiger support with more and more new software.

I held out for three years and a bit, but the tipping point for me was probably in large measure MacSpeech Dictate, which has always been Intel-only and is substantially superior to the old MacSpeech iListen (which I still use from time to time on my old Pismos). I would also be seriously pained if I didn't have access to Google's Chrome browser, which is currently in a neck-and-neck tie with Opera as my fave browser (I find I'm not a happy camper trying to get along without at least three browsers on the go).

I still love using my Pismos, but I have come to terms with living within their limitations, in which case they're still great, but I don't think I could go back to PPC only. It's interesting that I found my 17" PowerBook G4 more dispensable than the Pismos, handing it off to my wife in return for the Pismo she had been using (she loves the 17-incher).

My suggestion to you would be to somehow scrape up the grickles to get a used or refurbished MacBook - given your graphics orientation, definitely a new enough one so it has an Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics processor. The compromise will, of course, be adjusting to life with a 13" glossy display with 1280 x 800 resolution, but I haven't found it as difficult as I thought it would be. Of course, my 17" machine was an older one with 1440 x 900 res, and not one of the more recent higher resolution models.

Charles

LaserWriter Still Chugging Along after 15 Years

From Owen after reading Using 'Obsolete' Technologies on a Daily Basis:

Always enjoy reading your mailbag columns. I too had a '65 Chevy with a 283, though it was a Bel Air, and it was really my Dad's.

Thought you might be interested in my obsolete story - I have a pile of old Macs, accessories, etc., but this is a printer story. I bought a used Apple LaserWriter 16/600PS off of eBay in October of '02. I put a fresh toner cartridge in it, set it up in the den, plugged it into a router, and it's been chugging away 24/7 ever since.

Lately it's been showing a black smudge up the right-hand side of the page, and more recently it started printing black horizontal lines every couple inches as well. I've done some surfing, and it looked like I'd need a $50 repair kit for the first problem, and about 50% chance that a new $65 toner cartridge would solve the latter.

This is a 15-year-old printer that's been running nonstop with no maintenance for at least half that time. The printer status tools don't work right under TCP/IP printing (which I had to set up to print from Snow Leopard), and the configuration utility only runs under Classic (which I don't have available on either of my active machines just now). I could spend $115+ on it (more like $175 locally) and hope that would fix it, or I could buy a new color laser printer for under $200 and get rid of that inkjet that we keep in the closet for the occasional color job.

Well, we are under a tight budget, but I am just incapable of letting things go, and I found a secondhand unopened 98A toner cartridge on Amazon for $25. While waiting for it to arrive, I dug out the service manual PDF and dissected the machine for cleaning. There was a bit of cat hair in the rollers and rather a lot of dust in the fan duct, but surprisingly little anywhere else. A little rust on the fuser roller that I thought might account for the edge smudge, but not much I could do about that. It took three tries to get it back together and working, and then I was rewarded with a "low toner" light. In retrospect, I don't think the cleaning really accomplished much.

When the new cartridge arrived, I stuck it in there and ran a test page, and the silly old thing printed out as sharp and clean a page as I've ever seen. This printer was introduced in 1994, and now it looks like it's good to go for another five years!

Thanks!

Owen

Hi Owen,

Great printer story. My daughter had one of those old LaserWriters here for a while back in the late '90s, and it did a wonderful job. Delighted to hear that yours is back in service.

I still have a dot-matrix Apple ImageWriter II printer that was working fine the last time we used it, which was years ago. I expect ribbons might be tough to find these days.

It's amazing how many folks' lives were touched by '65 Chevies. Mine was a Bel-Air as well, but with a six-cylinder engine.

Charles

Charles,

I still have my ImageWriter II also, but I think the last time I used it was in '99 when I installed an AppleTalk card just to see if it would work (from Herb's Mac Stuff - found on LEM - and he still has ribbons available). Of course it worked fine, but it didn't make it any faster or quieter, or improve the print quality. 8-)

OTOH, that LaserWriter is as functional as any B/W laser printer I could buy today. When it was introduced, I was still using my Mac SE, had never networked a computer, didn't have a modem, and had never heard of the World Wide Web. And yet it hums away just fine plugged into my Time Capsule.

Thanks!

Owen

HI Owen,

Oh, I agree entirely. I wouldn't actually want to go back to using an ImageWriter, but it was a reliable old brute.

The LaserWriter is vastly superior, and also robust.

Charles

Ambrose Bierce on 'Obsolete'

From Bill:

Mr. Moore,

I happened to be rereading The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce when your "Using 'Obsolete' Technologies on a Daily Basis" article appeared in your Feb. 10 column. I thought you might like Bierce's definition of obsolete:

OBSOLETE, adj. No longer used by the timid. Said chiefly of words. A word which some lexicographer has marked obsolete is ever thereafter an object of dread and loathing to the fool writer, but if it is a good word and has no exact modern equivalent equally good, it is good enough for the good writer. Indeed, a writer's attitude toward "obsolete" words is as true a measure of his literary ability as anything except the character of his work. A dictionary of obsolete and obsolescent words would not only be singularly rich in strong and sweet parts of speech; it would add large possessions to the vocabulary of every competent writer who might not happen to be a competent reader.

Fits rather well with Low End Mac, I think.

Bill

Hi Bill,

I agree, and thanks for the citation. Bierce's lexicographical and etymological definitions are priceless, rivaling and arguably surpassing his contemporary, Oscar Wilde (with whom Bierce was acquainted and held in contempt of sorts - see Love and Kisses: Ambrose Bierce and Oscar Wilde) for biting wit, and highly recommended reading for anyone.

Here are four of my other Bierce favorites:

MAD, adj. Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence; not conforming to standards of thought, speech and action derived by the conformants from study of themselves; at odds with the majority; in short, unusual. It is noteworthy that persons are pronounced mad by officials destitute of evidence that they themselves are sane. For illustration, this present (and illustrious) lexicographer is no firmer in the faith of his own sanity than is any inmate of any madhouse in the land; yet for ought he knows to the contrary, instead of the lofty occupation that seems to him to be engaging his powers he may really be beating his hands against the window bars of an asylum and declaring himself Noah Webster, to the innocent delight of many thoughtless spectators.

CARTESIAN, adj. Relating to Descartes, a famous philosopher, author of the celebrated dictum, cogito ergo sum - whereby he was pleased to suppose he demonstrated the reality of human existence. The dictum might be improved, however, thus: cogito cogito ergo cogito sum - "I think I think, therefore I think that I am;" as close an approach to certainty as any philosopher has yet made.

PHONOGRAPH, n. An irritating toy that restores life to dead noises.

TELEPHONE, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.

What might Bierce have said of the iPod and iPhone?

Charles

Old Chevies

From Ed:

Charles,

My dad had a 1966 Chevy Caprice with in-dash ignition that he kept for 40 years. He replaced the engine a couple times, something to be expected of a Depression baby (and a NASA engineer). He didn't use it the last 10 years, and if I had had the money and space (and an indulgent wife), I'd have taken it off his hands.

He didn't drive it from California to Maryland, as he did with his 62 Corvair, but it made many trips from Maryland to my mom's family in New Jersey.

As you know, it had a very simple engine and transmission with room to spare in the engine compartment. I think the engine was between 200 and 250 displacement.

I'm pretty sure he had over 200,000 miles on it.

I just saw this Impala on Craigslist: 1964 Impala (obo) 64 impala - $11550 (Upper Marlboro)

Take care,
Snowed-in Ed

Hi Ed,

As you probably recall, the '65 and '66 full-sized Chevies only differed from each other slightly in styling and essentially not at all mechanically, other than some different engine choices. If my memory serves, the '66 model saw the introduction of the 396 CID V8 (it was actually a 401, but GM fudged the number lower to help mollify insurance companies), which replaced the '50s-era truck engine based 409 as the most powerful engine choice. Also new in '66 was the Caprice high-end model, which displaced the Impala as top dog in the pack.

The '62 through '64 models were a substantially different car, with the corporate GM X-frame chassis, rather than the full perimeter frame on the '65 through '70 models. I had a '63 Biscayne coupe. It was good, but the '65 rode and handled better.

And yes, those big cars, especially when powered by inline 6-cylinder engines (230 CID and 250 CID displacements were available with that engine design as well as a 300 CID truck version with a taller block), had a luxury of room under the hood. You could climb right in and sit on the wheel wells while you tinkered. I had 230s in both my '63 and '65 Chevs. Great engines, and a marine conversion of the the 300 inch variant remained a popular commercial fishing boat power plant here in Atlantic Canada well into the '80s.

Sometime in the late '60s, Car and Driver magazine ran a feature in which three editors chose their pick for "best sedan in the world" at the time. Editor/Publisher David E. Davis Jr. chose the Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3, which was the highest performance Mercedes sedan at the time. Patrick Bedard chose the then-new original Jaguar XJ-6, but Charles Fox went with a used beater '66 Chev and made a convincing case. Davis and Bedard are still C&D columnists more than 40 years on, incidentally.

My family also had an original series Corvair - a 1961 metallic red Monza coupe with an all-white interior. Very sharp looking, and it was a good, dependable car.

Charles

iPad Remote Computer Control Options

From twv:

Charles

A question for Low End Mac: I was wondering: Do you think one could control one's home computer, remotely, from the iPad?

Could one perform complicated, procesesor-intensive tasks on one's computer from an iPad, using something like GotoMyPC?

I really don't want a laptop. But I do want to work on my Mac Pro, which resides in my office, while away!

twv

Hi twv,

There are already many remote control apps for the iPhone, so I think optimism is warranted.

Charles

Netbooks Are Cheaper!

Sure, you can get a netbook from Sprint for $199. But you also have to pay $1,420 over the next two years for service. If you go to the Dell site, they start at $300.

My only problem with the iPad is that they came out right after I purchased an iPod touch for use in my company. But if the announced keyboard will work, I will be quite happy.

Scott

Hi Scott,

The keyboard/charging dock is a great feature and would/will be a must-have if I get an iPad. However, it only takes us halfway there. Still need support for a real, peripheral pointing device.

I still think Apple is missing the boat by not offering a netbook with a conventional clamshell form factor and a real keyboard and trackpad. If they can sell iPads for $500, they should be able to get a netbook out the door for $600 to $650, and that's something I'd be a lot more interested in, especially if it ran the real Mac OS as well.

Charles

Why Do You Dislike IMAP?

From Robert:

Hi Charles,

I read your article questioning the need for another email client and was intrigued by your comment about not being a fan of IMAP. As a fan of IMAP, I'm interested in knowing why you dislike IMAP. I had the opportunity to compare using an email client under both protocols and couldn't imagine returning to POP under any but the most extreme of circumstances.

Best regards,

Robert

Hi Robert,

Why am I not an IMAP fan? Guess I've spent too many years with slow Internet access and prefer to have my email archives on my hard drive and accessible without being online. Not many wireless hot spots in this neck of the (literal) woods, and with IMAP your messages remain on the central mail server, whereas POP downloads all messages in your inbox onto your computer where you can access them for reference whether you're online or not.

I appreciate that IMAP can be a good choice for people who need to access email from multiple computers, but for my own accounts where that is more convenient, I use Gmail with POP access configured to leave the messages on the Gmail server, which seems to me the best of both worlds.

Charles

Nondestructive Drive Partitioning

From Dan Knight in response to Nondestructive Repartitioning:

Charles,

Disk Utility, Drive Genius, and iPartition all claim support of live/on-the-fly nondestructive partitioning. Not sure if all partition formats are supported on all of these, as iPartition only lists HFS+, FAT, and NTFS.

Dan

Another Nondestructive Repartitioning Option

From Sam:

Although Disk Utility and the other applications support non-destructive repartitioning, another excellent choice would be GParted Live, which is a bootable Linux distribution stripped down to just a partition program. It's capable of being run off of a flash drive and a physical disk.

Sometimes the OS will not allow modification of the boot partition, especially if it is fragmented enough that it requires moving some files. In that case, your only choice is to boot from another location, like a flash drive or CD containing GParted.

I'm not sure if there is a version capable of running on PowerPC, as I don't have one to test it on.

Sam

Hi Sam,

Thanks for the suggestion.

Charles

Blocking Flash in Opera

From Gordon:

Flashblock is my favorite Firefox extension. What can I use to block Flash content within the Opera browser? Searches of Opera 10 help files and Google didn't show any blockers. If Flash content cannot be blocked in Opera, then Opera will be deleted from my laptop.

Regards,
Gordon

Hi Gordon.

Here are what seem to be some possible workarounds:

Charles

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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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