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Mac Musings

The Apple Store, Intel Macs, and Classic Apps

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- 2008.04.09 - Tip Jar

I tend to pop into the Apple Store at Woodland Mall almost every time I'm at the mall. It's nice to see the latest, but often the store is too crowded to spend much time playing with the new hardware.

But last night I brought in one of the old eMacs, hoping it would be covered under the Repair Extension Program. It had died a couple months back, but with a sprained wrist, I wasn't in any condition to wrestle it through the mall to get to the Apple Store. (Suggestion to Apple: Put your stores closer to a mall entrance. A bulky 50 lb. computer is a lot to haul 100 yards or so.)

Anyhow, the staff at the Apple Store was wonderful. One of the employees saw me struggling with the eMac about 20-30' from the front of the store and came out to take it from me. He set it on the counter at the Genius Bar and checked me in. I was a bit early, so I got to fiddle with the Macs on display.

As I mentioned earlier this week, I'm using Geni to build my family tree, and it's pretty slow on my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4. It uses Flash, and it takes a long time to update the display when I add a new member to the tree (583 and counting!). While I waited for the genius and again while he was taking apart the eMac in the back of the store, I went to geni.com to see how quickly it would render my family tree.

I knew the MacBook Pro would do a great job, as my wife is using one while the eMac has been down - and I suspect she'll never want to go back to the eMac after the experience. The 15" MacBook Pro has a great screen size and excellent performance for Geni. I was quite impressed at how well the 13" MacBook and the Core 2 Mac mini did with their integrated Intel graphics. They weren't as fast as the MacBook Pro, but they were much, much faster than my old G4 workhorse.

Of course I had to try the 8-core Mac Pro with its 30" Cinema Display. Wow, that was fast, and the humongous screen would be a genealogist's delight. Of course, that's well beyond the means of most of us mere mortals!

I also spent some time with the 20" 2.0 GHz iMac. With its 1680 x 1050 display, Radeon graphics, and dual-core processor, it could be the perfect desktop computer for the casual user. And performance was excellent on the Geni website. At US$1,199 with Apple's new keyboard (quite nice!), Mighty Mouse, Leopard, and iLife, it's very attractive. Sure, 24" would be nice, but that costs $600 more, and 20" is more than adequate, as is the 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo performance.

Not that the Mac mini was a poor performer. Attached to a 20" 1680 x 1050 Apple Cinema Display (at $599, there are lots of more affordable alternatives), it did a great job with Geni, but it's actually quite a bit more expensive than a comparable iMac once you add the keyboard, mouse, and display. It's a great choice if you already have those, but the iMac has dedicated graphics, a built-in iSight webcam, stereo speakers, and a bigger, faster hard drive for the same price as the Combo drive mini with Apple's least expensive display. I guess it just shows the value of the 20" iMac.

Planning Ahead

I'm weighing my options, and I'm thinking that a 20" iMac could be my best choice for a next desktop computer. I already have a great keyboard and mouse (Logitech's long discontinued Cordless Elite Duo), but I would like a larger display. Not that I'm complaining about my 1280 x 1024 Dell screen, but bigger is better when it comes to display size. (I think I could find happiness with a discontinued 17" 1440 x 900 Core 2 iMac.)

Problem is, going Intel (or upgrading to Leopard) means losing Classic Mode, and that means giving up Claris Home Page, which I've been using for over a decade to design, write, and edit web pages and manage the Low End Mac website. I know I could use SheepShaver, but I've tried it and don't like the way it works, emulating a Mac inside a window when I'm used to Classic Mode which lets me seamlessly and transparently move between OS X and Classic apps.

It looks like I need to replace Home Page. From what I've read and heard from others, it seems that Dreamweaver could be a good replacement, but I'm not prepared to spend $300+ for any piece of software, and finding older versions (MX 2004, for instance) isn't easy. KompoZer, which is free, offers maybe 70% of the capabilities I have in Home Page, but Home Page requires Classic Mode, which Intel Macs and Leopard don't support. And KompoZer isn't especially stable, polished, or consistent. It's usable, but it's definitely beta.

But I've been thinking in a different direction recently. What if I were to continue using a PowerPC Mac running Classic Mode in Tiger alongside an iMac? I recalled such a program, but not enough to Google it, so I asked the Low End Mac staff. Many thanks to Ben Barsh, who told me that SynergyKM was the program I was looking for.

SynergyKM

Synergy lets you control two or more computers (OS X Macs, Windows machines, Linux boxes) with a single keyboard and mouse, and SynergyKM is the Mac OS X program that lets you avoid using the terminal to make it work. Best of all, it's open source freeware.

SynergyKM is installed as a System Preference, and you can use it to set up a Mac as a server (the computer with the mouse and keyboard) or client (one you share your mouse and keyboard with). You need to be running OS X 10.2 or later and have the computers on the same network. Since it's mostly passing mouse movements and keystrokes across the network, it's very fast.

You can set it up so that the monitors are next to each other or above/below each other. Unlike Apple's old Monitors control panel, you can't set the monitors corner to corner, and old trick used in multiple monitor setups to keep the mouse from zipping off the side of your screen and onto the other one unexpectedly. That's been happening a lot as I get my feet wet.

SynergyKM is smart enough to disconnect from a computer that goes to sleep, and it's been interesting experimenting with the 400 MHz iMac on the table next to me. Unfortunately my desk has a hutch, so there's no room for side-by-side Macs and/or displays.

A couple small things frustrated me.

  1. When your cursor goes to the other screen, it also jumps to the center of the server's display. I wondered why I couldn't move the mouse, why my Mac wasn't responding to Cmd-Opt-Esc - then I was the Force Quit Application window on the iMac. Aha! It would be nice if SKM would change the cursor or pop up a warning: Your cursor is on that screen now.
  2. If you have the Dock hidden along the side between the displays, you can't open it. Solutions are not hiding the Dock or not having it on that side.

SKM isn't the perfect solution for field work, unless you want to haul around two notebook computers, but it could be one way to use Claris Home Page and have an Intel-based Mac running Leopard.

SheepShaver

Another option is SheepShaver, which I had running on the MacBook Pro many months ago - I even had an article about it halfway written. In short, it works.

I've had access to a 15" MacBook Pro for a while and really like it. The 1440 x 900 pixel screen feels huge, even compared with the 17" 1280 x 1024 display on my Power Mac G4. The keyboard is very good, and the large trackpad (especially compared with my last 'Book, a 400 MHz TiBook) is excellent.

To install SheepShaver, you need the program itself, a version of the Classic Mac OS between 8.5 and 9.0.4, and a ROM image. Downloading SheepShaver is easy, but acquiring a copy of Mac OS 8.5 took a while. Special thanks to Jason Schrader for sending me a full install CD for Mac OS 8.5.

The ROM image was a problem. Although there is a ROM image on the Mac OS 8.5 install CD (it's in the System Folder), every attempt to use it to launch SheepShaver failed. It took some research, but I eventually discovered that the ROM image on the Mac OS 8.5 CD is not compatible with the MacBook Pro.

Kudos to Charles Ross of ATPM for sharing this info in Running Classic Software on an Intel Mac. From there it was a short trip to Apple's website, where I downloaded ROM Update 1.0. Then I got a copy of TomeViewer from VersionTracker, used it to extract the ROM image (on my Power Mac, as TomeViewer itself is a Classic app - a bit of a catch 22), copy it to my flash drive, and then copy it to the SheepShaver folder on the MacBook Pro.

It sounds like a lot of work, and it took a while, but I eventually got SheepShaver to boot from the Mac OS 8.5 CD and install the Classic Mac OS on it's disk image.

Next problem: How to update to Mac OS 8.6. Internet Explorer 4.01 is the only browser that comes with OS 8.5, and it's pretty bad. It hangs on a lot of pages, but I did manage to get to the iCab site and download a copy of iCab 3.0.3, which let me visit Apple's website to acquire the Mac OS 8.6 update. (I had to boost the amount of memory assigned to SheepShaver to 128 MB to do this.) Phew!

The most useful document for installing SheepShaver was Installing SheepShaver by Sons of Thunder Software.

In the end, it works. SheepShaver allows you to run the Classic Mac OS on Intel Macs. It's not as nice as Classic Mode, which made switching between OS X and Classic apps transparent. With SheepShaver (and other Mac emulators), you're working within a fixed window - and SheepShaver allows you to adjust its size at startup.

It took some time to figure out how to move software to the SheepShaver disk image. I couldn't get it to mount my flash drive, which would have been the easiest way to do things. In the end, I burned a CD with my Mac OS 9.2.2 System Folder and Claris Home Page. This would let me copy favorite control panels and important preferences to the emulated Mac.

I made sure to burn the CD as HFS+ using Dragon Burn, as I know Mac OS 8.6 will recognize it. To do that, I had to shut down SheepShaver, insert the CD, open SheepShaver GUI, and add the disc as one of the volumes SheepShaver would mount at startup. A bit cumbersome, but I shouldn't have to do this often.

The real drawback to SheepShaver is that it runs in a window, but if I'm willing to have a sidecar display anyhow, I could simply set up my Dell monitor next to the Intel iMac I dream of owning someday and use it exclusively for SheepShaver.

The Better Solution

Which is the better solution? In the long run, it's replacing Claris Home Page so I don't have to use the Classic Mac OS. Problem is, I haven't found an affordable replacement: low-end solutions offer less than Home Page has, and Dreamweaver costs more than I'm ready to pay. But I'm downloading the trial version (613 MB!). Maybe it will let me stop using four different programs (Home Page, KompoZer, TextWrangler with Tidy HTML, and TextSoap) to get my work done.

Failing that, I have a couple of options to try when I finally make the move to Intel. Until then, it's business as usual with a program I've been using daily for over a decade.

And my eMac should be up and running real soon now.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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