My Turn

A Second Spring for PowerPC Macs

- 2011.09.28

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

One of the advantages of using older Macintosh computers is that you can get a lot of great software for just a few bucks - or even for nothing, as abandonware. On the other hand, new software for old Macs is scarce, and the lack of updates for crucial software is the main reason to upgrade to newer Macs.

Luckily, the team behind TenFourFox (a port of Firefox 7 that is heavily optimized for PowerPC Macs running OS X 10.4 and 10.5) and Classilla (a port of Mozilla 1.3/Netscape 1.3/Firefox 0.5 for Mac OS 9 with additional features from newer versions) is working hard to prevent that from happening, but they are only maintaining a browser. There is lots of other software that we need to adapt to changing Internet habits or work environments. New standards emerge; new requirements arise.

For the last two decades or so, we have relied on Apple and some of the big software companies to supply us with the programs we needed. That was comfortable as long as our long-term goals met theirs. Apple's unnecessary move to drop Rosetta support in OS X 10.7 Lion indicates that Cupertino is no longer interested in the desires of us cranky old Mac owners and now follows its new agenda.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Today, many of us once-dedicated Macintosh fans are clueless regarding the future. What am I going to do when I finally get to the point where my Mac is so outdated that I can't use it anymore? Bite the bullet and jump onto the OS X-goes-iOS bandwagon? Switch to another platform? Stop using modern computers at all and move into a cabin in the woods? (I've heard that PowerBook G4s make great computers for that purpose.)

Dan Knight, Low End Mac's publisher, has often written about how he relies on classic software (particularly Claris Home Page) to run Low End Mac.1 It works fine for him - it gets the job done. Most of you can probably relate to that.

This article is being written in AppleWorks 6, which yours truly considers to be one of the finest office suites ever created.2 Even though it is considered "obsolete" since 2007, it lets me get my paperwork done. In fact, after eight years of use I can say that I'm finally proficient in AppleWorks 6. I know the shortcuts and what all those nifty little icons do. It took a while, but now I'm efficiently working with it. I've mastered it.

And now I am supposed to drop it and moving to an Intel Mac with a new office suite that is likely to take me another couple of years to master, just to do the same stuff again? From a broader perspective, isn't it simply absurd?

The 1980s and 90s were really revolutionary in terms of operating systems. We went from text-only environments to operating systems with a graphical user interface (GUI). We learned to switch from keyboard-only controls to using a mouse for navigating through the folders on our hard drives. It was a revolution.

Not Much Has Changed Since the 1980s

But since then, hardly anything really changed. Regardless of what marketing departments try to tell you, it is still the same (more or less) 2D desktop where I drag my files into folders. Sure, they added some features here and there. You may like or not like the newer features, but none of them fundamentally changed the concept of how to use a computer.

If using an old computer is basically the same as using a new computer, what is the point of upgrading? Yeah, getting bugfixes and fancy new features. But really, why can't we have that on our old systems as well? I can relate to someone thinking that it strange to do web browsing on your Commodore 64 (though some folks do it), but c'mon, you really want to tell me that a dual 2 GHz G5 Power Macintosh sold in 2006 is too outdated and slow for everyday tasks.

Apple thinks so.

Do you?

Amiga Lives

Maybe we just need to start thinking outside of the box. Anyone remember Amiga computers from the 80s & 90s? Their mother company, Commodore, went down in flames in 1994. Overnight Amiga users lost support. No more updates for the aging OS; no new hardware. Amigans were pretty much in a similar situation to PowerPC Mac users today. Their mothership was dead; our mothership's only interest is turning everything iOS. Amigans had to ask themselves: Do I carry on, or do I switch to another platform? Compared to us, they had a huge disadvantage on their side: The World Wide Web had not yet evolved. Communication was slow and painful.

Yet they managed to keep their beloved systems alive. Today, Amiga users have the choice among three flavors based on the original Amiga operating system: AmigaOS4, MorphOS, and AROS - each with hundreds of apps and utilities. Hardware upgrades took the old 680x0 machines way beyond anything one would expect from an Amiga computer.

One may ask, "How did such a small group manage without support from the mother company?" The answer is community and organization.

Community and Organization

And this, my fellow Mac users, is where we get to the point of my article: community and organization. We loyal Mac owners are in a far better situation than those Amigans were in the 90s. There are a lot of dedicated people and talented programmers among our ranks. But many of the latter either don't know if there is still a demand for software for pre-Intel Macs and/or simply cannot afford to work on something they don't know that anyone would buy. Also, the whole selling, marketing, and distributing issue takes up a lot of resources.

But I wouldn't make you read through a dozen paragraphs without proposing a solution for our situation: bounty projects.

Seriously, ever since OS 9 users were left standing out in the rain, I was wondering why no one would come up with bounty projects for the Mac. For those of you who never heard of bounty projects, it usually works like this: A demand is recognized, and people chip money into a pot. A programmer comes along and accepts the assignment if the job description and the pot catch his interest. Once the job is finished, people get the software, take a look at his work, and the money pot gets handed over to the programmer. If a programmer fails to deliver, everyone gets their money back and might invest in another bounty. It's a classic win-win situation: Users get what they need, and programmers earn some cash.

If you're curious whether that system works, take a look over to our Amiga friends and their bounties for the AROS operating system.

And now tell me, why shouldn't we get something similar going within the Mac community? AROS folks are less than half the number of people than we are - and we don't need a new operating system, merely some updates and workarounds for an existing one. Though I'm sure OS 9 users would appreciate a solution for getting USB 2.0 speed and proper WPA support, while Tiger users would love better support for Solid State Drives (SSDs) - just to name a few possible projects. I'm sure you can name a couple more.

However, there is one big problem so far with bounties for the Mac, and that is organization. Someone needs to roll up his sleeves and take the organization (updating the info, handling the money, assigning it to a project) into his hands. Someone reliable and trustworthy. Someone with an interest in PowerPC Macs. Someone with a record in the Mac community. Running off with $800 in bounty donations is too tempting, you say? Well, I'm sure nobody would want to contract the collective wrath of the Mac community. (If you wanna know just how angry a true Mac fan can get, read Charles Moore's review of the iPad.) Shudder. Certainly, nobody would dare.

But seriously, why not help our PowerPC Macs enjoying a second spring? Why wait for Apple and the software giants? The future is in our hands!

  1. Publisher's note: See Claris Home Page 3.0: Still Irreplaceable? (2003) and KompoZer 0.7.7: Getting Closer to a Replacement for Claris Home Page (2007). I still use Home Page in Classic Mode on a G4 Power Mac running OS X 10.4 Tiger. At this point, the closest I've come to replacing Home Page in a freeware or shareware app is BlueGriffon, which requires an Intel Mac and is coming along slowly. With either Home Page or BlueGriffon, I end up using TextWrangler and Tidy to XHTML to massage files for publication. dk
  2. Publisher's note: I've been using AppleWorks since early 1992, shortly after it started out as ClarisWorks 1.0. I love its spreadsheets, its word processing is adequate for my needs, and the drawing program is great taking charts created in the spreadsheet and tidying them up for publication. I still use AppleWorks on my Intel Mac mini with OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard - thanks to Rosetta. dk

Sebastian M. Patting lives in Germany and is very happy running PowerPC Macs with Mac OS 9 and OS X 10.4.

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