The Joy of OS X with Classic

2002 – There’s been a fair bit of talk on the Mac Web this week about people going 100% OS X. I have a feeling that I’m never going to be one of them.


It’s not that I have anything at all against OS X. I’m trying to spend some time in it daily, growing quite comfortable with most aspects of it, and think the time has finally come to make OS X my default operating system at startup.

That said, I am a low-end Mac user with a limited budget, and I have a lot of older, perfectly good software that I’m not prepared to abandon or unable to replace. That means I’ll be spending a fair bit of time in the Classic Environment.

Unlike some who are very gung-ho about only running OS X-native apps, I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with “9 on X” – I’m not some sort of traitor, any more than I am when running old 68K code programs on a PowerPC. Thank goodness the Mac is so versatile!

Living in Two Worlds

When I boot into OS X, I don’t have it automatically launch Classic. Much of the time I spend in OS X is browsing, and I have a good assortment of OS X-native browsers (IE 5.2, iCab 2.8, a recent build of Mozilla, the latest OmniWeb, and the butt ugly Opera).

I use AppleWorks extensively (Who needs MS Office? Not me!), and it runs beautifully under OS X. So does PowerMail, the only OS X-native email client I use. (Sorry, Apple, but I’m still a firm believer in text only email, so your Mail app sits virtually untouched. Ditto for MS Outlook Express.)

Six of One

PowerMail has become one of those love/hate relationships. I love that it works a lot like Claris Emailer, which I still think is the finest email client ever devised for the Mac OS. I love that it’s fast and comes in Classic and OS X versions that share the same files. I love that it’s practically second nature to learn it, because it’s that much like Emailer.

I like that it can display styled email, although most of that is immediately deleted.

I hate that it doesn’t include even the most rudimentary spell checker. I don’t want to have to download, install, and configure a third-party spell checker, let alone one for the Classic Mac OS and another one for OS X. That’s something that should simply be part of the email program. (On that subject, I wish Apple would release the Claris/Apple dictionary info so any Mac application could freely use them.)

I hate that PowerMail sometimes hangs when trying to open an email or delete an open email that’s styled or has attachments. I hate that PowerMail is a commercial product that has enough niggling little problems that it feels more like betaware than released software.

PowerMail has some nice features that Emailer doesn’t, like the ability to display that ubiquitous styled email (yeah!) and choose which signatures can be randomly used and which aren’t. And the fact that I can use it in OS X without launching the Classic Environment.

Half a Dozen of the Other

That said, I still prefer Claris Emailer, which brings me to one more reason for making OS X my default operating system.

As you may know, Low End Mac operates over 30 mailing lists. They cover everything from Compact Macs and System 6 to Unsupported OS X and a daily news feed. We also have a very busy swap list and three “national” lists covering Canada, the UK, and Down Under.

Even subscribing to these in digest mode, that’s a heck of a lot of email to manage. I’ve been happily using an AppleScript to archive older digests to a FileMaker Pro database. (For the record, I’m still using FileMaker Pro 3.0. Old and low-end, but it’s all I need.) Since about OS 9.1 or 9.2, that script has become much slower, taking 10-15 seconds before it writes the first digest to the database. After that, it’s pretty quick.

Because of this, I’ve switched from archiving every week to doing it every 10 days. I was doing that Thursday morning while sitting in the hospital room with Steve, our third oldest son. And it was slow.

On a hunch, I decided to reboot into OS X and see if that helped. I’d heard that OS X had great AppleScript support, and my tests bore it out. There was no 10 second or so delay when launching the script, and it seemed to run as smoothly and quickly as ever.

That’s right – transferring files from Emailer to FileMaker, both Classic apps, was faster in Classic Mode than when simply running Mac OS 9.2.2. Chalk up another point for OS X.

One More Benefit of OS X

There are a few programs for the classic Mac OS that just wanna take over your computer until they’re done. I don’t mind when Retrospect does this for backup, but it is one thing that annoys me about Claris Home Page. When I upload files, Home Page won’t let me do anything else.

Running Home Page in Classic Mode removes that restriction; I can run OS X-native programs while Home Page totally takes over Classic. Of course, the minute I try to use a Classic mode app, I’m stuck waiting for Home Page to finish that upload.

Two for One

I’ll continue to use PowerMail for some email accounts, especially since they keep improving the program, but I’ll be sticking with good old Claris Emailer as my primary email client.

At this point I haven’t found a simple, inexpensive, lightweight WYSIWYG Web design program like Claris Home Page 3.0 that’s OS X-native. Although somewhat dated by today’s HTML standards, Home Page does a great job as both a writing and design tool. I’m tempted to learn REALbasic later this year and attempt to create my own editor that will run under OS X.

If I used BBEdit heavily, I’m sure I’d look into the OS X version, but I’m very content with trustworthy old BBEdit Lite 4.6. [2016 Update: I’ve been using the free TextWrangler, also from Bare Bones Software, for years. A wonderful successor to BBEdit Lite.]

I finally upgraded from Photoshop 4.0 to 5.5 earlier this year, primarily because the newer version allows editing text. (The old version turns text into a graphic, so you had to remember what font, size, and color you’d used.) Thanks to eBay, I was able to acquire 5.5 at a reasonable price, and I’ve been extremely happy with it. I see no reason to invest in Photoshop 7, so I’ll be using Classic Mode to create and edit images.

I also have GraphicConverter for OS X, which I used primarily to save JPEG files in the old days. Photoshop 5.5’s Save for Web feature has eliminated the need to use GraphicConverter for that, although I still use the slide show feature to look at digital photos.

WebChecker remains my URL manager of choice, mostly because I haven’t taken the time to look at alternatives. Although WebChecker only supports IE and Netscape (not iCab, not Mozilla, not anything else), this Classic app has one very nice feature – if IE is open in OS X, it will use that version of Internet Explorer instead of launching the Classic IE 5.1. Very nice, and one more reason it’s nice to have two operating systems for the price of one.

I am looking for an FTP client to replace classic Anarchie (now known as Interarchy – who dreams up these names?). Suggestions are welcome. I really like the way Anarchie works. But now that I’ve used up my free trial time limit, I’d like to examine my options before spending any money. (Maybe I should have called the site Low Budget Mac.) [Update from March 2016: I’ve been using Filezilla for years to do all my FTP work. Free and recommended.]

I use X-Launch as a program launcher in OS 9 and in Classic Mode. It does half of what the Dock does in OS X – and it keeps me from cluttering the Dock with classic apps that I don’t use terribly often.

Thoughts on OS X

Speaking of the Dock, I hate the way it gets in the way of the resize box as I type this in Home Page, not to mention the way it overlaps the last line of text. (My solution: Put an extra return at the end of the document and remove it when done writing.) But I’ve played with the Dock in other locations as well as with hiding it – bottom center and visible works best.

I am using Silk to improve the text displayed with Carbon apps. Highly recommended.

I have done a little speed testing with Let 1,000 Windows Bloom and a haxie (ShadowKiller) that hides the window shadows in OS X. Killing those shadows benchmarked much faster, and IE 5.2 felt much more responsive with the shadows gone, but there’s something visually wrong about OS X with no shadows. Of course, we’ve had thin black shadows for ages on the classic Mac OS, but having windows with no visible edge (especially when two white windows overlap) makes for a bad interface.

I wonder if someone could create a haxie that puts a one-pixel gray pseudo-shadow around each window? This would provide the necessary visual edge to each window and should also be faster than Aqua’s gorgeous soft shadow.

I’ve also found a neat pair of scripts, Change Startup Disk, that simplify changing your startup drive between Mac OS 9.x and OS X.

I’ve also been tweaking the two sets in the Extensions Manager, one for when I’m booting into OS 9 and the other used when running Classic Mode in OS X. Stripping out unneeded extensions can cut boot time for the Classic Environment in half.

Other than the Dock getting in the way, my only other real complaint is the Finder windows that often open empty. Why should I have to scroll up to see the files? I hope Apple will fix this really dumb behavior in the next update.


Apple has long promised an even more stable OS than the classic Mac OS rooted in 1984, and they have definitely delivered it with Mac OS X. Although there are still some interface and ease of use issues to address, OS X is rock solid, pretty darn user friendly, and a good enough OS to tempt Windows users to make the switch.

The tougher audience is the longtime Mac user, which includes me. While OS X is superior in some respects, it’s sometimes sluggish, wastes a few too many CPU cycles on eye candy, and doesn’t have nearly the same software base as the classic Mac OS.

On the other hand, the Classic Environment provides nearly perfect emulation of booting natively in OS 9. A few things break, but not many. Almost everything works as expected, and with little or no performance penalty. If your current G3- or G4-based Mac seems plenty fast, you have sufficient memory (256 KB is a realistic minimum), and you have the drive space, consider picking up a copy of OS X and becoming familiar with it.

You can run OS X 10.1.5 on a 233 MHz G3, but I don’t think most people would be happy doing so. I’d suggest a 400 MHz G3 minimum or any speed G4, 192 MB RAM minimum (more is much better), and a fast hard drive if you want to get the most out of OS X. The newest hardware is always best, but most of our budgets don’t permit buying new every year or two.

Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar promises to address much of the sluggishness by threading the Finder and using graphics acceleration with Aqua. Of course, that graphics acceleration will work best with the latest generation of Macs – and even better with the models we expect to see at Macworld Expo.

Regardless, longtime Mac users with the right hardware have little to lose and much to gain by running their favorite applications in Classic Mode under OS X.