2 Macs, 2 Operating Systems, 1 Mouse, 1 Keyboard

Monday, September 28, 2009 marked my migration to Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. Yes, you read that right. Leopard, not Snow Leopard – since none of my Macs are Intel-based, Mac OS X 10.6 isn’t even an option.

It also means that I’ve been using Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger all this time. In fact, I will continue using it, but I will be doing the bulk of my work in Leopard.

“How am I doing that?” you may ask. “Wouldn’t that involve a lot of rebooting?”

I’ve been briefly covering these goings-on in my blog, but now that the process is finished, I have the time to share the whole story.

Three G4 Power Macs

For those who only own one Mac, that would be the case. But here at Low End Mac headquarters, we are blessed by an abundance of older Macs – including three G4 Power Macs: a dual 500 MHz Mystic from 2000, a dual 1 GHz Mirrored Drive Doors (MDD) from 2002, and a Digital Audio (DA) from 2001 upgraded with a dual 1.8 GHz Giga Design CPU upgrade (I can only get it to run as high as 1.6 GHz, but that’s plenty of power).

The MDD was my first, and with its dual 1 GHz processors, it was a step up from a 1.25 GHz G4 eMac from 2004. It’s also a lot easier to upgrade. I currently have 2 GB of RAM, a USB 2.0 card, and two hard drives (400 GB and 80 GB, both 7200 rpm), and at one point I had two SuperDrives in it as well. (I removed the second to improve airflow, as this machine was getting hot.)

The MDD was my main machine for about three years, and I was frustrated by the cost of CPU upgrades. Because it uses a 167 MHz system bus that was only used in some of the last two generations of G4 Power Macs, upgrades are rare and expensive. (I’ve heard that the 1.42 GHz CPU from the final generation will work in my dual-boot MDD – the one that can boot Mac OS 9.2.2 – but haven’t pursued it.)

The Mystic was my second dual processor G4, and it originally ran at 450 MHz. Bob Nunn of Operator Headgap Systems has had a lot of luck speed bumping 450 MHz CPUs, and he was willing to try it on my dual processor card. It worked, and it now runs very reliably at 500 MHz. The Mystic is our testbed server with 1.25 GB of RAM, a USB 2.0/FireWire 400 card, an internal 80 GB hard drive, and an external 240 GB drive. (I like to use external drives so in case of a computer failure, migrating to another machine is fast and easy. Not that I have a fourth G4 Power Mac as a backup….) It’s running Leopard and MAMP, and it will eventually host reformed.net, lowendmac.net (currently inactive), and perhaps a few other low traffic domains as well.*

The Digital Audio (DA) was a donation, as was a bunch of RAM, some of which was 133 MHz and installed in the DA and some was 100 MHz and ended up in the Mystic. This machine had a single 533 MHz CPU; it was upgraded with the aforementioned Giga Design dual 1.8 GHz card for a massive performance boost. It has 1.25 GB of RAM, an 80 GB internal drive, and a 200 GB external, which is the drive it runs from.

After a lot of debating with myself, I ended up choosing the DA as my Leopard machine, since it has the faster CPU. The MDD would remain my Tiger machine, allowing me to use Classic Mode and run Claris Home Page, which I’ve been using since 1997. Because Leopard is more graphically demanding, I did switch video cards, so the DA has the newer Radeon 9000 while the MDD has the older Rage Pro. Both machines perform very nicely.

Unfortunately, as I was setting up the DA and MDD last Friday, the FireWire ports in the MDD died. They’d been acting up for some time, but I’d assumed it was a troublesome FireWire cable. Now I know the truth. Until I have time to swap the USB 2.0 card from the MDD for the FireWire/USB 2.0 card in the Mystic, I have no FireWire ports, and that means I have to use USB 2.0 for backup, and that’s definitely slower that FireWire.

The Setup

I have two Power Macs on my desk, two monitors (an older 17″ Samsung CRT and a Dell flat panel display), two external hard drives (NewerTech miniStacks, which we love), two keyboards, and two mice. But for the most part, I only use one mouse and keyboard, the same Logitech wireless combo I’ve been using for years.

How do I do that? With a great freeware app called Teleport. Teleport is like the cross-platform Synergy, which lets two or more Windows, Linux, and/or Macs share a mouse and keyboard. However, Teleport is just for Mac OS X users – version 1.0.1 supports Mac OS X 10.3.9 Panther through 10.5, and version 1.0.2 adds 10.6 Snow Leopard support and requires an Intel-based Mac. It uses Bonjour so Macs with Teleport can readily find each other on your network.

Two G4 Power Macs at Low End Mac headquarters.

Two G4 Power Macs at Low End Mac headquarters.

Teleport supports the Mac clipboard, as well as drag-and-drop between computers – with a catch. I learned through trial and error that this only works in both directions of the master Mac, the one with the keyboard and mouse, is running the same version of OS X or a newer one than the slave machine. That means the mouse and keyboard connect to the DA, which has Leopard installed.

Once Teleport is up and running, you can freely mouse between Macs with just a slight delay.** That can be a problem as your mouse unexpectedly moves from Mac A to Mac B, and you can configure Teleport to only switch between machines when you hold down a modifier key (I use Control, but you can just as readily choose Command, Option, Shift, or Caps Lock). There’s a big icon on the host machine that points to and gives the name of the remote that’s currently using the mouse and keyboard.

All in all, a very well thought out, well executed solution to the problem of running two or more Macs from the same mouse and keyboard. And with both displays set to 1280 x 1024, there’s no screen space lost when moving between computers.

I do keep an old iMac keyboard and Kensington mouse connected to the Tiger Mac, because when I have to restart the Leopard machine, I need some way to control it until the master is running again. I also install Teleport for all user accounts, as I typically have 2-3 users set up (for work, for troubleshooting, and for odd projects).

The only drawbacks to this solution have to do with using two different monitors. As you can see in the photo, the flat panel Dell is warmer (a little more yellow-red) while the Samsung is cooler (a bit more bluish). That’s not a big issue. The big issue is that when I’m working in Tiger, I’m using an old fashioned CRC monitor with a 60 Hz refresh – and that’s hard on the eyes. Someday I’ll have to find a nice, low cost LCD so I can avoid the headaches I’ve been experiencing the past few days. Until then, maybe I can trawl some thrift store in search of a CRT that will run in the 70 to 80 Hz range.

One more drawback: I can’t cut and paste from Leopard into Claris Home Page – I assume it’s an issue with Classic Mode. Solution: Paste into TextSoap, then cut and paste into Home Page.

Migrating to Leopard

The actual migration process tied up most of Monday.

Step 1: Back up everything on the Tiger machine to the 400 GB external hard drive.

Step 2: Boot into Leopard (installed on another partition), log in with a different user account, and kill the existing account that I normally use.

Step 3: Run Migration Assistant on two user accounts. That took a long, long time.

Step 4: Remove all unnecessary localizations. I’ve used Delocalizer in the past, but it’s no longer available, and Drive Genius supports delocalizing, so that’s what I used.

Step 5: Clone the Leopard partition to the backup drive.

Step 6: Move that drive to the Leopard Mac, boot into Tiger, repartition the 200 GB external hard drive, and clone Leopard from the 400 GB drive to the Leopard partition on the 200 GB drive. (My Leopard partition on both Macs and on the backup drive is 94 GB.)

This was a long, slow process. Although the NewerTech miniStack supports both USB 2.0 and FireWire 400, the MDD only recognized two of the four partitions on the backup drive when connected with FireWire. Using USB 2.0, that problem went away, but the cloning process took a lot longer.

Step 7: Use Drive Genius to locate and deal with duplicate files. There are files going back to my Mac Plus days that were migrated to my Centris 610, then to my SuperMac J700, then to my 400 MHz PowerBook G4, then to my eMacs, and then to my G4 Power Mac. (For the record, I got the Mac Plus for free from Apple in a sales contest around 1990, got the lowest-end Centris with a student discount, bought the J700 at close-out fire sale pricing, bought each of the eMacs refurbished from Apple, and got each of the G4 Power Macs secondhand. The G4 PowerBook was the only Mac I’ve ever bought when it was brand new, and it gave me 5-1/2 years of use.)

Step 8: Clear out some of the old Classic Mac OS software, since it won’t run under Leopard. Besides, it’s all on the Tiger machine.

My Makeshift Desk

If you’re observant, you probably noticed my desk with its periwinkle drawers. It’s not a real desk. A friend of my wife was going to toss out a couple old two-drawer file cabinets, and last summer we used part of our economic stimulus money to put a new countertop in the kitchen. I painted the file cabinets white, the drawers periwinkle, and set a 5′ length of the old kitchen countertop across them: Instant desk.

It was ugly. When I bought this house, the kitchen was painted eggplant, a shade of purple very close to black. The cabinets were (and remain) white, and the countertop was gold. Before my wife and I married, we spent several months repainting the house, and the kitchen is now mango. The gold countertops were not a match, and the new textured slate ones look a world better.

We covered the piece of countertop in my office with off white contact paper, and that was a huge improvement. The next step was adding a keyboard drawer, which wasn’t quite low enough for the Logitech keyboard, so I had to remove about 1/2″ of the lip, a very messy process. But everything works now, and it’s no longer ugly.

It’s definitely a low-end solution, as is using Power Macs in the Intel era. Then again, this is Low End Mac. We believe in being frugal and getting the most out of what you have – including these G4 Power Macs that many would consider seriously outdated. We just find them to be excellent production machines, even if they’ll never run Snow Leopard.

I have been using Leopard on and off for over a year, and it’s nice finally switching to it for everyday use, as there are some apps that just aren’t available for Tiger.

Long live Macs!

* That plan never came to fruition due to issues with Comcast internet. I’ve let lowendmac.net lapse, and what was at reformed.net is slowly being transferred to The Dutch Reformed Wiki.

** You may run into a longer delay if you have the Firewall enabled on your Mac (in the Sharing system preference in Tiger, the Security system pref in Leopard). If you have an unexpected delay, check your Firewall settings.

Update: Teleport 1.0.1 is the last version to support PowerPC Macs. Version 1.0.2 works on Intel Macs running OS X 10.5 Leopard and 10.6 Snow Leopard. Teleport 1.2 is a whole new version that runs as an application, not a System Preference. It supports OS X 10.7 Lion and newer, and it may work with 10.6 Snow Leopard, according to the developer.

Keyword: #teleport

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