A Week in the Modern World with a PowerPC Mac

I have been using my PowerBook G4 as a writing and e-mail tool for a while now, and I thought I may be able to make it a complete daily driver. I work as an IT manager for a small design firm, and I oversee a network of Windows and Linux servers and Windows workstations. I figured I should be able to use it and only it for a week to see if a PowerBook (PB) can be a reliable daily computer.

I would follow a strict set of guidelines and would do my best to not revert back to my Mac Pro.

The Guidelines

I would use my PB for all daily work activities. Web use. IT work. All daily activities would be limited to my PB only. I would only switch to a different machine if I am troubleshooting a problem with a particular machine.

The Hardware

17" PowerBook G4My PB is the best a PowerBook ever got. 17” PowerBook G4 1.67 GHz with 2 GB of RAM and a 256 GB mSATA (with converter) SSD. I’m running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard fully “updated”. I also liberated one of my 30” Apple Cinema Displays from my home office to use with this experiment.

The Software

I made sure I had all the applications I would need to get the job done. Office 2008 came with Remote Desktop so I could use that for remoting into most of the Windows machines I was supporting, and Terminal was fine for administering the Linux servers.

Dropbox dropped PowerPC support a while ago, and the hack that brought it back stopped working around Christmas. I have now moved to using WebDAV links on my ownCloud server. It’s a little slower, and I have to remember to remount the link after a reboot, but it gives me “cloud” file access.

I use Evernote for note taking on my iPad, phone, and PB, and the PowerPC version still works great, so no problems there.

I’m using Office 2008 and iWork for Documents and Spreadsheets.

I’ve been using Entourage for e-mail. It works great with Exchange servers.

I use TenFourFox and Webkits for web browsing love.

Spotify and iTunes gave me music to listen to while I work.

Day 1

Coffee in hand, workstation all set up. I was ready to get some work done.

Boy howdy! Right out of the gate I hit a wall – a wall called the World Wide Web. The two browsers gave me access to most modern sites, however, they are massive resource hogs. Activity Monitor had my CPU pegged at 100% the entire time they were opened. It made the computer almost useless for anything else while browsing the web. I had to get on the web, get what I needed, and actually close the program when I was done using it. I couldn’t leave it open if I wanted to do anything else.


What’s that?

Multiple tabs?

You’re adorable.

The web became a tool for a specific task. I couldn’t use it for a recreational browsing. My helpdesk ticket system is entirely web-based, and it became a thing to keep it open for monitoring. I had to use the e-mail alerts then go into the system to make, edit, or close tickets. It was a redirect of my daily routine, that’s for sure.

Second issue: Remote desktop for Mac worked, kinda. After lowering the RDP security, I was able to get it to connect, but as soon as I typed anything, it disconnected me. Multiple web searches yielded no help on how to get past this.

Well, I guess I’m done. No Windows access means no work, right?

No, that’s quitter talk.

I did some digging and thought maybe I could use the BDS subsystem to get on my Windows machines. I installed MacPorts for Leopard and began the long and tedious process of updating the ports. After almost an entire afternoon I was able to install the rdesktop port, and using X11 I was able to connect to all my Windows machines using the Terminal. Full access – and hey I could also type words. Bonus!

Day one concluded with me just getting the gist of what I would need to make this work and not actually getting a whole lot of work done. Lucky for me it was a slow day.

Day Two

This day went pretty smoothly. I knew my limitations and was able to work with them. I found I was able to get a lot done quickly without the web tempting me to be on Facebook, surfing nonsense, or (what I hadn’t realized had become my norm) watching a lot of YouTube.

A. Lot. of. YouTube.

Without the web as a distraction, I was able to get all my work done and have time to spare. Also, I found my demeanor was better as I wasn’t reading social media and the nastiness that entails all day.

The Remaining Days

I am surprised how quickly I acclimated to this new (old) way of doing things. I was able to work on my website and even some extra projects with no hampering of my abilities. I only ran into a couple of small issues after the first day of trial by fire.

iTunes is a bit bloated. I have 18,000 music files on iTunes Match, and it was a sluggish mess to listen to my playlists while iTunes tried to sync everything. I had to let it run overnight so I could use the PB the next day.

Trying to use Lightroom for some photo editing was just too much for the PB. It runs great on my Power Mac G5, but the G4 just can’t handle it – especially when your library of photos starts to grow.

Entourage is fantastic with Exchange servers. With Gmail, not so much. In this day and age of people expecting an immediate response, it takes a really long time to show new email, and I received some complaints.


Friday came, and I haven’t switched back. I have VNC installed on my PB and just remote into my Mac Pro when I need something a bit more modern. Or something from a website that the PB can’t handle. I think depending on your daily work activities and the applications you require it is very viable to use a PowerBook as a daily machine. If you have to use the web at most/all for daily activities (not just recreation), I can’t recommend it. But if you need to write, code, create sites or really a lot of normal uses. It’s good to go.

Yeah, not everything modern runs. But not everything modern is good.

Ta for now


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