The 'Book Beat

Moving Files from Your New Mac to Your Vintage Mac

- 2006.06.13

The Problem

When you become the proud owner of a "new" old Mac, one of the first questions you ask yourself is, "What will I use this machine for?" And very often the answer is limited by answering another question: "What software can I install on it?"

That, in turn, is not a simple answer. If you've got an SE/30 and some software on CD, you're going to struggle if you don't own a SCSI CD drive.

The Basics

At its most simple, the problem is an issue with floppy disks and CDs. Modern Macs deal with CDs, and older Macs deal with floppy disks.

You can easily pick up a USB floppy drive from any computer store, and you very quickly have a way to get software onto any but the oldest Macs (the oldest Macs don't support 1.4M floppies, and the USB floppy drives don's support Apple's 400K and 800K formats). With your newer Mac on the Internet, you can find hundreds of programs to download onto a floppy and copy across to your older Mac.

In a similar vein, you can burn data onto a CD-R for use with older Macs that either have internal CD drives or external drives connected over SCSI. It's a simple way of transferring large files or large numbers of small files without having to do the floppy disk shuffle.

Neither method is perfect, however.

System Problems

By far the biggest problem is that this method doesn't work for System disks. If you copy a System Folder onto a floppy using OS X - even though Darwin Unix has a bless command - you simply can't create a bootable floppy under OS X. For this method you always have to rely on a Mac using OS 9 or earlier.

There are a few workarounds - for example, I have a set of original System 7.1 install disks that I jealousy guard. On many occasions they have saved a machine.

Another solution for older machines is to use a Windows PC. Believe it or not, there is actually a Windows program out there that creates a set of 1.4M System 6.0.8 boot disks. Just download from The Mac Geek.

Big Files

PowerBook SCSI adapterWhilst CDs offer an easy way to get files onto a machine, certain factors stand in the way. You've already got the Mac, but you also need to lay your hands onto a SCSI CD drive, plus a SCSI cable with the correct connections on each end. I managed to do this, but then when I obtained my first PowerBook, I realised that I would also need a PowerBook SCSI adaptor for the PowerBook's HDI-30 SCSI port. They can be found on eBay, but I wanted to find an alternative that didn't rely on discontinued hardware.

The machine in question was a PowerBook 520. Quite happily running System 7.5.3, I had a number of files on my OS X machine that I wanted to transfer over (Microsoft Word 5 being the prime example, plus I wanted to try out several Web browsers). Without a SCSI CD drive and the necessary cables and adapter, my alternative was to get the files across using ethernet (despite the 520's strange AAUI ethernet connection, I had the correct converter to plug it into my router).

The Setup

My setup was as follows. My main machine is a Power Mac G5 running OS X 10.3.9. It's connected via AirPort to a Belkin ADSL modem and router, which is connected to my 8 Mbps ADSL broadband. There's also a Dell PC on the network running Windows XP and connected via 802.11g WiFi. The PowerBook 520, with a standard install of System 7.5.3, was connected directly to the router using an ethernet cable.

My experiences with networking and sharing files over this arrangement has never been a success. I suspect the Belkin router may be at fault - or possibly my own ineptitude - but the net result is the same. I've never been able to access files on the OS X machine from the PowerBook (or vice versa).

So I decided to "Think Different".

The only Web browser I'd been able to get onto my PowerBook so far had been the venerable Netscape 1.0, because it fit onto a floppy disk. Despite most Web pages not working with it, it was clear that I had Internet access on the PowerBook.

The only problem was that most pages I could download software from were illegible in Netscape 1.0. If only the pages were much more basic . . . even a simple directory listing would work.

Apache, The Saviour

Every copy of Mac OS X comes with the Apache Web server preinstalled. So I went to System Preferences on my G5, and under the Sharing tab I turned on "Personal Web Sharing". Then I copied the files I wanted into the Sites folder in my home directory and ran back through the apartment to the PowerBook.

By typing in the web address suggested by OS X (http://powermacG5.belkin/~paul/ for my local network), I was able to see all the files listed that I wanted.

Clicking on the first file loaded a page full of garbage within Netscape - this was to be expected, because it was trying to load a .sit file as a Web page. But that .sit file could be saved onto the desktop, and it worked just like a normal file. I unpacked the stuffed file (Internet Explorer 2.1) and then used this program to see how it worked for downloading files.

IE 2.1 has some problems. If you attempt to download a .bin file, it opens a dialog asking where you would like it saved, which is marvelous. However, some other files - such as self extracting archives (.sea) - cause problems. Like Netscape it tries to load these files as Web pages, and if the files is too large, Internet Explorer crashes, taking the whole System down with it.

However, if you rename the file on your OS X machine (Word5.sea renamed as Word5.sea.bin), it can be downloaded without any problems. You can then rename the file on your old Mac, and it works as expected.

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

True, with some extra work I could probably have set up a shared folder between my Panther computer and my PowerBook, but frankly the Personal Web Sharing feature of OS X was so easy to set up, I didn't see much point in trying anything else.

With the issue of filenames resolved, IE serves as a very competent download tool. It's only a one way method, but it would be a simple matter to set up a Web server on the PowerBook to send files the other way.

Transferring multiple files is an issue, but that's what Stuffit was created for.

The real use of this method, though, is in the future. Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4.x) doesn't support AppleTalk and thus make it harder to network new machines with the old. We can't expect Apple to provide legacy support of their networking protocols forever more.

We can, however, expect the Internet to continue to work in much the same way as it has done all along. We know that Apache runs on OS X, and we know that classic Macs with any kind of Internet access can read Apache served pages. That knowledge should allow us to transfer files back and forth with our classic Macs for many years to come.

Now I just need to work on the System Disk issue.... LEM

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