The Low End Mac Mailbag

Switcher's Guide to OS X, Troubleshooting an Upgrade Nightmare, iChat AV, and More

Dan Knight - 2003.07.01 - Tip Jar

Switcher's Guide: OS 9 to OS X

Adam Hope writes:

Although everyone says how wonderful OS 9 was and how confusing OS X is, this is obviously due to ingrained habits. As other have said, these may not have made sense at first, but we quickly got used to them, and now they are second nature.

However using my mum as an example, she would often ask me to do things on the computer for her - type a letter, scan a photo, and email it to someone, etc. I'd usually end up doing it, but not without trying to show her how first. Needless to say, it was a rare day that I would see her at the computer.

This went on for around 5 years. Since then I have moved overseas and Jaguar has been released. When it came out, I knew it was good enough for me to recommend to clients - and to my parents. I spent a bit of time on the phone with my dad whilst he installed it on their iMac DV+, ran through the basics (dock, mail, home folder, the iApps), and then left them to it.

Within about 1 month of them installing Jaguar, my mum had decided that computers really weren't so bad - or impossible - and now she happily uses the digital camera for work with iPhoto, sends emails, and types letters (no OS will ever improve her typing speed though). She can confidently sit at the computer and get her work done.

My dad had gotten used to OS 7-9 and it's quirks but was always slightly puzzled by it; with OS X he quickly forgot all those strange habits he had had to learn and no longer has to keep emailing me for advice. They are now fully capable of going out on their own and buying upgrades, peripherals, and new software. I'm constantly amazed at what they have done, especially compared to their OS 7-9 days. This is the real power of OS X, the ability to turn a computer phobic in to a confident user who can get their work done.

And now to my second point. As long as I have been working with computers, and particularly providing training, I am constantly amazed at how many people fail to use the inbuilt help features of pretty much any application or OS. Whilst printed material is always nice, most of us are learning to live with PDFs and the like.

Most of these people who have written in and complained at how confusing OS X is probably haven't bothered to look at help. Loading help isn't difficult, either, as it's plain to see in the menu bar.

For those who do try the help system, on the very first page there is a link to tips for previous Mac users, Windows switchers, and computer newbies. Anyone puzzled by the lack of the Chooser merely has to type in "chooser," and one of the first 10 results is "where is the Chooser." It politely informs you of the death of the Chooser and offers to open the print center for you.

Finally, it's easy for Mac OS 9 switchers to say OS X is confusing because of the "Unix junk." As another reader said, "What Unix junk?" Home folders - probably the most obvious Unix thing - are actually a neat and tidy place to store all your files. Logging in . . . okay, you have to set up a username and password when you first install OS X, but from then on you can set the computer to automatically login and go straight to the desktop.

Don't you also feel happier that mischievous users can't go installing software they should be? Admittedly, not everything requires "authorization," but the big things do - OS updates, etc.

Then finally there is the stability. How many people can put their hand up and say they would go back to the OS 9 days of crashing apps and always dancing on the edge of disaster in a game of Jenga with the OS?

Yes, I went for many days without crashes, but only because I knew what I could and couldn't do. In OS X, I simply don't have to worry. In the rare case an App crashes, only one App goes down and the rest is hunky dory.

We have 2 OS X Macs in our house, my Cube and my girlfriends FP iMac. Since we installed Jaguar (close to the release date), her machine has never ever crashed, and she has had few problems, considering she is a Windows switcher. My Cube, on the other hand, has had approximately 10 kernel panics, which all turned out to be from some faulty RAM (it crashed in OS 9 too under hard memory usage). Since replacing the RAM, I have had none.

Yes, it's our familiarity with the classic Mac OS that makes OS X seem so different. Most people who take the time to get familiar with OS X eventually make it their primary OS. My wife is using it more and more on her iBook, and she loves iChat AV. Two of my sons are using it, although one has to go back to OS 9 whenever he needs to run Virtual PC. (We don't use that enough to justify the upgrade expense.)

Since you wrote, Apple has unveiled Panther, and it seems to be moving ahead in making the OS easier to figure out. We'll finally have a Fax & Printers system preference, making it much easier for newbies and switchers to set up their printers.

OS X is remarkably stable. I've only had one kernel panic that wasn't related to bad RAM. And now that I've got a decently fast machine (700 MHz eMac), the problems I've had with keyboard response seem to have vanished. (Cmd-C to copy and cmd-V to paste just weren't working consistently on my 400 MHz TiBook.)

All that said, it was nice to see Apple release a pair of new G4s last week that can still boot into OS 9 for those who want more powerful Macs but aren't ready to commit to OS X quite yet.

Thoughts on why users are slow to adopt OS X

Thomas Carley writes:

I'm an old Apple repair tech. (I worked for Apple in their Colorado service center for 5 yrs.) As such, I've used system 6/7/8/9 and now 10. I run 10.2.6 on my B&W, 9.1 and 8.6 on my older Macs (6100, 7500, 8100, & 5400).

The 7500 has a PowerLogix 225 G3 upgrade card bumped to 310, and a Rage 128 video card. It also has 256 RAM, and the hard drive is a 10,000 rpm Cheetah SCSI. I used the hack from OWC to run X on this system, and although it worked, it was a slug.

My B&W runs a PowerLogix 550 G4 ZIF unit turned up to 650 (it has a slot fan to help cooling), a Radeon 7000 Mac Edition video card, and 1 gig of RAM plus 2 Maxtor ATA 133 7200 rpm drives run by a SIIG 133 PCI controller. It gets on down the road with X.

The 7500 CPU gets just over a 1000 on MacBench 5, while the B&W CPU gets over 1900. The 7500 has a 50 MHz system bus and the B&W has 100.

The one thing I noticed in all of the comments on your article was that the systems being used are all RAM and bus speed challenged (by current standards). 256 RAM used to be plenty, and for system 9 back, 256 works fine for most apps.

X, on the other hand, is RAM hungry. The difference on my B&W when I went from 256 to 1 gig was noticeable. Although the older G3s will run X, they are slow; they run 9.2 much better. My advice to friends who have older G3 Macs is stick to 9.2, as they handle it very well.

X is very fast on the B&W (faster then 9.1 on the 7500). Since Macs are built like battleships, there are a lot of older G3s out there. That and the fact that most of us Mac heads love our computers and don't like the thought of giving up and old friend (I have 11).

The difference in X performance on older and newer Macs is almost like 2 different OSes. X is written for the newer systems with lots of CPU speed (at least 500 MHz and 500 megs of RAM). 9.1 was written with the original G3 systems in mind.

Most folks could care less about any of this; all they know is that X works great if you have the right hardware - and is a slug if you don't. So what you've got is 2 growing camps of Mac users. As the older Macs go out of service, X will be more widely accepted.

My personal choice, though, is X. It's so slick, and lack of apps is no longer a problem. The price on used Macs that run X well has come down quite a bit in the last year as have the price on upgrade cards. If you want to run X, you need the right hardware. Thanks for a nice site.

Thanks for a thoughtful letter. Acceptable performance for one user may seem blindingly fast to another and slow as sludge to another. Now that I have a Mac that runs faster than 400 MHz (a 2002 eMac), I'm starting to see how much difference modern hardware makes.

Our beige G3/333 and 333 MHz iMacs handles Jaguar decently. They're not speed demons, but performance is acceptable. My 400 MHz PowerBook G4 was a bit better, but even it had some issues, such as responding to keystrokes when copying and pasting.

The eMac wasn't much of an improvement with the stock 128 MB of RAM. It was starved. But now that I got my defective 512 MB module replaced, this machine has a new lease on life. I'm also using it with a fast external 80 GB FireWire drive - 7200 rpm instead of the 5400 rpm drive inside the computer. I'm spoiled.

Your comments on 500 MHz and 500 MB of RAM ring true. You can get by with less, but the less you have, the more performance will suffer. Still, the key is acceptable performance, and some find a 233 MHz G3 adequate, while others need so much power that 600 MHz may seem slow.

Troubleshooting a Flawed Upgrade

Chris Kilner writes:

Just read your editor's note in today's Misc. Ramblings about DiskWarrior/Norton's and upgrading one thing at a time. It really hit home. Even when you know better than to upgrade lots of stuff at once, time pressures (i.e., little league games, graduation parties, etc.) and excitement can get the best of you.

You may want to pass this on to Charles Moore and/or Malcolm Lubliner.

As part of Father's Day, I got a Pioneer DVR-105, FW card, IDE controller card, two 256 MB DIMMs, and a copy of iLife for my B&W G3 (upgraded with a G4-400).

The RAM and PCI cards arrived last week, so I installed them in preparation for the arrival of the "SuperDrive." Everything seemed to work fine in 9 and X - the only hiccup during a week of use was a "not enough memory" error running System Profiler in 9.

When the SuperDrive arrived, I wanted to set up a partition for DV editing and tried backing up my drives with CCC - but got kernel panics every time. I then tried Apple's Backup program, but got kernel panics again. These were my first OS X kernel panics in nearly 2 years of using X.

Except for the problems while running the backup programs, everything worked and checked out with TechTool Lite and Apple's Hardware Test CD (but I hadn't checked the drives, yet).

Since the IDE card was purchased in order to run my drives faster (they had the Intech drivers set to Multiword DMA to solve the onboard-IDE corruption issue on my Rev. 1), I thought it might be a HD driver problem now that the drives were "SCSI" as far as my B&W was concerned. I drag-copied all my irreplaceable files to my FW HD and decided to initialize the drives with Apple's drivers.

Well, I ran Disk Utility (DU) first, and it indicated directory problems that DU couldn't fix. I downloaded DiskWarrior 3 (DW3) and fixed the problems. I then erased the drives and partitioned them, but at least one partition icon would become generic, and DU would report directory errors. Doh! Now I didn't have an X-bootable disk for running DW3 (my bootable CD will arrive later this week).

My old copy of Norton Utilities 7 (NUM) came to the rescue and appeared to fix the problem, but OS 9 and X would stall at the end of installation. NUM would then show directory problems and fix them, but even when I finally did get OS 9 to install, it was unstable and only booted sometimes (usually with extensions off). Mostly, I would get either a "not shut down properly" message and a Finder quit/freeze, or a no boot drive icon (flashing folder).

I pulled the FW card - no joy. I checked the IDE card firmware - no joy. I played with the slave/master settings on the drives (Master/Master on separate card IDE channels, Master/Master on onboard and PCI, Master/Slave on each config) - no joy. I rearranged and reseated the RAM - no joy.

Finally, at 11:00 p.m. last night, I pulled the new RAM - voilà! I hadn't seriously considered the RAM, since it passed Apple's memory test (Hardware Test CD) and was sold by OWC as PC100 specifically meant for the B&W (to replace a mix of Hyundai PC100 and Kingston ValueRAM PC133).

By a little after midnight, I had 9.1, X 10.2.6, and iLife installed, and I had a 30 GB partition for DV. The machine was booting fine, albeit with only 384 MB or RAM.

My problems sound enough like Malcolm's that I would point Malcolm to RAM problems.

Now, maybe I can find some time to restore my iTunes and iPhoto libraries and start playing with iDVD....

Been there. Done that. I've had few problems with Macs, and most of them have been with aged, dying hard drives, but defective RAM can cause all sorts of weird intermittent problems. My eMac had them after I added a 512 MB module. With a new stick of memory, it's happy as a clam.

Mailbag Suggestion

Mark M. Florida writes:

I sincerely enjoy your writing and objective opinions that you offer on Low End Mac, but I have trouble sometimes following who wrote what in your mailbag column. It seems that it flip-flops from your comments being indented to the other submissions being indented, and it's just hard to follow sometimes.

This is just a suggestion, but something that might help would be to use different colored text to differentiate your comments, or even enclose the comments in a single-cell table with a background color - like your comments would be black text on white background and the submissions would be black text on a light gray background.

I hadn't thought that this might cause confusion. In our mailbag columns, it's standard procedure to indent the replies so they are visually distinct from the letter we're responding to.

In cases where a writer quotes more than a line or two from whatever they're responding to, we indent that as well. I can see where it might be confusing to have both quoted material within a letter and our response indented. I'll have to dream up a solution, and it has to be one that doesn't cause problems with the printer friendly or mobile editions of the site.

I'll give it some thought and see what I can come up with that doesn't involve color.

Claris Home Page 3

Dave Wilson writes:

I was just searching for any new WYSIWYG web design software for the Mac and stumbled across your article.

Couldn't agree with you more. I finally scraped enough money together to get a 17" iMac and make the transition to OS X. I am an independent consultant creating custom apps, databases, and websites. I now run everything in OS X - everything, that is, except my web design software.

I also have tried some of the other "solutions" available, but I still find myself in Classic on a daily basis using Claris Home Page (which I've been using for about six years now).

Maybe Steve doesn't want to offend some software developers by infringing on their territory (although he's pushed MS out of the Mac browser market), but I feel that this product could and should be resurrected. I don't need or want a $400 web design package. Remember, before FileMaker had all of the built in (limited) web publishing capabilities, it was pretty tightly integrated with Home Page.

Alas, we are misguided souls, hoping for a new version of CHP that will never come about. Well, there's always booting into Classic. I have to have a reason to leave it on my hard drive, I guess.

I would love to leave Home Page behind, but I simply haven't found anything as fast or easy. I have no need for GoLive or Dreamweaver; they're so complex that they get in the way. And I don't think there's a $100 WYSIWYG website editor for the Mac, so it can't be about stepping on someone's toes.

Besides, that didn't stop Apple from stomping on other products to create iTunes, iMovie, Sherlock 2, and Panther's new font management software, to name some recent examples. I think a version of Home Page for OS X would be a runaway success. I'd pay money for it.

Learn about OS X

Lee Kilpatrick writes:

In the last few Low End Mailbags you have been talking about how Apple should have a simple "Learn about OS X" software guide that would explain to new users how to use the OS. In fact, Apple has already produced such a guide.

When they did the OS X for Teachers program back at the start of the year, any teacher who applied could get a free version of Jaguar sent to them at their school. Included with the OS was an additional CD called "Getting Started with Mac OS X."

This tutorial was exactly what you have been looking for. It featured quite a few sections that explained how to use OS X, with both text and pictures, and also QuickTime movies. At the end of each page or section, there were two special parts, one aimed at switchers from Windows and one aimed at switchers from OS 9. It would relate the discussed OS X function to the similar function in Windows or 9 and explain the difference.

One of the best and most interesting features of this CD was that all of it ran in a browser. It would be incredibly simple for Apple to just put it up on their website so that anyone would access it, or a link could be provided from the help system. However, as far as I know, it is not available on the Web at all. Perhaps this could be something concrete to focus on to get Apple to help people new to OS X.

Sounds like Apple already has the solution. A shame they haven't promoted it outside of the education market. Just imagine all the frustration it could eliminate.

iChat AV & G3s

Steven M. Palm writes:

Maybe it's due to the huge demands on the CPU you described, but I'm miffed that Apple couldn't find a way to support running iChat AV video on any G3.

I tried it on my 900 MHz iBook, and no go with USB or FireWire cams.

Like it or not, Apple has created a high quality solution, unlike the second-rate video conferencing software on the PC side. That means support for higher resolutions, which means more data than moves across USB, which means using the velocity engine to process the data in real time. No G3 processor has the velocity engine, and USB cams simply can't send enough data to provide the resolution and frame rate Apple insists on.

It's a shame that Apple isn't offering lower quality settings for those with USB cams and/or G3 processors. Maybe if enough provide feedback, they'll consider it for the release version.

G4 Upgrade Question

Ryan Scott wonders:

I'm looking all over for this info, but I can't seem to find the answer anywhere, so here goes.

I want to take out the Zip drive and replace it with a SuperDrive. Is it possible to have two optical drive bays in this G4 model?

I used to own one of the above machines, but I'm considering buying a used model since the prices have fallen so low ($550). I've currently got a G4 PowerBook 667 DVI, but I'm bogged down by two external FireWire hard drives as well as a fast external CD-RW FireWire drive. I can "condense" all of these and put a Superdrive into a G4 400 desktop for around $1000.

Possible? Yes. Easy? No. The space that holds the Zip drive isn't wide enough for a standard optical drive, so you'd have to do a lot of modifactions to make it work. If you're willing to stretch the budget a bit, you can buy a brand new 1.25 GHz G4 with a SuperDrive for $1,499 using the build-to-order option at the Apple Store. Three times the speed, an empty drive bay for a second optical drive, and lots of room for internal drives. 

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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