Charles Moore's Mailbag

Reset an Unknown Admin Password, Cheap Dialup on the Road, $999 MacBook Updated, and More

Charles Moore - 2009.01.28 - Tip Jar

Resting an Unknown Admin Password

From My:


In your advice to Bill in [Need a Password to Install Drivers], you stated that he needs to reinitialize the hard drive to update his video drivers. I believe that you can change the password by restarting from a system disk and choose the change password option after quitting the installer. There are instructions out there on how to do this.


From Michael:


In your 1/21 Miscellaneous Ramblings Mailbag, a reader named Bill asked about needing the admin password to a G4 Mac he purchased from eBay.

Your suggestions included contacting the previous owner for the password or completely erasing the hard drive and reinstalling Mac OS X. If contacting the previous owner is not an option, you do not have to reinstall the OS just to reset the admin password. If you already have access to a Mac OS X install disk, you can just use the Password Reset utility that is included on it. Instructions can be found in the following Apple Knowledge Base article under the heading "Resetting the original administrator account password".

Depending on how the system is set up, it may also ask you for an admin password if you try to use the "Startup Disk" panel in System Preferences to select the Mac OS X install disk as your boot volume. To get around this, you can hold down the "C" key on the keyboard during startup to boot from the optical drive.

Note: Since this is a PowerPC machine, it uses Open Firmware - and (though not likely) the previous user could have also set an Open Firmware password, which will prevent the system from recognizing several boot option keys, including "C" (boot from CD/Optical drive). Removing an Open Firmware password without knowing it is possible, but a little cumbersome. First you have to physically add or remove DIMMs to change the total amount of RAM in the computer. Then, the PRAM must be reset (hold down the following keys during boot: Command + Option + P + R).

I hope this information will help your readers.


From Joe:

Hi Charles,

If it's the system admin password Bill needs, he can just change it to whatever he wants by booting from an install disc, then using Password Reset from the Utilities drop down menu. I think any OS X disc will do - I think I remember doing this using a 10.2 install disc on a Quicksilver running 10.4.

Feel free to forward him my email if you think it will help.

Thanks for the great website - I visit it just about every day!


Hi My, Michael, and Joe,

Right you all are. A bit of brain fade on my part, and I've forwarded the correct information to Bill. I think I actually had heard of that method of getting around the password block, but I have never had occasion to use it myself and it slipped my mind.

Thanks for the heads-up.


Pismo Won't Enter Target Disk Mode

From John Black:

Hi, Charles,

On another issue, I have a question about my Wegener Pismo. As I think I've mentioned to you, I put a Wegener G4 card in this PowerBook. It works great, but I've been trying to connect the Pismo via Target Disk Mode (TDM) to the BigAl so as to transfer files from the Pismo. The Pismo won't go into TDM, though it will work the opposite way and see the BigAl hard drive when the 17" PowerBook is put into TDM.

On the Pismo I've tried multiple times to go into TDM, both by holding down the "T" key and by selecting TDM in the startup disk preferences panel. I've zapped the PRAM, run Disk Utility to repair permissions, and reinstalled OS X 10.4. Nothing works, and I'm wondering now if it could be the fault of the Wegener G4 card. Have you experienced this issue?

Thanks for your help.


Hi John,

I haven't hear of this problem before. To check and make sure, I just booted my Wegener G4 upgrade equipped Pismo into Target Disk Mode by holding the T key down, and the bouncing T image obediently appeared.

You seem to have covered all the usual bases in your troubleshooting. One thing you might try is checking to see whether the Pismo's firmware has been updated to the latest version. It's hard to imagine that it hasn't, but I recall that when I had the first G4 upgrade installed in a Pismo, Daystar said to make sure the firmware had been upgraded (it had).

I think version 4.1.8 was the last one. System Profiler should give you the information on whether your machine has been updated.

Apple says:

"Firmware Update 4.1.8 includes improvements to FireWire target disk mode, network booting, gigabit networking (on systems with gigabit hardware), and system stability. This update also adds support for additional security options which allow the Open Firmware to be password protected."


Hooking a PowerBook 170 to the Internet

From Sasha:


First off, my happy birthday wishes to the Mac. 25 years later, it's still the gold standard.

Second, over the Christmas holiday, my uncle gave me his father-in-law's old PowerBook 170, and I've been trying to figure out how to have it on my home network without me going crazy. I feel like a Fortune 500 exec circa 1992 when I use the PowerBook. It's got the baud modem in it, but we don't use dialup (even though many people I know in the rural part of northern New York do). The whole thing is that I use the PowerBook as a word processor, but the machines in my house that are floppy compatible are giving me heartache. At least this PowerBook supports DOS compatible floppies, so that's the least of my concerns.

So, I'm wondering if there is any way I could get this PowerBook hooked up to the Web or if it's better just going on eBay and getting a PowerBook G3 for $50? I know I would have to upgrade to Mac OS 7.5 or even 7.6 for anything even decent for Web use. It's right now running 7.0.1.

Best wishes as always,

Hi Sasha,

Certainly the least hassle would be to buy a cheap G3 with built-in ethernet or AirPort support or whatever is compatible with your non-dialup Internet service.

It is possible to connect these oldies to the Web. I even had my old Mac Plus Web-worthy for a while, but I'm very rusty on how we did it. System 7 I think with some system add-ons.

There's some discussion of the topic here:

More info at Jag's House.

With a 170 your best OS would probably be System 7.5.5 or 7.6, the latter which supports OpenTransport. Actually, the OpenTransport system bits will work with System 7.5.5 as well.


The Future of the $999 2.1 GHz MacBook White

From Liam:

Hi Charles

In your article you say:

"I deduce that Apple will not want to continue the manufacturing, parts sourcing, and inventory complication of building two completely distinct families of MacBook indefinitely, so that at some point - likely not far off - the plastic model will be replaced by an entry-level Unibody MacBook."

I agree, and my suspicion is that either they have a pile of cases to be used up - in which case when they run out they stop offering, or that they have a contract for making the cases that allows for a profitable product even with lower sales.


Hi Liam,

I guess great minds can think alike and still arrive at mistaken conclusions. My timing of that column was impeccable - not - being as Apple confounded my deduced reasoning by giving the white MacBook a new lease on life with a major specification upgrade.

Well, we were partly right in our reasoning in the using the same CPU and graphics chipset in both the plastic and aluminum MacBooks should result in some economies of scale and parts-sourcing/inventory rationalization.


$999 MacBook Has Been Updated

From Lyall:

Hi Charles,

Was reading your article, and it would appear Apple have addressed two of your criticisms almost immediately!

At some point in the last few days, the "White MacBook", as they call it now, has 2 GB of memory as standard and Nvidia 9400M graphics, and retains it's pricing. Apart from the use of DDR2 memory, as opposed to DDR3, it would appear to be the same logic board that the aluminum 13" MacBooks employ.

This surely makes it even better value!

Keep up the good work,

Hi Lyall,

You are very kind. Yes, the publication of my column and Apple's unannounced release of the upgraded white MacBook were virtually simultaneous.

I agree that the value added has been substantial.


Affordable Dialup on the Road

From Sam

Hi Charles,

I recently purchased a lightly used 12" PowerBook G4 for traveling. I haven't used dialup at home in years (I wish you were so lucky!), but when on the road, I'm looking for an inexpensive dialup provider that is pay-as-you-go but has no time limits on the time that can be used. Any ideas?


Hi Sam,

I haven't used any of the on-the-road dialup providers (my own ISP supports dialing in to their local numbers where they have coverage), but you could check these services out (in no particular order):


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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at and a columnist at If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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