Miscellaneous Ramblings

TenFourFox: The Best Browser for PowerPC Macs Running Tiger?

Charles Moore - 2011.04.05 - Tip Jar

Rating: 3 out of 4


Last November, I reviewed the then-current beta of TenFourFox, FloodGap's port of Firefox 4 for PowerPC Macs that supports both Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and 10.5 Leopard. Firefox's developer, Mozilla.org, dropped support for OS X 10.4 after Firefox 3.6 and for PowerPC after the fourth beta of Firefox 4.

TenFourFox, now out of beta, uses almost all the same code as the release version of Firefox 4 and has nearly all the same features, including faster JavaScript, WebM video, and HTML 5 and CSS 3 support, as well as new and emerging Web features. It will enable users' cherished old PowerPC Macs, like my two going-on-11-years-old Pismo PowerBooks, to do what we need them to do online for years to come, at least in theory.

Hopefully a year or two more anyway.

More than a Straight Port of Mozilla

The developers pledge that new feature versions of TenFourFox will continue to be released until it is no longer possible to compile Mozilla's source code, and subsequently security updates will still occur. They explain that TenFourFox contains modified widget code to work with OS X Tiger, modified font code to remove Mozilla's dependency on CoreText, disables graphics acceleration and WebGL (which are not compatible with Tiger), and includes PowerPC-specific code, such as its own JavaScript JIT accelerator, as well as a raft of smaller changes due to the older build system available to OS X 10.4.

Checking out a beta build of TenFourFox on the Pismo last fall, I found performance seemed to be pretty much on par with contemporaneous versions of the Camino and SeaMonkey Mozilla Gecko variants, which still support PowerPC Macs and OS X 10.4 (but probably not much longer according to a Camino blog report last week).

However, TenFourFox was well shy of being ready for prime time browsing in late 2010, so I returned to SeaMonkey, Opera, OmniWeb, and recently Safari 4.1.3 for my OS X 10.4 browsing - all of which have their virtues and shortcomings. As I chronicled my browser adventures in Tiger, several readers have suggested that it's time for me to try TenFourFox again, so I have been doing so over the past week.

Tops in Stability

I'm happy to report that the bugginess that plagued the beta I tried in November seems to have been pretty much ironed out, and TenFourFox is now at least as stable as any of the other remaining Tiger and PowerPC compatible browsers. Indeed, it's much more stable than either Opera 10.63 or Safari 4.1.3, both of which are crash-prone in 10.4. I haven't had a TenFourFox crash yet (at this writing), and the browser is a generally smooth performer. It starts up reasonably quickly - not as fast as Safari, but faster than Opera (mercifully it doesn't share Opera's text-entry stall bug in Tiger) - and it's respectably speedy too.

JavaScript in TenFourFox smokes competing browsers on a G4 Mac.

On the other hand, TenFourFox seems to be a bit of a resource hog, but on the upside, its general performance doesn't deteriorate as uptime proceeds, as Safari and WebKit-based OmniWeb do to a lesser degree. It's early days yet, but if TenFourFox keeps working for me as well as it has so far, it may become my Gecko browser of choice on the Pismos.

However, I have to say that in my estimation, the ultimate performance OS  X 10.4 browser remains Netscape Navigator 9, support of which was discontinued two years ago. Navigator 9 is doubtless security compromised by now, and I wouldn't use it for, say, online banking or credit card purchases, but for general browsing it's faster than any of the current Gecko browser versions - and as stable as a rock.

Back to TenFourFox, which requires at minimum a G3 Mac, OS X 10.4.11 or 10.5.8, 100 MB of free disk space, and 256 MB of RAM. For video playback, the developers strongly recommend a 1.25 GHz G4 or higher, and I concur. My 550 MHz G4 Pismos with their puny RAGE Mobility 128 GPUs and 8 MB of VRAM are not ideal hardware for video-watching (although you can do so in a pinch). Intel Macintoshes are not supported.

Tuned for PowerPC CPUs

There are four processor-tuned variants of TenFourFox available. For the the best speed on your particular Mac, you should get the appropriate one for your machine's CPU. Download links from websites other than the TenFourFox site may not link to the one you need. I first clicked a link on MacUpdate, which yielded a copy of the G3 version. The selections are:

  • TenFourFox for G3 processors
  • TenFourFox for G4 processors: 7400-series
  • TenFourFox for G4 processors: 7450-series ("G4e")
  • TenFourFox for G5 processors

The developers note that choosing the wrong one could make the application crash or run poorly, and that while the G3 version is generic and will run on any supported Macintosh, it's also the poorest performer on later Power Macs. The G4 and G5 versions include AltiVec code, and the G5 JavaScript accelerator is tuned differently for better performance on the PowerPC 970.

Here's how to select the version you need:

  • G3 and G5 owners, just download the G3 and/or G5 build, respectively. These versions run on any G3 or G5 Power Macintosh.
  • G4 owners will need to determine if their G4 is a 7450-series CPU ("G4e"), such as the 7447, 7447A, 7448, 7450, 7451, 7455 and 7457, or a 7400-series CPU, such as the 7400 and 7410. Typically the "G4e" series of CPU are in most G4s at and over 733MHz.

CPU type reported by Terminal
CPU type reported by Terminal

If you're unsure which category of G4 your Mac belongs in, the easiest way to find out is to open the OS X Terminal.app and type "machine" (without the quotation marks). Your output will probably look something like the example on the right. (The G4 upgrades in my Pismos are Motorola 7410 processors.)

Download the appropriate version of TenFourFox, and you're good to go.

Give It a Try

If you're still running a PowerPC Mac with Tiger (the Hitslink stats for March 2011 show it's holding its own with a 0.37% share of the total OS market*) or Leopard, TenFourFox is definitely worth a download. It may well be the best all-round browser choice for these machines if you want to get by with just one browser. It's not a perfect solution, but based on my relatively short term of use I would say it probably comes closer than anything else still available for Tiger-users, with the possible exception of OmniWeb 5.

I'll give TenFourFox a three out of four rating.

* Publisher's note: According to Google Analytics, 7.8% of those reading Low End Mac on a Mac are using OS  X 10.4 on PowerPC hardware - the #3 Mac platform in our stats, after 10.6 (67.4%) and 10.5 on Intel (12.4%). OS X 10.5 on PowerPC takes 4th spot at 6.6%, and 10.4 on Intel rounds out the top five at 2.4%. Being a low-end site, our statistics are skewed toward the low end, and 17.2% of our Mac visitors are viewing our content on PowerPC hardware. dk

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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 Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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