Miscellaneous Ramblings

Mac OS 9 vs. 9.0.4

Reader Feedback on OS 9 Stability

28 Nov. 2000 - Charles W. Moore

Last week I related here how I had upgraded the operating system on my WallStreet 233 MHz PowerBook from Mac OS 9.0 to 9.0.4, which transformed the previously stable workhorse into a crash happy monster. By reinstalling Mac OS 9, I had apparently succeeded in restoring the PowerBook's stability.

When I filed that article, I had enjoyed nearly a day of crash-free serenity. Well, as I write this article, it has been approximately seven days and 12 hours since I reinstalled Mac OS 9, and I still have not restarted the PowerBook. I have had more than two dozen different applications open over the past week - often 20 or more at a time. There have been about half a dozen application freezes or unexpected quits, several force-quits using MacsBug, and I am up to "Untitled 110" in Tex Edit Plus documents, which I use as my general text do all.

This is a radical contrast with the three, four, or more hard crashes a day I was getting during my unhappy week with Mac OS 9.0.4. Not only that, if you read last week's article, you will recall that I didn't do a clean reinstall of OS 9, but rather just trashed all the 9.0.4 upgrade bits that I could identify, and installed the older system over what was left. I have changed nothing else.

That article generated quite a bit of mail, and apparently some people find Mac OS 9.0.4 reliable, while others have endured similar experiences to mine. Here's what they had to say.

FromI had a similar experience upgrading from 8.0 to 8.1 and 8.5 to 8.6. The trick is a pain to do, but if you perform a clean install of the OS prior to performing the update, things tend to go a lot more smoothly. My G4 came with 9.0.4 preinstalled, I've not had a single problem with it since. My S900 was also running very steady before its little accident, God rest it's soul....

John Kelley

From Chris Wissmann:

I put OS 8.6 on my S900, and now the CD-ROM won't work. Is there a driver update somewhere, or a licensing extension I can install to fix the problem?

Chris Wissmann,

Hi Chris;

The OS 8.6 drivers should support the CD drive. I am forwarding a bunch of info a reader sent on S900 SCSI issues. Perhaps it will help.


Note from the editor: None of the Umax SuperMac clones used CD-ROM drives that worked with Apple's drivers. You either need third-party CD-ROM drivers on an Apple CD-ROM drive - or one with compatible ROMs. As the proud owner of three SuperMacs, I've learned this the hard way. dk

From Jeff Preischel:

I couldn't disagree with you more regarding your preferences for Mac OS. 9.0 more stable than 9.0.4? No way. 8.5/8.5.1 more stable than 8.6? No Way. While YMMV (of course), I base this on the computers I see every day in the school districts I work in.

FWIW, I've noticed much better stability in my Beige G3 DT (orig. 233, now 400) when I upgraded from 8.6 to 9.0.4. And I pound my unit pretty hard, too. However, I think it is interesting to note (but somehow not at all surprising) that when my machine crashes I'll be running MS IE, Outlook Express, and/or AOL IM.

Jeff Preischel


I don't doubt your word, but I'm speaking from experience. OS 9.0.4 was impossible to tolerate on both my WallStreet and my son's Lombard<.

I currently have no Microsoft software installed on my computer (except an old copy of Word 5.1 that I use maybe once every three months.)

No AOL IM either.

As of this moment, I haven't restarted since I reverted to 9.0 on Sunday morning. I would have crashed two dozen times or more with 9.0.4 in that period.


From Paul Cales:

Interesting tale about Sys 9 and your PowerBook.

I upgraded to Sys 9 on a Umax C500, 603e [Performa 6400] with 48 MB RAM installed and an 8 GB hard drive. I have had practically no problems at all with it. The only "crashes" are an occasional lockup when two big applications lock horns, but a simple restart fixes it.

I do a lot of online work with email lists, and maintain several web pages. I installed 9.0.4 about three months ago, and, likewise, have had no problems, but also see no particular advantage.

I publish the Clan Fergusson magazine on my machine using Quark v4.

Frankly, I don't like what I hear about Sys X.

As far as Sys 8 is concerned, I never ran 8.5. My friends had so much trouble with it I stayed away from it. I did, however, run Sys 8 for a long time, then upgraded to 8.1, which was more stable. I lost a hard drive about then, and had some trouble with it, but it wasn't the system . . .I maintain a computer for a friend, a Motorola StarMax 604e. He's running 8.1. The system is much better since I installed the 8.1 patch, but he is having the built-in problem the 4400 motherboard has with being quirky about mounting CDs. I'm trying to get him to go to a beige G3. I can't get Sys 9 to run on his machine. It loads, but then it slows to a crawl and just sits there . . .

Paul Cales,
List Admin,

From Fred S. Forney:

Re: your article on OS 9.04. Yes I noticed the same thing. I have a B&W G3. It shipped with 8.6, which worked OK until I installed Office98, then it was the crash parade. I reformatted and installed 9.0 followed by the upgrade to 9.0.4, same result, many crashes. I reformatted again and put just plain OS9 and all is well. I left everything standard OS9, Quicktime the Java machine everything! I think some instability always comes from new components. Newer is not always better!


From Arthur W. Green:

I decided to run 9.0.4 originally as a result of the "Sleep" function not working properly on my Power Mac G4/350 ("Sawtooth") under regular OS 9. In fact, the system would go down but would be unable to come back up again because the display would simply not receive a data signal and stay off. This occurred regardless of the monitor in question, and had figured that since "Sleep" function had functioned on the default install of OS 9 that came with the computer, that perhaps the pre-installation on the hard drive was somehow different than the installation coming off the CD.

To this day, I am unable to determine the cause of this problem. All I know is that 9.0.4 "fixes" this problem, and sleep functions normally. Unfortunately, the problems you describe in your article about 9.0.4's instability appear to reflect my situation:

Funny low memory errors (especially funny when no other applications are running). Periodic crashes during the day (I call one kind of crash the "grey screen of death," because the Mac simply displays a blank grey screen and no longer responds to input of any kind except a hard reboot)...timeouts...etc). The list goes on, and I do not remember crashes being this frequent under plain vanilla OS 9. In short, I have seriously questioned whether or not the "Sleep" functionality is worth these host of problems.

As soon as I find adequate reason to reinstall, you can be sure I will not use the 9.0.4 update from then on.

Hope I was of some help, as you mentioned you had wanted to hear from others in regard to their experiences with 9.0.4. Let me know if I can be of further assistance.


From David:

Here are my first impressions.

My Rev C iMac came with 8.5.1, which I regarded as quite stable during the time I used it (01/31/99 through May or June '99). I banged on 8.6 a lot more than 8.5.1, and it crashed more as a result. We also have 8.5.1 on a little-used 5200CD, and it's very stable, as was 7.5.5 before it. The key is little used, of course.

When my Mac was new, I was getting reacquainted with Macs, so I went easy on it. It's the banging around on the system that bombs it.

At work we use G4/450s with 8.6. Our older beige G3s also run 8.6 and they all run 24/7 just fine. The only thing that busts them is our network.

My first move to 9 was OS 9.0.4 last month, and only then because I wanted to run Classic with X Beta. I loved 9.0.4 in the first few weeks, until I started using Multiple Users. Even if you aren't using this feature, Charles, this is the real OS 9 story.

Spend some time at the discussion boards at Apple's site. It's pathetic. Entire schools who saw 9's Multi-user interface as a savior are in a panic, and the press is silent. Parents who got 9 for this feature are being questioned - and hard - by children and spouses not understanding why their special desktop isn't being "saved". Disgusting.

Specifically, the Multiple Users feature of 9 results in most prefs not being saved for non-owners, stability problems with the Login screen, and more weirdness. We're all praying hard for 9.1!

Again, this is very well documented in the discussion boards at Apple, but not the Knowledge Base nor TIL for the most part. I have yet to see anything in print about it in the mags much. Really like the Mac press to act like "regular" press and investigate this kind of thing once in a while.

There is the feeling (again, Apple won't say) that much of this is due to a recent update to Macintosh Manager 1.3 - the Multiple Users pack, but problems existed with OS9 as well, not just with 9.0.4

Play with Multiple Users, just not on a Mac you need for work.


From Ian R. Campbell:

I have experienced the same problems with my machines as you have described in your article. On my PowerBook 1400c/166, OS 9 ran rock solid, once I installed 9.0.4, it behaved much the same that the computer that pushed me to the Mac did. My 386 DX40 that I had running Win 95. So, I just went back to 9 and stayed that way. My iMac has been the same in that respect. OS 9 is rock solid, but 9.0.4 is indeed a headache. Though, for some boneheaded reason, I installed the 9.0.4 update without blinking. Before I installed the 9.0.4 update, I ran the Software update control panel. It updated everything but the Mac OS. Could Apple even know of how awful 9.0.4 truly is?

Have a great day and take care.

Ian R. Campbell

From Owen Jeffries:

I read with great interest your recent column on Low End Mac.

You mention frequent crashes. You can imagine my surprise when I read this, and I quote.... "I did have occasional crashes, but I usually have 15 or 20 (or more) applications open at a time."

Holy cow!

That's my comment.


Owen Jeffries
Freelance writer
Games Editor
AAPDA "Australasian Apple Programmers and Developers Association"

Hi Owen;

Just counted what was open when your message came in, and there are currently 19 (20 if you count the Finder) applications open in the Applications switcher palette. And I had just shut down a couple of others that were open.