Mac Musings

Early G3s Losing Support

Daniel Knight - 2001.12.14

Nearly four years ago I wrote an editorial, Disposable Computers?, that addressed the then-new issue of disposable computers - defined as computers with low cost and no real upgrade potential. I stated that, "PCs, XTs, and ATs may be as dead as dodos, but even an ancient Mac Plus, now 144 computer years old [1 month = 1 computer year], remains a useful computer."

While disposable computers may seem a way of life in the Windows world (something I'm doing a little bit to fight with Low End PC), Macs have traditionally had very long useful life spans. But that may be changing.

What prompted this article was Remy Davison asking on Insanely Great Mac, Is Your G3 Obsolete Already? Although Apple still supports the beige G3 and PowerBook G3 (WallStreet) under Mac OS X, it looks like the forthcoming Norton Utilities 7.0 - the version being written to run under OS X - will not. Let's hope this doesn't imply future versions of OS X will abandon these machines in the near future.

This isn't as bad as it sounds, although it isn't good. Mac OS X can run on some unsupported hardware, including some clones. And Norton Utilities 6.0 will diagnose and repair OS X partitions, but it does so while running the classic Mac OS.

Still, the life span of Macs is declining. Some examples.

We've been looking at the longest time between hardware release and the last OS that supports it. This in no way makes these computers obsolete, but it does put them in a 1995, 1997, or 1998 time warp.

The question is the future. Any Power Mac or clone produced before November 1997 is not officially supported for OS X or 9.2.x. The PCI models will generally work using Unsupported UtilityX, but some features are unsupported, such as the E100 card in the SuperMacs or accelerated video. As noted recently, Apple doesn't even support video acceleration in iMacs, PowerBooks, etc. produced from 1997 through 1999.

At some point Apple won't just fail to provide support for features such as SCSI ports, floppy drives, ADB, and accelerated video; they will officially abandon older G3 models as OS X evolves. Count on it.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Apple could go one of two possible routes. They could follow the Windows model, abandon all support for "ancient" hardware, end-of-life versions of the OS as they go forward, and lock more old Macs in a time warp every year. Or they could follow the open source model, which Darwin hints at, and allow independent programmers to provide the hardware support Apple no longer considers viable.

Either way, we are blessed with generally well designed hardware that lasts a long time and has OS support for much longer than the three to four years Microsoft considers normal. Of course, OS X changes everything, but we can hope and believe that Apple will continue to support older hardware and release older versions of the Mac OS for those with computers that will never run OS X.

Still, it's disturbing when a company like Symantec decides it can abandon support for hardware that Apple actively supports with the latest OS. It's a lot like Office:2001 dropping support for Quadras, even though OS 8.1 ran on both 68040 and PowerPC hardware. It's an unusual step for a software vendor (discounting game companies) to abandon useful hardware before the OS maker.