Mac Musings

Macintel Transition on Track, but What About Classic?

Daniel Knight - 2005.09.20

According to Steve Jobs, everything is proceeding apace with the transition to Intel-based Macs. We should see the first Macintels next June.

I'm really looking forward to that. I think it's going to let Apple eliminate the overheating problem in the iMac, build faster and more efficient laptops, drop some real power into the Mac mini, and permit dual core, dual processor Power Macs.

It sounds like a win-win situation, but there will be some drawbacks. For low-end Mac users, the biggie is the lack of Classic support. I don't know about you, but I've still got two Classic apps that I love and use daily, as well as several older games I like to play now and then.

Of course, the simple solution is to keep an old Mac around, and you can count on that happening. We have quite a selection of old hardware here, ranging from a Fat Mac through a pair of 1.25 GHz eMacs.

But I'd like to be able to use my favorite apps on my production machine, and I haven't found a suitable replacement for Claris HomePage, nor are there any features in newer versions of Photoshop that make me want to spring for an upgrade from version 5.5

Claris HomePage

Claris HomePage was probably the finest WYSIWYG webpage editor of its day (circa 1997), and for quick and easy text editing, it has now equal. The big commercial programs are slow and bloated.

The only contender I've been able to live with - and the program I'm writing this in - is Nvu, a webpage editor built on the Mozilla code base. It has some real advantages over ancient HomePage. It understands XHTML and supports CSS style sheets. It lets me see exactly what my pages will look like in Firefox. And it has on-the-fly spell checking.

It's nice, but it's not perfect. It's less responsive than HomePage, it defaults to putting <br> breaks between paragraphs instead of ending them with </p>, and it likes to put non-breaking spaces anywhere that I inadvertently have two spaces in a row. It also hangs too often.

I like Nvu. It's good for writing, less good for editing, and great for applying styles to page elements. My current workflow for most Low End Mac content is to edit in Claris HomePage, drop in graphics approximately where I want them, and then open the page in Nvu to apply right- or left-aligned styles to the images. After that, I use TextWrangler to clean up the XHTML, and I upload site changes using HomePage's site manager.

Photoshop 5.5

The only reason I upgraded from Photoshop 4 was because version 5.0 and later support editable text layers. I use that a lot to create headers for Low End Mac, such as the Mac Musings graphic at the top of this page. Photoshop 5.5 does everything I need, and it loads and works quickly.

I also have Photoshop Elements 3.0 on my Mac. It's a great program for working with photos, much nicer than Photoshop 5.5. Problem is, it's slow. Slow to load itself and your images. Slow to change tools or open menus. Slow to apply changes. Slow to save. Photoshop 5.5 runs circles around it, so for the sake of efficiency, it's my image editor of choice.

Nothing Else

There's really no other reason to have Classic on my work machines, but I edit HTML daily and work with images almost every day. I could get by with Nvu and Photoshop Elements 3.0, but my productivity would drop.

Of course, there is the question of the forthcoming Macintel computers themselves. Although they won't officially support Classic (but I'm betting someone will make an emulator), they may be significantly faster than today's PowerPC-based Macs. A dual-core 2.0 GHz CPU would probably run circles around my 1.25 GHz eMacs.

Looking Forward

In the short term, I'm looking at replacing one of my eMacs with a dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4. I've got a very promising lead at a very attractive price, and since I often have a dozen or more programs open at the same time, load balancing would probably increase my productivity despite the lower clock speed.

There is the issue of a display. I'd love to find a 17" 900 x 1440 widescreen display, but they only seem to be available in iMacs and 17" PowerBooks. The best thing I've found is 20" 1680 x 1050 displays. Apple's Cinema Display is about US$699 refurbished, Dell has a comparable one that is sometimes discounted to US$500 or so, and Acer now has one at a street price of about US$540-550. That one's even available in white.

That would make a good production machine for two or three years, giving me plenty of time to decide when will be the best time to switch to a Macintel machine. My guess is that my first onewill be a PowerBook, replacing my ancient, battle-scarred 400 MHz one. Time will tell.

I am excited about the transition, and I hope that by June Nvu will run very nicely on the Macintel hardware. As for Photoshop, we'll just have to see. Maybe I'll look for an older version that's OS X native (I bought 5.5 used).

We certainly live in interesting times. I'm glad we've still got nine months to prepare ourselves for the next step in Macintosh evolution.