The Practical Mac

How to Optimize Classic

- 2002.05.07 - Tip Jar

How time flies. Mac OS X is over a year old. If you are like me, it is now your primary OS. However, also like me, you probably still have a few applications that require you to run Classic.

Have you ever watched Classic boot up in OS X and wondered, "What is going on?" The answer is probably, "Too much." Chances are you are loading unnecessary and superfluous extensions in Classic. At best, these slow down Classic; at worst, they make it unstable. Here are some ways you can reduce the Classic bloat, speed up your Mac, and make your Classic experience more stable.

Who Is This For?

If you previously had OS 9 installed on your Mac, upgraded to OS X and continued to use the original OS 9 installation for your Classic mode, and do not generally boot into OS 9 (that is to say, you use OS 9 exclusively from within OS X via Classic mode), this article is for you.

If you are able to install OS 9 on a separate partition or are able to erase your old OS 9 system and install a fresh copy for Classic, this is the easiest way to get a clean, sleek Classic experience. I have read several articles in other publications geared toward users in this category. This is obviously an easier method, but not all of us have this luxury.

In short, anyone who ever uses Classic mode in OS X will benefit from this article.

If you periodically need to boot directly into OS 9 and are willing to spend a little time with the Extensions Manager control panel, what you read here will also apply to you.

Many of us have Macs with 10 GB (or even smaller) hard drives and can't spare the extra space. Many of us also have so much vested in our previous installation of OS 9 that we are just a little scared to "mess with it" and would rather leave the installation intact. If any of these sounds like you, read on.

Extensions Manager

The classic Mac OS comes with a practical and powerful utility, the Extensions Manager control panel. Not only does this simplify moving extensions and control panels between active and inactive folders, you can also create multiple named sets for different purposes.

For instance, if you have both Toast and iTunes, they may not coexist nicely. By creating one set with all the Toast files inactive and iTunes files active and another set that does just the opposite, you can decide at startup which set of extensions you want to use simply by holding down the space bar.

Likewise, if you sometimes boot from OS 9 and sometimes use it in Classic mode, you can create separate sets of extensions for each. When booting into OS 9, hold the space bar until the Extensions Manager opens, select your OS 9 set, and continue the boot process. When you want to boot back into OS X, open the Extensions Manager control panel, select your OS X set, and click on the Restart button. Voilà - your Mac will boot into OS X and Classic mode will use your smaller set of extensions and control panels.

The Problem

If you upgraded to OS X from an existing OS 9 installation, your OS 9 settings and extensions were migrated to Classic largely unchanged. The problem is that if you run OS 9 only in Classic mode and don't actually boot directly to this OS anymore, you don't need many of these extensions. For instance, Classic is not allowed direct interaction with hardware; this is handled through OS X. Therefore, you don't need most hardware drivers.

However, if you have even the occasional need to boot directly into OS 9, you do need most of these extensions, though you may be able to slim down your System a little by eliminating a few extensions that you really do not need. WARNING: You should take these steps one at a time, then reboot to make sure Classic still functions properly for the program(s) you need to run. When you encounter a problem, undo the last step and go on to the next one.

To begin, go to the OS 9 Control Panel. To get there, just launch a Classic application. When you do, the Apple in the upper left-hand corner will be the old rainbow logo rather than the new Aqua version. From the dropdown Apple menu, select Control Panels>Extension Manager. From there, you can deselect the extensions you wish to disable.

Here are a number of extensions and extension families you can try disabling:

  1. AirPort (several extensions)
    These should not be installed unless your Mac has (or had) an AirPort card in it. If you no longer use AirPort, these can be unchecked even if you do boot into OS 9.
  2. Apple Modem Tool; Serial Tool; TTY Tool; VT102 Tool
    As a general rule, you should not need these in Classic unless you have a Classic application that specifically needs one or more of them.
  3. QuickDraw 3D Hardware drivers
    This is now handled by OS X.
  4. AppleShare
    All file sharing is handled through OS X.
  5. Scanner drivers
    If you do still have to boot to OS 9, chances are this is the reason. Few scanner drivers work in OS X through Classic. If you do not have an OS X native driver for your scanner, you probably have to boot to OS 9 so you will need to leave these unchanged.
  6. Video drivers (ATI, Nvidia, etc.)
    These are not necessary in Classic. If you boot to Classic, you must continue to load these!
  7. File sharing extensions
    Again, OS X handles file sharing.
  8. FireWire extensions
    This should be handled through OS X, making drivers in the Classic environment unnecessary. However, I have only tested this theory with a FireWire hard drive. It is conceivable there may be other FireWire peripherals that need these drivers in Classic.
  9. Software Update
    I recommend manually downloading updates and then installing them from the hard drive. When the automatic Software Update in OS X pops up, I make a note of the updates I want to install, exit Software Update, go to the Apple web site and download them manually. I have several Macs in the house and this give me a local copy, which I only have to download once, from which to update all of the Macs.
  10. Speakable Items; Speech Manager; Speech Recognition; Voice Verification
    Unless you have a Classic app which uses these, you can turn them off.
  11. Text tool
    Not used in Classic mode.
  12. Toast extensions
    Unless you are using Toast in Classic mode, you do not need these.
  13. USB extensions
    Same caveats as #8, "FireWire extensions," above.
  14. Web Sharing extension
    If you are only using OS 9 in Classic mode, you are not serving web pages through it so you can turn off this extension.
  15. Ethernet, mouse, keyboard
    Generally, all hardware drivers can be disabled in Classic because Classic has no direct access to hardware. Once again, if you disable an extension and something does not work right, re-enable it.

What About Microsoft Extensions?

Between Office:2001 and Internet Explorer, Microsoft dumps dozens of extensions onto your system. Can you get rid of them? It depends. You can almost certainly get rid of the IE extensions, since there is likely to be no reason to run Classic IE when you have the OS X version or another browser altogether. Office is a different story.

Why would I need to run Office:2001 if I have Office v.X? Probably never, unless you use Adobe Acrobat to print Office files to PDF. As you may know, the current version of Acrobat is only partially Carbonized. The print to PDF function is not yet supported in OS X. OS X has a built-in ability to print files to PDF, but this does not produce as nice a PDF as Acrobat. For example, if you have a bulleted list in Word and use OS X to print to PDF, the bullets disappear! Using Acrobat to create a PDF from print output preserves the original and intended appearance of the document to a much greater extent.

However, this requires booting into OS 9! If you merely run Office:2001 in Classic mode, the option to print to PDF (through the Adobe Acrobat driver) is not present. Admittedly, I have not experimented with this a lot. There may be a way to make it work. But since I have my Power Mac 7500 running OS 9.1 right beside me, it is easier and quicker to just use it. That being the case, I have not had a lot of incentive to tinker with this. If any of our readers have delved more deeply into this, I would be interested to hear your results.


The only Classic programs I run are:

  • Macromedia Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Flash
  • Claris HomePage
  • Civilization II
  • eFax Messenger
  • Office:2001 (limited, as outlined above)

Disabling the extensions outlined above did not adversely affect any of these programs. You probably have different programs, and they will probably need different Classic extensions. Some experimentation will be required to find the optimum configuration for your particular situation.

There are some real benefits to not loading unnecessary extensions. Since I slimmed down my Classic, there has been a noticeable improvement in stability and speed of Classic programs. In addition, I decreased the time it takes Classic to load on my iMac DV from just under two minutes to 24 seconds!

You probably have many more extensions beyond the ones that have been mentioned here. Many of them are probably not necessary in Classic mode. The only way to know for sure is to disable them one at a time and see what happens. I cannot caution you enough to only do this one at a time! That way, if you encounter a problem, you know exactly which extension was the culprit and can re-enable it. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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