Apple Archive

Getting on the Net with an Older Mac

- 2001.01.26

Yes, it is possible to get on the Internet with an older Mac.

I have had a lot of people asking me about getting an older computer online. One person I talked to had a Performa 600 without a CD-ROM drive. She wasn't a computer expert, and she wanted to get online. She couldn't get anyone within 10 feet of it. Another had a 6100/60, and her ISP told her she had to get more memory to run their software. This is the ISP that she had been connecting with for some time already.

The thing that gets to me is that ISPs are raising the requirements for their software. Sure, maybe their software requires a PowerPC with 32 MB of RAM, but the Internet has no such requirements. You can sign on to the Internet on almost any computer (even an Apple IIgs!), Mac IIalthough, you have to be reasonable if you want the "modern" Internet. You should have at least a 16 MHz 68020 processor (that is, Macintosh II or LC or better), at least 4 MB of RAM (8 highly recommended), and at least 10 MB of hard disk space.

You will need a modem. Don't get anything under 14.4 kbps, and I highly recommend 28.8 or 33.6, because they are inexpensive and yet let you get to websites fairly quickly. Using a 56K modem on a IIcx is a bit of overkill, since the IIcx is not a very fast computer, and it can't handle a high speed modem. Also, the serial ports are limited on some of these older Macs to certain speeds, which prevents you from using certain types of modems. The general rule that I usually go by: use a 14.4, 28.8, or 33.6 on a 68K Mac, and 33.6 or 56K on a PowerPC.

Most ISPs will tell you that you need a CD-ROM drive to run their software, so if you don't have one, you may want to look into one. Make sure it is an external SCSI CD-ROM; you don't want to end up with an internal CD-ROM for a PC. You will also need drivers. If you can find an older version of FWB's CD-ROM Toolkit, pick it up. The APS drivers tend to work well, too, if you can find a copy.

You will also need System 7.1 or higher. (Okay, it can be done on 7.0 or 7.0.1, but I am only covering installation on 7.1 or better right now.) If you don't have it, look around on the online auction sites, such as eBay, or on the Low End Mac swap list. If you have a Macintosh IIvx, IIvi (Performa 600), Colour Classic, LC III, Performa 450 or higher, all in one LC or Performa, or a Quadra/Centris, you already have at least 7.1 installed. Check the version number and how much RAM is installed in your system by pulling down the Apple menu and selecting "About this Macintosh" or "About this Computer." (If you know someone with Internet access, you can download System 7.5.3 and the System 7.5.5 updater from Apple's site. Details here.)

Next, you need to get an ISP. The one I am using is EarthLink, because their software is easy to set up, Total Accessincludes everything you need, and supports older Macs. There are other choices out there, and I recommend looking around a bit before you decide on one. AOL, SNET, and Prodigy (if they are still out there) are among the others.

When it comes time to load the software, put the CD into the drive and click on the installer. You will be taken step by step through several different prompts. When the installer is finished, it will launch the account setup program.

You can either configure an existing account or set up a new account. If you are setting up a new account, just click that button, and you will be brought through several screens asking you for desired username and password. After you have gone through the prompts, it may ask you if you want to install your "Internet Tools." This will install an older version of FreePPP (2.5), Microsoft Internet Explorer 2.1, and Microsoft Internet Mail and News (Microsoft's first email program - it's like Outlook Express). Click yes.

Once it installs and configures your software, you will be prompted to restart the machine. Do that. When it is back at the desktop you have a choice to make. You can use Internet Explorer/MSIMN or Netscape 2.02.

If you don't care what browser you use, skip this paragraph. If you want Netscape, open the "EarthLink Extras" folder. Inside you will find "Tools for Older Macs." Open that, and mount the self-mounting disk image. Inside you will find the Netscape Installer. Open that and follow the directions to install it.

Once your software is set up, it is time to get online! Open either Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. After the splash screen has appeared, your modem will dial and connect to your ISP. Once all of the screeching is over, click "stop" (your browser will most likely be loading an outdated Netscape or Microsoft start page). In the URL box, type You should see the Low End Mac website appear. If it doesn't, you may need to check your software setup or get a new phone number to use. If you are using EarthLink, you can do that from the "Registration and Utilities" application.

Netscape on a Mac IIci

Setting up a Mac with OS 8 is a bit easier than System 7.1. I used both a Macintosh IIci and a Quadra 610. The Quadra 610 was faster to set up, partly because it already had some of the components installed with OS 8, and partly because it is simply a faster computer than the IIci.

The IIci set up just as well and went ahead at it's own speed running System 7.5 and Netscape Navigator 2.02.

The Internet doesn't just let you access a world information on your older Mac; it also slows it down. If your Quadra 650 felt fast before you put it online, it will feel considerably slower when it is loading Web pages. The same is true with a IIsi, LC III, or any older Mac. I am typing on a Quadra 610 right now, which feels very fast running Mac OS 8.0 and Word 6.01. Once I put it online, I could see it was struggling a bit at loading intense images. It also struggled with animations on banner ads. I have the minimum video RAM in mine, so an upgrade would probably improve performance in this area.

You can't expect top performance from a Mac that is six or ten years old, but the performance that they give you is incredible compared to other computers. A 386 PC would really struggle doing some of the things these Macs can still do decently. While you can't run the latest version of Netscape or Internet Explorer on an older Mac, you can run one that lets you do most of the same things as the newest version.

The Internet should not be limited by your computer. Don't listen to the ISP's who "require" a Power Mac. If you have a Mac II or LC with 4 MB of RAM, you can use the Net.

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