The Low End Mac Mailbag

Making a Bootable OS X CD, Why Apple Should Choose AMD over IBM, iMac Startup Problems after OS X Install, and More

Dan Knight - 2003.02.03

Welcome to the first Low End Mac Mailbag column. I used to do these once in a while when I was the only Mac Daniel columnist, but the idea of the mailbag column has really fallen by the wayside here - if not for Charles W. Moore, we'd hardly ever see reader email on Low End Mac.

I definitely receive enough email to do this regulary, and a mailbag column provides additional incentive for trying to keep up on the daily deluge of email. I hope you'll find the letters and responses help clear some things up, while at the same time they may raise whole new questions.

Dan Knight, publisher, Low End Mac

Don't Buy the New 'Books Quite Yet

In response to Don't Buy the New 'Books Quite Yet, Christopher writes:

There's a very simple workaround for making an emergency OS X boot disk.

you can use BootCD, which can be found here < http://www.macfixit.com/staticpages/tul/BootCD.dmg.sit> to make a bootable OS X.2 CD.

On that CD, there's a RAMdisk on which you can place an OS X compatible system utility; I rather like MicroMat's Drive 10.

The whole process takes a while, and OS X is reeeeeeally slow running from a CD, but it works, and this method has saved my iBook from disaster.

I'm currently waiting for my one laggard app (Propellerheads ReCycle) to come to OS X, and then I'm never booting into OS 9 again.

Thanks for the information, but the linked version of BootCD didn't work with Jaguar. I found the CharlesSoft website, downloaded BootCD v51, and created a bootable OS X CD. You're right - it's excruciatingly slow.

Alas, the only X compatible utilities I have are Norton, and they cannot be copied to the CD and made to work, nor can the be installed to the disk image.

Glad to hear Drive 10 is working for you. I'd still prefer to wait until Alsoft has an X bootable version of DiskWarrior.

The Longer Apple Sticks with Motorola, the Behinder They Get

In response to The Longer Apple Sticks with Motorola, the Behinder They Get, Michael Jardeen writes:

I am of two minds on this - one thing is clear, Apple must do something about the mess that is its ever slower processors.

IBM has the advantage of providing compatibility that allows for a very simple migration to the new processor. The down side; and the big reason why I would almost prefer to see Apple go with AMD, is that is once again saddles Apple with being at the mercy of one company for it's chips. The move to AltiVec and Motorola has been part of the problem over the past 4 years. Who's to say that IBM will be any better?

By going with AMD, Apple leaves itself open to using Intel chips, and it partners with a company that really would love to have Apple's business. It also partners with a company in an open competitive market. It becomes tied to the forward movement of that market. This means that Apple has the advantage of riding the coat tails of a larger market. With IBM they once again get tied to the corporate politics of a company that could simply decide to move in a whole different direction.

The downside of course is that it introduces a whole new migration issue. For that reason I would suggest that Apple go with IBM for it's consumer and mainstream computers. On the server side, I would dump the existing Xserve, and go AMD on future models. The reason is that migration in the server market would be much simpler since there is a much smaller list of programs that you need to convert. With X11 Apple is open to a whole new generation of software. If the servers are a success, then I would look at the rest of the business. The nice thing is that it would give Apple real hands-on experience in that market, and gives them an even stronger ace in the hole.

Steve Jobs has hinted that Apple might be willing to port OS X over to another hardware platform once the migration to OS X is complete. At this point, all Macs shipping prior to January 2003 boot into OS 9, and a lot of people who have classic Mac hardware have not yet made the transition to OS X.

The next question is which AMD processor would Apple go with, the current Athlons, which are essentially improved copies of Intel's Pentium line, or their forthcoming 64-bit CPU? I'd suggest that Apple would be best off completely avoiding porting OS X to any x86 chip and hold off for 64-bit processors, whether that be IBM's PowerPC 970, AMD's Opteron, or Intel's compiler-straining Itanium.

This would give Apple an equal footing with Linux and Windows on new hardware platforms as the industry moves ahead. Still, I think there would be a mutiny it Apple abandoned the PowerPC platform.

I'm far less concerned about IBM as a single source, since the company has married its future to the PowerPC and Linux, than Motorola as a single source, since they are much more of a consumer oriented company that doesn't even make computers.

In another interesting development, IBM and AMD are teaming up on chip development. We do live in interesting times.

OS 8.6 Booting Problem on an iMac with OS X

Partly in response to Mac OS X and a Beige G3 and several related articles, Tim Galvin writes:

I upgraded [my 233 MHz iMac] to OS X (thanks in part to your site information - thanks!). There appears to be a small item overlooked in most discussion forums. I am operating with two partitions in my new 40 GB hard drive. The first 8 GB partition is required for OS X to function in this model. Your site and most others agree on this point. The second partition is loaded with my current OS 8.6.1 (or OS 9 when I get it).

OS X runs fine.

However, I have tried to boot into OS 8.6.1 by holding down the "Option" key (supposed to allow system start up selection on power up) which it ignores and goes to OS X. Selecting OS 8.6.1 in the second partition in preferences for OS X causes system to hang in limbo on restart. I found an Apple Knowledge Base article on the B&W G3 that indicates the "New World ROM program" in that model will never look beyond the first partition for the operating system. I assume this is my problem as well. I am going to eventually try OS 9, but I am betting on the same result. At least with OS 9 I can run in the same OS X partition. No sites have addressed running OS 8.6.1 in the same partition as OS X so I probably won't try that.

The iMac has pretty much the same ROMs as the B&W G3. Early Macs with "New World" ROMs had some limitations that later Macs didn't. This is why models such as the early iMacs and B&W G3 can only boot from an IDE drive if it is smaller than 8 GB or is installed on a first partition of 8 GB or smaller.

Yours is the first story I can recall about not being able to boot the classic Mac OS from a different partition, though. When you partitioned the hard drive and installed Mac OS X, did you tell it to install Mac OS 9 drivers to the hard drive? If not, this may explain the problem booting from OS 8.6 on your iMac.

If not, perhaps some of our readers can shed light on the issue.

Thoughts on Apple's Mail Application

In response to my comments about Apple's Mail program in Fulfilling the Promise of Aqua and the Quartz Rendering Engine, Tom writes:

You've probably received many emails on this subject, but in Mail go to customize toolbar under the View menu. You can add font size increase and decrease icons. Also, one can select under the Format ---> font ---> bigger or smaller.

Like you, I prefer other mail apps to Mail. Mail is OK, but there are better programs.

I'm using Mail with my mac.com email address at present. It does live up to the promise of catching spam, and adding the Bigger and Smaller icons makes it easier to read the occasional email with too small text, but I have not warmed to the program yet. I'm still using Claris Emailer (in classic mode) for the bulk of my email and PowerMail for a few other accounts.

Errors in Article about Aqua

Also in response Fulfilling the Promise of Aqua and the Quartz Rendering Engine, Pierre Igot of Applelust writes:

Hi there,

Too many errors in your latest article on Aqua...

But Finder windows are also cluttered by things like the Computer, Home, Applications, and Favorites icons in the Toolbar --

Incorrect. Mac OS X can be configured by the end user so that these icons never appear and the Finder behaves more like the OS 9 Finder. The user can choose whether these icons are visible or not.

except for the Applications icon, I'd never used any of these until I started writing this article. I guess it's time I stopped just using Jaguar and read a book about it. Maybe then I'll find out why some site pages also appear up there.

Only because you put them there. There's no way that they could have been added by anyone other than the end user.

Aqua really is beautiful, but do these icons have to be so large? Why can I only choose between this size of icon and no icons at all - why not a smaller set of icons?

Apple must be working on this. Smaller icons are already available for more standard tool bars, like the ones in System Prefs or Mail. Just cmd-click on the Toolbar button (oval-shaped button on the right) to toggle between the various settings. The Finder doesn't support this yet, presumably because it uses its own code for its tool bars. Hopefully Apple is working on this.

Yes, the options are still limited (either large or small icons), but I suspect that this is something that will change in the future, as more displays with higher resolutions become available.

I've done some fiddling with type and icon size. I find 11 point type is both easy on the eyes and relatively compact - although with the classic Mac OS, the same could be said of 9 point fonts such as Geneva. And regardless of how small a font I choose in my view, those gorgeous icons showing folders, the desktop, etc. stay the same size, so I can't actually see more items in the window.

Not sure what window you are referring to here. Icon size in Finder windows is entirely customizable, through Finder Prefs (default) and View Prefs (single window settings).

If I can change the size of icons some places, why can't I change them at the top of the Finder windows or when I view items as a list? Why are some icons fluid and others fixed?

Agreed.

If Aqua is really so fluid, why don't all of Apple's application programs take full advantage of it? For instance, instead of simply making text one step larger or smaller with a button in Safari, why not give us a slider that lets us dynamically change the displayed font size on the fly? That's something no other browser on the planet has (as far as I know).

It's an idea - although sliders have their drawbacks too.

Considering how many websites have too small text, Safari would be a great place to add this, especially as it's a beta where we expect to see innovative improvements. (Has anyone ever run across one where the text is too large? Why is it that nobody seems to make their text larger than your default size, but so many want to make it smaller - and sometimes so small that you can't read it?)

It's a PC vs. Mac thing. 10 point fonts in Windows look about as large as 12 pt fonts in the Mac OS. And some web designers use absolute font sizes - which is completely idiotic, but unfortunately quite common.

Ditto for Mail, a program I really have not taken a liking to at all yet. I received on email in a small display typeface that was almost impossible to read. If Mail has a way to increase the size of type in a received message, I certainly couldn't find it.

There is a way (View>Customize Toolbar...), but it's only available for HTML/rich-text formatted messages. If the message you received is plain text, then it's using the default font size you specified in your prefs. If it's HTML/rich text, it uses the font size specified in the message formatting (if any) - and then the Smaller/Bigger buttons become available.

Maybe some day they'll even give us the option of selecting an interface as sparsely practical as we had with the classic Mac OS.

Compared to Windows XP, the Mac OS X interface is already pretty sparse!

Pierre

Regarding your first point, I was complaining that OS X doesn't let me choose smaller icons - it's either the size Apple gives you or nothing at all. As you note later, a lot of other things in OS X support different icon sizes, so maybe it's just a matter of time before Finder windows do.

I still don't know how those document icons got into the top bar of the Finder windows, but after deleting a dozen or so, I've finally rid myself of them. Time to read a book on OS X and figure out why it happened in the first place.

We designers have got to stop trying to force us to see type at a specific size, whether that's in points, pixels, or something else. What's the point of allowing a user to select a preferred default font size when the website they visit can completely ignore it. (Low End Mac is tied to the visitor's default font size, something we point out every time someone asks why our fonts are so big.)

As far as I know, iCab is the only browser that allows you to override type sizes on the pages you visit regardless of how they are specified. Safari has a neat feature also - you can specify a minimum type size for displayed text, although you have to use a third-party utility to access this feature at present.

As for comparing OS X with Windows XP, let me just say that I'm in no position to make such a comparison. I don't do Windows.

Musings on Musings

Also in response to Fulfilling the Promise of Aqua and the Quartz Rendering Engine, Ed Hurtley writes:

First, you may not be able to resize the icons on the Finder's icon bar, but you can customize it in other ways. Go to the View menu and click 'Customize Toolbar' (Most OS X applications have customizable toolbars the same way). From there you can add or delete toolbar icons, make the icons appear as just icons, icons & text, or just text.

Now that I've got that 'helpful hint' out of the way (I'm sure plenty of people have written the same thing) time to comment on the substance of the article.

I had thought about why the system has such defined view sizes before, but never in such a simple way as to add a zoom slider. It is not only logical (iPhoto even does it), but it is intuitive and elegant. That would solve lots of complications. Replacing the large/small text buttons in Safari with a small slider would be very nice. (Especially if it can be used to override Web pages hard-coded text sizes.) The OS itself already supports smooth zooming of this kind, in the 'Zoom' feature of the Universal Access system preference panel. (It's painfully slow and ugly on my Rev. A G3 with unsupported video, but it is amazingly smooth and graceful on a G4 with Quartz Extreme.)

The other thing that I had been thinking about is the varied resolutions in use today. I don't specifically mean the number of pixels (which is what is commonly referred to by 'resolution') but by the number of pixels per inch. Once upon a time, in the land of fixed-frequency monitors, Apple's monitors were all fairly close in the number of pixels per inch. A 13" monitor was 640 x 480, a 16" was 832 x 624, and a 21" was 1152 x 854. This made it so that no matter how much screen real estate you had, an icon was about the same size (0.25" wide) But now with the varied LCD screens of different ppis (from the 12" iBook and PowerBook's 105ppi to the iMac 15" and (apparently discontinued) Studio Display 15" 85ppi) we have it so that icons and text that are the same 'size' (point size) are wildly different in physical sizes. Graphic design and layout programs never quite get the size right, so 100% zoom is never quite 100%.

Now that Apple has gone 100% LCD (I'm ignoring the old G3 iMac and the bastard-child eMac), they know exactly how large the display area of the computer is. They should have an option to set the display at a fixed size. (For example, an option to make all icons '0.5" wide'. That way when you move from your iBook to your iMac, your screen has the same feel. Yeah, the iBook will have less usable area, but it won't feel like you need a magnifying lens just to read.)

Oh well, that's my thought. And that's why I like your articles, they provoke my own thought process to come up with these long and rambling diatribes.

Thanks for your kind words. When I write, I hope readers will not just read my words, but think through my thoughts and form their own response to them. The same goes for site content in general, which is why we sometimes have pro-Wintel pieces, the Lite Side, and those crazy rumor parodies from Anne Onymus. Vive la Think Different!

When I worked in book publishing, it would have been a real blessing to be able to somehow scale the display so a 6" by 9" page would be precisely that size on the screen. Even the classic Mac OS had the ability to not map points to pixels, but it was never really utilized. The same pretty much goes for OS X today. (I wrote an article on this topic four years ago, Resolution Independent Display.)

In my current line of work, online publishing, it's not terribly important how many points per inch are being displayed or how physically large an icon is. I'm sure there are fields and types of software where that would be important, however, and I suspect that buried somewhere in the recesses of Aqua is the ability to deal with the actual number of points per inch (or cm).

My hope in posting this article is that Apple will ask whether scalable icons in the Finder and a slider control might be reasonable additions to Aqua and their applications - especially the Safari browser. While I don't see a slider completely replacing Bigger and Smaller icons (this is particularly true for those with motor skill issues), it would be a nice alternative.

True Fluid GUI

Another email in response to Fulfilling the Promise of Aqua and the Quartz Rendering Engine comes from Ray Boehmer:

The biggest problem with Aqua is the bitmapped UI elements. Although changing the various icons seems fluid, there are actually several sizes of bitmapped icons, and each one is sized through a limited range.

Now since Aqua is based on display PDF, I don't see why the interface couldn't be comprised entirely of vector elements. That would make everything scalable via sliders.

Then, display resolutions could be unlocked from their range of 72-96 dpi, in favor of much higher resolutions. Fonts and elements in the UI could be set to physical size instead of pixels, all independent of monitor resolution.

We'd have to give up our photorealistic icons and widgets, though. Actually, that might just bring the interface full circle to the original Mac's simplicity.

Just something to think about...

Upgrading a Beige G3

Garry C. writes in response to my advice in Speeding up a Beige G3:

Read your piece on upgrading old G3s. I'm currently running OS 8.1 on a beige G3/266 desktop with the standard 4 GB Quantum Fireball hard drive, and I need a bit more more room. I'm kind of a novice at this, but I can't see ever needing more storage at this point, and a 40 GB drive seems like the right amount.

I may attempt OS X sometime in the future as well as a G3 ZIF upgrade per your article. But for now, the drive listed below is available this week for $59.99 (after the $30 rebate). I'm wondering if you consider this a worthy replacement (if indeed it's the right kind), or should I be looking at another unit. Your thoughts and recommendations are most welcome and anticipated. Thank you very much in advance for your reply and for your help in keeping us older Mac owners in the loop.

The drive in question is a 40 GB 7200 rpm Maxtor with a 2 MB buffer and <9 ms average seek time. The drive is rated for Ultra100 and can transfer 100 MB/sec - about six times as fast as the beige G3's bus can handle data. It's really overkill unless you plan to add a faster IDE controller card, such as the Acard Ahard mentioned in my article.

One further benefit of the Ahard is that you will not need to partition the drive with a first partition under 8 GB if you want to use OS X. The Ahard makes the Mac see the IDE drive as a SCSI drive, so that limitation disappears. So you gain that benefit in addition to an Ultra66 interface, which is four times as fast as the one built into the beige G3. (For the record, the drive itself probably never reaches 100 MB/sec - 40 MB/sec is far more typical in the real world.)

If you're not planning on adding a faster controller card, you'll probably be very happy with a 5400 rpm hard drive. Those should be available for even less.

Moore's Law or Knight's Law?

Del Miller, a regular contributor to Mac Opinion, writes in response to The January 2003 Power Mac G4 Value Equation:

Just a minor nit to pick here...

In your article "The January 2003 Power Mac G4 Value Equation" you use Moore's Law to describe the rate of increase in processor clock speed.

But Moore never said anything about clock speed - he was referring solely to the number of transistors on a given die. While there is an inherent signal propagation speed advantage from more closely spaced transistors, the switching speed of the gates follows a completely different physics and there is no real reason to expect that transistor density and processor clock speed should continue apace.

The fact that Intel managed to hit the Moore's law rate with clock speed was because of architectural decisions that were largely unrelated to Moore's law.

The point of your article was, of course, the comparison between Intel and Motorola in the clock speed race and you make that case pretty clear. Tying that to Moore's law though is a bit of non-sequiter.

The rest of the story was very good, as usual.


And moments later, he sent this:

Right after I hit the send key, a further thought occurred to me... Moore's Law is not really a law (that is it isn't based on any property of physics) but rather an observation that Moore once made about the then current growth rate of transistor density - specifically the Intel chips of the day. The fact that it has roughly held to the present day even surprised Gordon Moore.

Your story about Intel clock speeds increasing at the same rate as Moore's Law describes no less valid an observation than Moore's.

I think you must be talking about Knight's Law! You're missing a chance for lasting fame!

Moore's Law (yes, really an observation, but everyone calls it a law) predicted doubling of circuit density every 2 years, later revised to 18 months.

Denser circuitry implies higher speeds, since the electrons have to travel shorter distances, so this could be considered a corollary to Moore's Law. It's not original to me - people have been applying Moore's Law to CPU speed for at least a decade now.

Why the 1 GHz $1,499 Power Mac Is a Better Value than the Dual 867

In response to the same article, where I suggested that the Dual 867 MHz Power Mac G4 was a better value at $1,499 than the new Single 1 MHz model, a reader who wished to remain anonymous writes:

Dear Mr. Knight,

The Dual 867 was hampered by other things:

  • no QuickBooks
  • only 32 MB of VRAM by default
  • build to order SuperDrive is cheaper on the 1 GHz and 1.25 GHz model at only $200
  • no FireWire 800
  • no Airport Extreme support
  • permission issues of switching to Mac OS 9
  • not all programs are dual processor aware, or able to take advantage of Mac OS X's multithreading.
  • no included latest version of iDVD.
  • and a noisier fan system.

The single processor while not able to do multithreading would match the dual processor on all tasks that don't do multithreading.

Not to mention it is $200 cheaper, meaning for the same price of a dual 867 you can now have a tower with a built-in SuperDrive.

Sincerely,
anonymous

I didn't realize there was software that the dual 867 couldn't run that would run on the single processor machine.

According to Apple, 32 MB is all that's needed for Quartz Extreme to run at full efficiency.

Yes, you can add the SuperDrive to the single CPU 1 GHz Power Mac G4 for $200, but how many people buying an entry-level computer are burning DVDs? Without a SuperDrive, the presence or absence of iDVD is a moot point, since that is the only drive iDVD supports.

As for FireWire 800, what FireWire 800 items are there that an entry-level G4 user might buy? I can't think of any.

As noted in Extreme Wireless for Older Macs, you can add a PCI card with 802.11g for under $100. That's less than Apple charges for the AirPort Extreme module.

I don't know what you're referring to when you mention "permission issues of switching to Mac OS 9." In my book, being able to boot into Mac OS 9 (for instance, to run diagnostics) is a benefit, not a drawback.

Not all programs are not dual processor aware or unable to take advantage of multithreading. Mac OS X itself does, as does much of the OS X native software. And, as noted in my article, dual 867 MHz processors are on average 50% more efficient on tasks that support dual processors than running the same tasks on a single processor 1 GHz system.

Further, even if a particular application doesn't support multiple processors, the OS and other applications do, which means that by them running more efficiently, the program that uses a single processor is also able to function more efficiently.

I hadn't heard that the new Power Macs had a different cooling system than the previous generation.

I stand by my claim that while they last, the dual 867 MHz Power Mac G4 at $1,499 remains a better value than the new single processor 1 GHz model at the same price.


Well, that's plenty of mail for one day. Come back Wednesday when we open the Low End Mac mailbag again to see what's inside.

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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