The Low End Mac Mailbag

Hard Drives, Switching to OS X, Bouncing Icons, Unix Junk, and More

Dan Knight - 2003.06.13 - Tip Jar

More on CF, IDE, and IE

Responding to Extra Tidbit about CF Cards, Peter da Silva writes:

I would guess you know all this, but the exchange in the 6/4 mailbag seems to leave things a little confused:

All IDE drives have a controller on them, that's what "Integrated Drive Electronics" means. An "IDE controller card" is actually little more than a bus extender, bringing a version of the old IBM-PC "AT" bus out to the drive. Meanwhile, PCMCIA is also a bus extender for the IBM-PC bus, and CF is a subset of PCMCIA.

As for IE and AOL, I have no idea how Microsoft's lawyers manage to keep a straight face in the courtroom, the way they keep turning concessions into advantages. I have this image of them saying "Yes sir, we agree to compensate the US for unfairly expanding our monopoly by donating more Windows machines to schools," then stalking out to the restroom and bursting into maniacal laughter. :)

Yes, the bulk of the circuitry for managing IDE, ATAPI, and UltraATA drives is integrated into the drive, but the computer still needs some electronics between the PCI bus and the drive. Not much, so perhaps calling it a controller card is imprecise, but it's a term we've been using since the era of Apple IIs and S-100 machines.

On top of that, sometimes the cards provide additional support circuitry, as when the Acard Ahard makes the Mac see the connected drives as SCSI devices and other cards that support RAID in hardware, so the term is far from obsolete.

As for Microsoft, their hubris knows no end.

Why Not Switch to OS X

After reading my thoughts on upgrade packages for older Macs in Thinking Too Different: Why Mac Users Are Slow to Adopt OS X, Bill Doty writes:

I have again enjoyed your writing.

I would strongly support your ideas on upgrade packages.

If you could come up with an upgrade for Beige G3 machines that allowed dual booting between OS X and OS 9 and recognized the internal floppy drive and an internal Zip drive, you would sell a lot of them. The Macs that are older non-beige G3 machines probably should be replaced rather than upgraded.

The school Macintoshes should all be made to dual boot. Money for schools is very tight. Schools have a lot of old software and networks of older machines. Also, school boards always want to buy something local. How about more local dealers or a regional sales rep. Some people won't consider Macintosh because there is nobody to fix it when it breaks. (They simply do not believe how reliable Macs are.)

When OS X first came out, it was "not ready for prime time." It was not until 10.2 that Apple got something as reliable as 9.1.

Five years from now, Apple is going to need a partner for its computer business. They are going to be an entertainment company that also makes computers.

The last time they tried licensing, they bungled it and burned some good people (Motorola). If Apple wants to grow market share, it is time for OS X-Wintel. Work over the OS so it will run with any kind of processor in the box. Sell Gateway or Dell a license, include AppleWorks 6, Safari, Mail, iTunes, iLife, or whatever other iThing they come up with next. Restrict licensees from selling to schools and from selling laptops with OS X. The OS X market share would grow, and Apple could get a good marketer for its software.

You can easily create a dual booting beige G3; we have one here. The internal Zip drive is fully supported in both operating systems, but the floppy is not supported at all in OS X. There is a hack, but user feedback says it's not worth the hassles when it works or the problems it causes when it doesn't. If it's important to have a floppy in OS X, your best bet is probably a USB or USB/FireWire card and a USB floppy drive. If you're going to go that route, I suggest you look at the Y-E Data 2X USB Floppy Disk Drive, which provides twice the throughput of standard USB floppies. (This drive is available through Amazon.com for $39.88. I use floppies maybe twice a year, but it sure would be fun to test a fast one.)

For better or worse, Apple made a conscious decision to abandon dual booting with their latest models, although the iBooks is still a dual boot machine. Apple is apparently willing to sacrifice sales to those not ready to migrate in their desire to get as many new Mac buyers as possible using OS X. I don't expect that will ever change.

The best things to come from the Macintosh clones were competition that drove Apple to reduce prices and great fire sale prices on some very solid machines when Power Computing, Motorola, Umax, and the others were pushed out of the business. The bad thing is that the primary market for clones was high-end systems, the one place that's always been profitable for Apple, so it really cut into their bottom line. I don't foresee Apple ever doing that again.

But Apple doesn't have to allow clones. Their new model is to design the computers and contract production of most machines to others. Apple doesn't build iBooks, PowerBooks, eMacs, or iMacs. I believe they still build the Power Macs themselves, and I suspect the same goes for the Xserve.

This lets Apple concentrate on design, OS, and applications, not hardware assembly. If Apple wanted to or needed to, they could easily find someone to build a new model without the need to allow cloning.

I think the day of OS X on Intel is never coming, at least not to the point where it would run on standard "Wintel" hardware. There are too many motherboards, video cards, and so forth that Apple would have to support if they offered an alternative to Windows.

Legality of Installing OS X on non-Apple Branded Machine

Daniel Dreibelbis <writes:

I figured that if anyone could take a shot at answering this, you just might.

Over in comp.sys.mac.advocacy on usenet, there's been quite a heated discussion going on about Core Computing's repackaged Mac clones that are based around an actual G4 motherboard in a different case (a couple of guys there have ordered and received their Core systems as kits). Naturally, for legal reasons, Core isn't shipping these computers with an operating system. But that doesn't matter, according to one particular pro-Apple guy, because according to the license agreement that comes with OS X, the consumer can't legally install an Apple OS on a computer unless it's on an Apple-branded machine either.

I'm asking this because I am running Jaguar on a Umax J700 via XPostFacto - which, as you can guess, from the days when Apple officially licensed third-party clone machines, and has no Apple branding on it. By installing OS X on my Umax, does this therefore make me a criminal or open me to possible liabilities actions from Apple for doing so? Or would this be considered the equivalent of tearing off the tag on a mattress or pillow? Somehow I don't relish the thought of getting a C&D letter from Steve Jobs' lawyers (but I would possibly frame it if I did :) )

I hope that this isn't considered a frivolous question, as quite a few people out there run OS X on their clone machines, and it might be a question to consider to anyone considering buying a kit or complete system from Core if there is a legal basis that would prevent them from installing OS X or any Mac OS.

Thanks for any help in answering this question.

I am not a lawyer, but I can't imagine that Apple could enforce such a policy. Such a statement obviously clears them of any liability for anything that may happen to your unsupported computer, but I can't see any way that it would actually be illegal to put OS X on a Macintosh clone.

As for Core, it looks like Apple has temporarily shut them down by not allowing anyone to sell them the motherboards and power supplies they need to build their machines. My suggestion is that they just sell the enclosure and let the end user worry about getting the parts, something I proposed two months ago.

Yet More about Migration to OS X

On the subject of Mac users migrating to OS X, Leland Jordon writes:

No, not a rant, or disagreement, or anything like that - just another point of view.

I've casually used Macs since maybe 1985 or so. My parents got a grape 266 iMac as their first (and so far only) computer, and not too long after that I got myself one of the then-brand-new original blueberry iBooks. Back in March of this year, I bought a friend's barely-used 800 MHz iBook, and I haven't looked back yet.

I also thought that Jaguar seemed slow, until I realized that I still couldn't move my cursor fast enough to get ahead of the interface.

Did it take a while for me to get used to things? Of course. Do the changes, upon reflection, make sense? Well, yeah, I really believe they do. The Dock makes a lot of sense, browsing files with Finder windows seems cleaner than cluttering the desktop with folder windows (as much as I love the nearly-perfect "desktop" metaphor, that was a clumsy side effect), and OS X's ability to run ten or fifteen applications at once is just amazing.

I do miss the ability to add & get rid of small system files & extensions without fear of doing unknown damage, but then again, I haven't had to even attempt anything of the sort in the short time I've been on OS X.

I dig OS X. Thanks to the column, I may pull out the blueberry to revisit 9 for kicks, but it's not going to regain its place as my default OS anytime soon.

I don't question that most of the changes in OS X make sense or that it's a better overall operating system. What I question is Apple making so many changes and not providing a simple introduction to OS X for Mac users to help the masses make the migration without all the frustration that comes from not having a clue where Apple moved things to in the new OS.

Bouncing Icons & Hard-Niners

After reading my comments in Oh Please, Nicholas Sorensen writes:

Just FYI: To turn off bouncing icons when you launch an application simply uncheck the "Animate Opening Applications" in the Dock preference panel. The 'high' bouncing icons you see when an Application requires your attention cannot be turned off, as far as I know. (The system requires some way of getting your attention I guess - it certainly does that.)

I have been using Mac OS X since the public beta and could not go back, even though I used the classic Mac OS for years. I do not think OS X is necessarily more opaque than OS 9. It is different, and that is the key. Anyone who is a long time Mac OS 9 user is going to have to learn how to do a few things differently. (How is this different than a new user to either the Mac OS 9 or OS X, or Windows for that matter? It isn't: You have to figure out the quirks of each as you go along. The Chooser, for example, is not more or less intuitive than Print Center, and vice versa. It is simply what you're used to. I think those who categorically insist that OS 9 in so much more intuitive than OS X have conveniently forgotten this.)

The fact is, most of us are embarrassingly resistant to change and need a compelling reason to do so. For myself, the software available in OS X - Mail, Safari, Keynote, iLife, X11 - is motivation enough. And the rock-solid stability is so welcome and long-overdue.

What frustrates many "Hard-Niners" is that OS X doesn't behave exactly like OS 9, and they resent the effort required to learn the OS X way of doing things.

That's fine; they should use OS 9 as long as they wish. (No one is "forcing" them to switch. Their older OS 9 machines still happily work - and will much longer than a comparable Windows PC, lest we should all forget.) Of course, Apple is trying hard to make a compelling and attractive case to use OS X. They'd like us to buy a new computer to run the new OS and new software (what computer company wouldn't?). They won't (and shouldn't) expend precious resources on a moribund OS.

My advice to all the "Hard-Niners" is switch to OS X when you buy a new Mac. In the meantime, I wish more of them would remember that OS 9 is the result of over a decade of polishing and refinement. Mac OS X is still a toddler! (Even so, this toddler rocks.)

It's the bouncing "get your attention" icons that my wife complains about. Yes, the OS needs some way to get your attention, and simply using a sound doesn't tell you which applications wants your attention, but those bouncing icons are visually distracting - and the larger they are, the more they draw your attention.

Maybe Apple needs to find a different way to get your attention, like the pulsing OK button in dialog boxes. That could do the job of letting you know an application wants your time without the annoyance of the jack-in-a-box effect.

I'm all for letting people use whatever OS they like. My frustration is that it would take so little for Apple to produce a simple Switcher's Guide aimed at Mac users, but they seem uninterested in making it easy for their existing users to make the migration to OS X.

"Hide the Unix Junk"

Responding to BSD and OS 9 better than OS X, Peter da Silva writes:

"hide the Unix junk, just show the user what is in their home directory. The rest is confusing to non-Unix users."

Funny, I was thinking that they do almost too good a job of hiding the Unix junk. I wonder if the writer of that message would care to elaborate on that: Everything I see on my OS X box is either "in my home directory" or it's the same kind of thing that I see on my OS 9 box - Applications, the System folder (or System Folder), and disk drives. I have to go out of my way to see "var" or "tmp" or "usr" or any of the "Unix junk."

It would be nice if they put Home in the dock by default. I heartily recommend that step for anyone. It's more useful than a hotlink to Apple's website. :P That and an Applications menu...

One thing, though, that Apple really needs to do, and that is clean up the whole automounter mess. The old Unix automount (or amd, Auto Mount Daemon) let you set up almost seamless access to remote systems. "/nfs/system/directory/file" just works, and even Microsoft has copied this when they added "Network Neighborhood" so you didn't have to manually map all your network drives any more.

I can't get Apple's automounter to do this, and setting up connections using Netinfo is almost as bad as configuring MacTCP was.

Oh, and the trick to getting in to NFS shares is that Apple, for some obscure reason, has set their NFS client up to connect from a non-reserved port. While this is politically correct (since connecting from a reserved port doesn't guarantee that you're an approved Administrator and hasn't for over a decade), a lot of servers still assume that NFS connections are from reserved ports and Apple should just do that by default. It doesn't hurt anything to do it, and avoids a lot of frustration.

In the meantime, in Netinfo or fstab, use the "-P" option. Or to tweak the other end so you can connect from Finder, see this web page:

http://sial.org/howto/osx/automount/

Note that they say that the reason that Finder mounts aren't privileged is because the Finder doesn't run as root. That's irrelevant - no matter what the Finder runs as, the component that performs the mount has to run as root to handle the local part of setting up the mount. There's no reason that Apple couldn't have it connect from a reserved port as well, or, for that matter, remove the reserved port restriction for the Finder. I've done similar kernel hacks, and Apple's got people a lot smarter than me.

And in any case, if they'd stuck to the traditional Unix automount or amd this would never have come up.

I have to agree that Apple has done a marvelous job of hiding the underlying Unix (a term which has gotten them in some legal hot water with The Open Group, but which I will continue to use in the generic sense) from the casual user. Geeks can find it easily, but the average OS X user will never need to access the command line or deal with the structure of the OS itself.

As for the dock, I've removed almost all of the standard items, leaving the Finder, the Trash, System Preferences, iTunes, Mail, and iChat. Everything else I've put there myself. At least Apple makes it easy to personalize that part of the OS.

No Chooser in OSX

Tom Ruppel writes:

I'm only an occasional user OS X, on other people's machines as my own (9500, 7600, 7100) are too venerable to run it at a useable pace. But the lack of Chooser has caught me out on the few occasions I've dipped in.

Jaguar has an Apple menu, so why don't Apple create a Menu item called something like "Looking for the Chooser"? When clicked, this would launch a dialog explaining where the functions that used to be controlled from the Chooser can be found in the new operating system (along with links to any relevant Control Panels). The dialog would also have a checkbox along the lines of "Remove from Apple menu and don't show me this again" to avoid annoying people who know what they're doing in OS X.

There's no need to rewrite Jaguar/Panther, all that's required is a little thought about how to help Classic Mac OS users get going as quickly as possible.

Love the site and your high editorial standards (I'm also an editor - of books in the UK).

I like your suggestion. I hope someone at Apple is listening. A few simple tutorials to help acclimate new users would probably boost the adoption rate among longtime Mac users.

Thanks for the comments on our editorial standards. I learned good editing working as a book designer and making line corrections in Quark and FrameMaker. I'm especially indebted to Maria denBoer for helping me understand why some of the changes, as well as the proper use of "that" vs. "which" - something no teacher had managed to drill into my head.

I also learned that you do your best and realize that something will escape your attention. You have to live with that reality, otherwise perfectionism will prevent you from ever completing the job. Besides, you can always fix it in the second printing or with the next site update.

Oh Please: OS X and Choosing a Printer

Matt Olson writes:

Dr. Ballo wrote:

I really try to be polite in these circumstances. I do! But this tries my patience. How do you choose your printer? Is selecting the printer of choice from the print dialog all that difficult.

I am using a Beige G3/233 with 768 MB of RAM, a Radeon 7000 Mac Edition video card, and Sonnet Tempo Trio with two hard drives (a 10 gig drive with a 7.5 gig partition for OS 10.2.6 and a 20 gig drive with my original OS 9.2.2 install and programs on it). I have connected my LaserWriter Select 360 to the computer through my ethernet hub with a Farallon Serial-to-Ethernet adaptor.

When I went to install the printer, I couldn't figure it out, so I tried the Help function. I could find all kinds of references to the "Print Center" there, but I could not find [the Print Center] anywhere in the menu bar or in System Preferences. Help never offered to open the Print Center for me.

I finally just opened AppleWorks and tried to print something, thus invoking Print Center with the print dialog. As you can imagine, this tried my patience. No, the Chooser wasn't intuitive, but if you went to Help in OS 9 (maybe in the others, too, I'm not sure) and asked about setting up a printer, it would offer to open the Chooser for you.

It never occurred to me that there wasn't just a "printer" setting in the System Preferences section somewhere. Now, of course, I'm willing to admit that I was not looking in the right place. But Macs are supposed to be easy for everyone, even former OS 9 users.

BTW, I switched because of iTunes 4. I wanted access to the Store on my computer (so Apple's strategy on not updating certain software as a "carrot" does work). I also liked Safari when I used it on my daughter's G4. My home computer is used pretty much to surf the Internet with a DSL connection and to write the occasional letter. Because of that, the slowness issue so many have mentioned regarding OS X and the Beige G3 hasn't bothered me.

Besides, my office computer is an SE/30 networked to a IIsi and a LaserWriter 600/PS. The G3, even in OS X, seems very quick in comparison. I have changed the energy saver settings so my computer never sleeps, since the one time it did go to sleep it woke up with a screen full of hash and I was forced to reboot. Other than that it is perfectly stable.

Now if I could just speed up the start-up (it takes forever to count 768 megs of RAM). Annoying, but livable. Oh, and it would be nice to have the screen show up before the computer is over half-way through the start up process. Weird, but livable.

Anyway, in defense of your wife's experience, I didn't have much luck with setting up a printer in OS X either. It took a lot more time to do than it should have, in my opinion. Thanks again for a great website; have a good day.

Matt Olson, M. Div., Calvin Theological Seminary (attended Calvin for a few semesters as well, to make up for all those classes I didn't take when I was earning my undergraduate degree at another college)

I don't work much with our beige G3, but it's not a bad little machine. At this point we've got a partitioned 30 GB IBM DeskStar drive connected to the onboard IDE bus, replaced the G3/266 witha G3/333 processor, and have a USB card installed. I still haven't found the time to try overclocking it, but general concensus is that you can bump a G3 by 33 MHz safely - and usually by 66 MHz. That might speed your startups a bit.

The blank screen during startup is something you have to live with when using a Radeon card, but it's probably worth it for the boost in video performance.

I love Safari, so it doesn't bother me in the least that Microsoft has said "no new versions of IE for the Mac." And I started checking out the iTunes Music Store last night - I don't dare sign up; they make it much to easy to buy. ;-)

Apple needs to make buying and switching to OS X as easy as they've made buying tunes. A help system that can actually call up the Print Center would be one step in the right direction.

Thinking Too Different

A reader writes:

I found your article, "Thinking Too Different: Why Mac Users Are Slow to Adopt OS X", both interesting and, in a way, a bit amusing.

I switched to the Mac just late last year, so my perspective is that of a long-time Windows user who was introduced to the Mac by way of Jaguar. Recently I snagged an old indigo iBook off of Mac Of All Trades for some Linux experimentation and got my first look at System 9.

I guess it just goes to show how deeply computing habits can become ingrained, because to my eyes, OS 9.2 was not simple or particularly friendly or at all comfortable. It didn't make sense to me why I should have to look in two different places for what programs I could quick-launch vs. what was actually running. Used to the Windows taskbar and even more pleased with the Dock, this seemed an odd split of functions that should be tied together.

The Control Strip took up too much space, but hiding it also hid several things I needed, like the strength of my AirPort signal, so I was forced to leave it open. I couldn't figure out just by poking around on my own how to get rid of the parts I didn't want to see, either.

And the Control Panels! There were so many, and at least three of them looked at first glance like they might have something to do with what I needed to configure. That long list was more confusing than even the Windows Control Panel, and much more so than OS X's clearly categorized and simply laid out System Preferences. What's more, on that purely subjective level of personal preference, I found Platinum to be so blocky and clunky-looking that it actively annoyed me each time I looked at it.

Your example of the Save dialog was particularly apt to describe the differences prior computing habits can make. In my eyes, the System 9 save dialog just doesn't present enough information. Yes, I can see what folder I'm in, but where is that folder in relation to the rest of the filesystem? It's just too easy to misplace things that way. I like being able to twitch that scroll bar right or left in OS X's extended Save dialog and see exactly where I'm putting that puppy, entire path and all, and switch to different directories without having to navigate one level at a time.

My point here isn't that System 9 sucks or that OS X is inherently better. It's just that, well, it's funny what a person gets used to, isn't it? It would be as much time and trouble for me to learn to be productive in System 9 as it would be for some System 9 users to migrate to OS X. I now have some inkling of how they feel.

Apple has taken a bit of a gamble here, changing things around on their most loyal users. I wasn't completely aware of how much of a gamble that was until I read your article! But from Apple's view, I guess the old-paradigm Mac OS was no longer truly expanding the user base.

Only time will tell if the new technologies and cross-platform compatiblity that OS X brings to the Mac will pay off for Apple by winning over enough consumer and enterprise customers to make it worth angering their established users.

Other stuff: I've been reading your site for quite a while now on a daily basis, and I'd like to support it. Given that I'm making a policy of staying away from PayPal and your subscription option isn't available, I'd like to donate you a copy of Panther, when it's released. How would we go about this? I'd like to just buy and ship you one, if you're okay with that.

Also, if/when they do ever make the 15" Aluminum PowerBook, I'm strongly considering trading in my TiBook 667 DVI. I believe that you've said that this is the model you were considering updating to if you had the finances. Perhaps, should all those rumors bear fruit, you might be interested in mine? I'm really not looking forward to the time and trouble of going the online-classifieds route.

I know it'll be awhile before either of those things become do-able, but hey, it never hurts to ask. :)

Last but not least, I'd like to be anonymous if you publish this letter, as I always try not to have my name and email associated anywhere public if I can help it.

Thanks for a great site!

-a dedicated reader

Welcome to the Mac side. Yes, compared to recent versions of Windows and OS X, the classic Mac OS looks clunky. It started out as a GUI on a b&w display (no grays) just 512 pixels wide and 342 pixels high. Everything had to be designed for efficiency, especially with an 8 MHz CPU. That interface evolved over nearly 20 years, adding color icons, then the platinum appearance, and ending up with what your iBook has. For those who cut their teeth on System 6 or 7, it was a nice evolution.

We knew the ins and outs of the OS because we'd used it for years. It was second nature, just as Windows probably was for you. And then Apple changed everything. In most ways they made it better, but they did little to help us grapple with the differences between the Mac OS we knew and the Mac OS designed to replace it.

Contact me when Panther become available. I'd definitely like to take you up on that offer.

As for the PowerBook 667 DVI, that's really going to depend on finances. I just ordered a 700 MHz eMac plus 512 MB of RAM, which will allow me to send my 400 MHz TiBook to Apple for a backlight issue - and get the hard drive replaced from another vendor.

Once everything is fixed, I'll decide whether to hold onto the TiBook or try to sell it to finance the ideal low-end replacement - the 667 DVI model with the brighter 1280 x 852 screen, Quartz Extreme, and a Combo drive. It's really all I can ever imagine needing in a portable. We'll see what happens.

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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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