The Low End Mac Mailbag

PowerPC Support in Snow Leopard, Linux Growing More User Friendly, Old Macs Never Die, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.06.24 - Tip Jar

Snow Leopard and PowerPC

From Tim Harness:

I suppose it'd be a bit much to ask Apple to include PPC in Grand Central. There's a lot of dual processor G4s and 5s out there that might see better performance if it was. I think you're right about the technology being tied to Intel core processors (not merely core-to-core, as a writer on another page maintains, I seem to be banned from commenting there). Of course PPC based machines will be useful for years, and more affordable.

Enjoy your page a lot,
Tim Harness

Tim,

Thanks for writing. Yes, there's a lot of life left in unsupported Macs - whether we're talking about G3 iMac, dual processor G4 Power Macs, or quad processor G5 Power Macs. It's always disappointing when Apple leaves your computer behind as the OS moves forward, but in general by the time that has happened the OS that's being left behind has already provided your Mac with capabilities it didn't have before.

As powerful and cool as Intel Macs are, I'm sticking with PPC until there's a compelling reason to switch. I have all the power I need for everything but video work, and I can dedicate my 1.25 GHz eMac to that, so it doesn't impact my Power Mac at all.

Dan

Snow Leopard and the Death of PowerPC Support

From Timothy Sipples:

I concur with Carl's thoughts on PowerPC support. It's far too soon for Apple to drop Mac OS X support.

If Apple requires only 64-bit Intel processors in its next Mac OS X version, then the Core Solo Mac mini would not be the only casualty. So would all Intel Core Duo-powered machines which include the Revision A MacBooks, Revision A and Revision B MacBook Pros, Revision A iMacs, and Revision A and Revision B Mac minis. Apple sold factory new Revision B Mac minis as late as August, 2007, and Apple has sold plenty of refurbished Core Duo machines this year.

But I fear the worst given recent evidence. Unfortunately it's only 2008, and Apple is already orphaning all these 32-bit Intel systems and their PowerPC predecessors: none of them can run Apple's Java 1.6. That's not for any technical reason. Even Sun's Java 1.7 *beta* is available for 32-bit Windows and Linux.

Honestly this is disgraceful support lifecycle behavior and flips Apple's classic value differentiator on its head. Traditionally you might pay more for Apple, but your system would be functionally relevant longer than the average PC. Not any more it seems.

Timothy Sipples

Timothy,

I think there's some Chicken Little stuff going on here. The fact is that the Snow Leopard preview requires Intel. The sensible conclusion is that Snow Leopard will require Intel, but its sheer folly to believe that Apple is ready to abandon support pre-Core 2 Intel Macs. As you point out, it's way too early for that.

My guess - and that's all that it is - is that Apple is going to take a different path with OS development and continue to improve Mac OS X 10.5 for PowerPC and Intel while offering the optimized/improved OS X 10.6 for Intel Macs. Time will tell.

Dan

Migration Assistant Failure

From Doug Rosser:

Dan,

I am a regular reader of LEM. Taking notice of your enthusiasm for Apple Refurbs, I recently purchased a Refurb MacBook Pro (Santa Rosa 2.2 GHz) from the Apple Australia Webstore.

The price was right and significantly less than what I paid for the 12" PowerBook G4 it replaced.

One small gotcha though. The Migration Assistant couldn't see the PB G4 connected by FireWire. (Interesting enough, the System profiler could see it and its internal 80 GB drive as FireWire attached). I ended up having to clone the PB G4 drive (thanks Carbon Copy Cloner) and had to run the Migration Assistant manually after having set up the MBP. I still have to deal with the two user accounts I now have on the machine.

My first guess is that the jump from a G4 machine under Tiger to an Intel machine under Leopard was too much for the Migration Assistant, but it might be interesting to see if this has happened to someone else.

Best wishes and thanks for LEM.

Doug Rosser

Doug,

Thanks for writing, and I am indeed a huge fan of refurbs - all 3 eMacs that I've owned have been purchased as Apple Certified Refurbished computers as a nice discount from retail.

I don't have much experience with Migration Assistant, as I usually either move the hard drive from one Mac to the next or use SuperDuper (or Carbon Copy Cloner) to make a clone. I did use it to successfully move my wife from an eMac to a MacBook Pro, and later from that to a newer MacBook Pro. But the first was a Tiger-to-Tiger, PowerPC-to-Intel migration, the second a Tiger-to-Leopard one, but between Intel Macs.

We'll post this in the mailbag and see what readers may report about Migration Assistant failure.

Dan

Toast 6.1 Improves Burning Speed on B&W G3

From Guilherme Maranhao following up on Why Can't I Burn a DVD at 16x?:

Upgrading Toast to 6.1 gave me 8x burning speed for DVDs!

Guilherme,

I'm glad the software update doubled your burn speed. Too bad the Blue & White G3 can't support 16x on its optical drive bus.

Dan

Old Macs Never Die

From John Belknap following up on ViewPowr 1400/16 Video Card for PowerBook 1400:

Dan;

thanks for the reply. I think that OS 9 should run the video card.

As bad as it is to hang onto the PB 1400, recently, I was mopping up the basement after excessive rain, and I cleared enough boxes to unearth my old PPC 7200. I put it in a bedroom, and started using it - it has a Sonnet G4 [upgrade], two hard drives, lots of RAM, and works with my serial Apple laser printer. I have some problems with OS 9.1 crashing, so I am only using 9.0. The nice feature is that I added (and then forgot) a FireWire/USB card, so I can swap files with my real G4/AGP.

Old Macs never die, and I'm not too sure that the new ones are that much better, but since I don't own a new Mac, how can I compare them?

Again, thanks,
John

John,

You're right - old Macs hardly ever die, and when they finally do, it's a sad day indeed. Nice to hear you're having fun with the old 7200.

Dan

Linux Is Much Nicer than Windows

From John Carlson:

Dan -

I read your comments about Linux in today's Mailbag (6/23/08).

First, the difficulty of installing Linux software isn't necessarily that bad. The official method is to use the software installer provided by the Linux distro. This installs software, which is prepared by the Linux distro makers for your distro. In the case of the "Ubuntu family", one uses Synaptic Package Manager. You select what you want, click an OK button, and the software does the rest. At least it does in theory. Ubuntu is pretty good about things working the way they should. I've had problems with Fedora.

The Linux approach has a good side and a bad side. The good side is that you have a better chance of the new software working properly with your system, it's a fast way of installing many pieces of software at once, and it should be clean of malware. (Of course, Windows is the OS with the real risk of a virus or something slipping in with a software package. But there is no guarantee that those charming folks who write Windows viruses won't turn to other platforms one day.) The bad side is that it's not as easy as installing a single Mac program. Plus, the software available for older versions of a Linux distro might not include the current versions of software like Firefox.

Some software is available elsewhere prepared in easy to install packages. The Opera web browser does this. The problem here is that Linux distros vary wildly, so the software has to be repackaged for each major distro. It would be nice if things could be standardized, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

Having used Linux for about three years, I'd have to agree with you that it falls short of the Mac for ease of use. However, I find the more user friendly distros like Ubuntu and Mandriva are, overall, a real step up from Windows. Not that that takes much!

My big gripe with Linux's ease of use is that so much is similar to what Windows does. They have made it better. But I'd rather see them try to do something new, something better, something groundbreaking.

John

John,

Thanks for writing. I've got Xubuntu on the 400 MHz G3 iMac next to me. I'll give the Synaptic Package Manager a try.

I've got Xubuntu 6.0.6 on the iMac, and it's in the process up upgrading itself to 6.10 - 167 updates. Just like when I had Ubuntu on my Acer notebook, it handles updates nicely. However, Synaptic Package Manager doesn't show any version of Firefox 2.x or higher - bummer. FF2 was good, and 3 is definitely better.

Compared to Windows, Linux is a breath of fresh air. Compared to OS X, all I can say is that Mac users are really spoiled by what Apple has done!

Dan

Dan -

It seems to me that it might be possible to enable some sort of Ubuntu "back port" option to get newer software (like Firefox 3). Synaptic has a "Setting" menu that includes a section for "Repositories". This might allow one to enable some sort of backport option.

Usually, though, the Linux world prefers to just upgrade the whole distro. Ubuntu, for example, is released twice a year, and there are many who upgrade the whole distro twice a year. The current Ubuntu (8.04) has Firefox 3. Unfortunately, it's likely to be more sluggish on older hardware than Ubuntu 6.06 - a real problem for those of us (like me!) who like to run a computer as long as possible.

John

John,

Thanks for the info. The latest Xubuntu build I can find is 7.10, which I'm downloading at the moment. Googling for xubuntu ppc just isn't finding an 8.04 build.

Dan

Linux Has Different Priorities than Apple

From Timothy Sipples:

Dan,

Scott Newman raises some interesting points about Linux's ease of use.

First, let's just stipulate that Apple, richly funded by its loyal customers, produces a wonderful operating system with first class ease of use. Inevitably any comparison is going to be tough for the alternative, especially running on Apple's own - and very closed - hardware. But Linux is going to be of particular and ongoing interest for "low end" Mac computing simply because its designers have different values than Apple's management and stockholders. Planned obsolescence, for example, is not a Linux attribute. While Apple has abandoned that G3 iBook, the Linux community has not.

That said, recent versions of Novell's openSUSE Linux have made downloading and installing an application particularly effortless and arguably even easier than Mac OS X.

OS/2 had something like this many years ago, so it's not a new idea. Hopefully other Linux distributions, including PowerPC distributions, will adopt this method.

It's important to understand the advantages of a repository-based approach versus Mac OS X's ad hoc approach to software maintenance. Software dependencies are more easily resolved, and each software developer does not have to build their own update mechanism. I also find it annoying and dangerous that nearly all of Apple's own software updates are one-way trips - if an update doesn't work for you, you typically have to reinstall your entire operating system. That's not the way Linux works, thank goodness.

Apple's Disk Utility provides an oddball assortment of functions and is rather un-Apple in that respect. (The disk wiping feature, for example, should probably be associated with Apple's Security preferences.) And let's just agree that "Repair Permissions" is plain weird. That said, Disk Utility's primary mission is disk partitioning, and nearly all Linux distributions offer graphical disk partitioning. Certainly openSUSE does (at install time and via YaST, where all system maintenance functions are). I should also point out that most Linux distributions, such as Fedora and Ubuntu, now offer proper on-the-fly full disk encryption. Apple only offers folder-style encryption, rather awkwardly and inefficiently, via .DMG images. And let's also note that most Linux distributions offer "live" CDs or DVDs, for a full function Linux experience without a hard drive. That's far more useful for system maintenance than Apple's small handful of utilities available from the Mac OS X DVD.

Re: Backup and restore: "Backup" and "Restore" are inside YaST as standard items and are graphical. Mac OS X's backup and restore functions were rather limited out of the box for years - come on, rsync? - and only recently got better with Time Machine, still a work in progress to be charitable. For Ubuntu Linux a good choice is Sbackup).

But if we want to compare third party backup solutions, let's be realistic. Linux can act as both a server and a client for all the big enterprise backup solutions, such as Tivoli Storage Manager. Mac OS X cannot. (Mac OS X is client only for TSM.)

Anyway, this debate will be endless. ("My OS is better than your OS.") Frankly, I think the debate misses the point. I see value in both Linux and Mac OS X, but certainly for Low End Mac readers Linux should be of particular interest. If you have an aging Mac, and you want access to the latest software, you might have to spend some extra time getting acquainted with Linux, but at least you can still get the job done and keep your machine out of a landfill much longer.

Timothy Sipples

Timothy,

Thanks for writing. Your email is very educational. I'm in the midst up updating my Xubuntu iMac to 6.10, and it seems to be handling the process as smoothly as Apple's Software Update.

You make a very good point about supported vs. unsupported software. If it has a G3, it can run pretty much any Linux distro, but it may not be supported by Panther or Tiger - and definitely isn't supported for Leopard. The value of Linux are definitely in line with the early days of computing (share what you know) and the Low End Mac focus on keeping old Macs useful.

I'd like to try openSUSE Linux on my iMac, but the only option I have is a DVD - and this iMac has a CD-ROM drive. I have heard very good things about openSUSE 11 and may have to root around in the cellar for that external 3x DVD burner I bought years and years ago.

One drawback to Linux: Nobody has any idea what a program named YaST might do based on its name. Apple has botched a few names over the years (for instance, for the longest time, the Finder didn't find anything), but for the most part program names generally give you some indication as to what they might do.

It's a real advantage of Linux (and Windows) that you can revert to a previous version of the OS if an update causes problems. Thank Jobs that Apple has added that kind of thing to Leopard with Time Capsule.

It's a tough call whether old Mac users are better off with Linux or an outdated version of the Mac OS, but for those who need an up-to-date browser, Linux is the long-term solution.

Dan

Linux Still Not User Friendly, But It Could Be

From Derrick Streng:

Dan,

I've really been enjoying the recent attention given to Linux on the website. I long ago switched to Linux to keep my computers "current". I've even installed Ubuntu (not Xubuntu) on my old Power Mac 8600, which does not have a G3 upgrade, but does have an ATI Rage128 video card. Indeed, I've been using Linux (I've used a variety of distributions) as my primary OS for about two years now. What I've really come to enjoy about using Linux is what drew me to the Macintosh OS when I was a kid: community and stability.

Whenever I had a question about how to fix my Mac or improve its performance, I could just preface my search engine query with "mac" and find an answer in the first few hits; now I just preface my search with the words "ubuntu" or "linux", and I get the answer I need in the first few hits. The Linux community (especially in the the form of online forums) is extremely helpful in solving problems. 99% of all answers to problems I've had have been found relatively easily by a simple Google search. Where the Linux and Mac communities diverge is in the breakdown or understandabilty of the answer.

To a new Linux user, the answer doesn't always seem as obvious as the giver of the answer may think. The Mac community is far better at speaking to the layman than the Linux community. I think that this is where Low End Mac could come in and be a tremendously important resource to new PPC/Linux users; Low End Mac has the potential to be "the place" to find understandable answers to your PPC/Linux questions. As the PPC architecture is arguably already extinct on the Desktop (or at the very least on it's merry way), Linux will be an increasingly important resource in keeping our low-end machines relevant in a constantly improving technological world. I imagine a Low End Mac where when someone reads a Mac profile, they are treated to a list of not only what Macintosh OSes it can run but also what Linux/Unix (*nix) distributions it can run!

As hardware increases in age, it's nice to know you've got incredibly stable software taking good care of your machine. I think Linux's reputation for stability is fairly well known. I've been very impressed with the reliability of my Macs while running Linux; It has easily rivaled the Mac OS. To put it simply, you don't lose anything with respect to stability in switching from a Mac OS to Linux.

I'd love to see Low End Mac become the first place users of Apple hardware come to find out how to get Linux up, running, and configured to meet their needs in an understandable and user-friendly manner, because "Until Linux is . . . easy to use, it's going to be the OS for geeks, not mainstream users, no matter how pretty an interface they give it."

Long Live Low-end Macs!

Derrick Streng

Derrick,

I think you see where we're heading with the Linux/PPC discussion. We see it as a viable option that most people probably haven't considered and a transition that won't seem easy after years of using the Mac OS. Live CDs are a big step in making it easy to try Linux and get it installed.

We've published lots of articles on switching from Windows to Mac; now we need ones on switching from the Mac OS to Linux. And important ones on choosing a distro, partitioning your hard drive so you can boot Linux or the Mac OS, using Mac on Linux, overviews of different software categories, etc.

I'm also hoping we can strengthen the Linux/PPC community and advocate for things that are important to low-end Mac users, such as a Live CD (not just a DVD) of openSUSE 11 because a lot of older Macs don't have DVD-compatible drives or take the low-cost drives available in the Windows world (this is especially true of iMacs).

Dan

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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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