The Low End Mac Mailbag

Why Linux Isn't Mainstream, Used PowerBooks a Poor Value, the iMac G3 Legacy, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.08.19 - Tip Jar

Why Linux Hasn't Become Mainstream

From Scott Newman in response to Macs Are Cool, but Marketing Can't Help Linux:

I consider myself to be a very experienced Mac user (since '84). I've also recently installed various Linux distributions on a 700 MHz iBook G3, an 867 MHz TiBook G4, and a recent-vintage MacBook Core 2 Duo. I'm also very interested in purchasing a lower-end Wintel Core 2 Duo notebook for exclusive Linux use. I'm not a true Linux geek, but I think my Linux experience qualifies me to make the following observations.

First, while the various large Linux distributions are not difficult to install, they are, in most cases, beyond the ability of most Windows and Mac users. There's so much work being done by the Linux community, but that work is spread too thin across too many Linux distributions.

Second, even if a current "mainstream" Linux distribution is successfully installed on a modern dual-core Intel CPU, the odds that the WiFi card will work are very, very slim. HELLO LINUX GEEKS - Is anyone listening? Who is interested in an operating system without WiFi? And yes, WiFi might work on your dual-core Intel CPU (but probably won't) if you install NDIS Wrapper, but why isn't that part of the basic Linux install? This one issue, all by itself, illustrates why Linux can't make it into the mainstream. It's as if the PTB (powers-that-be) are saying, "If you can't figure this step out on your own, you don't deserve to run Linux." Linux developers should stop work on everything else and come up with device drivers for most modern (a,b,g,n) WiFi cards.

Third, any basic Linux install should include the ability, out-of-the-box, to install software from the desktop as is the case with Mac operating systems. Default software installs in Linux are arcane, to say the least.

Finally, consider my most recent Linux experience: I installed the latest version of Yellow Dog Linux on an 867 MHz titanium PowerBook that I wasn't using for anything else. No problems at all, and I was using Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice, and GIMP. However, as I expected, the CPU was running at too high a speed all the time, and the fan never turned off. As most know, the heat produced by the G4s was a pain in the *ss for those of us who didn't like to hear the fans running all the time on our PowerBooks. In this case, the fan was on even when nothing was happening. I didn't some searching and found a piece of geek software that apparently provided CPU cycling on G4s under YDL. "Great," I thought. Then I discovered that a whole bunch of command line work was going to be needed. It wasn't impossible, but I just don't need that crap. I want to do productive things on my computers, not install software. It wasn't worth my time. The way I see it, Linux needs me more than I need Linux. If that CPU-cycling software did what it claimed, why wasn't it part of the basic YDL installation? After all, YDL is just for PPC CPUs.

Before I close, here's an idea: Have the PTB behind the large Linux distributions get together and form yet one more Linux distribution. Call it the Linux for Dummies (LFD) Distribution. (Aside: I would begin with Ubuntu.) Ask Google to the table. Make it easy for all the dummies out there to experience Linux with Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice, GIMP, iPods with open MP3 and MP4 files, DVD/CD burning, Tux Racer, etc. Install one good file manager and a GUI backup software solution. Make 64-bit WiFi work with the basic installation. Have an emergency DVD disk repair image available for download and burning. Create a certification process so that hardware makers could certify their PCs (especially notebooks) as "Linux for Dummies" compatible.

If this came to be, Linux use would be off the scale.

Thanks for your time.

Scott Newman

Scott,

As someone who has tried Linux many times on several different computers (an Acer notebook, a couple different iMacs, a Blue & White G3), I can affirm that you've hit the nail on the head. Ubuntu is easy to install and pretty easy to use as long as everything works out of the box. If not, you'll want to go back to the Mac OS or Windows. With chipsets becoming more and more standardized, there's no excuse for this.

Of course, there's not much incentive for the Linux gurus to do this, as it's free software. What they do is a labor of love, and they focus on what most interests them, not what's going to make Linux ready for dummies. I want to like Linux, but every distro runs into glitches that drive me away.

Dan

Used PowerBooks a Poor Value

From Andrew J Ruzicho:

I just read your article on PowerBook g4 deals:

  • HOT 867 MHz Combo, $490, Wegener Media
  • HOT 867 MHz Combo, APX, $525, Wegener Media
  • 1 GHz SD, $625, Mac in the Box
  • 1.33 GHz SD, C$649/US$611, Beam Echo
  • 1.5 GHz SD, $660, Wegener Media
  • HOT 1.5 GHz SD, APX, $675, Micro Replay

I can get a new MacBook beginning at a little over $1000 with the following specs:

  • 13.3-inch glossy widescreen display
  • 2.1 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor (Penryn)
  • 1 GB (2x512MB) of 667 MHz DDR2 memory; two SO-DIMM slots support up to 4 GB
  • 120 GB 5400-rpm SATA hard drive
  • Slot-load Combo Drive

Let's just compare that to the 1.5 GHz machine:

  • Processor: 1.5 GHz PowerPC G4
  • Screen: 12.1 in (1024 x 768 TFT active matrix )
  • RAM: 512 MB DDR SDRAM
  • Hard drive: 80 GB
  • Optical drive: DVD?RW
  • Wireless: 802.11b/g,Bluetooth
  • OS 1 installed: Apple MacOS X 10.4 - Tiger (10.4)
  • Warranty: MicroReplay 90 Day
  • No risk guarantee: 7 Day

For a little over $300, or about 48% more cost, I get 40% more processor speed (roughly), a slightly bigger screen, 100% more RAM with the ability to go to 4 gigs later, 50% more storage, and Leopard as well as a one year warranty instead of 30 or 7 days or whatever. It's great for sellers that used Macs hold their value so well, but as a buyer, my opinion is you're better off buying new almost every time.

Andrew,

It's easy to make comparisons like that for current and recently discontinued models. We call it "the value equation" and do it every time Apple introduces a new model.

Thing is, not everyone needs that much power or has that much money to spend. For half the price of a new 2.1 GHz 13.3" MacBook, you can have an 867 MHz 12.1" PowerBook G4. It's only got a single-core CPU, but it's got the power to run Leopard if you want to. And it's lighter than the MacBook and has a smaller footprint, so it has something of a cult following.

The other factor is that PowerPC Macs can do something Intel Macs can't - run Classic Mode and provide access to a whole library of legacy applications that don't exist for Mac OS X. If I were looking for a Mac notebook today, it would be a PowerBook because my workflow depends on one of those apps. For me, migrating to Intel or Leopard would break a system I've been honing for over a decade.

I'm confident I'd be very happy with a 1.33 to 1.67 GHz 15" or 17" PowerBook G4 (for my work, I can't be efficient on the 1024 x 768 display of the 12" PowerBooks and iBooks). It would provide most of the power of my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4 and let me run Classic, so I could have a full production machine for the field.

And I'd save a bundle compared to the price of the 15" MacBook Pro!

Dan

iMac Musings

From Otto Schlosser:

Thanks for the article on the original iMacs, Dan. I was at the rollout in Cupertino - we had no idea what to expect; most such events took place in the "Town Hall" conference room on Infinite Loop, but Apple rented the biggest auditorium in the city for this event. When Steve rolled out the iMac, my first reaction was, "What is that?" The second reaction was, "That's a Mac?" The third was "I want one." A great day. I still have my rollout tee shirt somewhere....

Otto Schlosser

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it in long-winded stories to their grandkids.

Otto,

Thanks for writing. Low End Mac was barely a year old when the iMac was announced, and I remember how all of a sudden everyone was talking about Apple's new computer.

Dan

The iMac G3 Legacy

From Kenichi Watanabe:

Dan,

Great article (especially for recent switchers), and no doubt useful for Windows users trying to enter the Mac world on the cheap. There are quite a few posts on Apple Discussions (in the iMac CRT category) of people saying, "I just bought a used iMac G3. My first Mac. How do I install Mac OS X? Why are videos on YouTube playing so 'jerky'? Does it run Leopard?"

Maybe this article will convince them to get something a bit more recent.

- Ken

Ken,

Thanks for writing. It's been quite the ride for the first 10 years of the iMac, and those old CRT iMacs still have some life left in them - even if today's Macs have CPUs an order of magnitude faster in clock speed. Through trial and error, I discovered that YouTube videos play pretty well on G3 iMacs with Mac OS X 10.3. "Tiger" is just too demanding.

Dan

Leopard Install Question

From Mario Lemieux:

Hi Dan!

I love all the resources on your site! Truly amazing stuff.

I am hoping you can offer a quick fix for me...

I just bought a MacBook Pro. It comes with the Install discs for OS X 10.5. I want to install the OS X 10.5 on my G4 dual 2.5 (Power PC) computer which currently is running 10.4.11. Obviously, when I put the install disc into the G4, it gives me the warning "this software cannot be installed on this computer." Is the best way to overcome this obstacle is installing via Target Mode? Or do I need to follow the lengthy procedure for "Unsupported" G4 computers?

Thanks for your help!

-M

Mario,

The install discs that come with new Macs are not the same as the copies of Leopard you'd buy anywhere else. They are usually specific to that model or a few closely related models.

Not to say that you can't work around that and get 10.5 installed on your Power Mac - or that it's going to be a quick and easy process. The only way to install Leopard is from the MacBook Pro, and the MacBook Pro will only install Leopard onto a GPT disk partition, not the APM partitions PowerPC Macs use. (At least that's true with external drives, which is how I did it. This may not apply with Target Disk Mode.)

What I did was installed 10.5 on an external GPD formatted hard drive, then clone that drive to an APM formatted drive, which is what I use to run my Power Mac G4 MDD in Leopard. Good cloning tools include Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper, both of which are free for such use.

Dan

NeoOffice Opens WordPerfect Files

From Ken Pidcock:

This seemed like something in which some of your Low End Mac readers might have an interest.

Like most people, I use a personal computer primarily as a writing and filing machine, and a good word processor is an important tool. Unlike most people, but like many people, I became attached to WordPerfect for Mac; for one thing, I had a lot of DOS WordPerfect documents that the Mac version handled flawlessly.

When it became clear that WordPerfect would be no more, I looked around for a replacement, and, when I had to switch to an Intel machine, I had no choice but to find one. I was disappointed to learn that none of the full-featured word processors - Word, Mariner, Pages, Nisus - would open WordPerfect files. I finally settled on Pages for my daily work, and to open WordPerfect files, I use MacLinkPlus to first translate them into Word.

Anyway, I just learned, sort of by accident, that NeoOffice 2.2.4 assigns itself as the default application for WordPerfect 3.5 files. (I was going to translate a file, and there was "NeoOffice (default)" in the "Open with..." contextual menu.) You just double-click the file, and it opens in NeoOffice. Unfortunately, it skips graphics, but that's usually not an issue when you are trying to look at old documents. Otherwise, the documents look pretty nice, with font, formatting, and tables intact.

It's certainly something I've wanted to have for a long time, and it was a real pleasure to discover that I had it.

Ken,

Thanks for sharing that information. Once I started using ClarisWorks, I never had a reason to look anywhere else for word processing, and before that I used Word 5.1a. Although I have Office 2004 on my Mac, I hate how slow Word is on my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4. Just clicking on a URL within a document means a mind numbing delay before it hands things off to your browser of choice.

Anyhow, I've never been a WordPerfect user, but there are a boatload of former WordPerfect and even some current WordPerfect users who may benefit greatly from your discovery!

Dan

Looking Backward

From Bill Bowen:

Hello Mr. Knight.

I started with the Mac back in the 1980s with a Mac 512K. Many machines and operating systems later, I am on a Mac Pro running Leopard.

During those years, many fine applications have come and gone, particularly in my area of interest which is cartography (mapping).

Has anyone considered making simulation applications that would allow current Apple OS 10.5 (etc.) to run operating systems and software from the ancient past? The era I am particularly interested in includes the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Thanks.

Bill

Bill,

The program is called Mini vMac, and it creates a virtual Mac on a Mac or Windows PC. The program can emulate anything from the original Macintosh 128K through the Macintosh SE, and the developer is working in Mac Portable/PowerBook 100 and Mac II support.

Mini vMac requires that you have a ROM image file for the Mac you're emulating plus an operating system and software that you can install on its virtual hard drive (a disk image file). It works quite nicely on my Power Mac and eMac.

Dan

I Need an iMac Manual

From Jennifer:

Sir.

I am looking for the owner's manual for a 2001 iMac computer and a newer 2006 model. Can you help me with this. I just started teaching computers in an elementary school, and these are the computers I have to use. Can you help me with this?

Jennifer

Jennifer,

Apple has lots of owner's manuals available in PDF format for free download. The G3 and G4 iMac manuals are linked at <http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=50015>. For the newer iMac, follow this link.

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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