Low End Mac's Compleat Guide to Mac OS 9, 2008 Edition
No, it isn't a typo. Compleat is a legitimate, albeit archaic, spelling for complete. As Kenneth G. Wilson says in The Columbia Guide to Standard American English: "This obsolete spelling of the adjective complete suggests an air of antiquity that seems to please some of those who name things...." We find that fitting for Low End Mac's Compleat Guides to "obsolete" hardware and software.
Mac's Classic OS continues to fade in compatibility and relevance, with support in crucial areas - especially Web browsers and email software - becoming more and more tenuous. Classic Mode is not supported in Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" on any Macs and was never supported on Intel Macs.
Personally, I still use Classic Mode on my PowerBooks running OS X 10.4 "Tiger" to support a handful of applications I've never found completely satisfactory OS X substitutes for, and I use it daily on my "utility" Pismo. Our old 233 MHz G3 Series WallStreet PowerBook doesn't get much use any more, but it runs very nicely in Mac OS 9.2.2. and I'm glad have the good, old Classic Mac OS available as a bootable standby even on our G3 iBook and G4-upgraded Pismo PowerBooks, although I very rarely boot into it. When I do, I'm always gratified by the speed and responsiveness compared with OS X, but I do miss the OS X feature set, especially preemptive multitasking, Spotlight, and Spaces.
Fast and Responsive on Old Macs
However, if you have an older Mac that is not supported by OS X or some of the slower G3 machines (like the WallStreet, which officially supports up to OS X 10.2.8), there is still a strong case to be made for running OS 9 - and there are also certain software applications that are only supported in OS 8/9 that may be mission critical for some users.
Mac OS 9.2.2 is fast, responsive, and rock-stable on my old PowerBooks and iBook. I went for more than three months on the WallStreet once without rebooting. That's in 2-3 hours of daily use, and I got up to nearly "Untitled 700" in Tex-Edit Plus documents before I finally had to restart to satisfy a software installer.
No Up-to-Date Browsers
Unfortunately, the most significant drawback to using OS 9 on an Internet-connected computer these days is the lack of any really up-to-date and satisfactory web browser. The most contemporary option is iCab 3, which was last updated on January 1, 2008, but iCab 4 is not being developed for Classic, so the writing is on the wall even there. Other alternatives are Netscape 7.x and Mozilla 1.3 (and it's WaMCom variant). (Download WaMCom here.)
Whether you really can get along without the ability to boot directly into the Classic OS is an important point to consider these days when planning a system upgrade, and Intel Macs don't support Classic Mode.
OS 9 Installation & Updates
Apple has posted a handy compatibility table outlining which Mac models - from the 68040 Centris machines of the early 90s through the 2004 aluminum PowerBooks - are supported (or not) by the Classic Mac OS versions 8.x and 9.x. It's worth a look if you have questions about what OS versions your machine can handle.
All other G3 and G4 models, current version of Mac OS X For example, the chart shows that my late-in-the-production-run Pismo PowerBook will support Mac OS 9.1 through 9.2.2, while my four-year-old 700 MHz iBook can only boot into OS 9.2.2 (and of course OS X).
Apple has also posted a Knowledge Base article describing the updates available for Mac OS 9 - and the order in which they must be installed. You must install all prerequisite software before installing any update. For example, when updating Mac OS 9.0 to Mac OS 9.2.2 the updates must be installed in this order:
- Mac OS 9.1 Update
- Mac OS 9.2.1 Update
- Mac OS 9.2.2 Update
Note that the free downloadable Mac OS 9.1 Update contains fewer updates and extras than the Mac OS 9.1 CD-ROM disc. This reduces the amount of data that must be downloaded at once.
The downloadable update contains core system software updates, Apple Remote Access (ARA) Client Server 4.0, and QuickTime 4.1.3. The Mac OS 9.1 download may only be used to update a computer that has Mac OS 9.0.x installed. It is available from Apple Software Updates.
The Mac OS 9.1 disc includes additional updates to the Mac OS that are not a part of the downloadable Mac OS 9.1 Update. Some of these additional items are available separately at Apple Software Updates or from third-party websites (non-Apple software). The disc may be used for full installation or clean installation. Apple details differences between the download and the CD in Mac OS 9.1: Downloadable Update versus Mac OS 9.1 Disc.
Also note that upgrading the NuBus motherboard architecture Power Macs (the 6100, 7100, 8100, and related models) to Mac OS 9.1 requires a Mac OS 9.1 Full Install CD, as, Apple did not support these oldest Mac OS 9 compatible Macs with its free updaters. For more information on this see Mac OS 9.1: Start Up from CD to Install on Original Power Macintosh Computers.
Another caveat: Your Mac must have the appropriate Mac OS ROM file for the version of the Mac OS that is installed. Using the wrong Mac OS ROM file can cause the computer to behave unpredictably and may even prevent it from starting up.
Apple has posted a chart showing applicable Mac OS ROM file to the applicable Mac OS version.
Apple recommends: "You should use the latest version of Mac OS 9 [that your hardware supports]." Pre-G3 Macs only support up to OS 9.1. IMHO, this is no major hardship in most instances, as there are a very few applications that require Mac OS 9.2.2.
OS 9 Helper
Mac OS 9.1 is the final version that Apple allows to install on anything previous to the Beige G3. However, there is an installer patch hack, OS 9 Helper, that allows you to install 9.2.1 or 9.2.2 on certain "Old World" Macs that Apple dropped support for.
OS 9 Forever says that the performance improvements added in 9.2.x are clearly noticeable once you install it. In particular, the Finder is incredibly responsive, and Open Transport networking is vastly more stable. However, the four most important reasons for installing 9.2.x are:
- Compatibility with ATI's latest drivers. ATI dropped support for OpenGL versions lower than 1.2.2. (9.1 has 1.2.1).
- You can't run DVD Studio Pro 1.2.1 or 1.5 without 9.2.2.
- You can't run Final Cut Pro 3 without 9.2.2.
- Full compatibility with first- and second-generation iPods.
The hack works with all of the "PowerSurge" models, including the 7300, 7500, 7600, 8500, 8600, 9500, and 9600. The 6500 seems to work as well. They also work on the PowerBook 1400, 2400, 3400, and the "Kanga" PowerBook G3, but not the PowerBook 5300.
Where to Buy OS 9
Speaking of OS 9, a reader question that crops up fairly frequently is where to obtain an OS 9 install CD. They are getting mighty thin on the ground these days. eBay is a possible source, but note well that System software restore CDs that ship with particular Mac models in most cases will not work with machines other than the one they come bundled with.
Several resellers list OS 9 CDs, but often at prices that won't save you much, if anything, over going the conventional route of paying $129.95 for OS X (through 10.4) plus the $19.95 surcharge for OS 9.2.2. Here are some online sources. Visit the respective Websites and run a search for "OS 9" or "OS 9.1".
One outlet that still sells OS 9 CDs is BetaMacs, which offers Apple System 9.0 software for the reasonable price of $19.99, which you can update to any of the later OS 9.x versions using the free updater downloads as described above.
According to BetaMacs, this OS 9 installer Installs a full suite of Apple software, unlike the iMac CD that is often sold on eBay, and works on:
- Power Mac 7200-9600 (request 9.1 CD)
- Power Mac G3 units
- PowerBook G3 units
- iBook G3 units
- iMac G3 units
- Power Mac G4 units
- PowerBook G4 units
HardCore Mac still has a pretty comprehensive selection of OS 9 (and other Mac OS back to System 7.5) CDs (or floppies for older system version), but their prices are very high. A few examples:
- Mac OS 9 - $149.99
- Mac OS 9.0.4 full installation CD, in sleeve. - $149.99
- Mac OS 9.1 Many people think a Mac OS 9.0 installation is needed before Mac OS 9.1 can be installed. This is NOT TRUE. If you need Mac OS 9.0, Mac OS 9.1 will work. - $159.99
- Mac OS 9.1 Retail Shrinkwrap packaging - $199.99
- Mac OS 9.2.1 CD in sleeve. Full installation. Not an upgrade CD. - $159.99
- Mac OS 9.2.2 - $159.99
Also see Low End Mac's Best Classic Mac OS Deals, which is updated montly.
Note well that any version of OS 9 - including OS 9.0, 9.0.4, 9.1, 9.2, and 9.2.1 - can be upgraded to the current 9.2.2 using free updaters that can be downloaded from Apple's software support site (except for the above-mentioned NuBus machines).
PowerPC Macs came to the end with OS 9.2.2, bundled on their Software Restore CDs, although on the later machines not installed by default, and if you choose to install it, it only supports Classic Mode. If you install, it's a good idea to drag a fresh copy of the OS 9 System Folder to backup media, which will allow you to restore it by simply dragging it back to your hard drive, instead of the tedium of running the software restore CD or DVD.
This document is that latest in a series of Mac OS 9 compatibility, upgrades, and resources guides that Charles Moore has been updating since May 2003. This has been the most popular topic in the history of the Miscellaneous Ramblings column; earlier versions have been viewed over 170,000 times.
We provide links to earlier versions, as they cover some topics that are no longer germane
- Mac OS 9 Compatibility, Upgrades, and Resources, 2003.05.05
- Mac OS 9 Compatibility, Upgrades, Hacks, and Resources Update, 2004.12.13
- Is Mac OS 9 Still a Player? Mac OS 9 Compatibility, Upgrades, Hacks, and Resources, 2006 Edition, 2006.05.15
- The State of Mac OS 9 Compatibility, Upgrades, Resources, and Hacks in 2007, 2007.04.02
Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, and he is a news editor and columnist at Applelinks.com. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.
Recent articles by Charles W. Moore
- Apple's Great Hebrew Support, AirPort Express Silently Upgraded, Pismo G4, and More, Charles Moore's Mailbag, 2012.12.03. Also a WindowShade replacement approved by Apple, upgrding a 15" MacBook Pro, and three 13" MacBooks.
- Is There a Cure for a Smelly Mac?, Miscellaneous Ramblings, 2012.07.30. For those suffering from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, gases let of by a new computer can be no end of trouble.
- Optimizing PowerBook G4 Performance, TenFourFox May Run Faster with NoScript, and More, Charles Moore's Mailbag, 2012.07.18. Also pros and cons of Linux on G3 PowerBooks and iPhoto 11 no longer updating in Snow Leopard.
- More in the Miscellaneous Ramblings index.
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