Mac Musings

Don't Buy the New 'Books Quite Yet

Dan Knight - 2003.01.14

Last summer Steve Jobs promised that all the new Macs released in 2003 would be unable to boot into Mac OS 9. They even held a mock funeral for the final iteration of the classic Mac OS.

Last week Apple introduced the first two models that made good on that promise - or bad, depending on your perspective. The new 12" PowerBook G4 supports AirPort Extreme, but it won't boot into OS 9. The same goes for the new 17" PowerBook G4. If you need a portable PowerBook with a G4 processor that boots into OS 9, you'll have to pick up a titanium PowerBook while they last.

Between now and June, expect Apple to upgrade every Mac to support AirPort Extreme - and to no longer support booting into the classic Mac OS.

Buy Now

My advice is that you avoid the two new PowerBooks and any X-only Macs until you know that all of your hardware and software will work just fine under Mac OS X - and until there is a good selection of diagnostic and repair utilities that run under OS X and can boot from a CD.

Until then, stick the the Macs that can still boot the classic Mac OS. You may not use it often. With any luck, you may never use that capability again. But right now, most of the drive utilities for the Mac - Disk Warrior, Norton, TechTool, etc. - come with a bootable CD that doesn't include OS X. Without the ability to boot into OS 9, you're up a creek without a paddle if you run into drive problems.

Thank goodness the Unix inside OS X is very robust and performs some daily clean up routines, but in a worst case scenario, until Disk Warrior and the like can boot from an OS X CD and have been really tested in the field, hold off buying any Mac that can't boot the classic Mac OS.


There are some workarounds, but they aren't nearly as easy as having a bootable utility CD handy.

The most convenient work around is having a second partition or second drive with Mac OS X inside your computer. There are X-native disk utilities, and you would be able to run them on your primary drive or partition by booting from an OS X emergency disk. Of course, this will tie up several MB of drive space for the OS and utilities.

Another option is an external FireWire drive. You can install a clean copy of Mac OS X on the drive or use Carbon Copy Cloner to copy your current drive to the external. By booting from OS X on this drive, you'll be able to run disk utilities as necessary.

If you're fortunate enough to be in a multiple computer environment, a third option is to use FireWire Disk Mode to boot your Mac from the hard drive of another OS X machine. Just set the other machine to FW Disk Mode, connect the two computers with a FireWire cable, and boot your Mac from the other machine's drive. Or put your Mac into FireWire Disk Mode, mount it on the other Mac's desktop, and run diagnostics from that computer.

It shouldn't be long before we have X-bootable CDs for TechTool, Disk Warrior, and other diagnostic and repair tools, but until then, think twice before buying a new Mac that will only boot into OS X.

And if you do decide to buy now, have a workaround ready just in case you encounter drive problems.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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