Thursday, October 16, 2008

Power Mac G4/466 runs Debian Etch

My latest project has been to load and run Debian GNU/Linux on a Power Macintosh G4/466.

The box came to me with no disk drives and 128 MB of RAM. I upped the RAM to 384 MB, and I installed two hard drives.

Besides the stable Etch distribution of Debian, I experimented with the Fedora
Linux distro as well as OpenBSD.

Fedora installed, but configuring X for the GUI video didn't go very well. I probably could've gotten it to work better with information from the xorg.conf file that Debian built for me automatically, but since the system was extremely slow under Fedora, that only made the choice of Debian Etch (which seems made for and tuned to the G4) that much easier.

I really wanted to see how the G4 would do with OpenBSD, but while I was able to install it on two occasions, on neither of those was I able to get the system to boot. The regular FAQ for OpenBSD has excellent instructions on how to install it on an i386 machine, but the supplementary material for doing the install on MacPPC was less than helpful (or not helpful enough to get the system to boot).

So I went with Debian. I installed the system on one hard drive and am using the other to back up the /home directory via rsync.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The iBook G4 is ailing

This blog was originally started with my 1996 Powerbook 1400cs in mind, but we also have 14-inch an iBook G4 that we got in 2003. It now pretty much qualifies for "This Old Mac" status, being 5 years old, and after that many virtually trouble-free years, it has a problem.

I think the hard drive is going. I've been backing up the user files, sporadically, to an iPod. Believe me, it's easier than you think to use an iPod as a backup drive, and I'm so damn cheap, I don't have any "real" backup drives.

I do now. With the hard drive failing -- and before now with the prospect of that looming -- every owner of a "modern" Mac needs a Firewire drive, which can serve as a bootable drive in OS X. I'm going to use the SuperDuper backup software to mirror the drive, if I can even do it. I think the iBook's hard drive does better when cold, and when the computer is held at a 45 degree angle, so I'll try first to get a new backup of the user files and then a full, bootable backup.

If I can then boot off the Firewire drive, and after that my problems go away (basically the computer stalls and shows me the ever-lovin' beachball until we pick it up to the aforementioned 45-degree-angle), then I need to open it up and swap out the hard drive.

If only it was easier to do so. The fine folks at Apple aren't producing these laptops as products designed to last, say, 10 years. You're supposed to have backups all the time, and presumably if your laptop is 5 years old, it's time to just give up and get a new one, because it's tremendously costly to have complex repair work done on a laptop.

Of course, I'm going to do this myself, and I would NEVER retire a 5-year-old computer -- that's young in my book.

Luckily the Web site provides excellent instructions on how to tear apart Apple laptops and iPods. From that site I know now that I need a 9.5 mm ATA laptop drive, and I can get a used 80 GB model from them for $79.95. If I get the Firewire backup drive going, I'll probably wait for a sale at Fry's and, if it's the right size, put a 120-or-so GB drive in the iBook.

Here are all the ifixit guides for Mac laptops, and here are all the guides specifically for 14-inch iBook G4 laptops, and, drilling even further down, here's the guide on replacing the hard drive in the 14-inch iBook G4.

If I haven't made it clear, it's obscene how many things you have to do to get a hard drive replaced in one of these iBooks. I'm disgusted by whoever decided, from a design perspective, to do this.

Things that cost $1,000 should not be built as -- and treated as -- disposable. It's just not right.

If it turns out to be a dying hard drive, and I'm 90 percent sure that it is, I will do this repair, but I will not be happy about it.

But it's what I must do as a user of old computers.

Did I mention that I can swap a hard drive in either of my two PC laptops in under 5 minutes? I'm mentioning it now.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I'm getting the Mac back together again

OK, so I've been too busy with Linux and BSD in the past year and then some to do anything with the Powerbook 1400cs and System 7.6.1.

But I thought to myself, what if I could use the Powerbook as a terminal and hook it up to my Linux/OpenBSD boxes?

I figured I'd first try a serial connection. I got the cable (not sure if it's a null modem cable, so I also got a ... null modem cable and a DB9-DB25 adapter of appropriate gender), but I couldn't seem to make the Powerbook's serial port work. I think I know how to do it, but that would mean giving up use of my PowerPort Platinum PCMCIA card, through which I get Ethernet into the PB1400.

So I opted to use MacSSH and log into a Debian box that way. And it worked.

For the whole sordid tale, see the entry in my main tech blog, Click.

Looking at this blog, the PB1400 is now 12 years old. Time to change the description on the left side of the page.

And I still love Blogger, even though I now toil in the world of Movable Type. Much love for Blogger, which just works.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Back on an 500 MHz iMac

I haven't posted to This Old Mac in an age and then some. But here I sit at the Daily News, in front of a 500 MHz slot-loading iMac, running the iCab browser and tryingto post on Blogger. In iCab 3.03, I have to use HTML mode just to get text into the box (slowly ...)

I can't save in iCab, so I start Netscape 7. It crashes a few times. I still need to use HTML mode, and I can't even see my text in "Compose" mode. But at least in Netscape I can type in a title for the article.

While it doesn't work for Blogger, iCab is surprisingly stable in comparison. It didn't crash. And it did display the page pretty well (Netscape rendered it mostly blank). If I could -- and I just might -- I will try to dual-boot this box in Xubuntu or Yellow Dog (or maybe even Debian) and get a modern f'ing browser running.

But if you are running OS 9.2 with Netscape, HTML mode is your key to success with Blogger (and it works better than iCab).

But is anybody -- ANYBODY -- rolling a modern browser for the Classic Mac environment?

And ... I'm again astounded by how much better Blogger is than Movable Type when it comes to ... just about every-f'n-thing.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Monday, January 22, 2007

What's your price?

I have a hard time paying anything over $300 for any old computer.

Between $100 and $200, I'll think about it.

Below $100, or free? I'm totally there.

I guess it depends on what it is. I did see one of those "lampshade" iMac G4 800 MHz computers at We Love Macs for $499. I can't believe that such a design triumph for Apple was so short-lived, but you can never figure out Apple. Still, $499 is a lot of money. For $200, I'd jump on this in a second. For an iBook G4 in good condition, I'd pay $350, not more, but would prefer to pay $200. For any G3 iMac, I wouldn't go above $200 for a 500-700 MHz model, and for a 233 MHz tray loader? I'd have to say between free and $30 is my threshold, if I even want it to take up any physical space in my life.

Right now, The Back Room doesn't have a Mac installed. Instead, that's the home of This Old PC, which with all I'm doing with the Palm handheld these days, is destined to stay there for quite some time. I'd love to have a really nice all-in-one Mac back there, especially one that could run OS X 10.3.9, but when's that going to happen?

The oldest Mac you can run 10.4 on

Low End Mac's Charles W. Moore tells his tale of replacing a dead iMac with something that can run OS X 10.4. He rightly says that for older Macs, 10.3.9 works better, but if you absolutely must run 10.4, here's what you can run it on:

-- He recommends G4 Powerbooks and iBooks ... naturally.
-- The Mac Mini ... if you can get a cheap one.
-- A 750 MHz G4 iMac (available for about $350, he says ... and if that's the "lampshade" variety, I don't think you can get them that low)
-- 867 MHz "Quicksilver" Powermac G4 tower (about $550 sans monitor, he says)

He also has some software suggestions, including the gimmies (Thunderbird) along with AbiWord, Tex-Edit Plus and TextWrangler. Click over for links.

Moore also offers that at a minimum, he uses 10.3, since he never liked 10.2 and continued to use the Classic OS (9.2.2) until 10.3 "Tiger" came out. I'm a big fan of 10.3.9 and haven't seen the need, as yet to upgrade to 10.4 for the iBook G4.

Powerbook Guy for parts and repairs

I came across the Web site for Powerbook Guy, who offers many, many parts for old Powerbooks, as well as repair and upgrade services. He has Powerbook 1400 logic boards for $9.95 (used) to $19.95 (new), and when you think about it, getting a logic board only, or a processor card ($7.95 for a 117 MHZ, $9.95 for a 133 MHz) is easier than cheaper than buying a whole 1400 for spare parts. Most of that savings is due to shipping -- a whole Powerbook is freakin' heavy, and a single board weighs only a few ounces. He has a 48 MB memory card for the 1400 for $119 ... OUCH. I couldn't find a 48 MB card anywhere, but I did find a 32 MB card, and it only cost me about $10 over the Low End Mac swap list. So you've got to know what things are going for before you leap.

Powerbook Guy also has some great prices on used laptops: iBook G3s from $239.95 to $379.95, iBook G4s from $379.95 to $629.95.

Personally, I'm not comfortable playing more than $350 for any of these iBooks, but the fact that an iBook G4 can still fetch from $400 to $600 means that, if you can manage to find a buyer, getting rid of a 5 or more year old Mac laptop can really boost your bottom line. Of course, since an iBook G4 can run 10.3.9, 10.4.whatever and maybe even 10.5 with a RAM boost, th0se 'Books are not anywhere near obsolete.

Follow me now ... the iBook G4 1 GHz were sold, pretty much, during 2003 and 2004. Now it's 2007, so most of those have seen between three and four years of service. Now Apple is on OS X 10.4, and will release 10.5 in the spring. So even if you don't want to run 10.5 on the iBook, you can definitely run 10.4, and that will probably carry you comfortably for between three and five more years. So that iBook will have an easily usable life of between six and eight years before you have to start scrambling (and that scrambling is what This Old Mac is all about).

As I've said many times before, it all comes down to whether or not the apps you want to run will work with the hardware and operating system available. In keeping with that, Windows is much more forgiving; you can run the latest Firefox browser even if you have Windows 98. Not that you'd want to, but it can be done. With Mac, OS X is the dividing line -- all modern browsers run on X only, and not on OS 9 or anything before that.

For me, the Web is the critical app -- the nature of Web browsing is constantly changing, and if your hardware and software can't keep up, your computing experience really suffers. For me, the Powerbook 1400 is a niche machine. For writing and e-mail and basic Web browsing, it works. But will it show YouTube videos, streaming video from network TV sites, complicated Flash animation and work with things like Google Docs? No.

But these G4 notebooks will do these things, and as long as the browsers continue to work with the latest version of OS X you are able to run, you'll be in good shape. Things like Microsoft Office, even Photoshop, will always be available in versions suited to your hardware and OS. And hopefully e-mail protocals won't be radically changing, and today's e-mail clients will be able to handle the major providers' POP and IMAP servers for some time to come.

Still, the Web -- and the browsing thereof -- is the 900-pound gorilla when it comes to computer obsolescence, and you will know when the bell begins to toll.