hittingthesweetspot by Bob Skelley

It comes in many forms

Tag: Mac (Page 1 of 3)

The phenomenon of old tech guilty pleasures

[Editor’s Note: This originally appeared in Computerworld on July 22, 2016]
Most everyone has a go to throwback piece of technology they occasionally deploy. Many of us are slightly embarrassed about it, though, and refrain from sharing with anyone the less than modern gear we still love to work regularly with or break out on a hobbyist basis.
Donald Trump is supposedly scoring big with nostalgia voters — those graybeards who yearn for a return to yesterday. I, for one, do not want to revisit the past, except, of course, when it comes to technology.
If elected president, Trump is doomed to fail if he believes he can return manufacturing jobs to this country that have long since been off-shored. He should just let that one go.
Those of us who still employ older hardware and software to do their jobs, however, do so because it works and it’s fun — something missing from the thought process, generally-speaking, when consumers consider purchasing new computers these days.
“Which of these on the shelf here, sir, are going to provide something I’ll still be using to get stuff done 15 years from now?”
“Well, man, that would probably be nothing here.”
And there you have it.
Today’s hardware and software get the job done now for sure. The computing power available today dwarfs anything that existed in the recent past. But most, if not much of today’s powerful hardware will eventually become a distant memory for end users due to its lack of staying power, or what I like to call computing “soul.”

Soul, like love, is something you know you have once it arrives. And metal and plastic typically do not have soul. But, soul occasionally manifests magically upon the collective assembly of metal, plastic and lines of code that run atop them.
Windows in various flavors of 7, 8 and 10 is what I use most. However, I also utilize a heavily upgraded with after market parts, circa 1999, Apple Power Mac G4.
That’s right.
This machine was purchased used for a song. It helped repair (pun intended) my impression of Apple computers after buying an Un-Performa 5215CD Power Mac that was, in my humble opinion, one of the worst computers Apple ever produced. And everything awful that the Performa was, the Power Mac G4 — a.k.a. “Sawtooth” — was that much the opposite.

sawtooth g4Photo by Bob Skelley
The Sawtooth G4 as old tech guilty pleasure

The Power Mac G4 featured the PowerPC G4 chip. Today, anyone interested in owning a piece of Apple history (from when Apple still had the “Computer” after its name) and wanting to increase their original Power Mac’s computing capabilities, can buy refurbished after market processors and video cards online.
Apple isn’t showing much love to today’s Mac lineup regarding how overdue for a refresh many of the models are, including the Mac Pro. Back in the days of the G4, a different time, of course, Macs were Apple’s go to products. Now, not so much. But, I still like my Sawtooth G4, and even now used it composing this piece.
Sure, I could use one of my Windows machines to write with. Or even a newer iMac. But, I’m using Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac on the Power Mac G4 featuring the last update of this Word variant: 12.3.6. Why? Like anything else, it just feels right and better than anything else. Still.
I remember when I worked as a commercial and financial typesetter for many years. I always enjoyed computers, but a Mac at its price seemed perpetually out of reach. Macs retained their value but were more costly than similarly aged computers on the pages of eBay. But, it was the heavily-touted-by-Apple Power Mac line that finally became affordable to the masses with the advent of eBay and the used Mac reseller market.
The Sawtooth is 17 years old. I’m risking ridicule (again) by revealing embarrassment, or lack thereof, for writing about and with it.
The Sawtooth features (gasp) Mac OS X 10.5.8 Leopard. But the best kept secret about Power Macs running Leopard is they have three modern browsers available that are regularly updated by their developers. Roccat Browser for Mac is amazingly enough being developed for PowerPC and Intel processors, requiring Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard or later.
But wait, there’s more…
A 17-year-old Power Mac running either Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger or Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard can also use TenFourFox. This is a PowerPC-only modern browser regularly updated by developer Cameron Kaiser who obviously enjoys a labor of love.
There are TenFourFox optimized builds for the G3, G4 and G5 PowerPC processors as well. From the TenFourFox website: “More than ever, Power Macs are the computers people love to keep, for all kinds of reasons. They’re more “Mac” than today’s Macs.” Can’t say I disagree.
And finally, on the browsing front, there’s Leopard WebKit for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, which is a current build of WebKit. Leopard WebKit versions run on both PowerPC and Intel-powered chips. I particularly like Leopard WebKit on a Wi-Fi connection on the Sawtooth via a USB Wi-Fi adapter; on wired connections, all of these browsers perform quite capably.
So, there you have it — the Frankenmac Sawtooth that is my unashamed old tech guilty pleasure.
What’s yours?

‘Just works’ mantra finally applies to Linux (Mint ‘Rafaela’) adopters

20151013_102722It was time to get back to Linux on one of my old PC’s. I have Windows 10 running well on an ancient 1.83 GHz Core2Duo processor desktop PC. I also have an old AMD Athlon 64 eMachines tower that was waiting to have the 160 GB hard drive formatted with a new OS. But, what OS was I going to try to install?
I settled on Linux Mint 17.2 Rafaela. I have had experience with Ubuntu, and while that remains a popular Linux distro, I wanted something that was the Linux version of set it and forget it. Ubuntu gave me fits regarding display resolution and Xorg.conf file tinkering. I do appreciate the time spent on getting PCs to work properly, but seems like available troubleshooting time is pretty much non-existent for me these days.
A friend had been urging me to try Linux Mint if I ever wanted a good desktop version of Linux that was closer to just working out of the box on many old PCs than other distros. To be clear, depending on machine and configuration, any Linux distro can be problematic with niggling idiosyncrasies that many users end up living and compromising with. Or, they nuke and pave repeatedly trying different Linux distro versions until they settle on one with the least amount of issues for them.
That is what’s great about Linux that you can’t say if you’re a user of Microsoft or Apple operating systems. You have to take what they give you. With Linux, there are many distros with varying degrees of system resource overhead. Essentially, you can try many different flavors and see what works best, again, if you have the time that is.
I was intrigued by what I’ve read and seen about Linux Mint. Could it really be true that it would work right out of the box after installation? Would printers I plugged in via USB just work like they do on Macs and PCs? I had my lingering doubts after trying to get an old 400 MHz CRT iMac G3 to work with Xubuntu and Lubuntu PowerPC versions. For this ancient Apple machine I settled on an older version of Ubuntu—perhaps 5.x or 6.x, I can’t recall. I only remember I had it working (mostly) well enough to donate it one day to Goodwill (sans working Adobe Flash plug in which is not supported on Ubuntu PowerPC rigs).
The iMac wouldn’t recognize any printers in Ubuntu and I couldn’t surf wirelessly (seems I had it working spottily if at all), but I was able to use the Internet via Ethernet. I did spend hours getting the Video display at an acceptable resolution. And, whoever ended up with it at Goodwill, had themselves a very good machine for what it was—Internet, email and Office suite functionality.
Back to the AMD eMachines Mint install
I burn the disk image to DVD for installation. There is a USB stick method, but since the old tower has a DVD drive and I have some blank discs around still, I use what I already have to do the install. I also have a fast external burner that I use to burn the image. I mistakenly burn the image to a dual layer DVD, but no problem, I repeatedly hit F10 on reboot and select the external burner as my startup source.
Linux Mint comes up rapidly and the install is underway. It prompts me for some basic things like warnings about erasing the entire contents of the hard drive (I want that), asks my location for date and time settings and keyboard style (US English), and then the remainder of the installation is off and running.
The install completes in less than an hour. I want to say it is done in about a half an hour and then it restarts, ejecting the DVD. It brings me up to the desktop with sign in prompt and I am in. It prompts me to install updates and I comply.

Afterwards, Linux Mint feels snappy, modern and most importantly, untethered to either Microsoft or Apple.

I am not directly or intentionally seeking to avoid Microsoft or Apple on this old geezer of a tower that originally had XP on it. But, I want a 64 bit OS on this box and Linux Mint 64 is on it now.
Some first impressions
Initially, I had only two resolution choices: 800 x 600 and 1024 x 768. I was disappointed and was thinking I was going to need to edit the Xorg.conf file. No way did I want to mess with that again some five plus years after stumbling through it on the aforementioned iMac. I know geeks will tell me it’s not that hard to do. But, what’s hard is to digest the unpredictable, hit or miss results that are editing the Xorg.conf file (and expecting it to stick without crashing your rig). Additionally, I did not want to mess with Terminal and the command line on this go around with Linux. Mint was supposed to be the set it and forget it Linux desktop OS and that’s what I wanted.
I did some research and found the ability to engage the NVIDIA video drivers that were recommended within the driver menu selections. It was as easy as a drop down, click on the NVIDIA recommended driver setting, allow them to load, apply and reboot. I now had a 1360 x 768 drop down choice in the display settings that was not previously available. Choosing it gave me a good-looking desktop and Firefox web browser display on the ancient 19” ViewSonic TV & Monitor combo display I have hooked up to the eMachines box.

Sawtooth G4

Power Mac G4 showing no sign of letting PowerPC users down anytime soon.


What works right out of the box?
Pretty much everything. I tried two different Netgear USB Wireless sticks and both worked. I eventually settled on an AirLink101 AWLL6075 Wireless N Mini USB Adapter to provide the fastest connection. The only issues were after waking from sleep (suspend or hibernate) I had to remove and reinsert the stick (identical issue on PowerPC G4 Sawtooth Mac). Also, upon wake from suspend or hibernate I had to reselect the 1360 x 768 display setting. On the bright side, the HP 4200 series inkjet was recognized and I printed out my boarding passes for my trip to New Orleans just for fun. And yes, I do use mobile boarding passes, too.
So, it’s not perfect, but it’s as good if not better than anything Apple or Microsoft compatible on old Macs and PCs. Again, for old Macs, they should be Intel processors to run Linux, unless you have nothing but time on your hands and the need to get a Linux distro running well on PowerPC Macs.
I won’t hesitate to recommend Linux Mint for older AMD and Intel Processor PCs. For hardly any time at all you get a modern, good-looking operating system that handles everything you throw at it well. You also get the security of Linux. You also don’t get the virus and malware threats that will always plague Microsoft OS’s. And, you also enjoy support by a community of users and developers that are there to help you in forums around the world 24/7. How nice is that?

Why Apple should revisit an affordable, upgradeable tower

The internals of the original 20" iMac G5...

The internals of the original 20″ iMac G5. Many hardware components can be seen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In an effort to market its desktop computers for the “it’s good enough” set, Apple has quietly demonstrated a willingness to reduce the price of its iMac.
This would be big news except for the fact that along with the somewhat lower price point comes an iMac whose performance is throttled accordingly. Also, even if the computer itself ends up being good enough for entry level consumers, the price drop hardly is.
The Cupertino giant has never been one to try to compete in the entry level computer space with respect to cost. They have offered “consumer” models like iMac, but these models were still kind of pricey compared to what could be had in the Windows world for the same cash outlay.
The rain and the classical music I am listening to has made me drift over to Apple’s online store. Instead of only viewing the 21.5″ Apple refurbished iMac a couple of years old for $1,199 ($300 savings), I also looked at the new 21.5″ iMac for $1,099 (regular price).
Apple is playing an interesting game here. Of course it still has stock of last year’s model (and beyond) it wishes to unload. It lowers the price on refurbished models. I have always urged clients and friends alike to look for Apple refurbished Macs for some of the best deals.
In my opinion, the specs on this particular refurbished iMac makes it clearly the choice if one is seeking purely the best performance (between this one and the less expensive, brand new iMac). Apple’s marketing department understands that entry level consumers considering a new iMac will opt for the cheaper (I can only say “less expensive” so many times), less powerful and less roomy hard drive in the $1,099 iMac.
Whether they state it outright or not, Apple is selling to this market segment–those seeking a new, cheaper iMac that performs just/only well enough. This is the demographic Apple caters to with its underwhelmingly spec’d all-in-one.
A Macintosh Performa 6400, one of the few Perf...

A Macintosh Performa 6400, one of the few Performas in a tower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


This scenario harkens back to the time I paid $1,999 for a logic-board crippled, new Mac Performa 5215 CD because it was all the new Mac I could afford in 1995. Good enough in that case, turned out to be just the opposite. I quickly grew out of the computer, but not before learning a great deal about how to optimize one whose design was clearly flawed.
Since moving to the Intel family of processor chips, Apple has been careful not to repeat the mistake of selling severely underperforming computers (relative to the rest of its line). The new $1,099 iMac is surely capable for most users. But with each revision of Mac operating system that Apple releases, the $1,099 iMac will seem slower and slower. And there really won’t be anything for consumers to do once they crave more speed and power except to drop more cash on another cheap (for Apple) iMac in three years’ time or less.
I not too long ago suggested Apple drop the price of its Mac Mini to $399 to generate some interest in the entry level space it only halfheartedly serves. This hasn’t happened. Sadly, starting at $599, the Mac Mini is not a good value when you factor in its “bring your own peripherals” (monitor, keyboard, mouse) party approach.
What would be a good deal?
In this world where it’s becoming increasingly difficult for not only Apple, but all hardware companies to stay original and new when it comes to innovating, I suggest doing as Hollywood does: make a sequel or at least a remake of a movie that was big box office when first released.
Their are only so many chords you can use when it comes to songwriting. The pressure to stay at the cutting edge is always on Apple more so than any other company.
iMacs took the world by storm in their original CRT versions. They are even more popular today with their Intel processors and streamlined, thin, sexy designs that pack ten pounds of components into five pound sacks. Heat is the enemy of computers. iMacs, like their MacBook Pro brethren generate a lot of  it. Since they are all in one designs, iMacs have to be brought to the shop when something inside quits. This is the downside to all that sexiness one pays for.
If Apple were serious about going after some of the enterprise they’d offer an upgradeable tower at $899 and with specs just below the entry level iMac.
Towers were and are still being used by Mac and PC users alike. One of the best things about my Sawtooth is how easy it is to open up, upgrade and work on. We know opening up the case on a new Mac voids its warranty. But a potential whole new, younger market segment might be willing to try an Apple tower just to drive it for a year, then see about opening it up, upgrading it and falling in love with it all over again. Once the Mac Mini or iMac breaks down, only a costly trip to the shop can save it as repair is too daunting for the average user.

An affordable-to-the-masses, upgradeable Mac tower sequel, may attract an entirely new legion of fans to the Mac much like the one that is currently graying.

People hold on to older technology because it serves them. Computers like towers are highly upgradeable. Computers that can’t be (easily) upgraded are disposable and don’t foster the kind of brand loyalty that Apple has worked so hard over the years to maintain. The foolish goal of forcing consumers to buy practically impossible-to-upgrade iMacs every two and one-half to three years just makes Apple seem like all the rest.

Quicken 2007 for Mac spans generations of users while frozen in time

The headquarters of Intuit Inc. in Mountain Vi...

The headquarters of Intuit Inc. in Mountain View, California (Silicon Valley). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


People with new Macs enjoy the latest technology Apple has to offer. This typically means access to all the cool apps not available to those of us with less modern kit. In the case of Quicken 2007 for Mac, no one could ever have foreseen this ancient-in-technology-years program being the one piece of software bridging the gap between PowerPC and Intel processors in 2014.
We’ve been on a retro kick here at hittingthesweetspot with lots of love in recent posts for PowerPC Macs. Intuit’s Quicken 2007 for Mac allows the trend to continue, but with an oh-so-interesting twist. This doddering application with its dated interface is still the only real option for ALL Mac users who want to run personal finance software.
I have been a Quicken user since 1995 when I purchased my one and only new Mac. My data file has made the transition through all the various versions of Quicken until it stopped at Quicken 2007. There were a couple of revision updates that patched Security Certificates at banking institutions so our transactions could continue to be downloaded into the program. But Intuit has let some certificates expire prompting the dreaded “OL-249” error when attempting to access records at certain financial institutions. It’s only a matter of time before Intuit lets more fall by the wayside, too.
When subsequent versions of Quicken for the PC were released after the 2007 Mac version, I waited to see if this would be another case of a Mac program no longer being developed for PowerPC. Surely there would be a Quicken for Mac released that would run only on Intel Macs. I waited. Mac Quicken customers who updated to newer Intel Macs running Snow Leopard also waited for a new Intel-only version. But Snow Leopard users had the good fortune of being able to use “Rosetta” for PowerPC only applications (as a stopgap while developers updated their software to the Intel platform).
PowerPC users have typically been stoic and pragmatic about such Intel-only developments. There would be no need for Snow Leopard users to continue to run Quicken 2007, they thought. Once Intuit developed it, Snow Leopard users would be the first to enjoy the Intel-only release of Quicken for Mac. But, oddly enough, the wait was unending and an updated version of the software never came to pass.
What finally happened instead? Quicken for Mac 2007 was “re-engineered” for Mac OS X 10.7 Lion (Quicken 2007 Mac) users. It was the same program it had always been, but it was just tweaked so it could run on Lion. Intuit did the bare minimum to keep the program alive on the Mac platform. PC versions of Quicken advanced well beyond Quicken 2007 for Mac with regular, updated releases. At least the revamped-for-Intel-only Quicken Mac 2007 worked on Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion when it came out. And it also works on Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks, too. But it’s essentially still the same Quicken for Mac 2007 that runs on PowerPC Macs.
English: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH Fr...

English: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH Français : Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


There have always been a myriad of theories on why Intuit halted development of modern releases of Quicken for the Mac. My money rests on the belief that Quicken for Mac was such a small segment of Intuit’s overall revenue generation that the company’s engineering focus was smartly entrenched in the Windows camp. Because even when people say it’s not about the money, we know it’s still predominantly about the money.
Intuit did eventually respond with a stripped down, impotent version of personal finance software that was Intel Mac only and ironically titled “Quicken Essentials for Mac.” Most Intel Mac users who regretted purchasing it found it anything but “essential.”
Some people said that Intel Mac users should just purchase a PC and run the modern Quicken Windows version or run Windows on their Macs so they could run the PC version of Quicken.

I say it kind of defeats the whole purpose of owning a Mac if you’re going to run Windows on it.

Mac users with Motorola and IBM PowerPC chips powering their rigs, though, have always been able to enjoy Quicken 2007 for Mac–same as their newer Mac brethren (once the “re-engineered” Lion version came out).
PowerPC Mac owners who used Quicken 2007 for Mac never had to make another move in order to run the “latest” Mac version of Quicken that also runs on Lion, Mountain Lion and Mavericks. By never usefully updating Quicken for Mac 2007 features, Intuit unwittingly served to bond all Mac users together, forever stalled in 2007 and irrespective of their computer’s processing chip.
Any word on how/if it will run in Yosemite?

Like Windows 8 and XP, Mavericks shares unsupported underground of Tiger, Leopard users

Publicity photo of Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, and...

Publicity photo of Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, and Judy Carne as she joins the Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In cast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


On the heels of one of the most successful blog posts in hittingthesweetspot’s short history, PowerPC Macs most definitely still have game, it has come to our attention that readers love stories about older technology–in particular, about their PowerPC Macs.
While the star of our Mac show production here at the blog is the same Sawtooth featured in that post, as Arte Johnson of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In fame in part used to say, we find it very interesting that so many of you enjoy these posts and help make hittingthesweetspot by Bob Skelley one of the web’s most frequented destinations when they are published.
As we do not poll our readers about what kinds of technology they use, it says here that these pieces generate so much love because many of us are still using older computers, and in particular, old Macs, to get our work done.

While the Intel world satisfies the many Mac users lucky enough to have newer machines, those left behind are not necessarily feeling abandoned.

English: Publicity photo from Rowan & Martin's...

English: Publicity photo from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-in. Pictured is Rita Hayworth reprising her Sadie Thompson role on the television show. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In last week’s column on PowerPC Macs we heralded developer Tobias Netzel’s latest release of Leopard WebKit for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard users. On my Wi-Fi connection with an Edimax USB Wi-Fi adapter plugged into a non-powered, four-port USB 2.0 hub that rests atop the Sawtooth and connects to a port on the internal USB 2.0 PCI card, Leopard WebKit is the fastest browser.
For PowerPC Mac users running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and/or Leopard there is another browser choice that has just been refreshed: TenFourFox 31.
Windows and Intel Mac users have modern versions of Google Chrome and Firefox. PowerPC Mac users on Tiger or Leopard can run optimized versions of TenFourFox on G5, G4 and even G3 machines. While plug-ins are not supported and disabled by default on TenFourFox, the browser offers modern web capabilities for these machines.
I have been told by many readers that TenFourFox is faster than Leopard WebKit on their machines. Many of these PowerPC Mac users who contacted us were running TenFourFox on wired ethernet network connections. I think if my Sawtooth used the ethernet port for Internet it’d be much the same case. But it is pretty indisputable that on this bastardized-until-the-cows-come-home rig, Leopard WebKit is still king of the Wi-Fi connection when it comes to browsing choices.
So, to summarize the up-to-date web-browsing choices for PowerPC-only Mac owners in 2014, there is TenFourFox for those running Tiger and/or Leopard and Leopard WebKit for those using Leopard only.
There is another bit of software that currently stands at version 3.9, and interestingly enough, is the only web browser (to my knowledge) still being developed for PowerPC and Intel Mac users alike: Roccat Browser. This distinctive, web navigating choice is available for all Mac users running 10.5 Leopard through 10.9 Mavericks.
On the Sawtooth, Roccat Browser starts off fast but begins to bog down after some time using it. It may be attributable to the Wi-Fi connection, but again, Leopard WebKit is faster on wireless for us on the Sawtooth–besting both Roccat and TenFourFox. Your mileage may vary based on whether you utilize wireless or wired Internet connections and also depending on the configuration of Mac you are utilizing.
Publicity photo of Lilly Tomlin as Mrs. Earbor...

Publicity photo of Lilly Tomlin as Mrs. Earbore, the Tasteful Lady, and Rita Hayworth from the television program Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Although I’ve been called a Luddite for my undying support of all things old (my Schwinn Sprint just celebrated its 43rd birthday!), I use all kinds of technology, both current and not so current. The thing is, when it comes to writing, there is nothing like a Mac. These computers have always been marketed towards creative types and Windows boxes have always been “business” machines. Both are capable of getting the job done. You just have to use the right one for the job you’re doing.
Even on Windows 8, I have to run Malwarebytes scans and keep an anti-virus on my old HP Core 2 Duo. I like that the old box runs Windows 8 similarly well to how the Sawtooth hoists Leopard on its shoulders and transports it. I do utilize housekeeping software on both Windows 8 (Glary Utilities) and OS X Leopard (Onyx, Cocktail and AppleJack).
When it’s all said and done, you can keep harping on how Methuselah-like hardware and software has no place in the heavy-lifting, mobile era we reside. Myself, and thousands of readers worldwide, however, would surely beg to differ. Embrace the diversity of all things old and new. Taking a technologically elitist viewpoint could have Arte crediting you with doing something, “Verrrry interesting…but stupid.”
 

Non-Intel Macs back in fast(er) lane

English: Snail by Hokusai
We try our best to take care of the technology we utilize in our day-to-day living and still hardware doesn’t last as long as we had hoped or it stops working altogether over time. When hardware and software combine in harmony to do the job for us through many years, it seems a lot of things fall nicely into place so this can happen.
Sometimes the best thing a person can do is get lucky. Many of us have seen the bumper sticker or heard the colloquialism about gettin’ lucky in Kentucky. In the case of PowerPC Mac users still trying to breathe life into their time-honored rigs…well, we all collectively just got lucky.
No, we haven’t won a date with Kate Upton. In fact, we’ve gotten even luckier than that.
I know. I know. Do elaborate oh keeper of the Skelley blarney.
Well, since I moved to Windows 8.1 on one of my old desktop PCs I’ve had nothing but good things to say about Microsoft’s latest attempt at getting its customers to make the leap from XP or even Windows 7 (Vista users are mostly content and aren’t going anywhere last time I round tabled this discussion with several geek friends over some high-tech grog).
As fluid as 8.1 is on ancient PCs like my entry level Core 2 Duo, it made me wonder about the ultimate fate of Mac OS X Leopard and the PowerPC army of users who hold out on their Motorola and IBM chip Mac version of XP—10.5.8. For me, personally, the end of the road has been a rather pleasant place to hang out (until recently).
Windows 8.1 on old hardware made me long for a version of Mavericks—Mavericks Light if you will, that would run on Intel Macs (and perhaps higher end G5’s) that didn’t quite make the Mavericks cutoff in terms of hardware requirements. While I opined in my previous column how wonderful it would be if this could happen and Apple developed a Mavericks Light, PowerPC users have never been the types to hold their breaths in terms of Apple throwing them any more bones.
Speed Trials
Quite frankly, even though I still do a fair amount of composing and writing on my Frankensteined Power Mac G4, the fact is I was beginning to use the Internet on it less and less. It seems everything web-related had gotten so slow, and in my case, was exacerbated by using Windows 8.1 on an old PC that made it feel brand new again.
As one who only throws in the towel as a last resort when it comes to the Iron Horses of Apple hardware, I set out anew in search of speed online for the Frankenmac.
I haven’t used the Ethernet connection on the G4 since I moved with it to Kentucky. My work area is on another floor entirely from where the router is and so running Ethernet cable was never an option. I experimented with a series of wireless USB WiFi adapters and settled upon the Edimax EW‑7811Un. It served up the best speed and connectivity overall for the tower of power.
Lately, though, it just started to seem slower. I didn’t really investigate too much into what I could do about how pedestrian it felt compared to the PC on 8.1 using a Rosewill wireless WiFi adapter. I just started using the PC more when I was working on my desktop computers—the PC and G4 share a keyboard, mouse and monitor via a TRENDnet® KVM switch and I just wasn’t switching to the Mac too often anymore.
Well, drivers, specifically having the latest and greatest that a PC can support, typically can foster significant performance boosts. On Macs Apple isn’t supporting any longer, it isn’t drivers so much as it is commercial software revision updates, tweaks and settings adjustments, that can have an impact on the quality and speed of the user experience.
What I discovered this evening is that I was running a pretty old version of the wireless network utility that supported the Edimax adapter. I went to the Edimax site and downloaded and installed the latest version 2.0.2.

Joy Liebert

Joy Liebert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Joy and more joy
The Mac is suddenly zipping along the web again. Yes, zipping along…I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t think it possible, but I’m putting off yet again the thought of finally upgrading from a PowerPC to an Intel Mac. I can live with this non-Intel beast and newfound speed indefinitely once more.
It doesn’t matter which browser I use—TenFourFox, Roccat, Aurora, Leopard WebKit, Stainless, OmniWeb or Opera 10.70, things are way faster. The Edimax adapter is in a USB hub that is connected to a USB 2 card port that resides inside the tower. I don’t know if USB 1.1 would be as fast, but I suspect not. The USB 2 card combined with the latest version of the wireless network utility puts the giddy up back in this pony.
Free twitter badge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the last points of discovery is that Twitter now works again on the G4. Perhaps Twitter has changed their APIs again, but as recently as yesterday, I could not see Tweets on bobskelley.com on the Power Mac. Twitter has long been inaccessible on PowerPC Macs but I can now log into Twitter on the Mac, too. Did Twitter change their APIs once more? I don’t know and I don’t care. If they didn’t the only thing different on the Frankenmac is that it’s got the latest version of the wireless network utility.
Whoever said sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, really was a genius.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Is there a market for 'Mavericks Light?'

ford maverick

ford maverick (Photo credit: Mathieu Bertrand Struck)


The thing that has me wishing Apple could be more like Microsoft is OS support—specifically how, why and what machines are supported. Now, I don’t want to get into a flame war regarding which conglomerate supports their customers better or which is more attractive overall. I use both companies’ products and so for me there isn’t one product, system or solution that does everything I need. I like it that way, too, as there is nothing quite like a special blend—whether it’s coffee, marinara sauce, a set of exercises to achieve a fitness goal or computer systems that allow you to be as productive as possible.
In my case, I recently went all in on Windows 8.1 on a couple of my devices. My original revision Surface tablet runs 8.1 RT. It has been more than I thought it could be in terms of how I like it. I’ve used iPads and know you can have a keyboard accompanying them, but the Surface, with my knockoff keyboard/case combination and accompanying Bluetooth mouse really brings the tablet as a device into my world. Windows 8.1 RT drives everything quite nicely, too. On the Surface, this operating system is the perfect blend of tablet glitz and traditional desktop functionality—at least for me.
What really impresses me the most, however, is how great Windows 8.1 Pro is on my ancient HP Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86 GHz rig. This is a machine that can be had for a song on eBay. It came with Windows XP COA and that in and of itself is a good indicator of how long in the tooth this box is.
I purchased a student edition of Windows 8.1 Pro and after getting past an installer-not-recognizing-my-hard drive issue, have had nothing but good times to report. This old PC has but 2GB of memory and an 80GB hard disk. These specs are hardly state of the art and are several passes behind the latest and greatest out there.
An Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 "Conroe" C...

An Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 “Conroe” CPU with the OEM-provided integrated heat spreader still attached. The black plastic tabs visible on each of the four edges of the CPU correspond to a square piece of plastic which protects the electrical contacts on the base of the CPU during transportation and handling. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


My admiration for Microsoft comes with allowing me to run their latest OS on a machine that doesn’t even crack the 2 GHz processor threshold. I know Mavericks can run on some Core 2 Duo iMacs, but those machines still have beefier specs than this one. While Mavericks will run on 2GB of memory, it would not be as snappy or happy as this machine comparatively speaking.
I wonder what it would be like if Apple offered a paid OS update for all those Macs out there that miss the Mavericks cut off? It could be like Mavericks Light, if you will—half the calories of the regular Mavericks, but with that same great taste. It would be wishful thinking if G5 PowerPC Mac users could take advantage of such an offering, too, but think of the goodwill Apple could foster among these fastidious holdouts of beloved, albeit ancient Mac hardware.
There are no studies I can draw upon, but the fact I ponied up for Windows 8.1 so I could run it on an older box that would probably not be supported by Apple and Mavericks (if it were a Mac with similar specs), leads me to believe there are a segment of Mac users out there that would be interested in something similar from Apple.
Apple isn’t making any profit from its operating systems. Microsoft has reduced the cost of its operating systems in some demographics and hardware as a response to Apple’s free OS. Many Mac owners will happily run their Macs until they give up the ghost.
But wouldn’t it be nice if they had a chance to run Apple’s latest and greatest? Would they pay for such a privilege? I think they would, provided it came with an ungouge-like and reasonable price tag.
Mac users are loyal and Apple has an opportunity to bridge the gap for those Mac owners who aren’t quite ready to purchase a new Mac, but might be more likely to do so when the time comes should Apple demonstrate they appreciate having them as a customer now.

Twisty Seconds, Headless Bluesman urge Mavericks wannabes to use caution


We got an earful there and we also got an earful regarding how wonderful OS X Mavericks was supposed to be when it first came out. It may still prove out to be just that. But I have my doubts as I am old school when it comes to believing that getting anything free does not come without a catch. Perhaps in the case of Apple’s latest version of OS X, the catch is the kind of quality one can expect when receiving something as complex as an operating system, for free.
Mavericks was the best thing to happen to older versions of the Mac OS as far as I can tell, and especially on the eve of my visiting a client that wants to update their lone Mac on a mixed platform network from Snow Leopard to Apple’s latest OS offering.
I may urge this person towards Mountain Lion as I am not afraid to suggest the second to latest Apple operating system to them. This is because I know what Mountain Lion is, it works well and although it dumbed down a lot of the networking-related protocols on the Mac by limiting the amount of specificity regarding controls over its server software side, as a standalone operating system, it has proven to be among Apple’s most solid and nimble.
Mavericks, while still relatively young by OS standards, remains a work in progress. That is why I am hesitant to recommend it to people who need to upgrade from Snow Leopard or Lion. I will suggest they try Mountain Lion as Apple will provide security patches to it for at least as long as until Mavericks’ successors hit the streets sometime in the future.
Upgrades make me think of the venerable PowerPC chip and the Motorola and IBM versions of it. IBM’s G5 Power Macs still have many fans. I am a person who stood fast on their original G4 400 MHz Sawtooth. It’s been heavily upgraded to a 1.8 GHz processor and does things too well, still, to upgrade it any further than it is.
The things that PowerPC owners feel awful about is Adobe Flash. The latest versions of TenFourFox disable Flash by default. I run the last version of Flash supported on PowerPC and also run a hack that fakes sites into thinking I have a more recent version of Flash. I use Flash on the PowerPC with the wonderful OmniWeb version 5.11.2 web browser which plays my spoofed Adobe Flash version just beautifully on YouTube. Your mileage may vary on a less robust PowerPC Mac than the one I am on, but it really still just goes to show you how much life is left in these veteran, utility-conscious and able machines.
The fact I am using a now 15-year-old computer, specifically a Mac, to write this and listen to YouTube videos at the same time is a testimony to the power of the Power Mac—no pun intended. This Power Mac has allowed me to continue a career not only as a writer but as a musician, too. I recorded original music on this same G4, albeit only running a 1 GHz processor during my Griffin iMic days and recording YouTube videos as the Headless Bluesman and also in the acoustic blues duo Twisty Seconds performing songs I have written.
Who am I?

You can find Twisty Seconds songs I have written on YouTube as well as other Headless Bluesman offerings. These were all digitized on an old PowerPC Mac, and as recently as 2012. It goes to show you the relevance of these machines to this date.
I like to jam. I like to sing. I like to write songs. I like to write. I like to blog.
Mavericks may be what I end up installing on my client’s machine, but I’ll forever be someone who prefers remaining a bit behind the curve in respect to latest and greatest. The blues were around before the digital age.
There are a lot of good operating systems Macintosh-wise that will still get the job done for you. Consider them all as you ponder whether to jump onboard Mavericks or remain where you can still complete what you need to within your budget. Happy jamming and Macintoshing from the Headless Bluesman and Twisty Seconds.

Value seeking in technologically elitist times

Mythic Technicality
The beauty of technology is in the details. That is, when everything works it’s as if we are living in the best modern world possible. But when not, the world is a lousy place. Value is king and while Apple never sells value products in the form of bang for your buck, there is value to be had provided one is willing to search for it outside the products Apple offers. And I, for one, am someone who doesn’t mind looking.
Apple products are expensive. Let’s face it. A long time ago I was a huge Apple fan. I thought eventually they might actually make a value Mac one day. I’m not talking about the demure CPUs known as Mac Minis. I’m talking about actual value, bang for your buck, capability for money shelled out.
Don’t get me wrong. Aesthetics are great. Macs look great, but since everything is in super close quarters components tend to burn out prematurely—the price for all that elegant sleekness and compactness. This dirty little secret regarding Mac hardware is not lost on resellers whose livelihoods depends on the Mac owners whose hard drives, GPUs and/or logic boards go wonky approximately three years or a little there afterwards into daily use. These are the same resellers who understand that Apple’s design machinations will eventually make Apple certified technician jobs obsolete or at least not as necessary as trends toward non-upgradeable and unrepairable models continues.

What still gets me geeked is when I can try out new and not-so-expensive ways to get the job done. Whether it’s word processing (the bulk of my work) or photo editing, I use the tools that represent the best mix of value and capability—for me.

I was never as excited as when I opened up the bulky box (Macs didn’t always come in consumer eye-candy friendly boxes) on my Mac Performa 5215CD back in 1995 after I brought it home from Best Buy. The brick and mortar staple of computer and electronics stores had a Mac section back then, but it was pitiful compared to its PC sisters. Gil Amelio was still running the show at Apple. I wanted to get in on a Mac finally after using DOS computers with 5-1/4” floppy diskettes and Compugraphic and Linotronic typesetting machines doubling as computers back in the day in graphics departments at pre-press operations across the nation.
While Apple’s Power Mac line was completely out of financial reach for this writer of modest means, I was very much hell bent on getting a Mac of some kind, and a brand new one at that. I settled on the un-Performa line and began my love affair with Macs and all computers that I wanted to do certain things on, that were not advertised or promoted right out of the box. In the case of the un-Performa it was trying to take Apple’s consumer line of Macs at the time and bring it up to par with Power Macs of the same era.
I was able to get satisfactory operation out of the 5215CD, but not until after spending copious and laborious hours on it. Back then, there was no broadband and I needed a computer to build ads for the agency I worked at. The Internet was not something to use for business back then. It was something to engage in on a leisurely basis. I finally purged my old dial-up modems recently. I knew I no longer had a need for them unless I was planning on inhabiting a country with only dial-up access (which I’m not). But back then, I only utilized my connection to FTP my completed jobs. After the jobs were uploaded and delivered, then and only then was it time to get on AOL via dial-up and see what other un-Performa owners were sharing.
Macs had a great reputation and an adoring base of users but even the Power Macs locked up and froze on us daily back then. I remember top of the line Power Mac 9500s, 9600s, 7500s, 7200s, 7100s…you name it, doing the bomb before our eyes each and every day. Back then, that was not anything typesetters and graphic artists blinked at. We just rebooted. The IT department tried to keep “conflicts” of extensions and control panels to a minimum. But it was a never ending battle that the Macs lost no matter what was done. While fun to use, you better have built plenty of time into your day’s agenda for the numerous restarts and complete take downs of the Macs you used; it was just how life was back then.

English: iPad 2 wordmark, by Apple Inc.

English: iPad 2 wordmark, by Apple Inc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Now we have tablets which are completely and utterly cool. I needed a tablet for my mobile capabilities. When one is flying these days, it isn’t easy to use even laptops a few years old anymore. With the trend towards smaller seats, leg room and space for passengers on jets, you need to be able to hunker down with something small if you want to get any work done that involves a computer.
I recently purchased a refurbished Microsoft Surface RT that has been nothing short of heaven. I jumped when the price came down to $169. Sure, it’s just a tablet. And it isn’t Apple. It’s Microsoft. Yes, the iPad is nice, but it’s way overpriced. I didn’t test drive an Android tablet before biting on the Surface, but Apple can only play the supposed better quality, more chic angle for so long, when it comes to any of its products. It used to be that intangibles regarding viruses, malware or whether devices just worked as well, were what helped consumers decide in favor of Apple. Now the lines are blurred.
In the case of Microsoft’s Surface, the Redmond legend was and is making its coin dinging consumers with add on keyboards. I picked up a knockoff keyboard/case combination for the Surface that looks great and has a keyboard that utilizes the built-in USB port on it. While the keys are smaller than I’d like, I can still write when I’m on the go. I picked up a totally inexpensive, brand new Bluetooth mouse from Meritline and I have a tablet that is a laptop computer which utilizes a mouse that I prefer over a touch screen mode of operation.

The point of all this is our choices have never been greater. Apple can always appeal to those upper crust folks who have money to burn for the privilege of being the world’s beta testers for one of the most cash-laden, publicly-owned conglomerates out there.

For the rest of us, if you’ve got a couple hundred dollars and some time to research how best to spend it, you can come up with solutions that enable the modern mobile lifestyle we all enjoy living in. That is not a big price to pay to remain up to date. It is actually quite wonderful when you consider you can keep using your older Apple and Microsoft hardware in tandem to get the more heavy lifting done, and until the cows come home.
 

Microsoft has a winner with discounted, refurbished Surface

Microsoft Surface RT Launch Party

Microsoft Surface RT Launch Party (Photo credit: vernieman)


All the techno pop music in the background sort of contributed to the rhythmic ease of use with which I operated the refurbished Microsoft Surface RT tablet I recently purchased. It took some time to get to the point where I could enjoy Microsoft Office, though, as the out of box configuration lacked a keyboard option.
I went shopping on eBay and discovered a non-Microsoft case/keyboard combination whose price was right. Delivery time was as expected since it was coming from overseas. At $169 for the Surface I could not resist finally jumping in to the tablet space. While I have a Windows 7 laptop that has done the bulk of my portable writing heavy lifting, I have been in search of a tablet to suit my mobile writing needs. Every so often I dust off the Mac PowerBook G3 Lombard with the bronze keyboard that is appealing typing-wise, but not so much portability-wise as my many batteries for it have long since given up the ghost. I know I could probably find a battery for this beast running OS X 10.4.11 Tiger via XPostFacto, but the battery would probably cost more than the machine is worth at this point. Plus, the Lombard is quite heavy by today’s standards weighing in at a relatively hefty 5.9 lbs. Its lack of portability resigns it to the pile of sporadically used machines at my disposal—a Macintosh classic I can’t quite seem to part with among some older Windows and Linux boxes.
I was excited when the keyboard/case combo finally arrived for the Surface. I took it out of the neatly and sturdily packaged envelope and positioned the Surface in the new case accessory for size. It fit well. I plugged the thin, USB cable for the keyboard into the Surface and went about trying to get something going on the new tablet.
The Surface comes with Microsoft’s new version of Office which is the gold standard for office productivity suites. I had been using Microsoft Word 2010 and was not as anxious to test new features as I was pleased to realize there would be no steep learning curve from Redmond’s  2010 version of Word. But, I didn’t even get the chance to fire up Word as I was dismayed by the Surface continually dropping its Internet connection.
Microsoft Surface RT Dashboard Mount

Microsoft Surface RT Dashboard Mount (Photo credit: Michael Kappel)


Well, even though I was getting a hardware-related error for the Wireless N adapter in the Surface, I was pretty sure this was ultimately software related and hopped on my nearby Mac to research connectivity problems with the Surface. After running across five potential “fixes” for the issue, I decided against any of them. Internet Explorer was not opening via touch. This was a problem before I received the case/keyboard combo. I accessed the Internet previously by performing a search within the Surface that offered destinations online in the results field. I simply tapped on one of them and was online with Internet Explorer (IE). But IE was choking and maddeningly dropping the connection. Since I felt the installation of software on the Surface right out of the box was buggy, I opted for Microsoft’s “Refresh” option which was supposed to be utilized to restore functionality when the Surface was not working properly.
It took the better part of 25 minutes for the refresh to finish, but once it did, everything, including the touch activation of IE was working properly. I was online finally, the connection held up and I was not receiving any more errors. It was time to fire up Word and give it a spin.
At the $169 price point Microsoft’s Surface really hits the sweet spot if I do say so myself. As anyone who knows me understands, I feel I should have been made an honorary Apple employee long ago. I would venture to say I’ve pointed more people towards Macs and Apple products than maybe some Apple Store employees. The tight integration of hardware and software was always one of the things Windows boxes could never come close to. If the hardware was not lackluster in say, Acer machines back in the day, then the version of Windows OS that ran on them was perhaps not quite optimized as well as it should have been to run without throwing all-too-regular error messages during normal use.
Microsoft Surface RT Launch Party

Microsoft Surface RT Launch Party (Photo credit: vernieman)


While Macs before OS X suffered “bombs” and frozen screens, once OS X matured both PowerPC and Intel machines were designed and optimized for the Mac OS—building upon the legendarily elegant user experience.
With the help of the non-Microsoft keyboard contained in the all-in-one case/keyboard combo that utilizes the USB port on the Surface, I have achieved my own version of tablet user utopia. The Surface feels good. Office feels tight, no lag. While Internet Explorer is the only browser loaded, it’s more than snappy and loads pages quickly since the software setup was “refreshed.” The entire experience with the Surface as I write feels like something Apple might have designed—its Safari web browser and Pages software recalling similarities to mind in terms of how the software and hardware integration feels.
Would I have bitten on a Surface instead of an Apple if the price had not been so right? Perhaps. But I have been very intrigued by Microsoft’s attempt at its own tablet hardware and software integration. I had been following reports after the Surface 2 was released, wondering when we’d see the original Surface at discounted prices. Well, the time came originally this past Black Friday when the Surface and Microsoft keyboard option were available at steeply discounted prices. While the Surface I settled on is refurbished, it looks as if brand new. It did not come with a keyboard, though. If I wanted one of those from Microsoft I would have had to pony up another $70-$120 depending on where, and what keyboard option, I was shopping for. That additional expenditure would have negated the sweet spot for me. If you search on eBay for keyboards for the Surface you can find what I did for around $20—another price that hits the sweet spot.
Apple lady evangelist

Apple lady evangelist (Photo credit: Rain Rabbit)


Although I am a former Apple and Mac evangelist, these days I am a value computing guy first and foremost. I use what works best (for me) and I suggest to anyone who asks, to do the same. Although Apple’s iPads are still dominant, they don’t hit the sweet spot on value—at least not to me. Just like Apple refurbished tablets I received a one-year warranty from Microsoft on the Surface–another plus since Microsoft refurbs are typically only warrantied for 90 days. At the end of the day, and all things considered, the refurbished Surface at $169 and eBay keyboard/case combo for $20 is a sweet deal—even if I had to put some time into it up front before I could really begin doing more than just “scratching” the Surface.

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