So I inherited a Mac

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you have probably noticed that I frequently take in very old computers and do stuff with them. I got a lot of use from the ancient Compaq Presario 1240 which at one point was running a NetHack server for me. I messed around with the venerable Texas Instruments Extensa Scholar but it was mostly a command line system for me. On the other hand I got the Compaq Presario 1800 set up with a bare bones Debian/Fluxbox installation, and it was running so efficiently my mom ended up using it to check her email and browse the web when she was staying here over the summer.

Last week I inherited a brand new junker to add to my collection: an eMac. Yes you read that correctly, it is not an iMac, but an eMac. Wikipedia tells me this was Apple’s attempt to target the educational market (hence the e in the name) with a cheaper and slightly more robust (as in resistant to being roundhouse kicked in the monitor by a kid who just developed high tolerance to ritalin he did not even need to take in the first place) model. It is a huge, 17″ bulbous CRT monstrosity, but I just couldn’t say no to it. It was a free computer that I could mess with.

In fact, this might be the most powerful machine that I have rescued from being tossed into garbage recently. It sports a 1GHz PowerPC G4 CPU, 768 MB of RAM and has a 40 GB hard drive. This is actually not a horrible machine. This is actually a borderline decent system. Decent as in acceptable, not as in good. In fact, if I really wanted to spend around $50 I could actually upgrade the memory to 1GB which would likely give it a little bit more boost. But it is probably not worth it.

I’m not exactly sure what to do with it yet. Hell, I’m not sure where to even put it. I wish the damn thing was a flat screen rather than a CRT. I already forgot how incredibly heavy these things used to be. I almost dropped it on the pavement when I was taking it out of the trunk of my car. How the hell did we deal with this shit back in the day?

Anyways, right now the machine sits precariously perched on a little stool next to my desk, hooked up to an old Dell keyboard and a wireless Microsoft mouse. No seriously, the person who gave it to me kept the original peripherals for some reason. I don’t really care about the mouse (Apple mice are sort of crappy, sorry) but the keyboard would probably be nice since the thing doesn’t really have any buttons on the case. For example, I had to Google how to eject the CD drive (press and hold F12). I believe the original keyboard had a dedicated button for that. Actually my first attempt was to pull up a terminal window and type in “eject”. I mean, this is a Unix like system, no? So I figured the familiar linux command will work. It didn’t.

Actually, I could install linux on it. There should still be some distros out there which support the PowerPC architecture… It would probably even be quite challenging – these crazy machine fusions with integrated monitors and streamlined shapes are never straightforward to work with. I don’t think I will do that though. I mean, I’m pretty comfortable in Linux world but OSX still feels quite alien to me. I have only ever used in passing – in a computer lab at school, or or helping someone with some issue on their MacBook. So this could be my chance to mess around with OSX, poke in it’s innards and actually get familiar with how this system works inside out.

I don’t know if I have mentioned this, but every semester I get more Mac users in my class. Back when I was a graduate assistant at my university mac users were rare and welcome sight for me. Now that Apple became trendier than ever, everyone is carrying a MacBook in their book bag. Last semester I think a little under half of my class were either full time or part time Mac users. While I know windows inside out, and while I can troubleshoot linux issues in my sleep, I’m not familiar with Mac related quirks. Sometimes my Mac using students ask me some apple specific question, and all I have to go by are my vague recollection of using a Mac like 5 years ago. I was never motivated enough to set up OSX in a virtual machine of some sort, but now that I have this gargantuan CRT beast sitting here, I think it might as well play with it.

Right now it is running Tiger (OSX 10.4) which is actually quite out of date. I think I could possibly upgrade it to 10.6 (or at the very least to 10.5) but that may actually degrade the performance. What do you guys think?

Also, I must say that I am still kinda baffled by how OSX handles software installation. I knew how it worked for years, but after installing and uninstalling bunch of apps over the course of the last few days, I have to say that I really like the drag and drop idea. It is just so… Intuitive. It actually feels more natural than the Debiuan/Ubuntu way – even though it shouldn’t. I mean, you can’t really make anything easier than picking stuff from a list, but since Apple hides the processing from you it’s way feels more direct and straightforward.

In case you have never installed anything on a Mac, this is how it looks: you download yourself an .app file, and then you drop it in the Applications folder which is prominently displayed in your file browser’s side panel. That’s it – no progress bars, no check boxes, no scrolling text. Just drag and drop, and it works.

Btw, one of the first applications I downloaded was MacVim.

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14 Responses to So I inherited a Mac

  1. Cool find! You can have a lot of fun with that one.

    I recommend staying at 10.4 if you keep OSX on it. 10.5 was the last release to support PowerPC architecture but gets buggy if you don’t have a lot of RAM.

    I used to be big on Yellow Dog Linux on PPCs. Let me know if you need anything for it. I probably still have the original eMac recovery disk somewhere along with a bunch of Mac software.

    Since you know a little about Sun hardware, hold down during power-up and you will get a surprise.

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  2. Garrick UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I picked up an old “Luxo” G4 iMac last year that is running close to the same specs as your eMac. Tiger runs very well on it, but Craig is right when he says 10.5 will get buggy w/out enough RAM.
    I also run the latest PowerPC builds of Ubuntu on it which seem to run quite quick, although they are not as stable as the Intel build.
    I was thinking about doing a minimal Ubuntu/Debian install on mine running fluxbox/blackbox for simple browsing and terminal work, but am to lazy to set it up right now.

    Have fun

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  3. MrJones2015 Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Problem with the .app files is you dont have the option of installing the google toolbar, the yahoo toolbar, the ask toolbar, the tray icon or the 17 free mp3s.
    That advantage is reserved to microsoft windows only.

    /end troll

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Craig A. Betts:

    Oh hey, that recovery CD would be nice. I basically got just the unit without anything extra. No CD’s, no keyboard, no mouse, no nothing. :)

    Also, now I’m intrigued to see what happens when I hold down. I’m doing that when I get home today. :P

    @ Garrick:

    Yeah, Tiger just flies on that thing. I can’t actually ever remember getting this kind of performance from an XP machine with the same specs. Especially factoring in the fact someone less than clue full was using this machine for like 4-5 years now. If this was a Windows box it would be full of spyware and/or bogged down by the usual windows crufting process.

    @ MrJones2015:

    Yeah, that’s why some software makers insist on making installers for their Mac software – just so that they can make the user click through couple of dialog screens and offer them deals and toolbars.

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  5. MrJones2015 Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    What makes commenting on this blog fun is that you actually answer to every single comment :D

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  6. 10.5 was the first version of OSX that I used, so I can’t comment on 10.4. I remember the first time I installed something on there. It essentially had a window with an icon representing the app and an icon representing the applications folder. The background had an arrow that made it obvious that you drag the app into the folder to install it (also worth noting: the .app file is actually a folder containing the binary, config files, etc.). I thought that was pretty neat, but the lack of organization in the applications folder itself is painful. Fortunately I was introduced to Quicksilver very early on.

    Being built on Unix/*BSD, you’ll find a lot of the commands work as expected. But, if you’re like me, you’ll be thrown off just a little now and then when you have to remember to use curl instead of wget or Users/name instead of home/name. Some of the packages seem to be pretty out of date too. I believe the shortcut keys are specifically designed to not make sense (like taking a screenshot), and it’s not easy to get shortcut keys set up for some really common tasks (locking the screen or opening a new terminal, for instance).

    It’s kind of funny to look at the specs of that machine and realize how quickly technology has changed. My year-old Nexus One has a 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM, so not too far off, haha. The Motorola Atrix as CES has a dual core 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM! My brain is still recovering from learning about that phone, haha.

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  7. Elysa Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    *cough* usually a lurker, not a commenter *cough*

    As one of those rare early adopters of the Mac, I can tell you that given the specs of your machine, there probably would not be any visible performance improvements in upgrading to 10.5. In my experience, 10.4 (Tiger) was very solid. The main differences between 10.4 and 10.5 (besides the transition from PowerPC to Intel, which removed support for many OS 9 “classic” programs) is native support for 64-bit applications–from a developer’s standpoint, at least. Changes in end-user features are significant, but may or may not be important to you. (I still don’t know what you’re going to use it for…) My favorite are improvements to Spotlight (Boolean operators, booya!), Finder, Quick Look, and Spaces (virtual desktops).

    I think that whether you decide to upgrade or not depends on how often you’re going to use this machine and what you’re going to use it for. Whereas I am happy to pronounce Panther (10.3) obsolete, I think Tiger is still functionally relevant.

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  8. Ubuntu has a really great PowerPC version. On my old PowerBook I only had a CD drive which meant that I could only go up to 10.2 (I believe), and even that ran VERY SLOWLY. So I upgraded it to Ubuntu (Intrepid I believe was the distro-of-the-day), and it became one of my favourite computers.

    Also the F12 key is not a button that you use because you are using a non-apple keyboard. F12 is also what you press on an apple keyboard. But I don’t know how your “options” and “command” buttons work. there is a layout of an apple keyboard. They probably correlate accordingly.

    Great find btw, I almost bought an eMac at the time, it was really cheap and really nice for the time. Then again the iMac flatscreen with the small little base looked nicer. Do they still do the iMac? that was sexy.

    So here is my suggestion: Put a light weight linux distro on it (maybe Ubuntu with a different windows manager — gnome will work, but will probably be clunky) THEN put a mac theme on it. :)

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  9. Sapientidiot UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    I love my 1Ghz iBook G4. I run ArchLinuxPPC on it, and its suprisingly fast (especially in comparison to OSX). It did take some serious work to install (well really just to boot), but the few folks who do use still work on it are very helpful.

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ MrJones2015:

    Yes, though sometimes it takes me a while. Like today. :)

    @ Ian G. Clifton:

    Yes, that’s exactly how it works. Most apps ship as .dmg packages which are basically disk images. From what I read, they are similar to iso images. Most developers like to have a little window pop up when the thing mounts with the .app, the application folder shortcut and a little arrow between them.

    Not everyone does that though. Vim for example shipped as .tgz file containing just the .app file. I have also seen a few aps that user traditional installer type thing.

    @ Rob:

    Is it bad that I knew exactly what this was from without even clicking that link. My other favorites include:

    * I’m going to create a visual basic GUI to track their IP address
    * Don’t worry, I speak leet

    Groans-worthy! :P

    @ Elysa:

    Yeah, the only thing that I really want from 10.5 is spaces, but I can live without them I guess. Oh, that and Google Chrome – no Tiger version for some strange reason. I can’t believe Google did the Tiger users dirty like that.

    @ Travis McCrea:

    The command and options buttons are pretty much just Windows Key and left Alt so that works fine. The Print Screen, Scroll Lock and Pause Break buttons seem to act as the “extra” function keys.

    Oh, and a generic two button Microsoft mouse works just as you would expect it to – the RMB is basically bound to Command-Click out of the box. :)

    @ Sapientidiot:

    Oh, I didn’t know Arch had a PPC version. I know that I was unable to get it to work on any of the Presario machines I owned due to an unsupported CPU type. :P

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  11. Dave Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Is it just me or did you say Actually just waaay too much? lol. Cool site dude, love it.

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  12. JuEeHa FINLAND Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    I don’t know about the eMac but my iBook g4/1.2GHz with 768MB of RAM running OS X 10.4 is still very usable and it is actually my main machine, and it feels quite a bit faster than my old AMD Duron/1.3GHz tower with 768MB of RAM running my own linux distro, which I suspect is due to PowerPC processors generally being faster on same MHz as Intel and AMD processors of the time. I’d recommend using TenFourFox (currently based on Firefox 10 ESR) as your main browser because it is the only current graphical browser you don’t have to fight to get to work. Also don’t install adoble flash and remove it (and maybe java) if it is installed. You can use MacTubes or YouView to view youtube videos.

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  13. Ethan UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    The unix “eject” command doesn’t work on a mac (as far as I know), but there is a command that you can use to eject a disk from the command line. Type “diskutil list”, and find what you want to eject (in the format /dev/diskX), and type “diskutil ejectDisk /dev/deskX” to eject it.
    (Everything without quotes.)

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