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.