PowerMac G4

I’m writing this on a PowerMac “Mirrored Drive Door” G4, running Classilla browser on MacOS 9.2.2.

It was built in or around 2002, and lived at a printing company until they closed at the end of last year.

I sought out a MDD G4 specifically, as it is the last G4 that can boot MacOS 9. From what I’ve read, Apple produced it, grudgingly, to appease designers and musicians who didn’t want to migrate thousands of dollars’ worth of software and hardware to OS X.

This thing really, really didn’t want to boot Classic.

For starters, it was running OS X 10.5 Leopard. Leopard appears to not be able to create volumes that MacOS 9 could use. For that, I’d need Tiger, which I didn’t have.

After some digging, I found a version of MacOS 9 that appears to have been modified in 2013 to better support the ‘unsupported’ G4s. (If you’re looking for it, click here ). I extracted the zip, then burned the .iso to a blank CD ROM.

Physical media. Like a cave man.

During the boot and reboot process, the MDD would get confused about its startup volume, so I’d have to manually tell it what to do. This involved holding the “option” key, from just after the boot chime until the startup volume selector screen appeared.

When the MDD was booted off the new CD, I used its included disk utilities to partition one of the internal drives to be less than 128GB — MacOS 9 can’t handle more than that. Following the included README doc, I ran the “Apple Software Restore”, which transferred a live MacOS 9 image to my new volume.

After a reboot, the MDD appeared to boot up ok, until it crashed at the desktop. I spent the next half hour tediously holding shift on boot to disable all extensions, disabling
individual extensions in the Extension Manager, and rebooting to test. Eventually I narrowed it down to buggy ATI display drivers.

For the uninitiated: MacOS 9 is really weird.

Some have said MacOS Classic is barely an operating system at all; instead being a file manager with some user-experience control panels glued on top. It definitely feels faster: app launches, file opens, window movements all appear to snap faster than on OS X (or Windows or Linux).

The way it handles multitasking is also radically different than modern OSes. Whatever app you’re using has the resources. The entire time I’ve been writing this post, nothing has dinged or honked or buzzed at me. The other apps are just hanging out, waiting for focus.

I had no issues getting the MDD onto my local intranet. It had a DHCP-provided IP address without any intervention on my part. I was easily able to see another G3 PowerMac’s shared files, and copy them over, although the G3 did crash while copying the “large” 3GB worth of files.

Internet browsing on MacOS 9 is painful at best. The current best browser, Classilla, has SSL cert issues with most sites. Facebook works, because Classilla pretends to be a ‘mobile browser’. Some sites won’t load at all.

After all this, no regrets. I can play SimCity 2000 natively.

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