PowerBook Titanium G4 867MHz in 2022

My PowerBook G4 has been in a box for a few years. Last posts on this blog about it are from 2015. It is a special computer to me and I started it up this summer 2022. It is configured as good as possible at 1024MB RAM, SuperDrive and 320GB HDD.

I stopped using my G4 actively in 2015 (kind of, I know I replaced it a few years earlier with a 2012 MacBook Pro, but I kept the G4 alive). There are still people on the internet using Apple PowerPC computer (search for PowerPC challenge on YouTube).

The fastest G4 computers were about 1600MHz, mine is just 867MHz. However my G4 can officially run the last MacOS X 10.5.8 that was ever released for PowerPC (not sure if G5 was somehow supported on 10.6). Released in 2002 and last Leopard release in 2009 it got 7 years of supported life. That is bad, but not horribly bad. Some later PowerPC Macs released in 2005 also turned unsupported in 2009 and that is criminally bad. (I currently write this on a MacBook Air 2014, Big Sur, it still receives updates but can not run latest macOS, so that is 8 years supported and counting).

JavaScript killed it!

Why is it not really useful today? Because internet – a web browser – does not work. The root of the problem is that Googles V8 was never ported to G4, and no modern (optimized) JavaScript engines were. As the internet was modernised with more and more JavaScript, G4 computers simply could not take part of it.

Today, starting up Safari of 10.5.8 is even worse. I can not even connect to my local broadband router. Two problems I think:

  • No support for modern SSL/TLS (old versions are rejected by server for security reasons)
  • No valid certificates

These problems could be worked around, but the JavaScript problem is harder.

TenForFox and InterWebPPC

Official Firefox and Safari are since long obsolete. However there has been a Firefox version: TenForFox (10.4 fireFOX), that was abandoned in 2021 but picked up again as InterWebPPC. That is probably the best browser you can on a G3/G4/G5 computer. It has surprisingly good JavaScript support when it comes to compability/features, but performance is not good on my 867MHz G4. That is, for no/low JS sites (like this blog) it works pretty good (for reading – editing this text was not possible at all with WP 6). For you general news site (like BBC, CNN) it is bad, and Youtube or Facebook are essentially useless.

General impression and useability

Web browing aside, I am quite impressed with both the machine and 10.5.8. To me it feels (kinf of) modern and fast, and there is not much I miss in MacOS X 10.5 itself. However I really have not really tried to download, install and use many standard programs from the time. When I start doing multiple things att the same time though, things get slow.

What I have done is to rip/backup DVDs I own. I have no other computer with a DVD-player. It seems MacOS X up to 10.5 had the best DVD-rip-program ever: MacTheRipper. It is super smooth. And when ripping is done (to a VIDEO_TS folder with MPEG2 data and all the DVD-menues in place) I can use standard unix command line tools to copy the files to my NAS over GBit ethernet. I have little to complain about at all.

Installing it

Just seeing the installation CDs/DVDs almost make me more nostalgic than the computer itself.

Top row is 10.0 (USD 129, essentially a public beta) and 10.1 (USD 19 upgrade), these were never used with this PowerBook. Next row is 10.3 (USD 199). Last row is 10.2 that came with the PowerBook and 10.5 (USD 19 upgrade). The missing disk is 10.4 (USD 199), that I bought together with a friend and he kept the original and I made a copy for myself.

When I took my PowerBook out of the box I found it with Debian. That was perhaps a smart choice in 2015 when Debian was supported and MacOS X was not. Now in 2022 they are equally unsupported and perhaps MacOS X makes more sense. Unfortunately the 10.5 DVD is upgrade-from-10.4-only, so I had to install 10.4 from my DVD-copy and the upgrade to 10.5. This (availability of old and new macOS version) is obviously something that has become much nicer with Apple and MacOS X since the PowerPC days.

Using it for programming

I like to program, and sometimes I find it useful to use an older or a different machine for unit testing and debugging. Occationally problems occur on a slower machine or on a different architecture. Unfortunately, most of my programming nowadays is JavaScript and Node.js, which can not run on the G4.

I downloaded and installed X-code, I suppose I got an old working GCC. The package manager of NetBSD is called pkgsrc and I it can be used on most systems, including MacOS X G4. However, people have given up building and distributing binaries so you either need to use binaries from inoffical archives from 2017, or build from source (which i not that fast on a 20 year old laptop – and perhaps that would eventually kill it). I gave pgksrc a try (to install xz and git, to start with). Those did not compile. pkgsrc does not come with its own compiler, so perhaps if I start downloading and building a more recent gcc, I can use that gcc for pkgsrc. However, the errors were related to structs in this version of darwin not containing expected fields. I guess Mac OS 10.5.8 comes with some version of some C standard library, and that is probably not so easy to get around.

Macintoshgarden

There is a site, Macintoshgarden.org, full of MacOS abandonware (for like 8.6 – 10.5, perhaps even older). Now I was never really an application-guy, but this is a treasure and a time capsule to computing 20 years ago. There are many games. The most sensible use for this Powerbook is probably to focus on enjoying native apps from the time it was current.

Other OS than Mac OS

There are some Linux distributions that can be used, and there are top-10-distro list for PowerPC linux found if you Google. Most are abandoned (like Debian and Ubuntu). There is something called Adelie Linux, which could be worth trying. Debian Sid seems to be “supported” (what that means). Also NetBSD is supported (but I would not expect too much laptop-features on NetBSD).

Finally MorphOS can run. That is an Amiga-like OS, that benefits from the fact that it is PowerPC.

Conclusion

This machine is now very old. The fact that I can use it for DVD-purposes, and that it actually is particularly suitable, is cool, and I will probably keep the machine for that purpose as long as it works.

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