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Mac OS 9 Refugee Manual, Part 1

Mac OS 9 Refugee Manual, Part 1

Earlier this month the report "A Switch campaign of a different kind: Why people are sticking with Mac OS 9, and what will make the Mac OS X shift happen" generated tremendous response. Our next installment is entitled the "Mac OS 9 Refugee Manual, Part 1," and covers the following topics:

  1. Why stick with Mac OS 9? Performance and future app development
  2. Living in a modern OS world: Booting Mac OS 9 on 2003 (Mac OS X only) Macs
  3. Troubleshooting Techniques Descriptions of, and workarounds for, the most common problems, and a list of penalties for sticking with an OS 9 booting Mac.



In the mid-1990's, the Mac community went through a technically significant but surprisingly fluid (thanks in large part to developer software product Metrowerks) transition. The PowerPC processor ? a RISC replacement for the aging but venerable 68K line ? opened new doors for performance while allowing virtually transparent compatibility with non-optimized applications, which at the time included the Mac OS.

In a perfect world, the transition to Mac OS X would be just as smooth, and compatibility with older products just as transparent. While Apple has done its best with the Classic environment, it can hardly be considered a transparent part of the interface, and is even further from being transparently compatible with older hardware and software offerings.

I. Why stick with Mac OS 9? Performance and future app development


Macs built after 2003 will only boot Mac OS X (including the PowerPC 970 Macs , which according to current test results generate a sizeable performance gap in relation to their predecessors), so your performance will generally be limited if you choose to stay in a Mac OS 9 environment.

While a number of hacks for booting Mac OS 9 on the latest hardware have emerged, none have proved reliable enough to deploy on a large-scale or mission critical basis.

That said, a Power Macintosh G4 with dual 1.25 Ghz PowerPC 7450 (G4) processors is no clunker. Under Mac OS 9, interface functions are lightning-quick, and AltiVec support in most media intensive OS 9 applications allows for speedy digital video and image manipulation.

As further verification of Mac OS 9 as well-performing platform, the Kodak Research Systems company says that its IDL 5.6 - software for data analysis, visualization, and cross-platform application development ? runs noticeably faster in Mac OS 9 for some users.

The Kodak subsidiary claims that the quality of the generated code probably accounts for a considerable portion of the decrease in performance when migrating to Mac OS X, since a different C compiler was used to build IDL 5.5 for native OS 9 than the one used to build IDL 5.6 for OS X.

They add "We expect that Apple will put resources into improving the gcc C compiler, as it will help the performance of the entire system." (A new version of gcc, version 3.3, was provided to developers at the 2003 WWDC conference and is purported to deliver enhanced performance).

One of the key differences that allows some applications to perform better in Mac OS 9 is that it is a cooperative multitasking operating system.

This means that a process has full control of the CPU and can use it until it makes a system call to give the CPU to another process if there is one waiting. In a preemptive multitasking operating system like OS X, the process is interrupted many times a second. Even if there are no other processes needing the CPU, there is still some overhead with the interruption itself.

Also, Mac OS 9 uses a completely different memory system when compared to Mac OS X. While Mac OS 9's "real" memory model ? opposed to Mac OS X's true virtual memory model ? is very fast, it also allows applications to write in each other's space manifesting conflicts and crashes. Hence the term "protected memory" in Mac OS X.

Worried about future app development?

While it is undeniable that many major developers ? including Microsoft, Quark, Adobe and others ? are entirely shifting future production of major applications to Mac OS X, a number of firms have also pledged to support Mac OS 9 in new releases of cornerstone programs. For instance, Intuit recently held a round of beta testing for its Quicken 2004 release [unreleased at the time of this writing] with a relatively strong emphasis on Mac OS 9 compatibility. Our friend Wil Shipley at the Omni Group had some interesting comments about new development at the WWDC held in June.

"I think it's notable that every Apple system app that ships with Jaguar is Cocoa based (except the Finder), whereas a huge number of the apps with 10.1 were Carbon. Pretty much every group inside Apple has now discovered the power of Cocoa (except, maybe, the sound guys, who still are writing Carbon-only APIs and Java code.).

"Now that Carbon and Cocoa can co-exist in the same app, and now that making apps backwards-compatible with OS 9 is pretty much moot, I think we're going to see a lot more of the ?big boys' doing experiments with partial Cocoa apps -- they've got huge codebases of Carbon, but there's no reason they can't do new parts of their apps in Cocoa, and save time, money, and effort."

"What I do expect to see a lot of at this show as opposed to previous shows is 'how do you take advantage of all the cool things Mac OS X has to offer' instead of 'how do you write for OS X and still manage to keep your apps limping along on OS 9?' As recently as last year we would see updates to, say, OpenGL on the Mac OS X side and then Apple would have to worry about trying to do the same kinds of cool things for OS 9. Nowadays it's, 'Look, Mac OS X is just going to be faster and better...'"

II. Living in a modern OS world: Booting Mac OS 9 on 2003 (Mac OS X only) Macs

There is a solution for booting Mac OS 9 on Macs released after January 1, 2003 - which are designated as exclusively capable of booting Mac OS X by Apple.

Apple recently posted a new file to its private Apple Service Provider web page (accessible only by account-holding Apple technicians and resellers) titled "MacTest Pro for Power Mac G4 (March 2003) Version 7.8.1 supports all iMac (Flat Panel) 15 inch systems only."

The file is a CD image which can be downloaded and to a disc, then used as a startup disk. Testing on a "Mac OS X-only" flat panel iMac system revealed that the image properly booted Mac OS 9.

Users can then copy a stripped-down Mac OS 9 system folder to their hard drive, and select it with the "Startup Disk" System Preferences pane, delivering a Mac OS 9 bootable internal disk.

It appears that a new MacOS ROM file (ver. 9.8.1) is what enables booting from the image.

Of course, this solution is only readily accessible by Mac service providers, but it shows that Mac OS 9 boots are not impossible on Apple's new machines. Also, please note that Mac OS 9 startup was not tested on any machines other than the 2003 flat-panel iMac. This method has been independently verified.

In order to first boot into 9, you must boot off a CD or some other partition. Then you can select the one on the HD using classic StartupDisk control panel. The Classic system folder won't show up in X's StartupDisk CP. I haven't tried to see if it will show up in the OpenFirmware bootpicker (maybe on another partion?) or if using the commandline "bless" under X will work.

It seems that the ROM file is the only special thing needed. On the CD there was also a blessed system file called "Custer" (as in Mac OS 9's last stand?) though it does not appear to be necessary.

So while you may not be able to ever use technologies like FireWire 800 (without proper drivers) under Mac OS 9, you will at least be able to take advantage of the increased performance offered by the 2003 and beyond, Mac OS X-only booting systems.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this hack will work for machines based on the IBM PowerPC 970 processor.

III. Troubleshooting Techniques Descriptions of, and workarounds for, the most common problems, and a list of penalties for sticking with an OS 9 booting Mac.

Make sure you are using the latest release

Several problems encountered with Mac OS 9 can be avoided simply by making sure you are using the latest release ? version 9.2.2.

A number of issues were resolved by Apple, particularly in the last two minor revisions, that were hampering third party applications. For instance, Final Cut Pro 3 requires Mac OS 9.2.2.

Apple notes that if you experience problems during installation, be sure to start from Mac OS 9.2.1 with extensions off and try again. Turn extensions off using the Extensions Manager or by holding down the Shift key as you restart the computer. Continue holding down the Shift key until you see the words "Extensions Off" on the 9.2 splash screen.

Mac OS 9.2.1 (code-named Limelight) contained no new features. It only offered bug-fixes and compatibility updates. It is a "slightly" newer version of the OS than the original Mac OS 9.2 (code-named Moonlight) that shipped with Power Mac G4s starting in July 2001.

Some 20.1" Cinema Displays resolutions not accessible under Mac OS 9

While the 20.1" Apple Cinema Display will function under a Mac OS 9 boot, the brightness control is not supported completely under anything but Mac OS X 10.2.x. In addition, some screen resolutions may also not be accessible under Mac OS 9, depending on the video card used.

Apple's Web site lists Mac OS X 10.2.x as a requirement for the display.

FireWire 800, AirPort Extreme and Mac OS 9 booting systems

Up until recently, if you decided to stick with a machine that is defined by Apple as able to boot Mac OS 9, you would have also been penalized by the lacof FireWire 800 in the last machines capable of booting Mac OS 9. Fortunately, a number of manufacturers including WiebeTech and others have now signed on to manufacture the faster cards.

Apple's Mac OS 9 Power Mac models -- running at a top speed of 1.25 GHz and carrying a $100 price premium over comparable Mac OS X-only booting models -- also lack native AirPort Extreme (802.11g) capabilities.

Noise problem with some Mac OS 9 booting systems, and solutions

The Mac OS 9-booting Power Mac G4s do not seem to include the new low-noise architecture of the newer (up to 1.42 Ghz) 2003 models, retaining the old, fairly loud system.

There is a hardware modification that dramatically reduces the temperature (and therefore loud fan operation) experienced when running Mac OS 9 on a Power Mac G4 Mirrored Drive Door system.

The hardware modification could void Apple's warranty, and should be applied with extreme caution, if at all:

"Make (or get someone to make) a connector adapter: fan socket to standard hard drive power connector. Connect the fan power lead to the 5V HD lead (not the 12 V) and bridge the free fan connector pins at the mother board with a 20 ohm 10 watt (18 watt in the picture) resistor. (From fan data: 12V 600 ma P= IV = 7.2W)) Plug the fan socket into the adapter and the HD socket into one of the available free hard drive connectors inside the Mac. The big fan will now run constantly but the 5V connection runs it at much reduced speed."

The resistor is necessary because the heat sensing circuit needs to see a load when it decides to supply power to the fan. If the load is not there the circuit unceremoniously shuts off the Mac, as a safety feature. This resistor is quite large and needs to be mounted to the metal side wall of the Mac.

One MacFixIt reader who used this solution wrote "This Mac running OS 9.2.2 has been exercised for some four days now working with Netscape, Canvas, Excel and GraphicConverter open and doing their thing: Surfing, manipulating photographs, doing statistics pretty much constantly. No temperature rise to note during these operations."

QuarkXpress 4 and ATI Radeon 7500 under Mac OS 9

Apple Knowledge Base article #107277 discusses a compatibility issue between QuarkXpress 4 and the ATI Radeon 7500 video card, where the system stops responding when a picture is dragged using the content tool. The problem only affects systems running Mac OS 9.2.2.

The sole solutions offered by Apple are to either upgrade to Mac OS X and use the Classic environment, or upgrade to QuarkXpress 5.

Using newer graphics card drivers under Mac OS 8.6-9

You can use the latest ATI Driver Update (October 2002), with Mac OS 8.6 through Mac OS 9.1, though these operating system's are not listed as being supported by the driver update:

The OpenGL 1.2.4 (or higher) extensions work fine under at least Mac OS 8.6 through Mac OS 9.1, as well as under Mac OS 9.2.x via extracting them with the shareware utility TomeViewer 1.3d3, as long as you also have the complete QuickDraw 3D extensions (which I believe the older OpenGL 1.2.1 installer also provides) installed, as OpenGL under Mac OS 8.1 though Mac OS 9.2.2 basically works in the same fashion (quite unlike the OpenGL in OS X, which is quite different from the word go as OS X doesn't use Mac OS extensions, apart from the "Classic" Emulation Environment).

After first adding the OpenGL 1.2.4 (or higher), QuickDraw 3D, just to be safe, backup anything/everything then of your current ATI, OpenGL and QuickDraw Extensions (and anything else you've added graphic Extension-wise), and Control Panel first, before you apply the update. You do get a warning message from the new ATI installer (this newer "October 2002 ATI Retail Update" replaces the bad one from a week before it) that you are not running OS 9.2.x or X, but also get a "continue" option button.

The October 2002 ATI Retail Update is working fine under Mac OS 8.6 through Mac OS 9.1 on my 7600/400 MHz Newer Technology G4 CPU upgrade/ATI Radeon Mac Edition PCI."

The ATI October 2002 Driver Update is a 10.2 MB download.

Getting USB modems to work in Mac OS 9.1/9.2

One MacFixIt reader could not get his Best Data USB modem to work in Mac OS 9.1. He found a site that offers "an upgrade chip for 56K USB modems that are using a Conexant NON-CDC type chipset. The upgrade will make the modem CDC compatible so that it will function with Mac OS 9.1 and Windows 2000 operating systems." This apparently will work to fix the problem with the Best Data modem.

Best Data Technical Support offered this additional background information:

"The solution to the problem is not writing a new driver. Apple changed the specs for USB modems in the operating system to only include support for CDC type USB modems to which our hardware does not comply. In order to make the modem function you would need to upgrade the eeprom chip on the modem to a newer CDC type format. We do not have this upgrade available and probably never will since the modem is now a discontinued product. We have recently been informed from a customer that there is a web page advertising a solution to the problem. It is a hardware upgrade for the modem consisting of a new chip that needs to be placed in the modem. We have not confirmed this yet or had the opportunity to test it, however after giving the link to several customers they have reported to us that it did indeed fix the problem. Best Data has discontinued the modem from the product line and does not intend on finding a solution to this problem.

The chipset upgrade should work fine since they are providing CDC type chips for the modem which is why it is not currently working due to the lack of such a chip. We have actually had 2 customers email us and let us know that the upgrade worked well for them."


  • "A Switch campaign of a different kind: Why people are sticking with Mac OS 9, and what will make the Mac OS X shift happen"
  • WiebeTech
  • ATI October 2002 Driver Up...
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