viva PowerPC

Operating on Power: Mac OS X

It of course makes a little sense to review Mac OS X, because on most of modern PowerPC-based computers (PPC G3 and newer) this was the default OS they came with and I presume that almost everyone reading this blog knows it. But it's therefore ideal to introduce the format, that all following posts in the series will try to keep.


Mac OS X is unix-like (sadly never certified as Unix on PowerPC) operating system, that emerged around the start of current milleniuom from OpenStep and NeXTSTEP - systems created by NeXT Inc., the company Steve Jobs had, while he wasn't in Apple from mid 80's to mid 90's. It's based on XNU kernel, which itself is based on Mach microkernel and 4.3BSD components. On top of the kernel there are several layers, culminating in the famous proprietary Aqua graphic user interface.

Mac Mini G4 desktop with OS X 10.4, June 2019

The basic system is released as open-source under the name Darwin, Apple even did release it as already built, installable ISO image, however that is not true for some time now.

What are the options?

To run Mac OS X, you need a Mac (surprise, surprise). That being said, you can also run Mac OS X in emulation or virtualization, but it won't be exactly legal - the license agreement requires you have "a Apple branded harware" - but I don't think anyone will sue you, if you try systems from around year 2007 on something else. It won't be super comfortable or fast (with exception from the fresh POWER9 hardware, which is fast enough), so you probably won't have such an emulated/virtualized PowerMac as a primary machine.

There are basically two versions of Mac OS X, you may want to run on PowerPC hardware still fast enough to be of any practical day-to-day use in 2019: Tiger (10.4.11) and Leopard (10.5.8).

Tiger can officially run on anything that has PowerPC G3 CPU and a FireWire port, with help of XPostFacto utility and at least some G3 upgrade card, you can try it on much older hardware. Leopard on the other hand, requires at 867 MHz PowerPC G4 CPU, again this limit can be broken if you are patient enough.

On some hardware meeting requirements for the newer it still may make sense to run the older. From my experience, I can't recommend trying to run Leopard, if you:

  • don't have a graphics that fully supports CoreImage or have nVidia FX5200
  • have 1 GB of RAM or less
  • need to run old Mac OS 9 software

All of this seems to be obvious after all the long years, but still I see people torturing 12" PowerBook G4, Mac Mini G4 or eMac with Leopard. It's not worth it, I know, because I have purposedly installed Leopard on my Mini, which has both just 1 GB of memory and graphics without CoreImage support. The CPU is still under load and memory system on the edge of swapping to the slow internal 2.5" IDE drive. Nasty.

Software availability

Both Leopard and Tiger are more than decade old operating systems, so you probably want to run them just to run old software. Good news is, that there is plenty of all sorts of it - office suites, development tools, audio/video/graphics editors and players, games - you name it.

As for the new software, this is much worse. PowerPC version of Mac OS X was abandoned by Apple long ago and as the herd of sheep the average user followed soon, the support vanished quickly. There's still a current, updated, state-of-the art web browser called TenFourFox, but that pretty much sums up the current development for Mac OS X on PowerPC.

Most of apps you see on the screenshot above has versions for both Tiger and Leopard, so you really won't miss much if you stay on Tiger, especially if you are an average home user without special requirements, because your particular favourite app probably won't be much better in Leopard version. And you get possibility to run about a ton of Mac OS 9, 8, 7 (...) software, which can be interesting.


Both of mentioned PowerPC versions of Mac OS X are pretty old. That doesn't mean they aren't still pretty capable - if you have specific tasks, you know will be better done in Leopard or Tiger, or if you don't need cutting-edge versions of software for your daily computing, you can stick with them for as long as your good old PowerMac still can spin its fans and drives. But as I will show in following posts with the topic "Operating on Power" there are some other options, most of them more up-to-date.

Your comments: 1

[1] ClassicHasClass (June 27, 2019 at 4:45 AM CEST)
I'll give Tobias a shoutout here: there's still Leopard WebKit. It's not updated on a regular cadence and it runs on Leopard only, but it's another option.

Leave a comment

Please enclose every link in your comment in a pair of square brackets, ie. []. Thank you.

Your comment
Type in digits from the string on the right *7*3*4*3*9*