viva PowerPC

Operating on Power: Mac OS X - Appendix

There are two software projects, that make Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5 more usable even in 2019, that I forgot in the main post about the OS.

The first is Leopard-WebKit which brings newer browser engine to your good old Safari. The last official version of Safari for Leopard is from 2011, last version of Leopard-WebKit is from June 2018 and quite a lot happened in the world of WWW, HTTP and HTML in that time period. It makes Safari almost as usable as TenFourFox. I'm personally a Firefox/TenFourFox/Gecko user, so I didn't think of it, but Cameron pointed it out in comments and was right.

The second is Sevan Janiyan's pkgsrc collection for Tiger (and Leopard). These will enable you to install about a ton of prebuilt open-source software packages, like compilers, scripting languages, terminal utilities etc. in more current versions than the original included in either Mac OS X itself or XCode. For power user an absolute must, I couldn't use my PowerMac G5 until 2018 without them. I omitted them from the original post because the server was not working at the time. Now it's up and running for your good. (July 2, 2019)

CRUX PPC Linux mirror

This is just a quick notice: In the top menu you can find a new section called SOFTWARE with a mirror of now defunct CRUX PPC Linux distribution.

The last version is six years old, so there are more fresh options for most PowerPC users, but from my experience this was probably the only Linux distro ever working on IBM IntelliStation POWER 185, which is neither PowerMac-compatible nor equipped with POWER CPU. Absolute majority of Linux systems were targeted to these two platforms and almost all of them failed to boot on the one-eight-five. CRUX PPC did and there was even patch for the X11 to have colors right (without that blue and green were swapped on the default graphics).

There may be further additions to the SOFTWARE section, if I find any worth occupying my precious server storage. Also, if you prefer the good old Gopher protocol over HTTP/WWW, you can browse the CRUX PPC mirror this way. (June 27, 2019)

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. (June 25, 2019)

Thoughts and questions on Cameron's Blackbird semi-review

Just yesterday (at least from my timezone point of view) Cameron published A semi-review of the Raptor Blackbird: POWER9 on the cheap(er). Go and read it, before you continue reading my text. Go. Do it.

I read it twice and wasn't happy from what I found there. At first I wanted to write my response on PNUT, then I thought I'd send him an e-mail, but then I said: hey, there may be another people like me, so why not doing it in public? So...

I used PowerPC-based computers as my primary between 2004 and 2018. Couple of years before that I had a Mac on my desk as a secondary machine as I do now, in the last two years. I'm more Linux/Unix kind of guy than a Mac one, so even though I like Mac OS 9, it was much more convenient for me to use Linux on a generic PC box as a primary before Mac OS X matured enough to replace it for my daily usage. That happened somewhere between 10.3 and 10.4, then in 2005 i bought a new iBook G4, after that a second-hand PowerBook G4, PowerMac G4, PowerMac G5 and that's pretty much is where I left the platform in the beginning of 2018 as you can read in one of my earlier posts.

When I decided to retire my G5, there was no POWER/PowerPC based replacement available. Talos II was and still is out of question, I'm simply not in the position to buy a computer with the price tag of a cheap new car, no matter how open, fast or POWER is it and no matter how much I'd like to have it. But Blackbird is completely different kind of bird - the board, a quad-core POWER9 and a heatsink with oversea shipping and local taxes will be about $1850, which is still way above any mainstream computer with the same performance, but it's doable. There are several local shops with 16 GB DDR4 ECC Reg. modules around $140, I already have some SATA SSD and for sure will dig out an ATX case somewhere. It won't be exactly a nice, eye-catching computer, but it will be my own POWER9 machine and nothing else matters. I'm trying to get back in the good old PowerPC mood and it seems that I'm already on the right track, so the last thing I want to read about my possible (and probable) future computer is, that it's not even fit to boot the OS properly to working desktop and when it boots it's not exactly fast enough to do things I do on 5-year-old Core-i5 laptop or even a G4 Mac Mini.

So, Cameron, here are my questions, I don't think there is anyone more eligible to answer them:

  1. Is there any possibility that you are spoiled by the Talos? Would you think that quad-core Blackbird is not fast enough as a primary daily machine if you switched to it from your quad-core PowerMac, not Talos?
  2. How is Mac OS X virtualization performing? My G4 Mini has 812 points in Geekbench2, my PowerMac G5 had 1745 points in Geekbench2 and the absolutely fastest PowerPC machine I ever had - RackMac3,1 - was just above 2000 points. Every single POWER9 core should be faster than any of this.
  3. How does the machine perform with some light window manager? I use things like i3 even on Xeon-based workstations, because I don't think the looks of the desktop is worth any performance penalty, even if you have plenty of performance.
  4. How are supposedly 2D tasks like batch photo editing performing without dedicated GPU? These days there is GPU code everywhere, so what's the penalty here?

I think that at least some of this could be of interest for more people than just me - the group of PowerPC enthusiasts eager to replace their PowerMac with something newer, may be as large as people wanting POWER9 HTPC or a low-end POWER9 machine without any previous experience with the architecture. (June 9, 2019)

Still operating on Power

The Blackbird POWER9 board was finally released and even though I'm already saving my side money for the thing, right now I'm contemplating, if I really need it enough to spend the money. It is by all means not expensive - you won't build a x86 computer with server-grade CPU for the money, not with the ECC DDR4, not with the thread-per-core ratio, not with the nice µITX format. But still - I feel like I'm having too much of computing power already and I have no urge to acquire more.

If Blackbird existed in December 2017, when I decommissioned my G5, I'd buy it in the minute. But then I bought a cheap HP laptop with docking station and even that is more than enough for me. And the whole setup did cost about as much as I'd have to spend just on memory modules for BB.

But that's not the good old PowerPC spirit at all. There were times when I spent money on hardware I knew, I will probably never even power on. I just wanted to have it and to prevent someone from sending it to the waste.

But back then I had much more time for my private home computing. That significantly changed several years ago - family reasons. Our little boy (who is four and a half already) is an autie and although a very light one, it takes a lot of time. He doesn't like much when parents are not giving all their attention to him, i.e. we have to go to sleep with him every day, otherwise he just wouldn't go at all. I don't even remember when I spent a whole hour in my computer corner and spending the whole free day behind display as I did five-six years ago is a sci-fi story.

But still, I'd like to support Raptor CS and their effort, because I saw the proclaimed death of PowerPC several times and thanks to people like them it never happened. So I'm going to put myself back to the PowerPC mood. I'm going to test on my Mac Mini all available operating systems for the platform, compare them a bit and publish it here with let's say an OS every two weeks. If I'm not mistaken, nobody did this recently and info like that could be useful for someone. And it will enable me to spent more time on Power/PowerPC again. (June 5, 2019)

You can find all blog posts in archive.