Thursday, October 16, 2014

A New Notebook for PowerPC?

Roberto Innocenti emails me that he's started a project to deliver a new PowerPC notebook in the DIY tradition of the Novena Project and the pi-top, only significantly more powerful. Apparently he intends to team up with an Italian motherboard producer and will present his project plans at Linux Day 2014 in Milan. According to Mobile Linux News, the laptop will feature upgradeable components such as the video card, RAM, and SDD/HDD. It will also be 64-bit with altivec and multi-threaded capabilities, and will fully support gnu/linux as well as OS X virtualization.

You can follow along with the project's news at Needless to say, if this became a reality you could knock me over with a feather, but stranger things have happened. Like Apple switching to Intel. ;)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mac OS 9 is a Lightning Rod

Apparently debating the merits of Mac OS 9 is very 2014. Via TenFourFox Development, all the hubbub was kicked off by an Ars Technica article* about living with OS 9.2.2 for a few days, which was followed with a rebuttal from Riccardo Mori at his blog. Some previous points of view on the subject are from The Vintage Mac Museum and LowEndMac, but I wanted to use this as an excuse to point to a Mac OS 9 Lives Forum thread which reveals how to boot OS 9 on MDD FW800 Power Macs.

First sold in 2003, the FW800 models were the first Power Macs, and only G4 Power Macs, to not boot OS 9. This remained the case till over a decade later when this Mac OS 9 Lives thread, "Downgrade firmware of FW800 for OS9 comp", appeared. The whole thread is incredibly long (these were a dedicated, persistent bunch), but I'll just point to this post which has the actual solution. Basically it involves flashing the firmware with an older version that supports booting into OS 9. This works for the FW800s because the earlier firmware is for a very similar MDD model.

Efforts are also underway to duplicate this approach with other Macs, and the thread, "Mac Os 9 boot on unsupported iMac G4", reports limited success. Perhaps this won't work so well on other models because the only available firmware downgrades are too old and for too dissimilar hardware. It sure would be nice seeing an aluminum PowerBook booting OS 9, though.

As far as I read, the only limitations on the MDD are the disabling of the Firewire 400 ports in OS 9 and the Firewire 800 port running only at 400 speed, also only in OS 9. In OS X everything works fine. But for that, you get an OS 9 booting machine for your FW800, and now you too can join the online Mac OS 9 wars! Small price to pay for having access to all that great audio, productivity, and gaming software from the '90s-'00s.

*WARNING: That Ars Technica article is like weaponized banality.

Monday, September 29, 2014

8.6 Software Install Disc for Sawtooth AGP?

(UPDATE: Disc image found!)

Chris Nova from Mac OS 9 Lives has put out a call for a certain Software Install & Restore disc. This one's very rare, an 8.6 one specific to the Sawtooth AGP (not Yikes). Apparently they were bundled with Sawtooths only for a couple of months back in 1999, and not one has made its way onto Macintosh Garden or any other Mac archive site.

Here's a Mac OS 9 Lives forum link to the thread where Chris lays out the full details. If you can report a sighting of one of these rare birds, click on over and drop Chris a line. :)

Monday, September 22, 2014

FreeCol For PowerPC Macs

If any of you were downcast that the strategy game FreeCol required Java 1.6 and wouldn't run on PowerPC Macs, today's your lucky day. Thanks to the compiling talents of reader Javier A., we now have a new version of FreeCol that runs on Java 1.5. He uploaded it to his Dropbox folder (direct link), and it's only a 30 MB download.

Here's a blurb from the FreeCol website:
FreeCol is a turn-based strategy game based on the old game Colonization, and similar to Civilization. The objective of the game is to create an independent nation.

You start with only a few colonists defying the stormy seas in their search for new land. Will you guide them on the Colonization of a New World?
So it's a little like FreeCiv. FreeCol somehow escaped my attention, but I tried it out a little bit and it looks great. In addition to single player, you can also join multiplayer games over the internet. I'm not sure about the security implications of that, since Java 1.5 is outdated. From what I understand, only the web browser plug-in was vulnerable, but maybe someone can weigh in with a comment. I only do single player, anyway. It's humiliating enough when the A.I. kicks my ass ;)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Gawker Writer Slave To Consumerism, Hates Self

One of Gawker's latest slew of nondescript hires, Leah Finnegan, wrote an odd polemic taking Chloe Sevigny to task for using a "15-year-old Macbook." Her point being, well, at the end of her word salad I'm not sure what her point is. Something about Chloe being pretentious for using a fashionably unfashionable fashion. As usual, what's left unsaid is more interesting, that Finnegan can't stand to see someone opt out of the upgrade merry-go-round and so that person must be attacked.

The worst part of it, though, was Finnegan quoting Gizmodo's Editor-in-Chief Brian Barrett on whether it was possible a human could have such an ancient machine in today's world. Now, Finnegan doesn't have to know anything. She writes for Gawker. But Barrett's supposed to be an expert. This is his area. So what does he say?
"Honestly that thing is several factors shittier than a shitty phone," he typed in a Slack message. "I would say if she does have a 14-year-old MacBook I hope she does not need to use it very often."

Barrett continued: "Assuming she has a 2000 PowerBook, she has half the disk space you'd need to run Chrome and probably half the RAM, but I don't think she even has the hardware you'd need. Basically Chrome alone would destroy her computer."
For the record, Chrome never existed on PowerPC. And for the record, a 2000 Powerbook can run TenFourFox 31 (equivalent of Firefox 31) and, if RAM is limited, have even better luck with Iceweasel and Linux. As to Barrett's point that the Powerbook is worse than a "shitty phone" by several factors, I don't see too many people using three-year-old phones much less 15-year-old phones like people still use their Pismos.

So go to Brian Barrett for all of Apple's latest press releases, but don't expect him to know what he's talking about.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Guest Post: The Truth About Benches

(Our friend Adam Albrec, creator of PPC Media Center, was nice enough to offer the following article to share with us. He has a lot of first hand experience to go with his points, so it's definitely worth the read.)

All this talk about "Benches" must mean outdoor-recreation is about to get more convenient or comfortable. Or could it be just another lame, and ultimately inaccurate measuring system (in this case for comparing digital willies)?

Like many users, I have upon occasion looked up the 'Geekbench' report for a system I have or to see relative power comparisons with other systems, and in all this time, I have learned one very simple truth: These numbers can be VERY misleading - especially when comparing one computer architecture to another.

My daily driver ( is a dual-processor G4 Desktop with twin 1.42 CPUs, and an Nvidia Geforce 4 Ti (128MB) graphics card. Geekbenches at about 1300 with my current configuration. This is well below most ARM based phones and certainly most Intel based Macs and PCs today. So why do I shut one of the CPUs off most of the time? Simple, because I don't need it all that often. Am running TenFouFox 31, TenFourBird, Webkit for PPC, Quicktime (to watch web videos with my PPC Media Center Applescript-App) and have iTunes in the background sniffing for my favorite podcasts. Does it run slow? nope.

I also have about 8 widgets going in Dashboard, Carbon Copy Cloner backing up everyday (which I honestly don't even notice happening) and the usage of my poultry 2GB of ram really never go above half most days.

To be fair, the system has a few things going for it that a G4 iMac wouldn't:

• 2 MB of cache per CPU,

• a 7200 RPM system drive and second 7200 RPM scratch/media drive that all my data is on (throughput is quite acceptable).

• IOGear universal WiFi N150 ethernet device replacing the old 'b/g' Airport cards.

Also have stayed on OSX 10.4, to avoid the lag of modern interface candy 'the Leopards' have forced on us.

What am I missing? Well x86 compatibility - but there is actually surprisingly little software (most all of which relates to gaming or the internet) that doesn't have a decent PPC version. Apps like Final Cut, Photoshop and certainly the awesome NeoOffice really do hold up well even today, and many of the internet apps and games that still do run on it are just fine.

The only time I even need the other CPU is when trans-coding video, watching HD videos in VLC or Quicktime or 20+ Photoshop action sets and then it is there when needed.

What most users don't realize is that you really mostly notice power, when there isn't enough of it. An app designed to run in OS9 on a G3, won't be much faster running on a G5 in classic if at all. Likewise, one's iTunes is only inadequate when running on hardware too old for it. A case and point would be the popular open-source shooter Open Arena.

I have it on the aforementioned G4 desktop, and the much newer Ouya android console (Geekbenches at around 1800). My G4 SPANKS the Ouya and its triple-core 1.7GHz CPU and 12-graphic core system! The Ouya won't even allow a number of the features like 'Bloom' to be turned on, and even on its best settings hangs around 30fps. My desktop will in Single CPU mode, with full features match its fps AND in Dual CPU are around 50-60! The Geforce 4 Ti graphics card is around 11 years old! Now some would say that all of this is because the Ouya's ARM chips are designed for mobile use - which is true, but going by 'Bench numbers' should be at least 40% faster, NOT 40% slower - as is the case.

During the last decade, all this new machine power has mostly served only to eliminate the need for optimization and tight-coding (has all but eliminated the need for highly-efficient assembly coding). There is a reason when the current generation of video game consoles really only look a 'Little' better than the previous, there is really not proper implementation of all this new power.

So what does all of this mean to consumers/users? If it ain't broke don't replace it. Computing is more about user preference than empirical bench marks. PPC systems are often criticized for their lack of ability to throw everything at a task, and thereby appearing to be slower, but many models (especially the ones with generous processor cache) have a different kind of power that, for me GREATLY makes up for it - the ability to do a whole lot of things simultaneously. My Mom's Macbook Pro (17" Dual 2.66GHz running OX 10.6/XP) is faster at any one task, but sure as hell doesn't shift gears as fast - like try opening a new Finder window and notice that it takes a full second to populate all her icons!! Somehow, a Geekbench of 3100+ should seem a bit peppier than that. And with my G4 able to convert a full dvd to MP4 in about 30 minutes, am quite content with what I have.

The path of keeping old gear isn't for everyone, but for those who enjoy it, there are many resources available (now cheap or free) and a lot of satisfaction from making one's own Applescripts and such to handle problems, or hunting down that rare piece of software. With apps like Dropbox, Rapido-Start (much like Launchpad), Carbon Copy and others, there are very few modern system functions that cannot be had on older hardware. My new Ouya and new Nintendo 3DS XL both backup to the G4 through neat and tidy applescript apps that make disc-images of them in a single click. Are there more modern methods to accomplish this on more powerful hardware - yes, of course, but the question is why spend money and electricity that isn't necessary??? The average modern powerhouse desktop uses CRAZY amounts of electrical-power. That is money better spent in oh, so many ways.

So the moral of the story is: "Don't be a sucker for the numbers". They only tell part of the story.

- Adam Albrec
PPC/RISC Fan & App Dev.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Epic G5 Video

In case you were wondering whether or not to pick up a G5 Power Mac, here's a great video. Rick from DoogieLabs gives us a tour of the hardware and demos it running Debian/Linux Server along with some temperature and watt monitoring software. Cool stuff.

I'm starting to get tempted.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

One Last Reminder About Flash and Java

I'm late to the game, but via TenFourFox Development and reiterated at PowerPC Liberation, the danger from Flash and Java on OS X PowerPC is no longer hypothetical but real. We knew sometime back that the Flashback virus exploited holes in older versions of Java, and if anyone ever compiled its payload as a universal binary we'd be screwed, too. Now we have recent news that Flash has its own killer virus out in the wild called Rosetta Flash. It works in a similar fashion, using security holes to take over your machine, and PowerPC versions of Flash will not be updated to fix it. So like Cameron Kaiser says, it's time to definitely stop using it.

As fiftysixk suggests, though, saying goodbye to Flash can also be an opportunity. There are dozens of ways to bypass its plug-in and stream video through external players. There's PPC Media Center, MacTubes, YouView, TenFourFox's QTE plug-in, various Mplayer plus Youtube-dl hacks, to name a few. The Youtube-dl hacks can be interesting. Youtube-dl supports a ton of sites, not just Youtube, and is frequently updated. In fact, it's the backend for PowerPC Media Center. You can also use Youtube-dl with Mplayer, with a terminal command like this (UPDATE: it appears this no longer works as Youtube broke the "--prefer-insecure" option, natch):

mplayer -quiet -framedrop -cache 8192 -cache-min 10 -cookies -cookies-file ~/.cookie.txt $(youtube-dl -gf 18 --prefer-insecure --cookies ~/.cookie.txt $(pbpaste))

Unpacking it from the inside out, "pbpaste" pastes the copied video URL into the Youtube-dl command retrieving the direct video URL, which is then passed to Mplayer to play. The "--prefer-insecure" option is needed because Mplayer can't play HTTPS links. However, Linux users can use Mpv and drop that option since Mpv plays HTTPS links just fine. Also on Linux, you'd want to install the package xsel and replace "pbpaste" above with "xsel --clipboard". Then save it as a bash script and you're rockin'.

As for Java, a faustian informant tells me there's a Java 6 version available for OS X PowerPC, but I believe it's too old to have the security fixes for the Flashback virus. There's a thread at the Minecraft Forums talking about it, and people also talk about using it to play Runescape, but it's still a huge security hole. You don't want to do any gaming like that unless you can completely disconnect from your network.

Let's stay safe out there!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Mpv a Better Mplayer?

You may have seen references here and elsewhere to a new kid on the video-player block called Mpv. It's a fork of Mplayer2, which is a fork of Mplayer, which must be feeling so inadequate right now. So how does Mpv compare? It has a few new features but is generally the same as Mplayer, a shell-based video player with a thousand options under the hood. So I thought I'd do a little test comparison, running the same files through each player and see how they measure up in CPU usage. Just for kicks, I'll throw in VLC, too.

For my testing, I used a Powerbook with a 1.5 GHz G4 running Debian Wheezy. As Mpv is only available in the Jessie repository, getting it on Wheezy was a bit of a pain but possible. Also, I used three movie files to compare: a black and white 640 X 480 Xvid file, and two color 720p files, one an mp4 and the other an mkv. This testing isn't all that rigorous or in-depth, but I think it's useful as a general impression and might be an eye-opener. On to the numbers!

I'm too lazy for tables, so here are the CPU percentages for the standard def Xvid (rough average after a few minutes of playing):

Mplayer – 26%-28%
Mplayer2 – 30%
Mpv – 30%
VLC – 34%

And the 720p mp4:

Mplayer – 60%
Mplayer2 – 78%
Mpv – 65%
VLC – 76%

The 720p mkv maxed out the CPU with heavy frame skipping, so the following results are with the skiploopfilter=all option:

Mplayer – 100%, occasional frame skipping
Mplayer2 – 100%, constant frame skipping
Mpv – 100%, occasional frame skipping
VLC – 100%, constant frame skipping

So for CPU efficiency, Mplayer still comes out the best, but Mpv is a definite improvement over Mplayer2. As some additional information, I only used the drop late frames option on the first two files, passed as "-framedrop" in Mplayer & Mplayer2 and "-framedrop yes" in Mpv (VLC has a corresponding option in its preferences). I also set my file manager to launch these files with a double-click, so I didn't launch them from a terminal.

None of this means Mplayer is automatically a better choice than Mpv. Mpv has several new features, like an improved onscreen display and it can also stream HTTPS links which Mplayer can't. Lately Youtube's been throwing up HTTPS links for its videos, so Mpv is a necessity unless you use Youtube-dl and its --prefer-insecure hack (no longer working) [and for a debate on the etymological propriety of insecure vs. unsecure as can only be found on Github, look here!].

Also, Debian maintainers are having one of their periodic Olympus Mons-sized insanity episodes by eliminating Mplayer from Sid:

Yeah. That happened.

Sid and Jessie users can still get Mplayer from the repositories, but still, Mplayer not part of your distro? Whuh?

I think I mentioned in another post that Mpv worked on G3s out of the box, whereas Mplayer (and VLC) had to be compiled with the "--disable-altivec" configure option. I recently found that the Mplayer and VLC from worked perfectly fine on my G3 running Jessie. I don't know if this is true for Wheezy, but it might be worth a look.

And one last video note for OS X users, Adam A.'s Youtube-dl GUI, PPC Media Center, got a recent update with some Comedy Central fixes among other improvements, so download the latest from that linked post :)