Learning things the hard way

Sometimes, we G5 owners have to learn things the hard way.

In the midst of holiday sales, I ended up with a $10 off coupon to Best Buy in my inbox. I also noted that a decent PNY Optima SSD, 240Gb in size, was on sale. With an extra $10 off, this was a solid deal to upgrade my G5. I ordered online and picked it up from the local Best Buy. So excited to get this thing going, I almost ended up being late to an event I had that evening.

Here’s the bad news – it didn’t work. In my haste to grab this solid deal, I neglected my own research on SATA III devices and Power Mac G5s. While I assume there might be 1 or 2 out there that work, SATA III drives often cause funny, bizarre symptoms on our older Macs. Yes, the drives might say they are compatible with older SATA I or II standards, but that doesn’t always mean what it’s supposed to mean. (I even note this on my Hardware page about how some SSD drives have jumpers to make them run in a safer compatibility mode.) This PNY Optima did not have any jumpers, but I had hoped I would be lucky. I figured it would magically work for me.

What were some of the symptoms? It acted like it was having motherboard issues, power management issues, or even a dead PRAM battery. I was certain it was these problems, so I tried everything in the book. I reseated the RAM. I pressed the CUDA switch on the motherboard. I reset the PRAM. The Mac would not boot from anything, including the Leopard install DVD on an external Firewire drive. At worst, it froze. At best, it flashed the dreaded System Folder question mark.

Some have found that SSDs work better in a different bay on your G5, so I even tried that. No luck.

But when I took out that new SSD and plopped in the old Corsair F60, the G5 booted up just like normal. No motherboard issues. All that work for naught. I ended up returning the SSD and decided to wait for another decent deal on a more compatible SSD down the road.

Is there a lesson to be learned? One: G5 owners are slowly (and sometimes rapidly) getting left behind. Two: always do some googling, read some reviews, and rely on some of the experience of the PPC community. Three: SSDs are awesome and finicky creatures.

In other news, you can grab an updated build of TenFourFoxG5 that promises to work a little bit better on dual core machines. I know they’d love your feedback over there. Also, a security hole in the NTPD server/process, although you may not be technically affected.

— Nathan


Dan at PPC Luddite is a good dude.

He posted a great resource which links to all of the latest security fixes revealed in recent weeks. It’s handy to go through and make sure your Mac is secure. Find it here.

Here’s a few thoughts from me –

I no longer do any online banking or shopping in Leopard. I have other more updated computers, including my iPhone 6 Plus that work better at that anyway. Granted, I am pretty trusting of TenFourFox, but still, it’s good to be cautious.

If your G5 isn’t on the internet, then you don’t have to be too worried. Hackers can’t get to your Mac if it isn’t plugged in (shocker, I know). At the end of the day though, the simplest security breaches happen when someone has physical access to a computer. You can be locked down behind the world’s greatest firewall, but if the thief can get to your machine by hand, you’re in trouble.

When you do get on the net, be careful and thoughtful. Most routers have a decent set of default security features that prevent an outside source from accessing your machine remotely. If you do open up your firewall for remote access to your G5, make regular password changes to be on the safe side. Consider limiting access to only a certain ip range. Turn off any extra file sharing services that you do not use regularly. Consider using one of the AppleScripts linked to in the article mentioned above to lock your Mac down even further.

A slim positive for us PPC users these days is a sense of obscurity. Hackers are not going to spend a ton of time targeting what few machines of ours exist out there. They are going for the big fish, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t get in trouble via a universal type app built in Java or a good old fashioned fishing website. Leopard’s BSD underpinnings also means there might be openings in common programs like bash, apache, etc. to be aware of. Stay connected to your broader PPC community to see what has been discovered and what workarounds exist, if any.

Be thankful you have a Mac. Everybody has upped their game in recent years, making even recent versions of Windows far less of a target. Macs still have a stellar security record. I’ve only had a single experience in over 20+ years of using Macs (starting with a Mac Classic) of dealing with a virus, and it was a Microsoft Word macro bug that got cross-pollinated to my lab machines from some Windows computers. I know others have had worse experiences – others have had even better. Your mileage may vary, but be glad you still use a damn good computer with a damn good OS.

— Happy holidays ya’all, Nathan

Markdown: Case Closed (For Now)

Hey, I promise I will stop posting about MarkDown.

In final news, the most obvious of solution presented itself – online MarkDown editors.

You will need a Power Mac G5 (or other PowerPC machine) with enough oomph to run TenFourFox. Once you have that though, you are good to go.

The first site I recommend is Dillinger.io. It is sleek, elegant, and quick. I have no problem writing in TenFourFox, and the web app lets you export to html, pdf, or even native markdown format. In the column on the left, you write our your code, story, or journal, and the left showcases your work with the appropriate formatting. I like it a lot. The PDF export looks particularly good. You can even integrate it with DropBox and other online repositories. I’m also curious about how you might save sessions across computers.

Another option is Markable, which is also pretty slick and fast. It might even be faster than Dillinger, but there is one downside – no PDF export. You can however export to html. It has a login system, so you can presumably setup a static sort of work environment across different computers.

StackEdit is another nice option that produces really pretty looking documents. On TenFourFox, it is a bit more sluggish though. It seems to have some nice options to create a persistent writing environment, but PDF export is a paid feature ($5/year).

One more – MarkDown Editor is the fastest in browser one I have found so far. It runs very smooth in TenFourFox and would probably run just as smooth on older G4s as well. It’s pretty simple too. There is only a single option to export to HTML, the look of the app is nowhere near as slick, but the thing flies.

There are appear to be others, so if you come across one that works great on your Mac, post it here in the comments so we can share the wealth.

For now, the case is closed. PowerPC machines do have options for MarkDown, offline or online. Now get to writing that great novel and/or code.

— Nathan

Another MarkDown option

My MarkDown search has led to one more possibility, until I can port or develop a more full-featured “Byword” type editor. It’s called TextMate, and it’s pretty decent.

If you need a good free text editor for coding projects, you can’t go wrong with TextWrangler as I suggest on this site. But TextMate is another great option, except that it is shareware. You can still purchase a license for it, maybe even get one free if you work in the academic field. I ended up with a license from an old MacHeist contest sometime ago, so I was excited to be able to give it another go.

The good news is that when you download version 1.5.10 for Tiger or Leopard, it comes with a MarkDown bundle pre-installed. As you write your MarkDown, you can pull up a nifty preview window with a few different styling options to see how your writing looks. You can then export it to html or possibly use other TextMate features to send it to a blogging engine of choice.

Text Mate Screenshot

There appears to be a newer version of the MarkDown bundle, but I am guessing it is only compatible for the newer beta version of TextMate, which is intel only. However, we at least have two legitimate options for writing using MarkDown for the time being. That’s better than nothing.

My mythical search is really for something more like Byword, less a text editor and more of a distraction free writing tool. Stay tuned.

— Nathan

A Fresh Look at LibreOffice Alpha for PPC

I have always had a love/hate relationship with OpenOffice/LibreOffice.

First, a note about the terminology – LibreOffice used to be OpenOffice. A few years ago though, OpenOffice had a change in leadership, and many coders and community developers didn’t like the result and struck out with a new fork. Both software suites are still around, but LibreOffice is the only suite that still offers a build for PPC, even if it is alpha and via a community member.

Back to the love/hate: OpenOffice has existed in several flavors for the Mac, including the somewhat decent NeoOffice (which is no longer available for PowerPC either). I’ve tried to use it, since I generally support the philosophy of open source software and dig free stuff. I did write a big paper in OpenOffice once for grad school and managed through some problems. It wasn’t perfect, but I survived (and graduated). The best thing about open source software is that it keeps alive possibilities for those of us who use these older machines – TenFourFox is the clearest example.

But there is a downside – sometimes, you get what you pay for.

I have always found OpenOffice/LibreOffice to be one of the least visually appealing software suites around, littered with overly complex sets of options, burdened with a less than pleasant (albeit functional) user interface, and offering little that Microsoft Office and Pages ’09 can’t do better in a shorter amount of time. Still, if you needed something free and with a mature feature set, it is definitely worth a shot.

I’ve linked to a set of Alpha builds that I discovered a while back. The most recent is an alpha version of 4.4.0 compiled on the 21st of August. Why not give it another shot?

The download weighs in as a 159 MB dmg file. The suite itself copies over at about half a gigabyte. Not fun, but it’s less than Microsoft Office I bet.

Here’s the start screen that greets you after a brief loading bar:

screenshot of Libre Office

Right off the bat, you can tell this is not the most Mac friendly interface. It is functional and self-explanatory. It picked up an older install of LibreOffice and a single file that I had worked earlier in the year. I’ll focus just on the word processor for now, as I don’t have much use for the other apps in the suite.

Opening up a new text document, we get a fairly familiar looking window:

A basic text document in LibreOffice

LibreOffice doesn’t get high marks for its originality, but again, it is functional. Anyone with any experience with another Office suite will typically understand what is going on here and be able to get to work. The icons and user interface don’t look particularly good on a Mac, but maybe looks aren’t everything. There is always one nagging issue that greets me on every version of LibreOffice, OpenOffice, and NeoOffice that I have used – typing your first word is also greeted with a few seconds of lag. It’s like the app is surprised that you are actually going to type, and it takes a few seconds to catch up and display the words. After that though, things get more responsive.

I hate to harp on a theme here, but the icons and overall look and feel of LibreOffice just don’t do it for me, especially compared to the elegance of Pages ’09 or Mellel. Microsoft Office even looks better than this. There used to be some options to change icons, but I can’t find them in the maze-like preferences pane.

Seriously, just look at this:

Preferences hell

This is why open source software can often be painful. There is just way too much here – way too many options, way too many fiddly things, repeated entries for the same preference sets, and so on. There are literally three “View” groupings under three different headings, which all seem to be the same thing. Clicking on the wrong one crashes the whole app too. Is this a bonus feature?

I am being sarcastic, but I think packages like this would be far more useful to seriously drill down to the few things it can do well and focus on those. NeoOffice made an attempt to produce a more Mac-like LibreOffice by dealing with some of these annoyances. I think the community developers should take some cues from them.

Is it usable on a PPC Mac? Sure, I guess. The thing did crash at least 3 times on me, but it is alpha software. Maybe if I didn’t fiddle with preferences, I could get by just writing what I needed. It’s an option, and it’s good that someone is trying to keep this viable for us few Power Mac users. In the end, though, I do think part of what makes the Mac unique is a sense of design and cohesion. Not that it has to be perfect, LibreOffice misses on that account.

— Nathan