Guess what? You can use iCloud Drive on a Power Mac G5

On the Office page here, I have a little section about iCloud compatibility, mentioning that basically Leopard and PowerPC Macs are left out in the cold.

But today, I realized that all is not lost.

First, I will update the iCloud information on the site just to make sure all the options are clear. You can use your iCloud email with Mail.app, since it works pretty typical of email. You can use the iCloud website to access lots of goodies – it works great in TenFourFox. There is probably some way to use your iCloud calendar if you use a Google Calendar as a go between.

But here is the simple way to begin to access iCloud Drive files on your G5.

You will want to use symlinks with Dropbox (or another file syncing cloud software of choice).

In truth, this is a pretty simple solution, and I was kind of disappointed that I did not think about it earlier. To back up, here’s the challenge. I’ve been writing a lot lately using MarkDown, as previous posts indicate. My preferred client on my Macbook Pro is Byword, which integrates really well with iCloud Drive and syncs with my iPhone and its Byword app. I can save files outside of that drive, and so one option was to simply use Dropbox for all of my file syncing and ignore iCloud Drive. But, it was kind of late to do that, as I was already using iCloud Drive quite extensively. This is not a problem on a Windows machine, by the way, as you can setup iCloud Drive on it.

So, what do you do on a Power Mac G5?

Here’s the thing, you need to start with your newer Mac. (I suppose there might be a way on your Windows machine, but I haven’t explored symlink capabilities on it.) You can use an app like MacDropAny if you get nervous about tinkering with the command line, but in truth, it’s super simple. The terminal line is:

ln -s /link/to/original/file/or/folder /link/to/destination/folder

This page has a great diagram to show how this works in Mac OS X, if you are a little more of a visual learner.

The key is that you fill in the location of your Byword folder (or any other folder of choice) in the first part of that command and then point the other end to a folder or location in your Dropbox folder. Suddenly, your Dropbox folder will begin to sync those iCloud files in its magical way. Suddenly, even on your ancient Power Mac G5, you can edit and access iCloud files for fun and profit.

This is a huge and quite simple thing for me, as I will be able to spend more time writing on my G5 and MBP and iOS device, sharing files between them all. Cool stuff. And best of all, there really shouldn’t be any downsides to this option unless I fill up Dropbox.

Theoretically, you could use Dropbox in this way to sync your entire iCloud Drive, making every file there completely accessible to an older Mac or another computer. Just keep in mind the built-in Dropbox limits if you try this. Plus, you will likely encounter incompatibilities between some types of files – say older versus newer versions of Pages. But, hey, it’s a possible solution which is great for us G5 users.

By the way, if you want to do more symlinking, grab the SymbolicLinker plugin to use on your PowerPC computer of choice. It creates a contextual menu option in the Finder, so you can go crazy with it.

— Nathan

Minecraft on a G5

I use my tattered old Dell to play an occasional game, including hosting a simple Minecraft server.

It’s a fun game, probably one of the better games made in quite some time because of its open-ended, creative mix of gameplay. I always tell skeptical adults that it’s like “legos for your computer”. My youngsters love to watch me play it, asking me to build or make things, explore caverns, or just try out stuff. Unlike some other games, it really opens imaginative possibilities that many other games and types of games fail to do.

Believe it or not, it is possible to play Minecraft on a G5. You must stick to Minecraft 1.5.1, a much older version than the current release (which is around 1.8.1, I think). Some good people over at the MacRumors forum have even setup a server just for these older G5 users. It looks sweet.

Check out this thread for discussion on the server and directions to finding the right client and launcher to run the thing.

I have not tried this yet, and it seems like it requires a special cracked version of Minecraft, which I certainly don’t have. (And is probably not legal?)

Check out some of the Youtube videos linked in that thread – cute stuff.

— Nathan

Happy New Year & Adblock

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’ve got some new mini-projects for my G5 on the horizon, including a shiny new SSD with a Sandforce controller that should work quite well compared to the PNY Optima (with a Silicon Motion controller).

But in the meanwhile, I posted some comments over at the TenFourFox blog to this effect – do Ad Block options really make a difference memory/speed wise for our G5s? Since some of us do not have quad core machines, we need to worry about squeezing every little bit of performance. While ad block extensions for Firefox sure remove a lot of annoyances that the web offers, do they also slow down our browsing?

I tried with an eyeball test this morning, nothing scientific. With Ad Block Edge, which I have preferred in the past, my RAM usage was around 355 MB on average. From what I have heard, Edge maintains lists of urls of known ad servers to block images/content from, but they do this after the page has already loaded, going through the urls one by one. There is some overhead to this process.

Another option mentioned to me was Bluhell Firewall which takes some of the overhead out of it. In their not very satisfying words, they explain that:

How this is achieved is thanks to just seven hard-coded blocking rules covering about 8400 .com and .net domains, these were auto-generated from Easylist. That means, every time a certain resource wants to be loaded we will have to iterate through a list of seven compiled patterns, rather than for each entry from a common Easylist which contains hundreds of different items to check.

An eyeball test suggests that the memory hovers now around 250 MB in regular usage. That is probably not significant for someone with 2 GB or more of RAM, but for a Mac Mini or some other machine limited in RAM, it could be a helpful avenue to explore.

I want to stress that this was just a quick test, and there are likely other factors that influence RAM usage and the overall feel of the browser. I am switching over to Bluhell on my G5 for the time being. I can always jump back to Ad Block Edge if I feel it isn’t doing an adequate job.

Enjoy your day and year!

— Nathan

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

Security

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