Under my desk is a PowerMac G4, sporting dual 1.42 PowerPC processors and a whopping 512MB of RAM. When I acquired the old boy, it was running Tiger and had files scattered all over its hard drive. It had been used and abused, and desktop support had put it out to pasture. I saw it huddled forlornly in the corner of a co-workers cube, and knew I could put it back to work. All it needed was a little TLC.
Operating System Upgrade
The first thing I did was upgrade the operating system to Leopard. It’s too bad Apple (s aapl) decided to drop PowerPC support with Snow Leopard, but I can understand why it did. The move to Intel (s intc) chips has been a phenomenal success for Apple, and I don’t think anyone can argue that it was the wrong thing to do. Thankfully, Leopard is pretty close to Snow Leopard. It’s close enough that I’m only missing a couple of features, and it has the same look and feel as a modern Mac. A lot of my favorite apps have dropped support for Tiger, but not too many have dropped support for 10.5 just yet.
Cleaning HouseNetscape Navigator
With the filesystem cleaned up and the operating system upgraded, I set about finding my “must have” apps. I created an “Applications” folder in my home folder, and downloaded TextMate, Twitteriffic, OmniGraffle, CyberDuck, Yojimbo, CoRD, and NetNewsWire. I don’t run apps like Yojimbo or Twitteriffic in the same fashion on the G4 as I would on a MacBook. In the interest of saving RAM, I’ve found it best to close any background apps. When I need them, I launch the app, then quit it again when I’m done. The same goes for Mail and Safari, apps I’d normally leave running constantly on a newer machine.
Slow, Middle-Aged Champ
The PowerMac still runs like a champ, but a slower, more middle-aged champ. He’s not the thoroughbred he used to be; it takes a bit longer for some apps to start, and from time to time the dreaded pinwheel pops up for a few seconds, but nothing earth shattering. Unfortunately, there’s still a couple of Windows (s msft) apps that I need to run, so I keep my Dell (s dell) laptop on the side to run the latest version of Lotus Notes (s IBM) and VMware VSphere Client (s VMW). It’s not the perfect setup, and I’ll be upgrading to a MacBook Pro to replace both of them soon, but it’s been fun finding out just how useful the older G4 can be. There’s very little I’m unable to do with it, and I think if I had more RAM, the system would be much, much faster.
The same setup I’ve got now can be had on eBay for less than $200, maybe even with a monitor to go with it. With a good Time Machine backup for peace of mind, and a little patience, a PowerMac G4 can still be a great day-to-day computer.