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Ancient Pismo PowerBooks And OS X 10.4 Get Extended Lease On Life With TenFourFox – The ‘Book Mystique

For the past three years at least, I’ve been anticipating that the two old Pismo PowerBooks I still have in active service could become functionally obsolete at any time. Of course some would contend that they already are, and have been for years, but it depends greatly on context.

I wouldn’t be still using these two old machines — one is already in its 14th year of service and the other will be in October — if they weren’t doing a satisfactory job for me, but they are, and I find them a lot less compromised as a writing, and especially as an editing, platform than I do my iPad, at least in a technical/functional sense. Of course, being large and heavy by today’s laptop standards, they suffer greatly compared to the iPad in terms of comfort and versatility of use venue, but they still get 4-5 hours use daily.

My expectation all along has been that lack of up to date browser support and/or Internet practicality will eventually be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. For over a year, I’ve found that the latest version of Camino that supports OS. 10.4 Tiger has been the best performer all-round on the Pismos, but the Camino project at Mozilla.com has been terminated, so there will be no more updates, even for security issues. The Camino 2.1.2 version I’ve been using still works, but it seems to be working awfully hard these days, especially if the computer, which is maxed out at 1 GB of RAM, hasn’t been restarted recently.

Prior to adopting Camino as my primary Pismo browser, I had used the TenFourFox Power PC hack of Firefox and liked it, but some builds a couple of years or so back didn’t seem to agree with the Pismos, both of which have Power PC 7400 G4 processor upgrades installed. However, there had been several updates of TenFourFox since I had last sampled it, and with Camino development halted, it would seem to be the last resort as a browser still being actively developed for Power PC.

Last week I downloaded a copy of the latest TenFourFox 17.0.8, based on Firefox 17, which is reasonably recent (Firefox itself is up to version 23), in the version optimized for PowerPC 7400 (there are also optimizations available for G3, G4 7400, and G5). TenFourFox uses modified Firefox source code, rewritten to remain compatible with Mac OS X v10.4 and the Power Macintosh. It also contains specific optimizations and special features for PowerPC processors. For this reason, it is not exactly the same as Firefox. However, the developers say it is intended to be as compatible with it as possible, including support for Firefox most add-ons and most of its standard features such as faster JavaScript, WebM video, and HTML 5 and CSS 3 support.

Anyway, I was gratified and somewhat surprised to find that whatever the earlier problem had been, it’s been remedied in TenFourFox 17.0.8, which runs very well on the ancient Pismos. Subjectively, it seems a bit faster and less prone to memory corruption as the uptime hours mount up compared with Camino. At this writing, I’ve been using 104Fx as my primary browser for about a week and a half, and I’ve encountered no issues that would incline me to switch back to Camino 2.1.2, as grateful as I am for the very decent service it’s given me.

TenFourFox requires at minimum a G3 Power Macintosh, Mac OS X v10.4.11 or Mac OS X v10.5.8, 100MB of free disk space and 256MB of RAM. For video playback, the developers strongly recommend a 1.25GHz G4 or higher, and I concur. My 550 MHz G4 Pismos with their puny RAGE Mobility 128 GPUs and 8 MB of VRAM are not ideal hardware for video-watching (although you can do so in a pinch). Intel Macintoshes are not supported.

As I noted above, there are actually four specific processor-tuned and optimized variants of TenFourFox available, and for the the best speed on your particular Macintosh you should get the appropriate one for your machine. Download links from third-party sites may not link to the one you need. The selections are:

• TenFourFox for G3 processors
• TenFourFox for G4 processors: 7400-series
• TenFourFox for G4 processors: 7450-series (“G4e”)
• TenFourFox for G5 processors

The developers note that choosing the wrong one could make the application crash, or run poorly, and that while the G3 version is generic and will run on any supported Macintosh, it’s also the poorest performer on later Power Macs. The G4 and G5 versions include AltiVec code. and the G5 JavaScript accelerator is tuned differently for better performance on the PowerPC 970.

Here’s how to select the version you need:

• G3 and G5 owners, just download the G3 and/or G5 build, respectively. These versions run on any G3 or G5 Power Macintosh.

• G4 owners will need to determine if their G4 is a 7450-series CPU (“G4e”), such as the 7447, 7447A, 7448, 7450, 7451, 7455 and 7457, or a 7400-series CPU, such as the 7400 and 7410. Typically the “G4e” series of CPU are in most G4s clocked at and greater than 733MHz.

If you’re unsure which category of G4 your Mac has, the easiest way to find out is to open the OS X Terminal.app and type “machine” (without the quotation marks). Your output will probably look something like this:

The G4 upgrades in my Pismos are Motorola 7410 processors. Download the appropriate version of TenFourFox, and you’re good to go.

Note that TenFourFox no longer supports plugins or Flash. The developers say that plugins on PowerPC are of special concern because Mozilla is making updates to their plugin architecture which may require the plugins themselves to be updated, and there are certain difficult-to-correct bugs with them already on Tiger. Most importantly, QuickTime, Java and Adobe Flash for PowerPC are no longer maintained and have known security risks that can crash, perform malicious operations or leak data, and Flash 10.1 is rapidly becoming unsupported by many applications.

For these and certain other reasons, plugin support ships disabled. Plugins will not operate by default, and bug reports will no longer be accepted. Sites will now act as if no plugins were installed at all. Plugin support will be completely decommissioned in version 18 due to incompatible browser changes.

For Internet video, 104FX’s developers at FloodGap now recommend the use of TenFourFox’s optional QuickTimeEnabler, which allows many videos to be handled in QuickTime Player directly. You can also download videos for separate viewing using Perian and any of the available video download add-ons for Firefox, and for YouTube, you may also be able to use MacTubes. If you have a high end G4 or G5, you can also use WebM for selected videos by visiting http://www.youtube.com/html5 and enabling HTML5 video. This will set a temporary cookie enabling browser-based video without Flash. You don’t need a YouTube account for this feature, but you may need to periodically renew the cookie setting. Not all video is available in WebM.

Whatever. My old Pismos are emphatically not my platform of choice for watching Web video, so flash support is not a priority for me. My iPad and my Intel Mac running Mountain Lion are the way to go for that. And for general Web browsing, it appears that TenFourFox has given these old machines yet another new lease on life, which suits me just fine. Even after going on a decade and a half, I still find them a pleasure to use within the context of what they’re still good at.

TenFourFox is freeware.

For more information, visit:
http://www.tenfourfox.com/

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