The Tiger Report: A Memo to Mac OS 9 Users

June 2nd, 2006

Dear Friend,

I know that, like all folks who have embraced the Apple Macintosh, you are an extremely smart, well-educated person with an above-average income. Or at least you aspire to one or all of these goals. Despite being surrounded by people who have urged you to join the “Dark Side,” which is our little moniker for the Windows world, you have resisted.

You have also been asked to consider Mac OS X. All right, I understand that it’s very, very different, and not just the stuff that’s happening under-the-hood. Despite its superficial resemblance to the Classic Mac OS, things have changed, sometimes drastically. You can’t customize the Apple menu without the help of a third party utility, control panels have been replaced by System Preferences, and there’s no Chooser.

Worse, you no longer have to cope with the quirks of a single Fonts folder, but several, for the single user, for all users, the network and even specific applications. For years, you coped with with PostScript and TrueType fonts, not to mention the original bitmap faces, and now you will have to deal with OpenType and something with the file extension .dfont.

Just as important, what’s this thing about file extensions? Isn’t that something that Windows users deal with? What’s going on here?

I feel your pain, but you have to understand that Mac OS 9, the last general release of the original Mac OS, was a creaky mess, almost collapsing under its own weight. By version 8.0, Apple grafted a few of the surface features of Copland, its failed project to bring the Mac into the 21st century, but it could be slow, and buggy, although I realize some of you tamed it sufficiently to work pretty reliably.

In fact, I bet some of you still depend on it to get work done at your office, and the thought of updating computers and operating systems can be daunting, despite the Mac OS X installer that ought to do its things with just a few mouse clicks.

You will also argue about the cost of the upgrade? There’s no sense using your old applications under a new operating system, where the Classic environment would entail some performance tradeoff. Worse, if you buy a MacIntel, a term some of us use for Macs with Intel processors, there is no Classic, except for a dreadfully slow third-party hack.

What to do?

First of all, I won’t argue about interface changes. Apple feels it had logical reasons to alter things, and not just for marketing. I mean, do you really miss the Chooser? Be honest now!

It’s also true that the great graphics of Mac OS X require a a reasonably powerful Mac, and most anything older than six years old isn’t supported. For the sake of argument, I won’t suggest you look into any third party solutions to “induce” Mac OS X to work on an older Mac. So you have to consider, at the very least, a memory upgrade, to 512MB or better, and maybe just a new Mac.

The costs add up. Then, if you cannot survive with Apple’s bundled applications, iLife ’06 and perhaps iWork ’06, you have to take every significant piece of productivity software and buy an upgrade. In the end, the software may be more expensive than the hardware, because Macs are a whole lot cheaper now than they were in 1999, if you start with the Mac mini, of course.

On the positive side of the ledger, you do want to consider Mac OS X Tiger’s superior reliability. Yes, some online commentators devote lots of space to tracking bugs in the operating system. It makes you feel nervous, no doubt. But bear in mind that most of these bugs are confined to a very few people, with heavily customized systems. It doesn’t make them any less real, but Apple will promptly address show-stopping bugs, and it updates its stuff regularity.

Since it is based on Unix, Mac OS X offers multitasking that’s way ahead of what Mac OS 9 could do. Try, for example, downloading a file, typing a word processing document, printing a file and playing a QuickTime movie clip. Before you know it, the Classic Mac OS stops in its tracks. In fact, just click on a menu and hold the mouse for a moment and see what happens. What’s more, if an application suddenly quits, Mac OS X rarely has to be restarted. Try that in the older Mac OS, and see how long you can work before things get awry.

In addition to being able to do more things at the same time, many Mac OS X users record their uptimes, the period that transpires between restarting, in days or weeks. Reliability isn’t perfect, and it surely could be better, but, for most of us, it’s way ahead of where the Mac used to be.

In fact, 15 minutes after I set up my first Mac over 20 years ago, it crashed. I find Tiger to be an absolute relief by any reasonable comparison.

But don’t get me wrong. I know change can be difficult. Worse, you might feel frustrated because your browsers can no longer access the latest Web content accurately, and applications are rarely being updated for your operating system.

Some day the time may be right for you, or maybe not. That depends on your situation. It’s true that some of you still use System 6 and feel perfectly satisfied. But I think the majority of the Classic holdouts among you are ready to switch, but need a little more encouragement.

Feel free to post your reasons why you are avoiding Mac OS X, and not just financial. That I understand, and no explanation is necessary.

Gene Steinberg

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29 Responses to “The Tiger Report: A Memo to Mac OS 9 Users”

  1. Apple’s own MPW will never be ported to OS neXt. I really don’t like mouseless eMacs.

    I absolutely need working RS422/485 serial ports. Going through USB is not an option.

    The OS neXt Finder needs a whole lot of work.
    Cant see full names in small icon windows with names on right even though there is lots of room
    Finder windows can take minutes to update when underlying file structure is changed.
    Connect to Server is read only for ftp even though I have a password. Curl is Apple’s only delivered option.
    Choosing a different application for a single file increases resource fork size fy 40 kB.

    StdFile is worse than it ever was in classic OS and it was pretty bad there. “Open” in a command line works like it did in MPW though.

    Tiger will not connect to my older Macs because AppleTalk over Ethernet was purposely disabled.

    Yes. I use OS neXt. I first used UNIX well before 1980 and I liked it then. Apple has done a good thing by making it available at reasonable cost. BBEdit worksheets allow me to use OS neXt WITHOUT FINDER and I can get useful things done. It’s especially nice as a programming environment for Linux. Next-Step and Cocoa don’t make sense to me probably because I don’t write games or do artwork.

    When Steve stops developing for entertainment and commits something to science and engineering things might get better. Perhaps Disney’s imagineers will do some good. Until then My productive machines run OS 7, OS 9, and Linux. OS neXt is my toy.

  2. Doc says:

    Now what’s Mac OS 9 again??? Oh yeah, that old system I use to play Tomb Raider I on my old G3 tower… It’s years ahead of the system 6 that I run on my Mac SE/30. For everything else there’s OS X 10.4 on my MacBook Pro. But you still gotta love those old antiques!

  3. Marty says:

    I use OSX, BUT I do support several people who need to continue to use OS9 due to the lack of certain software.

    Freehand 8 in particular is the high water mark for that program and the OSX versions of it DON’T work right. This means creative types who love this program are STUCK in os9.

    That said, most of them have upgraded to Quicksilver macs and are dual booting at this date. They would love to upgrade to OSX full-time, but it’s not possible because a critical tool is missing.

  4. Solo says:

    OS 9 was usable, OS X is stable. What kind of choice is that? I want it all, baby!

    I use a version of OS X with Windowshade and Shapeshifter. The skin I use is Gershwix 2.2

    But whenever I boot into 9, the elegance and speed of the Finder, the spatial consistency and the (to my eyes) more refined GUI (less bubblicious) is a relief. I prefer any of the ways to start and run apps to the Dock. Ugh.

    Then the machine hangs or crashes. And back to OS X and it’s weird NeXt-y ways go I.

    My feeling is that the current version of OS X is somewhere around Classic Mac OS 6 in usability. I would prefer a responsive Finder to any number of gimmicky add ons and gumdrops.

  5. David says:

    My mom is the type of person who will stick with OS 9 until she is forced to change. She refused to own a computer until a few years ago when I gave her a 7300 and showed her how to turn it on and use the mouse. Since then I have upgraded her to a beige G3 but she has made little progress in using it, mainly from lack of interest. She can type letters and print them on her Personal LaserWriter 320. She can compose, send, reply to and forward email. She knows how to get onto the web, but doesn’t seem all that interested in browsing. My brother and I tried to buy her a high speed internet connection and she refused. Some day her grandchildren’s websites will stop working with OS 9 browsers. Until then she’ll no doubt refuse to accept any new equipment or software.

    My inlaws are slightly more advanced users, but they too are still using OS 9 and 8.6 because they can type their documents and send/receive email. They do a lot more web surfing than my parents though and are definitely seeing how far behind OS 9 browsing is. I’ve recommended they swap their B&W for a Mac Mini.

  6. Ted says:

    Finally broke down and bought a mini with Tiger. Not too impressed with Tiger. What a royal pain that I couldn’t network it to all my older mac’s by ethernet. I still can’t believe Apple would disable Appletalk over ethernet. How can they do that to us??????!!!

    And OSX Mail compared to Outlook Expresss….what a joke. It doesn’t come close. It really sucks to me. Same goes for Safari….Being Mac only user since ’84 I expected MUCH better…..totally underwhelmed.

    The learning curve on OSX is sooo huge….that to me indicates garbage software….Where’s the genius of the original Mac OS with MacPaint & MacWrite that just totally blew you away with its USER- FRIENDLINESS. I have to psyche myself up to use Tiger

  7. Ijo says:

    I hate to contradict my learned friends, but my Mac OS 9 *never* crashes unless I am using a web browser, such is IE 5 or Netscape. Using Mozilla 1.3.1 (the Wamcom browser), I rarely suffer crashes.

    If you are having problems, I suggest you a) run a virus scanner (yes, oh complacent Mac buddies, Classic has plenty of viruses) or b) check to see what software you are running, and find a better alternative. Or add more RAM…

    I use Mac OS X to surf (it is faster) and to use my favorite killer app: Audio Hijack.

    Other than that, if I need to work, I love using the Classic OS!

  8. Folks, I appreciate all the comments. With regard to your remarks, Ijo: OK, so two browsers crash on you, and another “rarely” crashes, but your Mac “never” crashes. OK, just trying to understand.

    Now talk with people who use high-energy software such as QuarkXPress or Adobe Photoshop, and you’ll get a better picture of what I mean about things that can cause a lack of stability. In any case, I haven’t used the Classic environment in two years, other than to write about the subject.

    However, I understand that some of you still prefer older Mac OS versions for different reasons. I do not, however, think Apple is going to make changes to reflect those opinions. It’s time to either move on, and stay with what you have for as long as you can. Just be happy!


  9. Martin Step says:

    I am an engineer, and I have a very large legacy of CAD drawings done in Claris CAD, a really great 2D drafting program offered by Apple in about 1988-89. Although it is possible to convert the drawings to run in a newer CAD program such as VectorWorks, it takes a lot of time to clean up details that don’t translate well. It simply isn’t worth the effort to convert them all, but on the other hand, I never know which one’s I might need to revisit someday, so I need to be able to access these drawings with OS 9 for the foreseeable future.

    Claris CAD still runs fine in Classic. The only problem with running it on Macs less than about 12 years old is that you can only do a Save As…, but never a Save, since it doesn’t support HFS+, but that is a minor issue. I never boot up in OS 9, I only run it in Classic, and I only use Classic for two applications. I own an 20-inch iMac G5, a last version 15-inch G4 PowerBook, and a 15-inch DVI TiBook, which is my ultimate back up for running Claris.

    Now, if someone would just come up with a good OS 9 emulator, I could find a good home for the TiBook…


  10. John says:

    Finally got around to updating 6 eh? Guess that means a new version of MacWrite’s just round the corner then. Can’t keep up with the pace these days like I used to.

  11. Ralph says:

    I keep one nice fast modern computer in my office running OSX Tiger for special purposes, like opening tricky web sites, and downloading audio streams.

    However, for everyday work, I use OS9 for several reasons. Here’s one: you who remember constant OS9 crashes have obviously never tried running it these days – it’s a whole different animal. No more constant bug fixes fixing this and breaking that. No more program updates or new extensions with conflicts. Now it’s just you, the OS, the programs and extensions that you like, and the work you need to do. I have never had a virus or other security issue either.

    Run as a stable configuration, OS9 is every bit as reliable and crash free as OSX. My OSX computer does crash and I don’t believe I’m alone in noticing this. Usually it’s just the program but surprisingly often, the computer goes wonky too until I reboot. Maybe every few days the OS9 computer has to be rebooted too, but I know by now why that happens and can avoid it.

    Programs under OS9 are less intrusive, they aren’t going to make you link the program to a single computer, as Photoshop does for OSX. There are massive quantities of elegant programs still out there that handle almost everything except multimedia as well as anything on OSX. Nothing I’ve seen for OSX can match Hypercard.

    OSX networking is oddly unreliable. Say what you want about the chooser, but if you open it and click Appletalk, you get to see what’s on the network. Browse the network on OSX and maybe the other computers show up, maybe not. Who knows why that happens? I don’t.

    The OSX finder isn’t a tactile experience like OS9’s. You move something here, suddenly it’s there instead. Why? It doesn’t make sense from a physical perspective. And why on earth doesn’t Spotlight find all your files? In OS9, Find, or Sherlock find everything on your computer. Spotlight can fail to find a file sitting right there on your desktop.

    Some OS9 utilities have no equal in OSX. When OSX plopped a massive invisible file on my hard drive taking up all the space, I had to use OS9 to find it. OSX has a hard enough time finding visible files.

    There are some advantages to OSX. I like the way internet connections have been automated and you can skip the location manager when you go from wired to wireless. If you want to watch video streams on the web, OSX has more choices. I prefer OSX for burning DVD’s. So it’s good to have the ability to boot into Tiger, just as I’m sure it would be good to be able to boot into Windows.

    But of all of these, probably the most compelling two reasons I stick with OS9 are these.

    1). I need a laptop with battery life. The only real choice available is a Powerbook G3 pismo. I get about 12 hours from a charge using modern batteries, about four times as much as anything Apple sells now. My pismo is upgraded to a G4 550 – it runs OSX tiger fine when I need it (which is almost always to record audio) but on the pismo, OS9 is sprightlier. It feels as fast with my OS9 programs as anything I try out in the Apple Stores (and yes I have tried the new Macbook and Macbook pro).

    and 2). Hypercard. It still does everything in information, calendar and data management. Can’t imagine why Apple let go of that one.

  12. Michael says:

    I use OS9 and OS X each day. I like both systems and support both. I save thousands just by not having to upgrade some of my programs to OS X. Do you throw away an old hammer just because they have a new one in stock? Do you keep your tools until they break? I do. While Mac OS X is great for audio, video and heavy lifting, there are plenty of things that my old G4 500 in OS 9 can do very well.

    Mac OS 9 was never on its last leg. While OS9 may not last as long before it needs a restart as OS X, my OS9 system has lived through 3 separate Mac OS X system rebuilds. Mac OS X is like windows. Its just too hard to fix for most users so we resort to a system reinstall when things get bad. I rarely have that problem with OS9 compared to OSX.

    If you are the guy that buys a new TV every two years just because there is a new model out, you may not understand why OS9 is still useful. But if you have tools that you have accumulated over the years that you still use and would not consider throwing them out just because they are old then you may understand.

    OS9 users can get computers for free from users disgarding them because they think they need a new toy. In addition, loads of OS9 software that cost thousands before is free from users that have upgraded. If you know what you are doing you can create a nice little system for almost nothing with lots of software. I think OS9 is an untapped gold mine that will be around for years to come for low level tasks that don’t require four 3GHz processors.

    Computer manfacturers and journalists would like to make everyone believe that the lastest and greatest is always needed. Unfortunately it just isn’t so. OS 9 is a familiar friend that I use to keep software costs down. Only a fool or someone who never really used OS9 would think it is worthess. If Apple thought OS9 had no value they would release it into the public domain. You don’t see that happening. Apple knows that OS9 has value and they are not about to let someone else build on it.

    Best Regards,


  13. zato says:

    OS9.2.2 is the all-time best OS for 2D design and Photoshop. If you know OS9 well, Photoshop is bulletproof and Illustrator nearly so. And the monitors on older macs are better for design work than anything sold today. OSX is a great Internet OS, but current Macs are not the design tools they once made.

  14. Andrew says:

    I started with System 7.01 and sometime during the 8.6 to 9.0 transition I moved over to Windows. I liked OS 8.6, it was stable and fast on my PowerBook 5300c, but when I needed a new laptop in 1998 and had only $2000 to spend, Apple’s answer was the passive matrix cacheless “Mainstreet” version of the PowerBook G3. After almost three years of active matrix joy on that PowerBook 5300c, I decided that I’d rather ditch Mac OS than ditch active matrix on my laptop.

    Windows was a mess, but after a year Windows 2000 came out, and while not elegant or friendly like OS 8.6, it was stable and fast. That is what spoiled me for modern operating systems, and while soon after I was in the market for another laptop, OS 9 was not in the running. It was the arrival of Jaguar as the first version of OS X that could serve as my “only” operating system that had me looking to Macs again, and by the time I made the move, the 12″ PowerBook I bought was running Panther.

    Today I use Tiger on the five Macs in my home and office, all of them G4 and G5, and I agree wholeheartedly with Gene. The classic Mac OS is an idea whose time has come and gone. Its like Windows 98 in the PC world, its faster and simpler at some things that 2000 and XP, but that doesn’t change the fact that its DOS-based crap just waiting to crash. Classic Mac OS with all of its conflicting extensions and poor memory use is an anachronism.

    I still have that 12″ PowerBook, and the only time I ever restart it is when an OS update or maintenance script (I use ONYX) requires it. In almost three years I’ve never seen the OS crash, not once. The finder has crashed, other applications have crashed, but a Force Quit (or Finder relaunch) always fixes it.

    And to the guy with the long battery life, I get over 12 hours on my 12″ PowerBook. 4 hours per battery. If your work can’t be paused for the few seconds required to change cells (I use the SafeSleep hack and don’t need to shut down) then you can always get one of those Electrovaya plate batteries. Those things run for about 12 hours and weigh less than 2 lbs.

  15. Matt says:

    “Tiger will not connect to my older Macs because AppleTalk over Ethernet was purposely disabled.”

    The Appletalk that is found in System Preferences -> Network -> Built In Ethernet *Configure* -> Appletalk -> Tick “Make Appletalk Active”

    That Appletalk?

  16. I have a B&W G3 that has Mac OS 9.2.2 installed because it has two software programs namely toast 5.2.1 (DO NOT UPDATE TO 5.2.2 btw) which burns bootable cds, as well as a web site optomization tool that has not seen it’s equal on Mac OS X to date. Also I have a lot of games that only run on Mac OS 9. My B&W G3 has 1gb ram and a 900 mhz G3 upgrade cpu with a radeon 7000 video card as well and a few extra usb ports on a pci card. add a firewire drive, two internal drives, and it runs Panther 10.3.9 nicely too. So it is a very useful machine and thanks I’ll keep it. I also have a beige G3 that is stored away until and unless I need to use it.
    I do not recommend Mac OS 9 unless there is software you absolutely can not do without, or are a legacy user. However I also recommend upgrading to Mac OS X for any desktop publishing or video editing or other high end needs even for use of Microsoft Office. Everything just runs very very well on OS X with the occasional hang but no more “crashes”. Thus I fully use Mac OS X 99.9% of the time, but there is the occasional need for OS 9.

    My two other machines are a Mac Mini 1.42 ghz running tiger as well as a NEW 20 inch iMac 2ghz INTEL with 256mb vram option on the radeon x1600 video gpu. It is absolutely super!! Fast fast fast. the 20 inch screen is gorgeous!!! Everyone should get a new 20 inch iMac its stunning!!!

  17. Andrew says:

    I have the 20″ iMac as well, only the slightly older 2.1GHz G5 model, and I agree, the screen is just stunning (its also very fast).

  18. Marin says:

    The Appletalk that is found in System Preferences / Network / Built In Ethernet *Configure* / Appletalk / Tick “Make Appletalk Active.”

    “That Appletalk?”


    It’s there all right, but have you ever managed to connect to a classic Mac running Appletalk through Ethernet? I sure can’t connect my Mac SE/30 with my Tiger-iBook any longer!

  19. AppleSwitcher Blog » Blog Archive » The Mac OS and I, Part One: Two esteemed writers ask the OS 9 question. says:

    […] The equally esteemed Gene Steinberg, asks similar questions about the viability of Mac OS 9 in his article The Tiger Report: A Memo to Mac OS 9 Users. Like Charles Moore, Mr. Steinberg is a long time Mac OS user. Through their respective outlets, I gather both writers are very familiar with the ins and out of the Mac OS. While neither represent themselves as code junkies or programming inclined in the least, I will make a long distance determination that both are power users. Judging from their writing and in the case of Gene, his audio work as well, both spend a good amount of time tweaking, testing, and optimizing their respective work flows. By such usage, learning much along the way about the different versions of the Mac OS. […]

  20. Mackie says:

    Douglas P. McNutt: OS X does work with AppleTalk over Ethernet. My G4 is hooked up to a beige G3 running 9.1 via Ethernet.
    (only works while booted into Panther though, but I have several hard disks).

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