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 You can’t customize the Apple menu without the help of a third party utility, control panels have been replaced by System Preferences, and there’s no Chooser.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. Brent Amersbach says:

    I started my switch from Windows in 2002 when I entered art school and was required to have a Mac laptop (in my case a 667 DVI TiBook, later upped to 867 as an apology from Apple when it fried its second logic board). After getting used to Jaguar, I eventually started to see what all the Mac fuss was about in how things were simpler and more intuitive. My favorite example is drag and drop installation for anything that doesn’t need to hook into the OS. I was using OS 9 only for Quark Xpress through Classic and hated it, though I wasn’t sure how much could be attributed to Quark itself and/or Classic.

    My first experience using OS 9 full time came in 2004 after I graduated and got my current job. It still continues. Before, using it in classic, I hated OS 9. Now I REALLY hate OS 9. I can see how some of the straightforwardness of things I saw in OS X was even more present in 9, but this doesn’t begin to make up for its shortcomings. There is no true multitasking, when Quark has to save a large file out to our RIP as an EPS, I might as well take break because I’ve seen the system go unresponsive for as long as 10 mintues from doing that (for the record, a Quicksilver 733 with 384mb of memory, no slouch). Then there’s the memory management. I’m sure this preallocation thing was brilliant on a machine with 128k of memory, but at this point it’s ridiculous to be getting “Out of Memory” errors, especially when according to the About This Computer window I have tons free. Why can’t I at least have a Virtual Memory system that works well enough to actually turn on? Also, none of the memory is protected, which means errant apps (*ahem* Quark) can spew all over ring 0 and down the whole thing goes. I have disabled every unneccessary extension I can find, and try to run as few apps as possible and still have trouble keeping the thing going all day without some horrific crash.

    My biggest gripe though is the web browser situation. There is no good choice. All around, I use iCab 2.9.8. iCab 3 will not load a page without crashing. WaMCom has almost modern rendering abilities but is slow and has a knack for taking out the whole system.

    This is really what makes a computer system old and unusable – compatibility with the rest of the world. Of course if a computer still does the job you need it for it’s still useful, but as a full time all purpose system OS 9 is hopelessly out of date. Many web pages (including this one) load strangely, or just flat out don’t work. I’ve had photographers bring their cameras to me and I wind up downloading the photos on my laptop with Tiger because OS 9 is incompatible. Every time some piece of equipment fails around here IT goes through this huge song and dance of “Oh no, can we get one that still works with 9?” I’m constantly getting files emailed from clients that I have to dump over to my laptop to open and convert into something our old software can use.

    Honestly, by the time Windows 95 came out, the Mac OS was technologically ancient. Improvements that computer users began to take for granted were still not available to the Mac until OS X in 2001. The system of tweaks, extensions, 3rd party utilities and flat out hacks it took to keep the classic OS at all viable as long as it was is a testament to the cleverness of the Mac’s engineers, developers and users. However, the only way to really fix things was to do exactly what Apple did and throw the whole thing out and start over. It was just too convoluted to fix (I think Windows is now in that same boat).

    I do not recommend OS 9 to anyone at this point, unless you have substantial monetary investment in its software. OS X may have complex underpinnings that you have to deal with as a power user, but average users will never delve into it anyway. OS X is plenty easy to use once you acclimate to it, just as I had to coming from Windows (which now seems horribly clunky to the point that I dread sitting in front of it). OS X didn’t just improve functionality in Internet and multimedia, it’s across the board. Handling of how the screen is drawn, how type is displayed, providing uniform interface widgets (how many wait cursors have I seen in OS 9 anyway?). If OS 9 still functions for certain tasks you need, wonderful. More power to you and your Plus webserver or whatever you’re up to. For anything that needs to go out and take in any kind of data from current computers, you need to be on X. For any computer you need to keep running for long periods under heavy load, or run multiple tasks, you seriously should consider X. My TiBook hasn’t even had 9 on it for almost a year, and the MacBook I bought this week (bought because the Ti chokes on some h.264 playback, especially in MKV containers) obviously can’t run 9. I’ve never had a situation where I’ve said “Man, I wish I could use Classic.”

  2. Ian says:

    From 10.4 on, Mac OS X can only make file sharing connections (AFP, SMB, or whatever) over TCP/IP, and not over AppleTalk. I had my Power Mac G4 (running 10.3) connected to my Mac IIsi (running 7.1) over AppleTalk for a long time, but when I upgraded the G4 to 10.4, that compatibility was broken. Here’s how the Apple Knowledge Base describes the situation (head over to for more information):

    “The Network preference pane in Mac OS X 10.4 and later still offers the AppleTalk checkbox, but it is for browsing AppleTalk-advertised resources and zones. The subsequent connection must be over TCP/IP.”

    Apple made 10.4 incapable of file sharing over AppleTalk for no reason, which has gotten me upset, too. With 10.3, I was running a fine AppleTalk network, and then, with no warning, 10.4 was missing that feature. Before anyone says it, this is not the same issue as USB ports in the iMac, or dropping floppy drives. Doing those things gave Apple an advantage in hardware design, but what did they have to gain by cutting this little bit of software from the system?

    To throw in my two cents on the original topic, I’ve been using Mac OS X most of the time for about two and a half years (since December 2003). Before then I had an iMac, and I played with every version of OS X from 10.0 to 10.2 on it, but none of them satisfied me enough in interface or performance to switch. Then I got a Power Mac G4 which came with 10.3 (although it’s one of the Summer 2003 models that can boot OS 9), and I decided to stick with it after making some modifications. However, I still miss Mac OS 9, and I think OS X lacks its polish, speed, and good interface. It took me a while to tweak the OS X interface to roughly approximate OS 9, and it’s still not really there. OS 9 was more than stable enough for me, although the improved multitasking in OS X has been useful. I considered switching the G4 back to OS 9 a few times, but for some reason, OS 9 doesn’t recognize the special buttons on my Japanese keyboard, I want to use recent versions of iTunes, and the selection of web browsers doesn’t offer much. Overall, OS X works well for me, but I think Apple has hurt itself by releasing 10.0 with such a horrible interface (wasting programming effort on making a gaudy skin instead of improving the interface and leaving the appearance alone), and forcing itself to play catch up with OS 9 from 2001. The interface in Mac OS 9 runs circles around the one in Mac OS X.

  3. Sprocket999 says:

    I’m a long-time PowerBook user who started in the days of OS 7. Of all the ‘Classic’ variations I have used, 8.1 was STILL my fave — I used it for eight years straight. But I digress. Having moved forward to a new PowerBook late last summer, I still make very good use of Classic. I don’t know what others are beefing about . . . I don’t experience those crashes or freezes and I run some pretty old stuff. Remember Claris Impact 2.0 (ca.1995)? Works just fine — like in a ‘Classic only’ machine. I also run antique versions of Quark, Photoshop and Illustrator. NO problems at all (I’m in a non-collaborative environment as a sole creator, so I can get away with this stuff). Personally, I think those who are having issues with Classic 9 had better clean out their prefs or have another look at their extensions. Gene asks “Do you miss the Chooser?”. Yeh, it always worked well for me. Honestly. Now for the record, I am using a G4 12″ PowerBook 1.5 ghz with 512 megs of RAM and 10.4.6, and, oh yes, Classic. I also have a ‘mirror’ G4 12″ iBook 1.3ghz doing the same with the same. I just don’t understand the negative attitude towards the Classic environment. To me, the brilliant thing about OSX is the ability to seemlessly run Classic 9 so smoothly and reliably. Now if Apple would only fix their messed up File Mapping in OSX . . .

  4. Steve Broadoaks says:

    Me, personally, I do use Tiger. At least for web surfing that needs better, bug-free (or bug-less) security. For everything else, there’s OS 9. The third-party build of Mozilla runs nicely, it’s stable enough for me, and my SNES emulator just runs smoother. If that sounds weird, so be it. But I’m happy, and productive, and that’s what the Mac is, ideally, all about. Isn’t it?

    Happy hacking.


  5. Ian says:

    Although it’s stable for me, I personally don’t like using Classic mode in OS X much because the Classic programs don’t fit in well with the rest of the system (then again, I’m very picky about my computer environment). That’s what’s so great about Mac OS 9, though: there’s a lot of potential for things to go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s very easy to learn what to do when every system file has a name like “USB Extension.” Mac OS 9 had horrible multitasking, but it was very easy to maintain. I always felt completely secure when using it. It’s also a single-user OS, which is a plus for me because I don’t share my computer and having a multi-user system requires a lot more complexity and makes the file hierarchy less flexible. If software development for OS 9 hadn’t stopped abruptly 2 years ago or so, I would probably still be using it.

    And yes, I miss the Chooser too.

  6. Sprocket999 says:

    “If software development for OS 9 hadn’t stopped abruptly 2 years ago or so, I would probably still be using it.”

    Me too . . . and happily.

  7. Dougal says:

    I know I am a bit late for this thread but I have to comment.

    I have used Classic since 1995, I loved it. About a year and a half ago I made the switch to Tiger and invested in a new iMac G5 after my old iMac G3 bit the dust. I appreciated the fact that Apple left OS9 on Tiger for the converts and this was why I thought it wouldn’t be to hard to upgrade. I was wrong. It was a culture shock and I really struggled to make the transition, certain applications I really relied upon no longer worked properly inside the ‘Classic’ environment: Strata 3D would glitch out. I had to install about three different versions of Stuffit Expander just to get it back on Mac. SoundJam MP no longer functioned as it should since its engine had been utilised by iTunes (not to mention Core Audio fought it all the way).

    Norton Utilities could not even be used to run maintenance on Classic and frankly I had, (and still don’t) trust Disk Utilities with it’s obscure Disk Permissions jargon and Maintenance scripts that really don’t give me any idea what’s going on. (Linux jargon is not what I want from a Mac). Call me paranoid but I don’t use Disk Warrior or Tech Tool either for fear of contradicting OS X. Reluctantly I handed over control to OS X and just had to live with it. I just don’t find it to be transparently obvious like OS 9.

    I agree that the File Structure in OS X is inflexible, I found I was literally tearing my hair out with frustration, I realise the benefits of this for multiple users, but I am the only user on my Mac, and resent having to conform to using a File system purpose built for Multiple users.

    Oh yeah, I won’t even get started on unreliable Internet connections, although these have been improved upon with susequent updates.

    Now I have been living with OS X for about 16 months, and although I have managed to work around most of it’s bugbears, i’m still not completley satisfied. Yes it is faster, yes it does multi-task, yes it is better for browsing, but it still is not 100% stable, and I still occasionally recieve kernel panics. Also, being a former Classic Mac user I still loathe the interface (Dock=ARRRGHH) and hate the fact that the Apple menu no longer serves the same purpose as it used to.

    The fact is that I still need OS9 for programs that I cannot afford to upgrade, but even if I could afford them, there are still programs like Fontographer that are still unavailable natively in OS X, and I find my workflow is severly hampered when I need to use both, (although in fairness dragging and dropping images and text from classic to X and vise versa works brilliantly).

    I’m not saying OS 9 is perfect, it did crash sometimes, although I did manage to stabilise it somewhat on the last release (OS 9.2.2). I had every program setup to use the right amount of memory, I had a definitive set of Control Panels and Extensions, and drivers that actually worked as they should for things like printers. The classic environment would be fine but in my experience the chooser in classic mode struggles to find my printer, my prefered screen resolution does not render graphics correctly or refresh, it just feels like bad emulation. In my opinion the only programs that really seem to work well under it are Photoshop, Illustrator and Freehand.

    I realise I cannot go back to the good ol’ days when Classic was king, but in a way things would have been much easier if I’d just bought a Mac that could dual boot.

  8. Tekboi Jr. says:

    It’s been 4 years since I have been “forced” to use X, and during those 4 years it’s been very difficult and frustrating to accept. One of the most disturbing and backward changes would have to be the “Extensions Folder” not to mention the “System Preferences?” I mean come on Steve, what kind of Crack Pot programmers do you got going on back there? When I first installed X, I was thrilled by the new Look, but when it came down to the feel of it? I feel like the little “Beach Ball” that wouldn’t stop spinning in the first release 😉 Half the options in the “Finder” have been left behind or never adopted…. Plus, is it just me or has my sense of timing been a little off since Classic? I may be overdoing it by say this, but if any of you remember System 6.0.3 then you will also remember that since then and up until 9.5.4, I’d say that everything, with the exception of sometimes emptying the trash was on time, and right down to the second! While PC users weren’t really sure when that XP install was gonna be done….. But while I could go on and on about neXt, I would like to say; Welcome, to “Alex” The much anticipated arrival since “Vicky” and lets not forget “Fred” who have stuck with us through the very beginning of 7.
    God Bless this ‘Mac’
    (-; 🙂

  9. You are responding to something a couple of years after it was posted, so this is not something that folks will readily gravitate to.

    In saying that, there was never a Mac OS 9.5.4. As I recall, the last shipping version was 9.2.2.

    As to issues with Mac OS X: none of this seems to amount to anything other than the fact that some things simply changed, since there the concept of system extensions is mostly nonexistent. There are kernel extensions in Mac OS X, but they normally don’t present all those incompatibilities of the Classic Mac OS.


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