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  • The Leopard Report: Ready to Retire the G3?

    June 19th, 2007

    You don’t hear much about the status of the G3 these days. The last model to incorporate that chip, an iBook, was kept in production until 2003, when a G4 version replaced it.

    Up till now, the G3 could support the latest and greatest operating systems from Apple, except for earlier models that didn’t sport FireWire ports. In fact, if you topped off the memory, you might even get decent performance with Tiger, although there’s been a brisk business in G4 upgrades for those models that support processor transplants.

    It’s been several years since the Steinberg family sold our last G3 computer, a Blue & White Power Mac, and even that unit had a G4 processor upgrade in it. Indeed, the new owner still has it running workaday applications at his home office.

    But it does appear that Leopard will bypass the G3, which finally puts that venerable processor on the endangered list. There is no official statement about this from Apple, of course, but folks who have unofficially examined betas of Mac OS 10.5 claim that the G3 is specifically prohibited. Now I don’t like to quote the carrying on at Mac rumor sites, but Wired is a different animal. In a recent article, writer Michael Calore says he likes the new features, but only a Mac Pro delivered stable performance. But it is a beta, right?

    The article, of course, was done without Apple’s advanced knowledge or cooperation: “This is an unofficial review. Wired News obtained a copy of the developers’ release, which was provided only to Apple’s software partners under strict nondisclosure agreements.”

    Indeed, if Apple finds out who delivered that copy to Wired, the offender will face serious penalties, including loss of their developer status and possible legal repercussions. Then again, it’s highly unlikely Apple will ever find out the identity of the guilty party.

    In any case, a short, pithy sentence defines the support: “A G3 won’t cut it.”

    While this might change by the time Leopard is released, it makes a lot of sense. Maybe the G3, itself, could run Leopard adequately, but the graphics hardware that comes with those models won’t come close to supporting the new system’s fancy animated acrobatics. I’m willing to suggest that even an older G4 might have difficulty coping. But time will tell, and we’ll know more when the official system requirements are announced.

    For now, I’ll accept the loss of G3 support as a perfectly logical step in Mac OS X’s evolution. The G3 was always a little touchy with Mac OS X, and it could drag along horribly if you didn’t max out every possible subsystem on your Mac to accommodate the system’s severe requirements.

    However, I do think back to the first announcement of the Mac OS X Aqua interface by Apple in 2000. I had a brief encounter with a product manager, who would not let me even see the computer on which the system was being demonstrated. When I asked him how it would fare on the basic iMac, he said Mac OS X would run with “good performance,” which turned out to be something of an exaggeration.

    I didn’t bother to challenge Apple at the time, since it served no purpose. Even the most powerful G4 had trouble getting the original version of Mac OS X to sing along with a rapid rhythm. In those days, all the heavy-lifting was being done by the CPU. There was no support for graphics acceleration, believe it or not. We’ve really come a long, long way since then.

    So is it time to recite the G3’s eulogy? Not really. For those of you who will never use Mac OS X, the Classic Mac OS runs quite agreeably on a G3. And, as I said, with lots of memory and maybe a faster hard drive, you can eke out a decent user experience with Tiger on latter G3s equipped with standard FireWire.

    On the other hand, four-year-old computers are ancient history in the tech industry. Consider the plight of the PC user who wants to upgrade to Windows Vista. Anything older than a year, with the exception of a high-end box, will likely have difficulty delivering the full Vista user experience, which includes the Aero interface. Of course, that may not be a bad thing.

    However, before you’re quick to jump on Apple for making older computers obsolete, consider how well the G3 has served millions of users for all these years. But it’s time to move on, isn’t it?

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