On a Fluke: A Cute Little iMac (G4 PowerPC)

I wrote this article to begin chronicling my experience in taking a Mac computer I knew almost nothing about from an inoperable state to a working unit. I found a lot of helpful websites and information along the way which I thought may be helpful to others. In the process, I learned a whole lot more about Mac computers than I knew before, which was not only very interesting, but very helpful in understanding the Mac already owned – an iMac 24″acquired in November 2009 without the usual research I usually undertake to understand what I’m buying (a long story). So, I picked up more than a few new tricks that I’ve put to use. Finally, I also found a couple of information gaps for people attempting such a project, and I hope what I learned may save someone else the time and aggravation I encountered.

Ok, so it’s not really a baby iMac. That’s just what I call it. It’s actually an iMac G4 PowerPC, sometimes called “the flower pot” or “the lamp”. Compared to my Intel iMac with 24″ screen, the G4 with 17″ screen, looks like a baby. A late 2009 UPS delivery of the 24″ iMac brought the first non-Windows computer into our home.

The following spring, I took no small amount of pleasure in surprising my daughter on her 17th birthday with a drive to a local computer store to pick up her “new” 20″ Intel iMac.

We still have several Windows computers around here and, prior to acquiring the “baby” iMac G4, we’d only dealt with Intel Macs. And the foray into the world of the Mac PowerPCs happened very much on a fluke.

Having had some good luck at the State of Nebraska surplus auction a couple of years back, when the notice appeared in the newspaper for a sale last May, we decided to check the offerings. My husband occasionally satisfies his natural hunter’s instinct through auctions. A successful “kill” is defined as follows: an item needed or wanted by someone in our family is acquired at an almost absurdly low price. Prior “trophies” acquired at the State surplus auction two years before included a much needed desk for my office for $5 (very sturdy, solid wood and some would say, handsome in a retro-sort-of-way). Since the family’s wish list (the prey) had recently grown to include office organizers, bookshelves, and computer miscellany, my husband geared up for his next expedition by taking us all to the pre-auction viewing, so we could supply him with a list.

In addition to staking out a comfortable office chair for my 13 year old, several boxes of metal office organizers for my daughter, a couple of solid wooden bookshelves, and a couple of flat panel monitors to replace titanic-sized CRTs, I noted two 8′ tables full of adorable little Apple computers – about which I knew nothing.

When I prepared the next day’s “target” list for my husband, I included in my list “WHITE APPLE COMPUTER” with the notation “NO MORE THAN $40!”. Why I settled on a $40 ceiling was simply due to that being an outer limit on what I’d waste should the the unit never work. And that’s atypically high amount – $10 to $20 is usually it for me. But – it was adorable and I thought it would look really cute in my kitchen. And it was an Apple. I realize for a lot of women its shoes and jewelry – in that department I never lose my head. But I was not completely over the moon – I had determined there probably was no operating system, perhaps not even a hard drive, and that I’d likely have to upgrade some of its parts.  If I could have that adorable little computer in my kitchen for $100 or less in reasonable working order, I’d be a happy camper.

When my husband came home, he’d made quite a haul. Having spent little more than $200, he’d gotten everything everyone had put on the list with the exception of perennially-elusive bookends (surprisingly hard to find second-hand). Included among the many items was one of those cute white computers with two cute little round things with cords sort of round around the metal arm, which turned out to be speakers.

The total paid for the little iMac with speakers = $25.  Whether or not that sum would ultimately turn out to be qualify as an “absurdly low price” remained to be seen.

I enlisted my 13 year old’s help in doing a preliminary investigation of the unit. Was there ANY information on it anywhere that would tell me anything about it? Turns out, the original specifications are embossed on the bottom of the base:

700 Mhz, 128mb RAM, 40gb HD

From there, a little Googling turned up a fantastically helpful and bookmark-worthy website, EveryMac.com:

The website really seems to live up to its name; they really do have every mac from what I could tell. Just check out the iMac page; the list runs from the May 6, 1998 G3/233 Bondi and runs through “Core i3″ 3.1 21.5-Inch (Late 2011) model. And it’s not just that there is a list of all the models, there’s a whole lot more. The standard specifications are easy to obtain right from the full listing with the toggle arrows on the left hand side, as shown in the snap, below, which features the basic specs for the “cute little Apple” that had found it’s way onto my kitchen counter one Saturday afternoon:

Every Mac's Listings - Example of drop down list featuring iMac G4/700 (Flat Panel)

 

Of course the information about my newly acquired iMac listed in brief using the drop down arrow already told me more about the system than I knew three minutes’ prior. The completeness of the lists and the detailed information they contain make the site worth bookmarking.

I referred to the complete specs listing several times during the process of transforming that “cute little Apple” into a functioning iMac G4 PowerPC with wireless internet. Of course, since I was already on the site, I wanted to see what I could see about the two Intel iMacs which had already been residents in our house.  It seems to me there is more information about them on EveryMac.com than the “About this Mac” page on my system. Maybe it’s just the format of the listing. Either way, it’s just plain helpful.

For the G4, there were a number of things that I really needed to know in order to get it working, and to determine, first of all, whether $25 was wasted or was an investment in a cute kitchen computer I’d envisioned or if it would be a funky, high-tech flowerpot-style picture frame doubling as a hefty paperweight?

Thanks to the EveryMac listing, I found out a number of important things right away. First of all, I confirmed that it is indeed a PowerPC and not an Intel Mac. I already vaguely realized this on my own, since I’d already learned that Intel Macs were first made available in 2006 and the “flower pot” models at the auction were likely older than that. The critical question for me was whether or not I’d be able to install an operating system on the machine that was remotely useful for my desired uses.

The most important thing included in the introductory text was that my particular G4 had originally shipped with the first version of Mac OS X.

EveryMac Introduction to Complete Specifications for the iMac G4/700

This seemed promising. As a bonus, this particular iMac could have “Classic” installed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that operating system, but, If I’d ever have the inclination, at least taking a peak at the pre-Mac OS X system would be possible. I’ve read snippets here and there that there are some very well-liked programs for the earlier systems that won’t run on the Intel machines.

So, if the machine came standard with Mac OS X, my next question was, what were the machine’s outer-limit, but truly functioning capabilities? And what would maximum require? The Every Mac complete specs told me that as well. The system could be upgraded to the final version of Mac OS X Tiger, which was 10.4.11. Being relatively new to Macs – having started with Snow Leopard- all that really meant to me was that Tiger must be a cat – or few ago.

Of course any experienced Mac user reading this just fell on the floor laughing at my ignorance. Sorry, Mac geeks, but when acquiring a Mac at Snow Leopard level – especially the way I did, purchased by others to provide equipment for a project in a 48 hour decision turn around – and you’ve been on Windows since 3.11, your understanding of Apple’s cat nomenclature is necessarily nonexistent.

I’d seen Jaguar, Panther, and Tiger a number of times, in addition of course, to Leopard and Snow Leopard. All I knew for sure is that one of my friends had a 2008 Macbook Pro which had slipped with Leopard and  my 24″ iMac had shipped with Snow Leopard. That Leopard to Snow Leopard progression made obvious sense. Beyond that, I’m not enough of a feline or Apple expert to discern the logic in the OS X progression. I had to do a little detective work to nail down whether Tiger was older than Jaguar or vice versa, etc.

I found the Wikipedia article on Mac OS X included a chart of each version, complete with dates. The article helped me to solidify the naming and numbering convention for the Mac operating systems. The Roman numeral “X” is for the overall number in the version number, the second number is for the particular version or upgrade, which is where the different cat names comes in, and the updates to a particular version are noted by a third number.

So, the G4 iMac came with 10.1.2; that’s “10″ for Mac OS X, the “1″ for Cheetah, and the “2″ for the second update to Cheetah. EveryMac.com’s information notes that the G4 is capable of running 10.4.11, the “4″ is for Tiger, and “11″ is the eleventh and final upgrade to Tiger.

The next question I needed to answer was: Would a 700mhz PowerPC function reasonably, with a few upgrades, with the last updated version of Tiger – 10.4.11? I’ll answer that question in my next installment.

Meanwhile, as I noted at the outset, the rather spontaneous decision to acquire a cute little iMac from a surplus auction has taught me a lot about Macs in general. Primarily that I’ve still got a lot of learning to do. Learning about the “cat nomenclature” and versions makes clear that my knowledge still lags behind the current technology a great deal. My Intel iMac – shipped with that Snow Leopard operating system – presently 10.6.8 {Mac OS X (10) Snow Leopard (6), 8th update}, is now out of date. The newest Mac OS – Lion (10.7) – had already been released when I acquired the G4 iMac. And I see now that yet another version, Mountain Lion (10.8) is currently scheduled for release this fall. Considering that it still seems I learn new things about my Mac on a weekly basis, I wonder if I am even too ignorant to decide about an operating system upgrade. Regardless of when I do upgrade, at least the cost is not an issue. Lion is only $29.99, as was, reportedly, Snow Leopard. I am definitely ignorant about a lot of things as compared to my understanding of Windows systems, but I’m not so ignorant that I don’t know that the cost of upgrading the Mac is significantly lower than for the cost of Windows; the upgrade versions are not recommended. Current cost (on Amazon.com) of Windows Vista: $99, Windows 7: $99 – $189.

I admit, I’ve got a lot of learning to do about Macs, but besides knowing that the difference in upgrade costs is advantageous, I also know it is just one of many reasons why the learning is worthwhile.

To be continued…

IowaHawk So You Have a College

This Should NOT Make Me Laugh

So…

*sigh*

In about six weeks, two of my three children will be college students.

*gulp*

It’s just absurd to find oneself become a living example of a cliche, but I’ve realized I have. Picture a woman who begins crying while staring at the pair of animal print flats on her feet. That would be me. Yeah, it’s embarrassing and I can’t even cite the traditional excuses women have at their disposal.

Pregnant women do occasionally cry for what seems like no reason whatsoever, but that one’s mostly a myth. Post-partum women also cry. It’s mostly not clinical depression, however, that’s another myth. For most, it’s perfectly understandable. It’s women who find themselves still in their pjs at one o’clock in the afternoon, who smell like spit up, who do the crying. If it’s your first baby, that’s reason enough. Moms in later rounds cry, too. But with additional babies, it’s not only because they don’t smell lilly fresh and are dog-tired. It’s because they find themselves comforting a crying eight week old while carefully chasing a two year old headed towards the bathroom with a set of car keys. While smelling like spit up. So tired they can hardly see. In their pjs. At three o’clock in the afternoon. This scenario would provoke tears in any woman of sense.

But I’m not pregnant, post-partum, or chasing a key-flushing toddler while holding a screaming baby (yes, he did beat me there).

I guess I'll have to buy these

No, I’m one of those other cliches. One that I’ve not heard about much. The one about the weepy mother who is sad to see one of her kids go. Animal print shoes can bring a mother to tears because the shoes are shared. And its not because the shoes are really cute (although they are). The realization comes that the shoes leaving means they are going with a certain pair of feet, come the end of August.

Again, *sigh*.

I will deal with the emotional “mommy response” on the whole thing. I’ve been doing it for over twenty years with each new phase, because that’s what the child needs now.

Then I can move onto a whole other set of worries about college. As a frugal Constitutional Christian, (a phrase chosen as a substitute for worn out terms like conservative) I’m driven crazy by the absurd costs, progressive indoctrination, and commune-styling living forced upon my child with bonus meal plan and text book side rackets. It’s all a bunch of nonsense, considering the point of the whole endeavor is supposed to be to obtain an education in a particular field in preparation for a career.

Considering the “mommy” thing and the college-drives-me-crazy-thing, I shouldn’t have laughed so hard I had another kind of tears in my eyes when I accidentally stumbled upon IowaHawk’s article entitled, “So You Have a College Diploma”.  Check it out. If you’re reading this and you have kids in college, or are about to, I particularly urge you to have a read. The good Lord knows we folks all need a good laugh.

Click to read "So You Have a College Diploma"

Speaking of laughter as a diversion, I found IowaHawk’s article by accident when going to the site to retrieve a link for a GiN article written by Linda about the “debt ceiling” debate, entitled, ironically “Debt Ceiling: I Laugh Because I Must Not Cry — That is All!” Check that out, too, if you have a mind (click the image below, to read the full article). I think it’s well done:

Click to read "Debt Ceiling: I Laugh Because I Must Not Cry -- That is All!

Just a flawed human being, doing what I can for liberty