The phenomenon of old tech guilty pleasures

Indisputably the latest and greatest now, today's top dog spec machines offer no guarantee of enduring relationships with users

dead pc personal computers
Credit: Christopher Sessums, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr

Most everyone has a go to throwback piece of technology they occasionally deploy. Many of us are slightly embarrassed about it, though, and refrain from sharing with anyone the less than modern gear we still love to work regularly with or break out on a hobbyist basis.

Donald Trump is supposedly scoring big with nostalgia voters -- those graybeards who yearn for a return to yesterday. I, for one, do not want to revisit the past, except, of course, when it comes to technology.

If elected president, Trump is doomed to fail if he believes he can return manufacturing jobs to this country that have long since been off-shored. He should just let that one go.

Those of us who still employ older hardware and software to do their jobs, however, do so because it works and it’s fun -- something missing from the thought process, generally-speaking, when consumers consider purchasing new computers these days.

“Which of these on the shelf here, sir, are going to provide something I’ll still be using to get stuff done 15 years from now?”

“Well, man, that would probably be nothing here.”

And there you have it.

Today’s hardware and software get the job done now for sure. The computing power available today dwarfs anything that existed in the recent past. But most, if not much of today's powerful hardware will eventually become a distant memory for end users due to its lack of staying power, or what I like to call computing "soul."

Soul, like love, is something you know you have once it arrives. And metal and plastic typically do not have soul. But, soul occasionally manifests magically upon the collective assembly of metal, plastic and lines of code that run atop them.

Windows in various flavors of 7, 8 and 10 is what I use most. However, I also utilize a heavily upgraded with after market parts, circa 1999, Apple Power Mac G4.

That’s right.

This machine was purchased used for a song. It helped repair (pun intended) my impression of Apple computers after buying an Un-Performa 5215CD Power Mac that was, in my humble opinion, one of the worst computers Apple ever produced. And everything awful that the Performa was, the Power Mac G4 -- a.k.a. “Sawtooth” -- was that much the opposite.

sawtooth g4 Photo by Bob Skelley

The Sawtooth G4 as old tech guilty pleasure

The Power Mac G4 featured the PowerPC G4 chip. Today, anyone interested in owning a piece of Apple history (from when Apple still had the “Computer” after its name) and wanting to increase their original Power Mac’s computing capabilities, can buy refurbished after market processors and video cards online.

Apple isn’t showing much love to today’s Mac lineup regarding how overdue for a refresh many of the models are, including the Mac Pro. Back in the days of the G4, a different time, of course, Macs were Apple’s go to products. Now, not so much. But, I still like my Sawtooth G4, and even now used it composing this piece.

Sure, I could use one of my Windows machines to write with. Or even a newer iMac. But, I’m using Microsoft Word 2008 for Mac on the Power Mac G4 featuring the last update of this Word variant: 12.3.6. Why? Like anything else, it just feels right and better than anything else. Still.

I remember when I worked as a commercial and financial typesetter for many years. I always enjoyed computers, but a Mac at its price seemed perpetually out of reach. Macs retained their value but were more costly than similarly aged computers on the pages of eBay. But, it was the heavily-touted-by-Apple Power Mac line that finally became affordable to the masses with the advent of eBay and the used Mac reseller market.

The Sawtooth is 17 years old. I’m risking ridicule (again) by revealing embarrassment, or lack thereof, for writing about and with it.

The Sawtooth features (gasp) Mac OS X 10.5.8 Leopard. But the best kept secret about Power Macs running Leopard is they have three modern browsers available that are regularly updated by their developers. Roccat Browser for Mac is amazingly enough being developed for PowerPC and Intel processors, requiring Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard or later.

But wait, there’s more…

A 17-year-old Power Mac running either Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger or Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard can also use TenFourFox. This is a PowerPC-only modern browser regularly updated by developer Cameron Kaiser who obviously enjoys a labor of love.

There are TenFourFox optimized builds for the G3, G4 and G5 PowerPC processors as well. From the TenFourFox website: “More than ever, Power Macs are the computers people love to keep, for all kinds of reasons. They’re more “Mac” than today’s Macs.” Can’t say I disagree.

And finally, on the browsing front, there’s Leopard WebKit for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, which is a current build of WebKit. Leopard WebKit versions run on both PowerPC and Intel-powered chips. I particularly like Leopard WebKit on a Wi-Fi connection on the Sawtooth via a USB Wi-Fi adapter; on wired connections, all of these browsers perform quite capably.

So, there you have it -- the Frankenmac Sawtooth that is my unashamed old tech guilty pleasure.

What’s yours?

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