Daniel Eran Dilger
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Ten Myths of Leopard: 7 Premature Death for Existing Macs!

Daniel Eran Dilger
Myth 7 in the Ten Myths of Leopard.

Ten Myths of Leopard: 1 Graphics Must Be Slow!
Ten Myths of Leopard: 2 It’s Only a Service Pack!
Ten Myths of Leopard: 3 Nothing New for Developers!
Ten Myths of Leopard: 4 Java 6 Abandonment!
Ten Myths of Leopard: 5 “Back To My Mac” Security Panic!
Ten Myths of Leopard: 6 Time Machine Eats Hard Drives!
Ten Myths of Leopard: 7 Premature Death for Existing Macs!

Ten Myths of Apple iPhone
Ten Myths of the Apple TV

Myth 7: Leopard Prematurely Cuts Support for Existing Macs. Writing for the LowEndMac.com, Ted Hodges wrote that Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard’s “system requirements are ridiculous,” and described the culling of 60 older Mac models from official support under Leopard as “an outrage.”

I happened to have recently written about the history of Mac support in operating systems just a couple weeks prior, so the actual figures are still in my head. In “Leopard and the History and Future of Mac OS X on PowerPC,” I actually presented why it was unlikely that Apple would drop support for PowerPC Macs even in the next generation of Mac OS X.

Leopard Pales Before Mac OS 8.5 for Macs Left Behind, Dual Processor Benefits, and More
60 Mac Models Left Behind: The Ridiculously High Cost of Leopard

Why Too Much Backward Support Is a Bad Thing.
However, I also laid the blame for Apple’s software stagnation in the mid 90s in part upon setting unreasonable expectations that its latest software would run on ancient machines. Mac System 7.5.5 in 1996 was officially supported on the decade old Mac Plus from 1986. Was this a feature?

Hardly. The Mac Plus was functionally obsolete. It was painfully slow in 1991 running the then new System 7. Using one could be described as an exercise in nostalgia long before the mid 90s. Should Apple really have maintained official support for a machine nobody was using in a serious fashion in 1996, while the company was going down in flames?

Remember that in 1990, Apple basically reintroduced the 1987 Macintosh II in a smaller case as the “new” consumer-level Mac LC. That machine was no speed demon when it arrived, so even supporting it five years later was a stretch, not to mention a system like the Mac Plus that had long outlived its usefulness in running the latest software.

PowerPC Future

Leopard and the History and Future of Mac OS X on PowerPC

The March of Mac OS X.
Since the release of Mac OS X 10.0, which limited support to the G3 desktops introduced in 1997, Apple has maintained about five years of official support. Using hacks such as XPostFacto, users can support even older machines.

Leopard maintains a similar window of support for five to six year old Macs. This is very reasonable, particularly since the existing Tiger still supports Macs released before Mac OS X, models which are now eight years old.

The new features of Leopard don’t offer a lot to users with aging machines that lack modern video hardware, so demanding that Apple officially support those models with Leopard is unreasonable. In contrast, PC users don’t expect to run the latest version of Windows on machines that are more than a year or two old.

Running Leopard on Unsupported Macs.
Even so, Carl Howe of Blackfriar’s notes that he installed Leopard on a dual 800 MHz Quicksilver G4, which doesn’t match the official system requirements. He described it as “quite responsive.” However, there are other support issues he highlighted.

First was the lack of support for AirPort devices from older models. Howe specifically noted this on a 1GHz PowerBook G4. [Update: I cited this wrong. The problem isn’t unsupported AirPort on this supported model. In reality, it appears the problem has to do with a Tiger AirPort driver being left in place. Michael Lafferty notes on the Apple Support discussions that:

“Some users have determined that an artifact left over from Mac OS X 10.4.x interferes with wireless connections after Mac OS X 10.5 is installed. As explained in this thread, the issue can be dealt with by finding and removing the AppleAirPort2.kext file from your Extensions folder, located here: Macintosh HD/System/Library/Extensions.”]

Apple – Support – Discussions – G4 PPC and wireless

The second issue was indexing and backing up files using Time Machine. Older machines have the same million and a half files to manage, but much less horsepower to handle touching them all in the initial backup session. After that completes, there is less demand for subsequent backups.

Howe also noted that it appeared Leopard makes more aggressive use of SATA disk controllers. He reported a four-fold increase in file transfer speed over Tiger on his system, but also ran into intermittent problems with an add-on USB card he chalked up to a difference in timing issues.

[Update: Howe corrected my comments, pointing out that “Leopard is actually *more* reliable on my dual 800-MHz Quicksilver than Tiger. Yes, the timing is different, but that different timing has eliminated a significant kernel panic caused by the interaction between the SATA and the USB 2.0 PCI controllers on Tiger. So this is a plus in the Leopard column, not a minus.”]

As systems age, the number of people interested in upgrading rapidly declines and the number of potential problems–caused by running more aggressive system software on older variations of hardware components–begins to increase substantially. It appears Apple did a pretty fair job of supporting what users could expect, while not wasting resources in trying support machines that are increasingly irrelevant.

Blackfriars’ Marketing: Upgrading to Leopard, ancient hardware edition

What do you think? I really like to hear from readers. Comment in the Forum or email me with your ideas.

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  • fellaintga

    I would love to see an article on this “Leopard turns firewall off on default setting.” totally ignoring the fact that no other services are turned like file sharing when will people learn its different on a Mac and don’t whine about Mac to get attention just don’t buy one.

  • John Muir

    Leopard’s fine on this 1 GHz PowerBook, Airport and all, so I’ve nothing to complain about and certainly no kernel panics.

    As for the LEM story: I wasn’t entirely surprised to see reservations with Leopard over there but the outrage in some posts did seem a little over the top. “It’s all just eye candy” and dodgy Vista comparison myths were stirred by a few writers. I understand their perspective as out and out Low End fans, but I’m more with the site’s editor on this one: namely that Leopard is what it should be and that Tiger is a sterling end point for a host older Macs. I’ve a 1999 iMac serving as my last Tiger and Classic box, a task it’s well suited to.

    Some LEM readers also pointed out that OS 8.1 (if I recall) set the record for high minimum hardware requirements historically speaking … not so long but far less remembered than the opposite case with 7.5.5 and the prehistoric Mac Plus. Leopard sits safely in between.

  • http://lowendmac.com/ Low End Dan

    We’re collecting user reports on “unsupported” Leopard installations at Low End Mac. At this point we have reports of success on almost every unsupported G4 Mac ever made – and a pair of reports of Leopard running on G4-upgraded Pismos. Slower Macs and older graphics processors tend to lose a bit of the eye candy, like the transparent menu, but generally support almost everything Leopard has to offer. Apple’s 867 MHz cutoff is arbitrary, and we’re sharing ways to get around it.

    Also, it’s often mentioned that System 7.5.5 (Oct. 1996) fully supported the Mac Plus (introduced in 1986). And it’s often mentioned how slow an 8 MHz Mac is under System 7.anything. What’s often overlooked is that the Mac Plus was not discontinued until Oct. 1990, System 7.5 was introduced 4 years later, and 7.5.5 was just an incremental upgrade to that OS. It’s the equivalent of saying that Mac OS X 10.4.10 supports Macs going back 8 years, while 10.4.0 only supported Macs going back 6 years.

    BTW, we agree 100% that it would be pure folly for Apple to drop support for PowerPC Macs in 18-24 months, when 10.6 is likely to appear. But 3-4 years down the road is another story entirely.

    Still living with Classic – Dan Knight, LowEndMac.com

  • http://www.coolgrafix.com coolgrafix

    It’s perfectly reasonable to stop supporting “old” machines. However, in my house we have three machines that see use: my MacBook Pro, my wife’s 800Mhz iBook G4, and the kids’ 700Mhz iMac G4. Only the MacBook Pro meets the installation requirements. The other machines aren’t “old,” and still see lots of use. Maybe I’m too involved to be objective on this one, but it does seem unreasonable to exclude these machines, the oldest of which is five years old.

  • http://homepage.mac.com/johnnyapple johnnyapple

    I’m perfectly happy running Leopard on my 5 year old 867 MHz PowerBook and have absolutely no expectation that I will be able to run 10.6. That’s just silly.

    I didn’t see the article. Did Ted Hodges make any sort of comparison with Vista running on older PCs. I doubt that the PC hardware that has actually survived 5 or 6 years can run Vista. My former work Dell (I use Parallels now) could barely handle XP with more than two apps running. That machine was new 3 years ago.

    If Apple supported older machines, say back to 500 MHz G4, would any of the new features be useful? I doubt it.

  • http://www.roughlydrafted.com danieleran

    @LowEndDan – it’s a good point that Apple kept selling old technology, with the Mac Plus up into 1990. I mentioned the recycling of the Mac II as the LC, but it’s also interesting that Apple repackaged the Mac Plus as the “Mac Classic” in 1990 and continued to sell it for another two years.

    While Mac Classics sold in 1992 were “only 4 years old” in 1996, they were really ten years old in terms of design and performance.

    A reader also sent me a note that applies the same principle to more recent machines, particularly the G3 and G4:

    I have some comments on your Leopard-article regarding the Macs left behind due to the upgrade-restrictions:

    First of all it is a good thing to leave older systems behind to get better support for the newer, more current configurations. One thing that has been missed is how much the evolution of Apple-systems was held hostage by the stagnating development of the G4 at Motorola and to a far lesser extent the G5 at IBM. People still using the G3 should be happy to get such a long life out of an older architecture. I believe the G3 was used well beyond its
    acceptable shelf-life.

    It is unfortunate that Apple kept on selling machines with a G3 until well into 2003 with the white iBook. They could not make the switch to the G4 until they could differentiate their iBooks from the 12″-Powerbook. The reason being that Motorola increased the clockrate of the G4 at a very slow pace.

    The second thing: Apple sells one unified OS that offers the same feature set on all supported machines. If a feature is not USABLE on an older configuration (e.g. Time Machine) then they don’t dump the feature but they do not support the configuration. In this way Apple is not forced to sell tiered OS-Version suitable for old, newer and the newest hardware but can offer one user-experience for all users and one plattform for all developers.

    And lastly: Just because the latest OS does not support certain hardware does not make the hardware obsolete. You can still get things done. To my mind, as long as you can run any version of OS X including Panther, you have a modern machine.

    So much for my thoughts on your article. All the best in your endeavor to enlighten the world on all things Apple.

    Best regards

    Marin Balabanov

  • http://homepage.mac.com/johnnyapple johnnyapple

    There is some confusion surrounding the word “support”
    Apple still supports 10.4 and will continue to provide security updates. You’re still supported even if you don’t update to 10.5.

  • http://www.nyceducated.info/ Michael P

    In contrast, PC users don’t expect to run the latest version of Windows on machines that are more than a year or two old.

    Windows XP, upon its release in 2001, would run just as smoothly on my 7 1/2 year old Dell laptop as it does now. Windows XP supports such a great range of hardware, from all of today’s modern machines to some of the turn-of-the-century computers, similar in comparison to Mac OS over the years.

    One more thing: Macs are “personal computers” too! Please don’t use that label for Windows-based systems.

  • John Muir

    Michael P: everyone does. I wish people didn’t, to be honest, as ridiculous circumstances regularly crop up where software X will run “on PC” but not Linux. PC = Windows, which is stupid. The Apple II was a PC too!

    All that’s happened is the old phrase “IBM PC or 100% Compatible” morphed into “PC” and/or “Windows”.

    As for the old software point: you’re right, for advanced users who could do just as well in Linux too. But give the average user an old machine and they’re going to struggle. Older Macs hold their own, in large part thanks to the total absence of crapware loaded on them compared to already sluggish elderly “PC’s”!

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