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Been waiting to install Mac OS X? Be sure to read Rita Lewis’s detailed article on installing Mac OS X first for essential advice. Also this week, Adam looks at using inexpensive FireWire hard disks for backup. In the news, Microsoft releases Office 2001 for Mac Service Release 1,’s shipping charges increase, and we encourage caution with Apple’s recent firmware updates. Please note we’re suffering a partial network outage!

Adam Engst No comments

Network Outage!

Network Outage! TidBITS Technical Editor Geoff Duncan has discovered a reliable method to block all spam: have your network service provider suddenly go dark. TidBITS services hosted at digital.forest are accessible, but everything at (including our article database, TidBITS Talk archive, and polls) will be offline until DNS updates propagate (hopefully by the time you read this). Even then, performance to services will be less than ideal, since my 56 Kbps frame relay Internet connection isn’t the speediest and is already heavily used to distribute TidBITS Talk and most of our translations of TidBITS. We’re working hard to avoid downtime, minimize performance degradation, and restore Geoff’s connectivity, so please try to limit mail to essential issues. [ACE]

Jeff Carlson No comments

Microsoft Updates Office 2001

Microsoft Updates Office 2001 — Microsoft has released the Office 2001 for Mac Service Release 1, which updates the suite of applications for Mac OS 9.1 and Mac OS X compatibility, international language support, and other improvements. Word 2001 now correctly saves documents in Word 4.0 format and fixes a rare problem caused when documents with numbers were saved in Rich Text Format (RTF) and then opened in Word for Windows. Excel 2001 offers enhancements to the List Manager, printing, and when importing FileMaker data. PowerPoint 2001 better handles linked files and presentations created with PowerPoint for Windows, and improves the Save as Web Page feature. Entourage 2001 fixes a host of problems ranging from application crashes to rebuilding Entourage databases, along with better support for working with various SMTP and IMAP servers. The Service Release 1 is a free update, and is a 6.9 MB download. [JLC]

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Adam Engst No comments

Avoid Current Firmware Updates

Avoid Current Firmware Updates — Apple’s just-released firmware updates (4.1.7 and 4.1.8) for recent iMacs, plus the iBook, G4 Cube, Power Mac G4, and PowerBooks with FireWire ports have caused much gnashing of teeth. The firmware updates, which were released both on the Internet and on the Mac OS 9.1 CD-ROMs that come with Mac OS X, claim to make improvements to FireWire target disk mode, network booting, gigabit Ethernet networking, and overall stability. They also enable password protection of Open Firmware booting to increase the security of Mac OS X (which can protect its files via user privileges, but can’t do so when booted from Mac OS 9). The significant problem with these firmware updates is that something in them can prevent the Mac from recognizing some RAM modules from third party vendors. Apple has yet to make an official statement about the situation. Our advice: don’t install these firmware updates until there’s word from Apple. [ACE]

Mark H. Anbinder No comments’s Shipping Charges Increase Again’s Shipping Charges Increase Again — Just six weeks after mail-order vendor replaced its policy of free overnight shipping for all orders with one that offered free overnight shipping for orders totalling over $100, the company has again changed its approach (see "I Saw Free Ships…" in TidBITS-567). Effective 28-Mar-01, the company’s new shipping policy offers free (actually up to $100 in shipping charges) second day delivery via Airborne Express for orders totalling over $500 (excluding sales tax). Other orders may be shipped via Airborne Express second day for a flat fee of $8.95, or customers may choose overnight delivery for a $12.95 flat fee. Orders placed before 28-Mar-01 but not shipped until afterward due to inventory back order or pre-order status will not be affected by the change in shipping policy. The company cites recent increases in fuel costs, which have impacted all air and ground delivery costs, as the primary reason for the change. [MHA]



Adam Engst No comments

April Fools Day Apologies

April Fools Day Apologies — My apologies to everyone we suckered with the fake update posted on Sunday to our Web site about how rolling blackouts in California and the associated cut-overs from the power grid to generators at Apple’s data centers were causing Mac OS X to kernel panic if it accessed a mounted iDisk in a specific fashion. I particularly enjoyed the subsequent and rather technical discussion of the “problem” on TidBITS Talk. That said, my experience causing Mac OS X to kernel panic while using iDisk and relaunching the Finder (to try to get out of an accidental mounting of the iTunes disk image from my iDisk) was real. And on a more serious note, the fact that such a fabricated report was so believable shows just how large of an unknown space we’re entering with Mac OS X. [ACE]


Adam Engst No comments

What About Backing Up to FireWire Hard Disks?

Never let it be said that I’m not open to new ideas. After my recent review of Ecrix’s VXA-1 tape drive, a number of people asked why you couldn’t just use hard disks for backup.



I quickly responded with all the reasons that hard disks are a fairly poor option as a sole backup solution. To wit:

  • Cost: Hard disks are much more expensive than tapes.

  • Redundancy: A single backup isn’t sufficient for a good backup strategy.

  • Archiving: It’s easy to make an identical copy of a hard disk, but doing so loses the benefits of archived data.

  • Single Use: It’s tempting to use a backup hard disk for storing original data occasionally, putting backed up data at risk.

  • Convenience: It’s much harder to connect and disconnect hard disks than to insert and remove tapes.

  • Transportability: It’s harder to take hard disks to another site for protection against burglars, fire, or even earthquakes (not that we ever have those in Seattle).

But as the discussion progressed, I became convinced that hard disks can be used in a coherent backup strategy, thanks to the rise of cheap, large, FireWire hard disks. The dealmac Web site recently found an 80 GB FireWire hard disk at MadLogix for $335. At that price you could buy three hard disks for about $1,000, which is a good bit less than the roughly $1,500 you’d pay for a VXA-1 tape drive, its bundled 33 GB tape, plus 11 20 GB tapes (for a three backup set solution of comparable capacity). Even if I personally wouldn’t be comfortable buying from the vendor with the absolute cheapest price, inexpensive FireWire hard disks are also available from TidBITS sponsors APS Tech and Small Dog Electronics, along with, a new company run by some old friends with a long history in the storage business.




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An even more convenient approach might be to use removable FireWire hard disks in a bay. For instance, Granite Digital sells kit parts for trays into which you can install inexpensive IDE hard disks; you can then slot these trays into frames that fit into 5.25" half-height drive bays in an external enclosure. (Click the Hot-Swap Bays link in Granite Digital’s Web catalog). On the downside, the price of such a solution would probably be slightly more expensive than buying three stand-alone hard disks, and if the power supply in your external enclosure failed, all the hard disks would be inaccessible.


Answering the Criticisms — Anyway, in this sample situation, for $500 less, you end up with much faster backup media with no need to swap among four tapes. And once you eliminate the price differential between hard disks and tape systems, many of the other criticisms of hard disk backup systems fall away. Working through the list above:

  • Redundancy: When hard disks are as cheap as they are now, you can afford to purchase several to support a multiple backup set strategy. That’s necessary for a good backup strategy, since it’s all too easy for calamity to befall a single backup.

  • Archiving: Although a distinct psychological barrier remains when thinking about hard disks as write-once media, you should treat them as such for archiving purposes. Alternatively, occasional CD-R backups could also meet your archiving needs. You could even combine the two by using the hard disks for daily incremental backups, then using Retrospect’s transfer function to move the archive to a stack of CD-Rs (you’d need about 120 CD-Rs for this, which would cost about $60 and take quite some time to burn). It remains important to use a real backup program like Retrospect or Retrospect Express that backs up multiple versions of files, rather than a souped-up copy utility that duplicates your original hard disk. Identical copy backups don’t protect against corruption creeping into files, such as the databases used by many email programs. (This really happens, as was discussed at length in TidBITS Talk recently.)


  • Single Use: Nothing prevents you from using one of your backup hard disks for occasional storage of original data, but it’s a terrible idea to put your backups at risk like that. I recommend labelling the cases of the backup hard disks clearly to remind you of their purpose.

  • Convenience: FireWire hard disks are simple to connect to and disconnect from your Mac, which eliminates one of the barriers to using older SCSI hard disks for backups in the past. It’s important to minimize hassle in a backup strategy, since the more hassle there is, the less likely you are to back up regularly.

  • Transportability: Having multiple backup sets enables you to rotate one backup hard disk offsite at all times, something that wasn’t financially feasible before. Hard disks are larger than tapes, but that’s mostly a problem if you use a small safe-deposit box for offsite storage.

Hard disks still don’t compete against tape solutions if you have to back up a great deal of data (hundreds of gigabytes) to multiple backup sets (the more sets, the more tape makes sense). You’ll have to run the cost per gigabyte comparisons for your situation yourself, but the difference between a $335 hard disk and $180 worth of tapes will eventually eliminate the up-front cost of the tape drive.

There are also two limitations in the current version of Retrospect that could come into play. First, to back up to a hard disk, Retrospect requires you to use a Macintosh File backup set, which means your backup can’t span multiple hard disks. Second and more problematic is a limitation with how Retrospect stores its catalog files for Macintosh File backup sets. Retrospect stores the catalog data (the table of contents of the backup) in the file’s resource fork, and Mac OS 9 and the HFS+ disk format don’t support resource forks over 16 MB. The catalog size is related to the number of files backed up (not the amount of data), and creates a limit of between 75,000 and 95,000 files. As a workaround, you could create another Macintosh File backup set on the same hard disk when the first one fills up, and continue doing so until the hard disk itself fills up, after which you must decide what to archive permanently and what to use again. Dantz will undoubtedly address these concerns in a future version of Retrospect.

Realistically, though, installations with massive backup needs already have serious backup strategies and hardware already in place. (And if they don’t, they’re fools.) The comparison between tapes and cheap FireWire hard disks as backup media works best in situations with small to moderate amounts of data to back up. If you fall into that category and aren’t happy with your backup strategy currently, take a look at the option of multiple FireWire hard disks.

Rita Lewis No comments

Out of the Box: Installing Mac OS X

You’ve heard plenty online about Mac OS X from those who installed the Public Beta and those who took the jump before this. But now you’ve received your shiny white box with the big X, and after reading last week’s article about Mac OS X, you’re ready to install Apple’s new operating system. My goal here is to help you install and set up Mac OS X in as painless a manner as possible. The process is a bit like Mac OS X itself – simple on the surface, but complex under the hood, as you can tell if you read through the TidBITS Talk threads related to installation.


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System Recommendations — Officially, Apple says you need an original PowerPC G3 or G4-based Macintosh (other than the original PowerBook G3) with at least 128 MB RAM and 1.5 GB of hard disk space. As usual with new operating systems, the more processing power and memory you have, the better it operates. That’s how Apple sells new hardware, right? Personally, I’m running Mac OS X on a 400 MHz iMac DV SE with 256 MB of RAM. I’ve also installed it with no problems on my 366 MHz Indigo iBook with 198 MB of RAM.

I wouldn’t recommend running Mac OS X on non-Apple computers, but several Unix-experienced friends have reported success using Power Computing clones with PowerPC G3 upgrade cards, and others have managed to hack Mac OS X into running on Macs whose CPUs predate the PowerPC G3 as well.

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As far as RAM goes, 128 MB of RAM is a realistic minimum. You might theoretically get away with less if you’re not using Classic applications, since Mac OS X manages its virtual memory efficiently. But how many people won’t be using Mac OS X’s Classic mode at least some of the time? Since Classic puts the entire Mac OS 9.1 operating system in RAM when loading, Mac OS X needs at least 64 MB just for Classic. Initial reports indicate that memory beyond 128 MB improves performance.

Mac OS X itself requires about 1.1 GB of hard disk space for a default installation (you can opt out of installing extra printer drivers and the BSD subsystem, each of which take about 80 MB), which it spreads across many thousands of files and folders. I assume Mac OS X requires the rest of the disk space for virtual memory swap space. Welcome to the wonderful world of Unix, and as you can tell, hard disk speed and possibly fragmentation level will play a part in overall performance, since Mac OS X will be hitting the disk constantly.

Advice for Testers — Before I delve into the basics of a safe installation process, let me make a few points for those who have tried one of the earlier releases. I have now installed every version of Mac OS X from Developer’s Preview 1 to the official release, and I’ve come up with the following pieces of advice.

If you installed any version of Mac OS X prior to the Public Beta on a hard disk partition, you probably have a corrupted partition and should run the latest version of Norton Disk Doctor or Micromat’s TechTool Pro and try to repair it. If these programs can’t fix the damage, you must back up and reinitialize your hard disk, then restore from your backup. Frankly, that might be safest anyway.



Although Mac OS X will install over the Public Beta, the process is much slower than installing from scratch because the installer has to work hard to figure out which of the many thousands of files have changed. Also, there have been reports of performance problems and other weird behaviors from such an approach. Although installing over the Public Beta retains all your settings (not a big deal unless you used it heavily), you won’t get some new stuff. For instance, on an iBook, if you install over the Public Beta, you won’t get the battery monitor in the Dock by default, as you do after doing a clean install.

Preparing for Mac OS X — Now, for everyone else… Unless you are installing on a Mac containing no useful data, the first thing you should do is back up everything (not just important data) to a location from which you can restore easily. Despite the similarities in the way you use it, Mac OS X is a vastly different environment from any previous version of the Mac OS, and although you should not lose data, it is possible. Be smart and back up.

The next step is to decide whether you want to install Mac OS X on the same partition as your existing copy of the Mac OS, or if you’d prefer to separate the two by partitioning your hard disk and installing Mac OS X on a different partition. I’ve seen no difference in the safety of data, but it’s easier to customize or even get rid of a Mac OS X installation entirely if you’ve dedicated a partition to it. Of course, if you have working data on your hard disk, you’ll need that backup to restore your data after reformatting and partitioning with Apple’s Drive Setup utility.

If you’re not running Mac OS 9.1 currently, you’ll need to install it before installing Mac OS X, and it’s generally easiest to find, download, and install any necessary updates to the programs you use while you’re in a familiar environment. I recommend starting with the newest versions of your programs when upgrading versions of the operating system because it saves you grief in the long run. Otherwise, you might have crashes from, for instance, an old extension that isn’t compatible with the new operating system, and you don’t want to see crashes as soon as you’ve finished installation. One additional suggestion – if you see a Mac OS X version of a program while downloading an update, snag the Mac OS X version at the same time. You’ll want it eventually, and again, it’s easier to work in your familiar environment right now.

VersionTracker is the first place to look for and download updates. If you don’t mind spending some money, you could purchase either Insider Software’s $70 UpgradeAgent 8 (it also runs under Mac OS X as Upgrade Agent X) or Casady and Greene’s $40 Chaos Master (which uses VersionTracker to compare versions). These programs scour your hard disk and return a list of applications that have updates available. Then it is just a matter of spending hours downloading patches and running their installers.




Still assuming that you’re not already running Mac OS 9.1, you’ll need to install it next. Apple has made it easy by including a Mac OS 9.1 CD-ROM in the box with Mac OS X. (Note, however, that PowerBook G4, Power Mac G4 (Digital Audio) and iMac (Early 2001) machines that come pre-installed with Mac OS 9.1 cannot boot from the Mac OS 9.1 CD included with Mac OS X.) There are a few interesting changes in Mac OS 9.1, but the two that affect you the most with Mac OS X are the way it rearranges your folder structure (the Applications folder becomes "Applications (Mac OS 9)" and the Internet, Utilities, and Apple Extras folders move inside it) and the new Startup Disk control panel that enables you to switch between Mac OS 9.1 and Mac OS X. It’s a good idea to move all your custom Mac OS 9 folders inside Apple’s default folder hierarchy to avoid file permissions problems. The top level of your hard disk should thus contain only Applications (Mac OS 9), Documents, and System Folder. Also, be sure to run the Software Update control panel to check for any recent updates, such as the essential Startup Disk 9.2.1 control panel Apple released last week.

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Also noteworthy, on the Mac OS 9.1 CD-ROM in the CD Extras folder, there are a number of firmware updaters for the blue & white Power Mac G3, the iMac, the iBook, the Power Mac G4, and the PowerBook (FireWire). Apple recommends using these firmware updates, but if you have third party RAM in your Mac, the potential of having that RAM disabled outweighs the benefits, so hold off on those until Apple addresses the problems.

At this point, you should have Mac OS 9.1 running, with all of your extensions and control panels. They’re some of the most likely things to break under Mac OS X’s Classic mode, so shut them all off by using Extensions Manager to switch to a Mac OS 9.1 All set of extensions. Those should work under Mac OS X, and once you’re in Mac OS X’s Classic mode, you can create a set which contains just the Mac OS 9.1 extensions and control panels you need, and to which you can slowly add your third-party extensions. (Casady & Greene’s Conflict Catcher 8.0.8 knows about Mac OS 9.1 and can even switch between extension sets depending on whether you’re in Mac OS 9.1 or in Classic under Mac OS X, but a bug means you have to enter your registration information in Classic each time if you’re using a single-partition approach.)

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One last thing. Although you should do so before installing any software, be sure to read the READ BEFORE YOU INSTALL.pdf file located on the Mac OS X CD-ROM for information about things you might want to do before installation (especially with beige Power Mac G3 and the PowerBook G3 Series machines with large partitioned hard disks). If you launch right into the installer and read this info at the start of the installation process, you won’t be able to back out without restarting the Mac.

Phew! You are now ready to install Mac OS X itself. Luckily, that’s much easier than all the preparation.

Setup and Installation — The actual process of installation is almost trivially easy, although it can take some time (half an hour or more). You can start the installation while booted into Mac OS 9.1, though the installer immediately reboots from the Mac OS X CD-ROM; or, you can just boot from the Mac OS X CD-ROM directly by holding down the C key during startup. Apple recommends the latter as a troubleshooting approach should the initial attempt fail for some reason.

At the initial startup, Mac OS X provides you with a new version of the Setup Assistant that Apple has used for years. Each screen of the Setup Assistant asks for different information, such as your time zone, your localization requirements (language and keyboard), and so forth.

The Setup Assistant also walks you through creating your user account – remember, Mac OS X is inherently a multiple user system – and in the User Account pane, you must enter a long name (for File Sharing purposes) as well as a short name (but not "root" or, possibly "wheel", both of which are special accounts in Unix) and password. Write these down on paper and store them in a secure location! The short name and password are very important because they give you authority to change important preferences and set up how other users can access your Mac. Luckily, Mac OS X makes this account an administrator-level account (so you can set up and manage preferences and access) and defaults to an automatic login, so you don’t have to enter a password on every restart.

In previous versions of the Mac OS, a separate Internet Setup Assistant helped you configure your Mac for use on the Internet. In Mac OS X, the main Setup Assistant does this as well, so make sure you know your email address, mail server addresses, DNS addresses, modem access numbers, passwords, and so on. One departure from the previous Internet Setup Assistant is that Mac OS X’s Setup Assistant asks you for your iTools account (and lets you sign up for one if you haven’t already). This is worthwhile – access to your iDisk is built into the Mac OS X Finder in the Go menu, and Apple is already making software like iTunes and iMovie available via iDisk.

Switching Back and Forth — The details of using Mac OS X are beyond the scope of this article (and of course, if you’ve bought into Apple’s rhetoric, Mac OS X is utterly intuitive, right?), but there is one important task you need to know how to perform – how to switch back to Mac OS 9.1. If you’re like almost everyone else, you’ll need to do that on occasion when you run into software that doesn’t work in Mac OS X’s Classic mode. And, if you’ve installed the new operating system on your primary Mac, you may find that working in Mac OS 9.1 is necessary to get your work done efficiently.

To switch from Mac OS X back to Mac OS 9.1, choose System Preferences from the Apple menu (or click its icon in the Dock). Click the Startup Disk icon in either the toolbar (Apple set it as one of the favorites that appears there no matter what other control panel you’re using) or in the collection of control panels below. You’ll see a list of System Folders that can boot your Mac (at least one for Mac OS X and one for Mac OS 9.1, and possibly more, depending on your setup). Select one with Mac OS 9, and then choose Restart from the Apple menu to restart the Mac.

When the Mac reboots, you’ll notice that some new files and folders have appeared at the top level of your hard disk (assuming you installed on a single partition). Along with the Mac OS 9.1 System Folder, Documents, and Applications (Mac OS 9) folders, you’ll see a new Applications folder that holds Mac OS X applications, a System folder that contains much of the guts of Mac OS X, a Users folder that holds folders and sub-folders for each user, and a Library folder that contains folders for shared files like fonts. Also at the top level are two files – mach and mach.sym – that are part of Mac OS X and are invisible when you’re in Mac OS X.

Feel free to explore the new Mac OS X folders while in Mac OS 9.1 – you’ll probably find navigating in the familiar Mac OS 9.1 Finder to be much faster and more fluid. However, do not move or delete anything! In previous versions of the Mac OS, there were a few files that were dangerous to move, such as the System and Finder and any enablers or Mac OS ROM files, but short of those, you couldn’t do much serious damage. That’s totally not true of Mac OS X – move or delete the wrong file while in Mac OS 9.1 and the whole thing may cease to work. Worse, there aren’t yet many people out there who will be able to help).

Plus, Mac OS X uses many more invisible files and folders, which means that if you end up with a bad installation for some reason and want to erase it, just deleting visible Mac OS X files and folders while in Mac OS 9.1 won’t completely uninstall Mac OS X. First, make sure to switch to Mac OS 9.1 in the Startup Disk control panel (this is important), reboot, and then start deleting things, including all those invisible files and folders (utilities like DiskTop and Greg’s Browser can display and manipulate invisible files and folders). This is the point at which having Mac OS X on its own partition would save some time and uncertainty, since you could just choose Erase Disk from the Finder’s Special menu.




When you’re finished in Mac OS 9.1 and ready to return to Mac OS X, just open the Startup Disk control panel in Mac OS 9.1, click the disclosure triangle to reveal the different valid operating systems, choose the Mac OS X System folder, and click the Restart button. A few minutes later, you’ll be back in the watery wonderland of Mac OS X.

Go West, Young Mac — Where to go from here? I’d encourage you to explore Mac OS X on your own first – there’s nothing like personal experience to help you make up your own mind what you think about Apple’s efforts at redesigning the Macintosh interface. For additional tips, opinions, and a moderated forum for asking questions, subscribe to TidBITS Talk (send an email message to <[email protected]>), where the Mac OS X discussions have been going strong. And of course, I’m sure additional articles about Mac OS X will be forthcoming in TidBITS over the next few months.

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[Rita Lewis is the author of over 20 Macintosh books, including the best-selling Mac OS in a Nutshell from O’Reilly.]