aquiline ascension

published: 2010-11-01
author: Hans Nowak

N things to do with an iBook clamshell

A few years ago I wrote The Cheapskate Guide to G3 iMacs, and the addendum for iBook clamshells.

I still love these guys; if I had the money, I would collect all 5 clamshell colors. But, you might wonder, what can you do with them nowadays, considering their age (the line was discontinued in 2001)? Here are some ideas.

1. Programming. The old clamshells are not speed monsters, but if you stick to the command line, you'll find that there are recent versions available of many programming languages, that are quite usable. Java, Python, Perl, Ruby, they all work without problems. More obscure languages can be found too via MacPorts, like Q. Many Scheme and Lisp variants are available as well. Chicken Scheme compiles fine on a G3, for example. If you like heavier stuff, Clozure Common Lisp (formerly OpenMCL) has a distribution for PowerPC as well. You could easily turn your old clamshell into a Lisp machine if you wanted to. (Well, sort of... :-)

JVM-based languages should work as well, but are often slow to start. The same is true for libraries like PyGame; they work, but for most tasks you really need a faster machine. (Then again, I am working on a library for retro graphics using PyGame, and it runs OK on a clamshell.)

The most popular editors work as well. There are fairly recent versions of vim and Emacs available, and TextMate works fine too. (As long as you are not operating on folders with thousands of files, anyway.)

2. E-book reader. Kindle? Bah! Who needs that when you can read PDFs just fine on your iBook. There are programs to read other file formats as well, like Chmox. This works on systems that have 10.3 installed as well (like most of the tangerine and blueberry iBooks). 1 

3. Portable C64. Power64 is a pretty good emulator. It costs $32 to register, but for that money you get software that works fine on these old clamshells. It has a fullscreen mode, which is just right for the clamshell's screen size and resolution. Also, even the machines with smaller hard disks (like 10 Gb) still have plenty of space to store thousands of games.

Of course, if you would rather have a portable Apple ][, that can be done as well, using for example the Catakig emulator. Emulators for other systems may be available also.

4. Play and create interactive fiction. Interactive fiction, known in the old days as "text adventures", doesn't require a very powerful machine. Games can ofte be run from the command line or using a dedicated application like Spatterlight, Zoom or MacFrotz. If you like to writing IF yourself, it's possible to run Inform 7 on iBooks; other authoring systems may be available as well.

5. Read comics. Comics can be downloaded in various odd places online (finding them is left as an exercise to the reader). They can be viewed easily using ViewIt or Xee.

6. Blogging. Fairly recent versions of Safari (4) and Firefox work as intended on a G3 running Tiger. Don't try to watch videos or play Flash games, but sites that are less heavy on the processor should pose no problem. This includes blogging software like Wordpress. Or, if you swing that way, there are many command line blogging tool nowadays.

7. Watch DVDs. Some clamshells on eBay are retrofitted with a DVD player. It is possible to watch movies like this, although I do recommend closing all other programs, and turning off things you don't really need, like Dashboard and maybe Spotlight.

8. Install text-only Linux. Running the latest Ubuntu on an iBook is possible, but kind of slow (I've tried it). However, it's mostly the GUI/desktop environment that will tax the processor and memory. Running a command line only Linux is perfectly doable without the performance hassles. Many Linuxen have "server" versions that don't include a GUI. Personally I have had success with the PPC version of Gentoo.

9. Dedicated Nethack machine. Who doesn't like Nethack, the king of roguelikes? Sure, it isn't World of Warcraft, but that is actually a *good* thing in more than one respect. Not only is it pretty much the deepest game I've ever played, it's also graphically undemanding; it runs on any terminal. A dedicated Macintosh version is available.


1  Admittedly, some of the larger PDFs can be quite sluggish when viewed on an iBook, at least with Preview.

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