Can I give my Mac laptop a newer operating system?
March 8, 2009 1:57 PM   Subscribe

How can I "upgrade" my Mac PowerBook G4's OS 10.3.9 to at least a 10.4.9 in order to install MS Office Home & Student Edition?

I had to replace my 5-6 year old hard drive and the laptop is now working well. The old hard drive had MS Office for Mac installed on it and the new one doesn't, of course. The MS Office system requirements say I need a minimum of 10.4.9 to install the program. Is there anything I can do to the laptop (get a different hard drive, install more memory, etc.) that will get the OS up to at least 10.4.9? I really only need MS Word and internet ability so I'm trying to avoid buying a new laptop, if possible.
posted by kim in chicago to Computers & Internet (20 answers total)
1) Purchase Mac OS X 10.4.x from a retailer. It is still for sale out there, but the prices tend to be jacked since it's not really available from Apple anymore, as far as I can tell. You certainly shouldn't pay more than $100 for it.

2) Upgrade to Mac OS X 10.5.x (Leopard). Your PowerBook G4 is qualified to run it and I've successfully run it on 1GHz PowerBook G4s with no problems. If you go this route, you will want to max out the RAM for your computer, an inexpensive and easy upgrade. 1GB chips for your PowerBook G4 can be found at Crucial,, or (just a few; there are dozens of RAM vendors).

3) Forgo MSO entirely and download and installed NeoOffice

Worst case scenario, PM me and I can locate a "used" copy of Tiger that has been retired from my business clients (because they have upgraded to Leopard) and will resale it to you at a reasonable price.
posted by at 2:06 PM on March 8, 2009

Wow, I feel like a huge dork because apparently this was a really dumb question. Someone told me years ago that I was stuck with this old operating system, and now it sounds like all I need to do is upgrade to a newer system. Who knew?

Someone at the Apple Store just told me that she didn't think Leopard would run on my computer, but it sounds like you have had success with it. I'll give it a try and if it doesn't work I will contact you regarding buying a used copy of Tiger. Another dumb question, though: how do I PM you? Not sure what PM means...

Thanks so much for your help.
posted by kim in chicago at 3:01 PM on March 8, 2009

Sorry...PM means private message, or the top of your MetaFilter window.

It's worth want more RAM if you're going to upgrade to Leopard. Put in as much RAM as the machine will support. You'll thank me later. You want a minimum of 1GB.
posted by at 3:03 PM on March 8, 2009

If I'm reading the RAM vendors' and Apple Support's sites correctly, it looks like 1 GB is the highest I can go for the PowerBook G4 and will cost me about $50. Does this sound right to you?
posted by kim in chicago at 3:28 PM on March 8, 2009

Well, which PowerBook G4 do you have? Open up System Profiler...go to Apple Menu, About this Mac, then click "More Info"...and tell me what speed processor you have and what is says next to "Model Identifier" in the Hardware section of System Profiler.

Apple's support site usually lists only the RAM maximums that were published at the time the computer was released. And since RAM densities have increased over the years, it's often true that you can put more RAM in a Mac than Apple's support site says. One place you can look up true RAM maximums is MacTracker, a neat database of Mac models and their specs.
posted by at 3:56 PM on March 8, 2009

I think your computer will run better with 10.4.9 (also known as Tiger) than with Leopard. I would definitely recommend this upgrade if you can find a copy for a price you can afford. Also, what mrbarrett says about RAM is very good advice.
There are some other options you could consider:
1) You could just replace the old version of Office that you lost, without upgrading your system. It was probably MS Office 2004? There are people still selling it online. Where did you get it from? If you have the disks, they will still work on OS 10.3.
2) Do you really need MS Word? There are a lot of other word processing programs out there that can read and write MS Word formats, and I prefer pretty much any of them to Word! All of them are cheaper. Many of them require an update to 10.4.9, but once you've done that I suggest you try a couple of them out before spending money on Word. Three recommendations: Bean is nice and best of all free; Pages is part of Apple's iWork office suite; Nisus Writer Express is another I have used and like. You might need some feature of Word that these don't have, but most people don't.
3) I'm not sure what you mean by "internet ability", but I doubt you need MS Office for it. You should be browsing the web using the Safari program that comes with the OS, or another free alternative like Firefox or Camino, but definitely NOT Internet Explorer. The Mac version of that is useless. If you mean email, again there are alternatives that came with your OS ( or are free (Thunderbird).
posted by nowonmai at 4:19 PM on March 8, 2009

I'm surprised you were told you couldn't upgrade your PowerBook G4's OS. I have an iBook G4 running 10.4.11. It's got 768 MB RAM and it runs Microsoft Office 2004 as well as various web browsers such as Firefox and Safari without problems. So there should be no problems getting Tiger running on your PowerBook. I would probably not upgrade to Leopard, though. If you are getting extra RAM, be careful about where you are getting it from, as some third-party RAM has been known to cause problems.

Which version of MS Office are you installing? Older versions can't t handle MS's current Word docx format. iWork '08 (current version is '09) can open docx files.
posted by needled at 5:23 PM on March 8, 2009

Here is what I found on About This Mac:

Machine Model: PowerBook G4 12"
CPU Type: PowerPC G4 (1.1)
Number Of CPUs: 1
CPU Speed: 1 GHz
L2 Cache (per CPU): 512 KB
Memory: 512 MB
Bus Speed: 133 MHz
Boot ROM Version: 4.7.5f1

I didn't see model identifier mentioned.
posted by kim in chicago at 6:15 PM on March 8, 2009

Ah, OK. This model has 256MB chip on the logic board and one expansion slot, which currently has a 256MB chip in it, for a total of 512MB.

You'll want to buy a 1GB RAM chip from one of the sites I listed above and replace the 256MB chip with the 1GB chip giving you 256MB + 1GB for a total of 1.25GB of RAM.

This is as much RAM as you can put in this model.

And yes, Leopard will run on this model, although it's true that Tiger might be a bit faster.
posted by at 6:19 PM on March 8, 2009

Ditto nowonmai. My G4 Powerbook runs Leopard (10.5) OK (with max RAM) but it's slower than with Panther (10.3). If you can get 10.4, which has less CPU-intensive glamor than Leopard, do. If not then 10.5 is fine.
posted by anadem at 6:20 PM on March 8, 2009


--I think it was Office 2004 that was on my old hard drive. I don't have the original disks so would have to buy them. Thank you for the link to the resellers.
--I'd be happy not to use MS, I guess I'm just concerned that if I use NeoOffice or Bean, etc. so send my resume or some other document that the recipient would have trouble opening it, or the document wouldn't look right, etc. Probably unfounded fears.
--I use mainly Firefox, sometimes Safari but not often because it always crashes on me. "Internet ability" was probably a bad term. What I meant was that I just need a machine that will let me create and send word documents. I don't need to do high level stuff, video, games, etc. Just internet and word processing. I even thought about getting a netbook (the horror!) but i don't think they have word processing ability.

Thanks for your help.
posted by kim in chicago at 6:28 PM on March 8, 2009


I bought MS Office: Mac 2008 Home and Student Edition, not realizing until I got home that it requires 10.4.9 or higher. I didn't open it -- still has the plastic on the box -- so hopefully the Apple Store will take it back if it's not going to work on my machine.
posted by kim in chicago at 6:31 PM on March 8, 2009

Thanks for confirming about the memory. I just found out that the person who installed the new hard drive a few months ago tried to load a recent version of OS (he's not sure which one) onto the new hard drive and said the machine wouldn't let him do it. I'm not sure exactly what error message he got, he just said that the machine basically said "no way."
posted by kim in chicago at 6:36 PM on March 8, 2009

If you get Tiger installed (and run the updates to get you up to 10.4.11, the latest version of Tiger), the 2008 version should run fine. If you will be exchanging documents with other people a lot, I'd say keep your copy of MS Office. It will make your life easier. One thing - lots of folks are still running older versions of Word (Mac or Windows), so when sending out documents make sure you save in .doc format and not the default .docx - might still be a couple of years before one can send docx files with impunity :)
posted by needled at 6:40 PM on March 8, 2009

Whoever did this for you probably doesn't know about "model-specific OS installs". If he tried to use the Tiger installer disks from, for instance, an iMac or a different-enough PowerBook, it will indeed tell him that it's not possible. However, if he uses a retail copy of the operating system installer, then it will definitely install. I am 100% positive of this, and do this kind of work for a living.

So my guess is that he was trying to use a model-specific OS installer DVD. If you do decide to buy a retail copy of Tiger or Leopard, it will work. And in case you want the mothership's approval, here are Apple's system requirements for Leopard, which your model PowerBook exceeds.
posted by at 6:42 PM on March 8, 2009

An aside:

If you send a document like a resume to someone for viewing [rather than sending it to a collaborator to edit, for example] don't send it as a Word or any other sort of application document format. Send it as a PDF.

The reason is that because of differences in what fonts the recipient has installed and what their default margin settings are and so forth it's very likely [read certain] that the document will not look the way you want it to on the other end. OOO, MS Office, Bean, Pages, whatever makes no difference for these purposes.

PDF insulates you from that by including all the fonts and such so that what they see is what you sent.

Alternatively, remove all formatting entirely and send it as plain text.
posted by chazlarson at 7:01 PM on March 8, 2009

I'm sure you're right about the model-specific OS install. He was using disks from an OS he uses at work. His employer's Mac laptops are newer, bigger, and better than my 12-inch G4, so it makes sense that the install wasn't successful.
posted by kim in chicago at 7:02 PM on March 8, 2009

Good point. I know that Reader is free but I need to purchase something from Acrobat to give me the ability to create pdfs, right?
posted by kim in chicago at 7:46 PM on March 8, 2009

Every version of Mac OS X since 10.1 (possibly 10.2, but I think it was also in 10.1) has had the ability to use the built-in print engine to create a PDF. Typically referred to as "printing to PDF", it's a very simple process. You simply open the document in question in virtually any program in Mac OS X and go File-->Print, and then instead of sending the document to a physical printer, you send it to the print engine to render a PDF. The terminology varies slightly each OS revision, but the print dialogue box will have an option called "Save as PDF" or "Print as PDF".

What you're left with is a PDF file, generated by the print engine in the OS. They aren't awesome hi-res PDFs with gobs of options like Acrobat Pro can create, but they are perfectly serviceable screen-optimized PDFs compatible with every PDF reader released in last ten years or so.

If you want screenshots to see what I'm talking about, just spend a few minutes in Google. This process of "printing to PDF" has been documented in many places.
posted by at 8:05 PM on March 8, 2009

Omigosh, I have probably looked at that Save as PDF button a thousand times without really thinking about it.

I've learned an incredible amount today -- thanks very much to all of you who responded.
posted by kim in chicago at 10:38 PM on March 8, 2009

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