Pimp Mom's clambook!
June 14, 2008 9:08 PM   Subscribe

What free/low-cost/simple kinds of things can be done to the clamshell G3 iBook my mom uses for really basic web stuff to make it function better?

So mom got this thing from a friend of my teenage brother for, like, a hundred dollars or something. The friend wiped it, installed OS 10.2.8, and handed it over; she started using it. And she loves it! She's never had a computer of her own before. It runs pretty smoothly when she checks her e-mail or reads the news, considering its advanced age: Firefox can have multiple tabs open, starts up pretty quickly, no huge, glaring technical issues - day to day, it does what it says on the box, so to speak.

However (according to her):

- Things are slooooow...not achingly slow, but enough to be frustrating for her. It's got 128 MB of RAM, a 4 GB hard drive, and has a 366 MHz PowerPC processor. Are we doomed, or can we quicken things a bit?

- There's no word processor, so .doc attachments to e-mails aren't readable (as far as we know). Lightweight (but .doc-friendly) apps to solve this? Could the thing run a version of Microsoft Word that wouldn't paralyze it or be incompatible with what's around today?

- Lots of streaming web content doesn't work. She says that videos, audio, that kind of thing have caused problems or just been invisible. This isn't too surprising, but can anything be done? Are there plugins we can get to ameliorate this, or are we hosed?

Any other advice? We're happy to invest some money in this if it keeps it usable for a while. The primary uses of this machine are, again:

1) E-mailing (web-based only - not using Mail, etc.)
2) News reading
3) Pretty light web browsing: buying the odd plane ticket, reading a New Yorker article, looking at a Flickr album, that kind of thing.

posted by mdonley to Technology (9 answers total)
RAM. For $50 from Crucial, you can get a 256MB stick of RAM to install in it, bringing it up to 320MB.

TextEdit should open .doc files... at least, it does now. Not sure what the version in 10.2.8 version did. I would expect you could pretty easily get your hands on a copy of 10.3 from someone who's long-since upgraded, which may or may not expand your options. I forget what was new and cool in 10.3. I might have the discs lying around in the back of a closet, but I'm away from home for the next several weeks.
posted by mumkin at 9:21 PM on June 14, 2008

10.3 added the sidebar in finder windows, for one thing.

Also Exposé, Faxing from the print dialog box, and fast user switching.

Probably only the sidebar bit will be useful to a nearly 10 year old iBook.

posted by Wild_Eep at 9:44 PM on June 14, 2008

Get more RAM. But here's the problem. The iBook in question can only support 320MB of RAM no matter what you stick in it. There is 64MB in it right now that's non-removable, so you can remove the other 64MB that's in the current SODIMM slot and replace it with a 256MB stick.

Also, upgrade it to 10.3 - oddly enough, save for 10.5, each OS X release has actually performed more quickly on older hardware. Also, 10.3 offers some great features. I'm sure you could find a copy relative cheap on eBay.

Otherwise, I'd really just prowl Craigslist and see if you can snag an iBook G4 for $150 or $200 which would probably be more worthwhile. 366Mhz is painful, no matter what she uses it for.
posted by cgomez at 10:16 PM on June 14, 2008

Actually, 10.4 and 10.5 also perform better and better-er... but only if you don't count the new features. Disable Spotlight and Dashboard and see a big improvement.

I'd max the RAM, as others have said, then go 10.4 for this. With WiFi it could still be an excellent bed-browser.
posted by rokusan at 12:47 AM on June 15, 2008

1) Buy a 512MB stick of RAM. You need a PC133 SODIMM like this one. People upthread are recommending 256MB, because Apple says you can only put a 256MB one in there, but that is not true. You can put a 512MB stick in there for a total of 576MB (including the 64MB soldered on the board), and it will be extremely cost-effective to do so.

2) Get your hands on OS 10.3, or "Panther". Before you install it, make sure the iBook's already got the firmware update installed. When you install 10.3, choose clean-install (i.e. reformat-and-install), and click the "customize" button and remove all of the non-English localizations. (You do not have the hard drive space for anything you are not using.) Nobody has new copies of 10.3 anymore as far as I know, so you're looking at either friends, generous mefites who don't need it anymore, or ebay. Once it's installed, run software updater to get to 10.3.9. You do not want OS 10.4, which would run poorly on this hardware, and take up the lion's share of that meager hard drive. This talk of 10.5 is a red herring because you have a 366mhz processor and 10.5 requires 867mhz+ which is well over twice that. You want 10.3.9.
($0 - $90)

3) If you feel she likes Firefox, install FireFox. My sense is that Safari will run a shade faster, but both will be relatively lightweight, relatively problem-free browsers with modern features like tabs, built-in google searching, and pop-up blocking. In either case, you will also obviously want to install the newest version of Flash if she is watching streaming video. Streaming video will never be smooth on this machine, but it could be passable, especially with the RAM upgrade.

4) You can't run Office 2008, so get a copy of Office 2004. "Student/Teacher Edition" comes with 3 serials to install on 3 machines, so if someone in your household has already bought that, you're already there. OpenOffice evangelists will insist you use OpenOffice instead. They have several good points and OpenOffice is a wonderful project that we should all encourage. But it is probably not what you want to install on your mom's machine for a variety of reasons. Office 2004 is the one for her.
($0 - $115)

5) You didn't mention whether it had an Airport card, but many folks assume that all laptops have wireless. If she wants wireless, it's doable -- Apple has not sold this Airport card for many years, but Fastmac recently started selling one. Obviously you can first check to see if the previous owner already installed one. USB wifi dongles exist for cheaper, but have uniformly bad pre-10.5 drivers, reception is spotty at best, and are really too slow over USB 1.
($90, if you need it and don't have it.)

So that's what you're looking at: somewhere between $90 and $400. If you're falling closer to the upper end of that range, start to do some price scouting on alternative used iBooks. There's a good chance that $300+ will better serve you going toward a more modern used iBook -- one that has 512+mb of RAM, 10.3+, wireless pre-installed, and (if you're lucky) Office pre-installed by the previous owner.

Tell your mom congrats on her first computer!
posted by churl at 1:15 AM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I found that Low End Mac was great resource when I bought an old G3 iMac a while ago. They have advice on which version of OS X to install and lots of information about all old iBooks. This article should also be useful.
posted by snownoid at 2:56 AM on June 15, 2008

More RAM will help of course, but Firefox 3 (RC candidate available now, or final release coming next week) will be much less of a RAM hog. If she spends lots of time in her browser, this will make a huge difference.

Office solutions: If she is pretty much always online, try Google Docs. If not, try NeoOffice. Both are free, both can open and save .doc formats, both are easy to use.
posted by quarterframer at 8:14 AM on June 15, 2008

churl's answer is excellent. More RAM and 10.3 are what you need.
I would add that OpenOffice and NeoOffice are going to be horribly slow on this machine; don't bother.
Textedit is capable of opening most Word documents.
If you "Get Info" on a .doc file, you will see a menu to choose which application to open the document with, and the option to open "all documents like this" with that application. Do that, then double-clicking the .doc files will get them to open in Textedit.
If Textedit isn't good eough, but you want a cheaper option than Office, I like Nisus Writer Express.
Streaming web media should work fine. After you install the new OS, it probably will. You shouldn't need to screw around with the plugins yourself.
Safari will be a much better choice than Firefox if speed is an issue.
posted by nowonmai at 3:23 PM on June 15, 2008

churl FTW
posted by now i'm piste at 2:19 PM on June 19, 2008

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