Adventures in Macintosh restoration Part VII: System Experiments

In Part VI, I was able to install Mac OS 8.1 on my Power Macintosh 8600/200 using a SCSI2SD as the machine’s hard drive, and I was even able to get online. Now it’s time to play around with that setup.

The original plan

The plan for this machine has always been as a bridge machine between modern computers and older vintage Macs. It’s meant to give me some practice cleaning and restoring old parts, while also being as flexible and compatible as possible. It’s a utility machine.

In order to be the most compatible with the most software and the most hardware, I figured I’d need to install as many versions of Mac OS as possible. This machine officially supports System 7.5.5 through Mac OS 9.1, but rather than install the dozen of minor versions in-between, I thought one install per major version should be enough.

System 7

Let’s start with System 7. As far as I can remember, my childhood machines ran 7.0.1 or 7.1, older than what this new machine can handle. I remember the 7.5 series existing, and it’s possible that in the later years I ran it on the Centris 650 when I first got internet access.

System 7.5.5 is the earliest software this machine can run, and it’s the last version to support running 24-bit addressing (something the oldest programs need). The other contender for System 7 would be 7.6.1, which is considered mostly the same, except it’s got some PowerPC performance improvements that would apply to this machine.

In the end I actually chose 7.6.1 for this machine. It turns out the 24-bit support only applies to the 68k Macs, and this machine will never be able to run programs that need it. So 7.6.1 has the exact same compatibility as 7.5.5 but is just faster.

Beyond System 7

After System 7, we’re out of my personal experience. I may have used Mac OS 8 once or twice in high school, but I’ve never used Mac OS 9. I have no nostalgia for these systems, so the only requirement is to expand my access to software and hardware.

My initial plan was to pick just the latest in each line that I could run, Mac OS 8.6 and Mac OS 9.1. While I’m currently running 8.1, and having a little fun here and there playing some old games, as far as I can tell there’s no reason to run this version with newer ones available.

However, talking with people online, and it seems there are three camps when it comes to OS 8.

Camp one thinks System 7 was the pinnacle of Mac systems in terms of design and speed, and everything after that was bloat. They point out that the change from 7 to 8 was just to cut out the clone manufacturers, since they only had licenses to System 7. So 8 is really just a bunch of crap on top of 7.

Camp two thinks OS 8 is the pinnacle of Mac design, that 8 refined and filled in all of the gaps of 7. They say System 7 is too spartan for newer machines, and point out that 8 added better networking support and just as importantly, support for larger hard drives.

Camp three thinks OS 8 can be skipped entirely, thanks to Mac OS 9. Very little software lists OS 8 as a minimum, and even so, it’ll still run on OS 9. Same with hardware. Most things just work on 7 and above, or require 9, so unless you really like the style of 8, there’s no reason to use it if you can run 9.

I already planned on installing 9 as it gives me access to a variety of useful hardware upgrades on this machine such as USB and Firewire. So I decided to table the decision on OS 8 for now.

Let the experiments begin!

The first thing I did was backup the SD card with Mac OS 8.1. It doesn’t have anything particular that I care about, other than being a booting system. I re-setup the SCSI2SD with three virtual drives, then booted the 8.1 CD to use Drive Setup to format them.

I had already downloaded and burned CD images for a variety of versions: 7.5.5 and 7.6.1 specifically for this model, universal installs for 8.0, 8.5.1, and 8.6, and finally universal installs for 9.1 and 9.2.2.

I won’t go into all of the gory details here, but suffice it to say that I spent weeks installing and re-installing different OSes to the different virtual drives. I followed various suggestions online and took my own notes during the installation process of each. I ran benchmarks, browsed the web, and downloaded some apps and games to try out.

One win was getting an FTP server to run on the Mac, which meant I could more easily transfer files to it from a modern PC. That freed me up to download new software quickly on my PC, then upload the files to the Mac at my leisure. This gave me both an archive of downloads on the PC and saved me from having to browse the web on the Mac and deal with increased chance of download failures.

The other big win was installing Mac OS 9.2.2. Officially most machines can only run 9.1, because that was basically the last version of OS 9 meant to be run as an independent OS. By that point in time, Apple had switched over to OSX, but early versions still provided a “Classic Environment” compatibility layer that let those OSX users still run their old OS 9 apps.

Classic Environment still required a full copy of OS 9, and it got a few more stability and performance updates in the form of 9.2, 9.2.1, and 9.2.2. So installers exist for those versions, but of course they have protection measures in place to make sure you don’t just install them on older hardware.

However, thanks again to enterprising hackers, there’s a tool called os9helper that lets you trick the installer into working. And it worked!

The final plan

At the end of it all, I’d pretty much settled on a plan of only installing 7.6.1 and 9.2.2. I didn’t find any reason to keep 8 around, the installs sat dormant while I spent most of my time in 9.2.2. In fact, even keeping 7.6.1 around seemed to be “just-in-case”.

Anyway, this has been a pretty text-heavy post. I didn’t bother to take any pictures during all this software experimentation. Next time I’ll have more photos, as I dive into some hardware upgrades. So stay tuned for that in Part VIII!

/jon

Want to read from the beginning? Start at Part I.