Yesterday I inherited an old iMac from Catherine. She was using it as a doorstop, and I have a soft spot for old Apple computers. I’m not sure why this is, and it definitely doesn’t cross over to old Windows machines. If that were the case, I’d be cooing at the five PCs we have lying around the house in various degrees of decay – and my desk would likely be a shrine to the ingenuity of Gates instead of a temple of Jobs like it is now.
The iMac is one of the old bubbly ones, from 2001. It was the last edition of machines with a G4 chip, before Apple switched to Intel (this is important). It’s a 700MHz G4 PowerPC with 768MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive; running Mac OS X 10.4.11. It is cute, and I’ve named her Betty (which may change, because it’s too similar to my MacBook Beth and yes I worry about these things).
Catherine had in turn inherited the machine from parts unknown, and therein lied the problem. The previous owner had been using it as a retail shop computer and also the thing he stored Limewire files on – the drive was filled with GBs of terrible music. It was also admin locked, and I didn’t have a copy of the system discs. Without the OS CDs, it’s extremely difficult to restore a Mac to factory condition – everything relies on having those discs handy, and I did not.
I did, however, have discs for OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard .. which was about as useful as the 4 sealed copies of Windows 98 I have on floppy disc. The break between 10.5 (Leopard!) to 10.6 (Snow Leopard!) was when Apple switched from G4 processors to Intel, and you had to have one or the other. Discs for my Intel Macs would not work on this machine, which was running 10.4 (Tiger!). I didn’t have the admin password and therefore couldn’t unlock the machine to make changes, I didn’t have the CDs to do a full restore, and while I spent hours scouring the entire internet for previous versions of Mac OSs (Cheetah! Puma! Jaguar! Panther!) none of them worked. I was able to find a download of Tiger, but I don’t have any DVDs to burn the image to, and Betty is running USB1.0 so anything I put on a USB stick would take 3 hours to copy over (and then not work at all; I tried).
I spent more time reading Mac hacking tricks than I ever hope to have to do again. Some things worked – I was able to trick the system into thinking it had never been set up, and created a new admin account – but other things did VERY BAD THINGS that created an extra 5 hours of work.
Side story: way back in the ago, I had to quickly learn how to use DOS because I wanted to free up hard drive space on my old 286. I didn’t know what this “WINDOWS” directory was for, so I deleted it. Obviously, that was dumb – and I couldn’t fix it, so I learned how to use that command prompt like my life depended on it.
One of the tricks I tried had me tinkering with the System Preferences, saying that if I moved the app to the desktop and extracted something, it would eventually prompt me to reset the master password. This was a load of hooey, and I quickly found myself in a “new” admin account .. that was utterly unable to access ANY System Preferences, as it had BEEN REMOVED FROM THE COMPUTER. I tried this twice, and had two accounts that couldn’t do jack shit. Hooray! Okay, now what. I installed tools, and pulled out the System Preferences from the Snow Leopard disc .. which worked about as well as you would expect; not at all. Think think think – can I download a copy? Other people had this same issue, but none of them were running the same OS I was and the posts were 3+ years old. Crap. Okay, what now? I rebooted multiple times, messed around in the terminal, then finally – around 2am – came across an article that explained how to check the hidden root account, and set up a password if it was missing. YES! This was exactly what I needed, and worked like a fucking charm – I set up a root password and was able to log in as the Ultimate King of Systems Administration with Fancy Pants and a Snazzy Top Hat. HOORAY!
I quickly set about deleting locked users, setting up a new one, and installing utilities to help me recover hard drive space. I found 25 gigs of hidden music (which I assume was hidden because it was terrible, terrible music – Michael W. Smith? Boy bands from eras past? Oh god no), and ultimately went from 12.3GB free to 30.5. YEAH! SUCK IT, TIGER! I AM THE BOSS OF YOU!
At this point it was 3am and I had literally been working on the machine since 7, so I went to bed.
This morning, I had one more issue to solve – the innernets. Catherine had installed an Airport card in the machine, which was awesome .. but it’s an old card, and didn’t get along with my Airport XXXTREME because it’s only capable of WEP and not the WPA2 I needed. No firmware updates, and while I could unlock the network and connect just fine, I didn’t go through all the trouble of setting up very confusing wi-fi names to fuck with the hotel across the street for nothing. Finally, I opted to only attempt to connect to my “guest” network, which is locked with twist ties instead of steel cable. The iMac can’t see the rest of my network, but I’d rather have it online wirelessly than tied to my desk via ethernet anyway. I put everything back where it was (almost – I had to sacrifice my wired Apple keyboard to the new iMac; I’m using the tiny wireless one on my main iMac and IT’S SO SMALL I miss my keypad), hooked up the adorable see-through speakers, stuck in a CD (hey, it’s as far as that corner of my desk is concerned, it’s 2001) and ROCKED OUT.
I win, iMac.
This might even be more awesome than the time I forcefully installed Windows XP on a Vista-Only machine through sheer stubbornness and swearing alone.