posted by Thom Holwerda on Sun 12th Feb 2006 21:27 UTC
IconA few weeks ago, I did something crazy and shelled out 50 Euros for a G3 iMac. It was a 333Mhz G3 iMac with 96MB of RAM. It came with a copy of MacOS 9-- and that was what I bought it for. I wanted to experience first hand what OS9 was like. I did not expect I'd use the machine much. However, I was in for a rather pleasant surprise. Note: Read more on the meta blog about the new Sunday eve column!

The salesman at my local Apple-only retailer was quite cynical about the whole machine and its operating system. He happened to be an OSNews reader, so he knew who I was, so he understood why I bought the machine; it was just clear from his tone that I should not expect all that much from the experience. This tone on his end was perfectly worded when he asked, "do you want an Apple mouse, or a mouse that works?". Both laughing, I opted for the mouse that works, pulled out my wallet, payed, drove home, and set the machine up.

Installing OS9 was a breeze, although updating OS9 from 9.0 to 9.2.2 (the latest version) was a bit of pain. You first have to update to 9.1.x, and then to 9.2.x. And since both of these updates do not appear in the Update tool, you have to find and install them manually. Then again, we're talking unsupported software here, so it ain't that big of a deal.

Since I had zero experience with OS9 other than the Classic environment in OSX, I had to start from square one when it came to available software. First thing I did, therefore, was to see if there was a OS9 build of Firefox-- and was unhappy to see there is none (if you know more than I and Google do, please let me know). I did not like IE:Mac at all, since it sucked just as much on OS9 as it does on OSX. The interface is a mess, and therefore it's a pain to use. While much, much better, iCab also did not fit my needs. It is a good browser, but something about the way it renders pages doesn't appeal to me. It's difficult to explain. To cut a long story short, I settled on a build of Mozilla 1.3.1 (the newest I could find, dating 21-6-2003). It does its job well, albeit first startup is painfully slow.

My second problem was finding a decent email client. And here the big surprise came. I tried a few, but the best mail client I could find was Outlook Express:Mac. No doubt about it. I have high standards when it comes to email applications (I wonder how on earth I manage to use Mail.app as my primary email client), as I have an intensive way of controlling email. I'm subscribed to all sorts of mailinglists to keep track of the news surrounding major projects, and as such, I get a lot of email every day. To manage them all, I have rules and filters which direct list emails into directories; a directory for each list I'm subscribed to.

Setting those rules and directories up on new machines or installs is a pain in the ass. Yes, I put it that bluntly. There is no way to do this easily; you'll have to do it all manually. And while Outlook Express on OS9 doesn't automagically do it for you, it does have the easiest routine of setting up mailing list rules. Right click email, set list rule, select destination directory, and done. That's it. That dialog obviously also allows you to create a new directory if you haven't done so already.

Compare this to the archaic way of doing this in Mail.app. In Mail.app, you have to open the preferences panel, select the rules tab, click add rule, enter the information needed (and if you happened to have a message highlighted that does not come from the list in question, you'll have to copy/paste the info, as Mail.app only guesses the information from the highlighted email), and select directory. And to make matters worse, you cannot create a new directory in this dialog (you will need to go to the main window for that).

Other than offering a greatly simplified method of managing large quantities of emails, the interface itself of Outlook Express is very functional. Only the needed features are presented in the main window, and the toolbar is very thin, it gets out of the way and you're never bothered by it.

I'm quite confident when I say that for me, Outlook Express:Mac 5.0 is the easiest mail client I have ever used, on any platform. I wish more email clients were like it. It's that loading Classic takes so long, else I'd probably move away from Mail.app to the old Outlook Express. In other words, I'll be giving Entourage another go one of these days.

As for my third important point, instant messaging, OS9 offers quite good clients-- better than I had anticipated. My most important messaging service (MSN has a close to 100% marketshare in The Netherlands) has various clients, including an official one, which all function very well. Of course they do not offer the latest and greatest of the MSN Messenger world, but hey, who needs nudges and more of that nonsense. The only thing I do miss are custom emoticons, but hey, one can't expect to have the whole nine yards for just 50 Euros.

My second important service is AIM. AIM was a problem, as the latest version of its official client is dog slow when typing. Seriously, typing a sentence is kind of a problem when the letters appear seconds later. Moving one point release back solved the slowness problem, and now AIM is fully usable on my second-hand iMac.

So, all in all I can say that the iMac G3 with OS9 was one, big, unexpected surprise. I can certainly recommend buying an old iMac G3 for say a grandmother or little sister or brother. They'll have a fully usable computer that looks pretty neat too. But even for yourself an old iMac can be a pretty good deal to buy. Especially the outstanding Outlook Express 5 happens to be a seriously good buy for heavy email users like myself. I use it to read my email basically every day now.

In other words, consider one. Just make sure you get a mouse that works.

--Thom Holwerda


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