Some of the more technical aspects of computer ops.
Reference materials, OS, CPU, port types and more, all subject to change periodically as the Mac evolves.







Recommended reading
Following is a short list of recommended reference books, including eBooks, from a select few authors, along with some trusted online sources for Mac titles of all sorts.

Robin Williams - She may have the misfortune of sharing her name with a famous actor, but _this_ Robin Williams has no peer when it comes to writing computer-related manuals. Her "Non-Designer's Design Book" series is excellent for mastering web design and graphics, as is her "Little Mac Book" series for getting around the MacOS. Beautifully illustrated, clearly written, some of her early books might be getting on in computer years, but they are still relavent to the design process.
Robin Williams books at Amazon and Peachpit Press

Adam Engst and Tonya Engst - Possibly the most complete, up-to-date and useful resource for getting a grip on specific Macintosh topics is the "Take Control" series of ebooks. Browse their complete list of subjects, and for a few bucks you can download more than you'll need to know about most any specific Mac-related topic.

Adam, Glenn Fleishman and a talented staff of techno-writers are also responsible for publishing the TidBits newsletter that has been a source of current, reliable information about the Macintosh
for over 20 years.

For the more nerdly among us, check out these publishers and their lists of outstanding MacOS, iOS, networking, training and program manuals.







Stay put or upgrade OS to latest greatest?
There's a distinct difference between upgrades and updates; upgrading means a whole new OS, but updates are improvements to the OS you're currently using. Both are available via the App Store (in Apple menu).

Was a time when there was no question about it, any updates or upgrades that came along were always desirable and applied without hesitation - but things have changed. Now a little caution and research is called for regarding software and System compatibility. Most updates are a good thing and should be installed as they become available, but an OS upgrade can result in needing newer versions of application programs, especially if jumping over two or more OS versions. Upgrades may require new device drivers, too (printer, scanner, etc.). In any case, we highly recommend a complete backup prior to making any  significant change - including an OS upgrade - in case something goes wrong or you don't like the results.

A couple of general rules:
  • Stay within three System versions of the latest release.
  • If you're within two OS versions of the latest - and it works - don't fix it.
Unless there's a compelling reason to upgrade, keep using the OS version you're currently running as long as it isn't a problem. Staying one version behind the latest/greatest OS is a good idea these days.



This chart shows versions of OSX up to 10.13; each of these was an upgrade from the previous OS, and each had a group of updates added. For example, the end of OS 10.10 was 10.10.5 (third number denotes updates).

Processors (CPUs) are listed across the top. The PowerPC (PPC) and old G3s, G4s, and G5s are ancient history, obsolete and stuck in the distant past.
CD = CoreDuo; OS 10.6.8 is the end of the road for that CPU.
C2D = Core2Duo; most of these machines can run
later System versions up to 10.11 if equipped with appropriate graphics card and sufficient RAM.

MacOS 10.6.8 is required prior to upgrading to 10.7 thru 10.11.
Minimum OS 10.7.5 is required for upgrade to 10.12 and beyond.


Direct links to MacOS purchase and/or downloads are posted on our Apple Links page (left).

Mac Operating Systems are download-only, available thru the AppStore (under Apple menu) and about 5-8GB in size which requires true broadband. 10.8 Mountain Lion may still be available for $20 as a download from the AppStore, but latest MacOS version is free. Regrettably, intermediate OS versions are no longer available from Apple, although they are still supported with periodic updates for those running 10.10, 10.11, 10.12.







Recent Macs
Click here to find out what OS version shipped on your Mac and which build is recommended. (Build info may be found under Apple menu > About this Mac, then click on "version 10.x.x" to toggle between version, build and machine's serial number.) Read on for a complete Operating System history starting with first Mac and going thru OS versions to present day.

Resurrecting ancient Macs
PRAM batteries: The first-ever Mac (1984 128K) used a fat-diameter AA-length battery in an external battery box with a door; a modern, full-size AA 3.6v lithium battery works quite well in 128K Macs with room to spare.

Apple ][s and other early Macs used the familiar 3.6v 1/2AA lithium battery - except that they were usually soldered to the logic board. Best solution for these is to install a battery box inside these machines where battery was located. A common 3.6v lithium battery can also be used to replace those weird, square 4.5v batteries found in old Performas, and - by the way - a full-size 3.6v AA lithium battery is half the cost and twice the size of 1/2AA - go figure.

Connectors: First 128K and the 512K "FatMac"  (that came with "more memory than you'll ever need") used an RJ-11 plug to connect keyboard, commonly known as a phone jack. Coiled cable to keyboard was identical to those on telephone handsets of the day. Mouse, however, used a strictly proprietary connector. When hard drives came along, Macs used SCSI drives, including external drive port, with serial ports for printer and modem.

Drive mechanisms may need cleaning and a little grease as they tend to get sticky over time (critical for first Macs lacking hard drives). Assuming hardware is intact and new PRAM battery is in place, your next challenge is to obtain and install/upgrade the best OS appropriate to CPU's age.




Early Operating Systems (on 400K, 800K diskette)
Back in the day of the first 128K Mac, the 512K "Fat Mac," FX and others, we had no need of System version numbers and names; the Mac's OS was simply known as, well, the MacOS. Back then, both the Operating System and application program fit nicely on a single 400K "floppy" (actually the first 3.5" hard-shell Sony diskette that would become industry standard), with enough space left over for a document or two.

System 6.0.5 and 6.0.8 (MultiFinder): MacPlus to SE
The ancient MacPlus and early SEs with 800K drives can't go past System 6.0.8 without extensive modification to drives and logic board to meet minimum System 7 specs. An SE equipped with 1.4MB diskette drive(s) and other modifications could be made to run System 7.

System 7.5.5: Good choice for 68030 and 68040 Macs, including the SE/30
7.5.5 requires a 1.4MB diskette drive and 8 to 16MB RAM. (System 7.5.5 can gobble up 4-5 times as much RAM as System 7.0 did on 68K machines.) Communications via bulletin boards (BBS) was the norm at that time.

System 7.6.1: Minimum Internet, from SE/30 to Performas and PowerPCs
32 MB of RAM and System 7.6.1 _might_ get you online today, but you won't get very far without using Cyberdog or hacking Netscape for use on certain machines like the SE/30. This configuration, System 7.6.1, represents the bare-bones minimum required to allow email and internet on early Macs and PowerBooks. System 7.6.1 also supported the multiple SCSI bus of 603e/604e PowerPC Macs.

OS 8.0: Skip it
Apple used license of this System release to terminate Mac clones. (There were at least six at the time, including Motorola, UMAX and Power Computing.) OS 8 was actually the last of System 7 (unofficially 7.7). The other big change was this: OS 8 was the first MacOS to have a price tag.

OS 8.1: HFS Plus, runs on all PowerPC 601, 603 and 604 Macs
OS 8.1 Introduced HFS+ extended format, along with more than a few other significant changes including enhanced software capabilities and communications. 8.1 was the _real_ beginning of the MacOS version 8. Runs on almost all PowerPC Macs up to the G3 Risc series processors (also known as the 750 chip).

OS 8.5 and OS 8.6: All PowerPC Macs
Improved interface and control over view functions with global preference settings. 8.5 introduced Sherlock; 8.6 expands on search capability, indexing. Top end for 603e CPUs. If you can't use OS9 (which will not install on ancient PPCs), 8.5 or 8.6 is your best bet.

OS 9.1: Top end OS for 604ev Macs
OS 9.1 will run on 604s, G3s, and a few G4 Macs. Newer G4s and G5s will not startup with OS9, but can run OS9.2.2 and apps using OSX Classic Mode (provided OS9 drivers were included with hard drive format under OSX).

OS 9.2.1 and Update 9.2.2: G3 and G4 Macs
With improved security, data encryption, and many communications enhancements, OS 9.2.1 was the last commercial release of System 9, followed by one final update to OS 9.2.2. Update 9.2.2 contains improved OSX "Classic Mode" compatibility and additional hardware drivers for G4 CD and DVD burners. Last, best browser under OS 9 was Netscape 7.02. OS 9.2.2 is absolutely necessary if you're still dragging "Classic" OS9 apps. Tiger 10.4 was the last version of Mac OSX to recognize OS9 "Classic mode" and legacy software (see below); Leopard 10.5 will not recognize legacy software, nor can Intel machines run legacy software.

OSX versions 10.0 Cheetah, 10.1 Puma and 10.2 Jaguar: G3s, G4s, G5s
Slow, incomplete, not a pleasant experience. OS 10.0 thru 10.2.x are best avoided; any machine capable of running 10.0-10.2 Jaguar should be running Tiger (10.4) or later, if possible.

OS X 10.3.0 thru 10.3.9 Panther: G3s, G4s, G5s
Officially, all G3s - except the very first (beige) models and the first G3 PowerBook - will run OS X versions thru 10.3.9; in reality, RAM requirements and hard drive space are determining factors. All G4s will run Panther nicely; a few later G4s and all G5 models startup in OS X only, but all machines up to Intel Macs (and Leopard 10.5, below) will run OS9 apps in Classic Mode on HDDs with OS9 drivers installed. Unofficially, almost any Mac with PCI architecture allowing addition of a USB card can run OSX with a little tinkering.

OSX 10.4.0 thru 10.4.11 Tiger: G4s, G5s, some early Intel Macs
Written to accommodate the 64-bit G5 processor and newer Intel Macs, Tiger is virtually identical to Panther with a few added bells and whistles, many of which require a broadband connection to the internet (as does the Software Update function built into both Panther and Tiger). All G5 Macs should be running Tiger 10.4.11 or Leopard 10.5.8 (with sufficient RAM).

Early Intel Macs may have shipped with Tiger 10.4 onboard, but upgrading to Leopard 10.5 or Snow Leopard 10.6 will allow the CPUs in these machines to operate at full potential. Later Intel-powered Macs will not run 10.4.

OSX 10.5 Leopard: Runs on G4s, G5s, and first Intel Macs
Official release was on Friday, October 26th, 2007. Apple finally dropped legacy support for OS9 and Classic Mode with Leopard 10.5, regardless of machine's processor (G5 or Intel). Apple claimed "300 new features" when 10.5 was released, but 10.5's real claim to fame is that it is the last OS that will run on G5s and some G4s.

OSX 10.6 Snow Leopard: Intel Macs only, 10.6.3 was DVD from Apple
A highly polished version of Leopard, Snow Leopard (OS 10.6) was released a month ahead of schedule. Snow Leopard may have originally been intended to be an upgrade for licensed Leopard 10.5 users, but the 10.6.3 DVD will happily do a full install to an empty drive. 10.6.3 DVD is still supported and available from Apple for only $20 here: < 10.6.3 Snow Leopard > It will need to be updated (free, online) to current version 10.6.8. Slick, smooth and stable, Snow Leopard had the longest useful life of any OS since OS9.

NOTE: Some later machines will not boot from the 10.6.3 DVD as they require 10.6.5 and later.

OSX 10.7 Lion: First OS available as download, now extinct
Requirements were: Broadband, OS 10.6.6+, 2GB RAM, Core 2 Duo or later processor. Support for legacy apps and "Classic Mode" was dropped here, so many 10.4/10.5 apps will need upgrades or replacement. More than a few changes, including infestation of social networks wherever possible and the advent of "cloud" services.

NOTE: Lion 10.7 was also briefly available from Apple on an 8GB flash drive for $60-70, tho these are long gone (Apple# A1384). Device was also marked 607-9072.

OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion: Last o'the Big Cats is $20, download only
Requires: Broadband connection, OS 10.6.8 or later installed, 2GB RAM, 8GB drive space, and a current Mac CPU.

In areas lacking true "broadband" speeds of 3Mbps or higher, downloading a 8 gigabyte OS will take 6 hours or more. Also be sure to download and install all available updates after upgrading to OS. 10.8. Mountain Lion was still available from Apple when last we checked.


OSX 10.9 Mavericks: Most Core2Duo machines
Mavericks was something of a flash-in-the-pan. Shortly after its release, Apple popped-out Yosemite and Mavericks just kinda disappeared. Unavailable. It's still being supported with updates - if you already have Mavericks 10.9 - but this OS is no longer available from Apple.

OSX 10.10 Yosemite: Late Core2Duo and later CPUs
Yosemite was removed from Apple's App Store on release of El Capitan and requirements were about the same: High-speed broadband plus more of everything, mostly money. Upgrades/updates to most 3rd-party software may be necessary (if available) and any software over a few years old will probably be kaput.

OSX 10.11 El Capitan: Some Core2Duo, i3 and later CPUs
Requires mid-2007 iMac, late-2008 MacBook/Pro, early-2009 MacMini or later models; minimum 2GB RAM (recommend 4GB), details and specifics available here: < El Capitan >

OSX 10.12 Sierra: Free, while available
Requires late 2009 Mac or later, 2GB RAM (recommend 4GB or more), and minimum OS 10.7.5 to upgrade. This OS occupies nearly 9GB of drive space and is a large file to download - true broadband/fiber recommended.

OSX 10.13 High Sierra: Free online
Details here: < High Sierra > 10.13 appears to have the same System requirements as 10.12 Sierra did (with a lot of polish and improvements) and should run on any machine capable of running 10.12.









Port type progression over the years
Early Macs all used SCSI ports (pronounced "scuzzy," it stands for Small Computer Serial Interface) to connect internal and external hard drives as well as certain external devices (notably scanners). As time went on, SCSI-1 evolved to SCSI-2 then SCSI-3. Apple eventually dropped SCSI in favor of the cheaper Parallel ATA (PATA or IDE) interface. SCSI is the fastest and most expensive type of data bus, rarely seen in personal computers these days, and PATA (IDE) drives have been replaced by faster Serial ATA (SATA) drives. These are now giving way to solid-state drives (SSD). With no moving parts and speed approaching the speed of light, SSDs are still very expensive, but prices are steadily coming down as they become more common - now standard equipment in most Mac models.

USB (Universal Serial Bus) is used for the vast majority of external devices, including cameras, external  drives, scanners and other gizmos. USB speed has improved thru multiple generations (USB-1,
USB-2, USB-3), and has now given way to the USB-C port also known as Thunderbolt-3. USB-C interfaces with most other port types and also acts as the AC-adapter input for new Mac notebooks, replacing the MagSafe connector.



Analog and Digital video output ports
These include the two-row DB-15 video port used on ancient desktop Macs up to G3 models, the far more common 15-pin VGA analog port still in use in the PC world, and Apple's abandoned ADC connector which carried analog, dual-link digital, audio and AC power all-in-one.

DVI became standard video output port on all computers, recently replaced by HDMI from the television world. Mini dual-link DVI ports are found on old laptops and Macs, tho some full-size, industry standard DVI ports appeared on some MacBooks and all MacPro towers. Most are DVI-I dual-link output ports as the single-link version only lasted a year or so.

DVI-I also carries analog, DVI-D and DVI-A connections are digital-only. Digital video cables over 10-feet in length must be top-quality to minimize loss/noise, but analog video (typically VGA) is not as sensitive and long cable runs should not present a problem.

Newer machines sport Thunderbolt (mini video out), or the newest USB-C/Thunderbolt3 video out ports. Fortunately, there is no shortage of adapters available to connect most any device you might encounter, even Thunderbolt3 out to VGA.







What is it, and why do I need more?
Adding RAM (Random Access Memory) can be a cost effective and significant upgrade for most computers, especially older ones. Many people confuse RAM with storage space on a drive, but they're two very different things. RAM is where work takes place; when you startup your Mac, its Operating System loads into RAM. When you launch a program, it also loads into RAM. RAM is where creation, editing and work takes place, written back to your drive on save/quit, where it is stored.

While working, RAM is shared between OS and apps; on shutdown, RAM is emptied. If power is interrupted, whatever was in RAM will be lost (unless saved), but data stored on your drive will probably not be affected.

More RAM means faster processing and allows more applications to be open and running simultaneously. If you use your computer for more than simple word processing and email, you will likely benefit from adding RAM.

NOTE: Some new Macs cannot be upgraded after purchase. See the "Upgrade or Replace" page, left, for details.

Memory (RAM) types
RAM modules, sometimes referred to as DIMMs (Dual Inline Memory Modules), come in a variety of sizes, types and brands, with various technical specifications and physical configurations. RAM is extremely machine-specific; sometimes a RAM module can be moved from Mac to Mac within a machine "family" (i.e. same processor and bus specs), but this is rare. Modules are also keyed to fit matching RAM slots.

Research your machine's requirements, found in your User Manual, by checking your System Profile, or by researching machine's serial number (usually found under iMac stand, on label in notebook battery bay or printed on back of machine). Match these specs to memory from reputable vendors.

RAM issues can bring down the entire system, lockup machine, and cause all sorts of nonsense (usually cured by removal). Inadequate, mismatched or out-of-spec RAM will prevent startup and cause the machine to issue a series of beeps only.

What if I run out of RAM?
If an application was thoughtfully written, there might be a subroutine that periodically checks memory management and will utilize a block of drive space temporarily to compensate. Otherwise, programs may freeze, hang or quit without warning, or machine might stop responding to input. If you experience spinning beach balls for extended periods or apps unexpectedly quit, you might need to add more RAM.

Your Operating System requires a fair amount of memory all by itself, increasing with each new OS release. Modern System versions typically use 2GB RAM or more, possibly necessitating a memory upgrade when upgrading OS versions. RAM is probably the single most cost-effective improvement available for hard working Macs.







Consider a web site (if you don't have one)
Life in the "Information Age" means the phone book of yore has been replaced by web search; people expect to find info about you and/or your business on the internet. Web sites are like an online business card, only better. They can include examples of your work, answers to common questions, inventory, photos, videos, hours, a map and all sorts of info beyond just a phone number and address.

Registering a domain name, designing a web site and posting it with a web host can take a bit of doing, but once established a web site can be an essential advertising and marketing tool - or just a fun place to share things with friends and family.
You can have your own blog or discussion group, post photos and slide shows, video, music, link it to a YouTube page if you like and take it as far as you wish.

Editing and updating your site is pretty easy, too,
once you get the hang of it, but initial setup might best be left to a web designer who knows all the tricks - unless you're willing to wade into it and do it all yourself. We don't do web design here, but we might be able to help with details and discuss the process and options with you, possibly recommend a designer or host to get things started.

You can create a mock up site in TextEdit or Photoshop or Keynote, to get an idea of how it should look and work - or launch into the real thing with a web design app. Once you have a basic layout, translating it into a web-friendly site can be fairly easy. Cruise around the Web for ideas, look at different layouts and site designs, and work on a layout that suits you.

Meanwhile, the first thing you'll need to do is find a unique domain name that isn't in use. Best way to do this is by simply typing it into a browser and see if you land on a site. If your browser comes up empty and can't find the name you used, it's probably available. Soon as you figure out your site name, register it (two years should be in the $20-30 range). That will give you time to design and complete your site.


Domain names are registered according to the suffix attached, with ".com" being the most prevalent. Many ISPs will snag a domain name for you, automatically, the instant it becomes available - for a small fee. Domain names become quite valuable when you consider printed materials, investment in site resources, email addresses, and advertising. Read on for more about Domain Name Services.....







A capsule history of the Internet
In its short, tumultuous life thus far, the "web" has morph'd from Dr. Jon Postel's DARPA model under the U.S. Department of Defense - a redundant network of nodes - to a thriving, international, global network of networks. To its credit, the Federal Government took a hands-off approach thru the late '90s, avoiding any "internet governance" and only addressing Domain Name Services (DNS) as necessary to facilitate internet operation on a global scale with respect to borders, languages and technology. The model for control of the internet's entire addressing scheme has changed periodically, as agreements between governments and multinational corporations expire and are renegotiated, and new categories are created, such as .info and .biz domains.

In 1997, the U.S. Department of Commerce was directed to privatize DNS, " ...in a manner that increases competition and facilitates international participation in its management." Through a cooperative agreement between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Network Solutions Incorporated (NSI), a fee structure was established for DNS registration and management via NSI's Network Information Center (aka, the interNIC) which was later purchased by VeriSign. DNS is all about the registration of names we use to identify and locate web sites (whatsit.com) with their actual numeric designations (888.88.88.888). IPv4 protocol uses 32-bit addresses in the familiar "dot-quad" format, while IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses in hexadecimal code.

Here in the U.S., our root DNS registry is currently under license from the U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the NTIA and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, the IANA. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN, certifies specific registrars to sell and manage domain names. These registrars are private-sector corporations (including VeriSign and those listed below).

Top Level Domains (TLDs) are split into three categories
Country Codes (ccTLD).
These domains are all two-letter suffixes assigned to about 250 countries world-wide.
Generic Domains (gTLD).
The largest of these, by far, is the .com domain owned by VeriSign.
.aero reserved for the air transport industry by SITA
.com/.net/.name/, all owned by VeriSign (January 2002)
.org owned by Public Interest Registry (January 2003) began as a domain for non-profit organizations but is no longer noncommercial.
.biz owned by NeuStar Incorporated
.coop sponsored by CotCorporation LLC
.info owned by Afilias Limited
.museum, the Museum Domain Management Association
.pro operated by RegistryPro, Ltd.
.gov reserved for the U.S. Government
.edu reserved for educational institutions, operated by Educause
.mil reserved for the U.S. Military, operated by the Department of Defense
.travel sponsored by Tralliance Registry Management Co. LLC

This is but a short list of the more common domains, and gTLDs are constantly changing, as are the corporations that own them.

Infrastructure Domains (.int and .arpa)  are used exclusively for internet infrastructure and management These are operated by IANA.

Current agreements and amendments (most in pdf format) can be found on the NTIA web site: <http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/nsi.htm>

Registration and Registrar information is available from VeriSign or the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN): <http://www.arin.net/>
NOTE: Extinct alternative networks include: name.space, AlterNIC, eDNS, WWW2, and others.

Current Trends and Transitions
Having started with bulletin boards (BBS) over dialup using terminal programs (like the venerable Zterm), internet access is now achieved using any of a number of web browsers like Safari or Firefox. (Firefox is a distant relative of the very first web browser, Netscape.) Standards and protocols are constantly changing and updating, as is everything else these days, with security being a major concern.

The internet had a "gold rush" of sorts in the late '90s - the notorious "dot-com bubble" - when get-rich-quick schemes of all sorts flooded the new internet market. Those ideas which had merit have survived and flourished (eBay, Amazon, Google, to name a few), but the vast majority of early "dot-coms" were so ill-conceived or poorly executed that the period became known for spectacular and costly failures. Many were flat-out cons.

The 'net has also survived a kind of "wild west" period with little or no official regulation or control, thanks in large part to the U.S. government's hands-off approach to internet regulation. One of the most refreshing and powerful aspects of today's internet is its wide-open, unregulated, global access to information of all sorts (at least here in the States), but those days may be numbered as corporations and governments begin to apply control and attempt taxation, censoring and regulation.

Domain name registration
VeriSign has done well to stay out of the spotlight as the internet continues to sort itself out. Registration of domain names is strictly controlled in some ways - country codes for example - but wide open in others. Registrars range from giant VeriSign (still in control of .com and .net) to neighborhood ISPs acting as local agents. Registration schemes abound. Services offered by site designers, ISPs, and VeriSign itself range from the rock-bottom biannual fee, to substantial (and unjustified) monthly rates charged to the unwary. Registration of a domain name expires at two or five year intervals, to the exact second. If it goes neglected, someone else can buy it. Best to use a reliable registrar and web host.

Your relationship with your web host (and ISP) is important for a variety of reasons beyond just its monthly charge for hosting; it might best be viewed as a partnership. When shopping for a web host, be sure to factor-in your site's use of forms, JavaScript, CGIs, your space requirements and other qualifications. Review service contracts from potential web hosts, along with host's past history, equipment, and additional services offered before making a long-term commitment. Having a reliable host capable of managing a variety of domain issues can be a big plus. Avoid those hosts who limit your ability to post changes or insist on doing it for you (for a fee), and those that charge exorbitant monthly fees or have additional charges for traffic, storage, editing and access. Most web designers will have a list of host providers they recommend.

Hosting your own web site requires a static IP (Internet Protocol) address, high-speed broadband (minimum 3Mbps), and a fast server - all of which is a possibility for those willing to tackle the technicalities. (The bottleneck around here is true broadband availability.) Does it make sense to host your own web site? Probably not, unless you have bigger plans involving dedicated lines and might provide hosting space for others. It takes time, expensive servers, continual maintenance and updates, a backup server, and a fair amount of technical knowhow. Not an easy task.