The Current State of OS 9

In October 1999, Apple released OS 9.0, heralding it as “The Best Internet Operating System Ever.”

With Sherlock 2, Internet Explorer 5 for the Mac, iTools, improved TCP/IP, and more, OS 9 connected Mac users to the Web in a way that no OS had ever done before.

With all these features, OS 9 was still very closely tied to the previous revisions of the Mac OS, and thus, was riddled with bugs and legacy code. The dreaded bomb error, for example, endeared users to the OS for years. With no memory protection, application crashes would very often bring down the entire system. Fun stuff.

With OS X’s rocky release in 2001, many people clung to OS 9 machines until the release of 10.2 in August 2002. Apple recognized this, and offered “Classic,” which allowed OS 9 apps to run in OS X. As applications were re-written for OS X, users slowly migrated

Six years later, OS X has evolved into a stable, mature OS with more and more users each year switching from the PC. Three things have forced the Macintosh community away from OS 9 in recent years:

1. Boot Sequences on Macs: At first, Macs shipping with OS X and OS 9 booted into 9, but gradually, OS X came as default. Eventually Macs would not boot into 9 at all. The 867Mhz/1Ghz Titanium PowerBooks and 867Mhz/1Ghz “Mirror Drive Door” PowerMac G4s were the last machines that could boot into 9. Classic, however, was powerful enough for most users to get by with their remaining OS 9 apps.

2. The Move to Intel: When Apple announced they were moving from the PowerPC architecture to the Intel, it meant many things: Faster Macs that ran cooler, the ability to run other x86 OS’s, and the death of Classic.

3. Leopard: With the release of OS X Leopard, Apple removed support for the Classic environment for PowerPC users, sealing OS 9’s tomb.

The only way[1] to run OS 9 these days is on older hardware. I have it up and running on my 400Mhz/512MB RAM PowerBook “Pismo” G3. While it’s fast, it’s hard to use in 2008. The best two browsers, iCab and Mozilla Suite 1.x can barely keep up with modern websites (another problem is that older hardware can’t render JavaScript as quickly as most sites need). iDisk access can be found with Goliath. Office runs well, as does AppleWorks.

OS 9 is pretty much only useful for two groups of people: hobbyists and people with few computing needs. Other than that, OS 9 is dead. Steve even buried it.

  1. ShapeShaver is an open-source tool to run OS 9 (9.0.4 only, not 9.1 or 9.2) on Intel Macs. It’s slow, and does not seem to be a viable option to run OS 9 applications.  ↩