Are There Still Any Legitimate Uses For a PowerPC Mac?

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Apple switched to Intel processors in 2006 – any Mac from before then uses the PowerPC platform. For a while Mac software was designed to work on both types of computers, but those days are for the most part gone.

Put simply: you cannot use the latest Mac software on devices build before 2006. Whether you’ve had such a Mac for years, or picked it up at a garage sale, figuring out what you can and can’t do with such a Mac gets confusing fast. I should know: my primary computer until a year ago was a PowerMac G5. That is admittedly among the most powerful PPC Macs in existence, so speed wasn’t much of a problem for day-to-day computing – the machine could keep up with low-end devices even six years later. I could easily use this hardware for another couple years, from a hardware perspective.

The problem is software. Apple hasn’t released a PPC-compatible operating system since Leopard, meaning new features, and the Mac App Store, are completely out of reach. The situation with Apple’s desktop software isn’t much better: the last browser offered by Apple for PowerPC is 2010’s Safari 5, and Apple’s media player iTunes was last updated for PPC that same year. The latest versions of iWork and iLife you can use is ’09.

And it’s not just Apple that’s abandoned the platform – they put out software longer than most. The latest versions of Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite and anything else you can think of probably won’t work on your PowerPC Mac.

This would all be fine if you had access to web apps, but even that’s potentially limited because of a lack of browsers for the platform. Google never even made a PowerPC version of Chrome, so it’s not usable. The last PPC version of Firefox is 3.6, meaning you’re up to date as of early 2011. And Opera fans are stuck with version 10.

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Luckily, there is workable software out there. You just need to search for it.

Using Your PowerPC As A Normal Mac

You can use your Mac, as-is, to get things done. It just takes some flexibility, and the right software. Here’s how to get started.

For Browsing: TenFourFox

tenfourfox

Is there a modern browser for PowerPC Macs? Yes. It’s called TenFourFox, and it’s a PowerPC Mac build of Firefox. This software is maintained to this day, and based on Firefox’s Extended Support Releases. This means you won’t necessarily get the latest Firefox features, but you are getting a modern browser that’s periodically updated – you aren’t being left behind.

For Media: VLC

VLC

Stick with the old versions of iTunes and Quicktime if you want – there’s nothing wrong with them. But if you want a lightweight media player that can play just about anything, I recommend VLC. It’s still maintained for PPC, so far as I can tell, and it works wonderfully on that platform. Best of all: it can play just about any file (assuming your Mac can handle it – HD video might be stretching things for an iMac G4).

For Work: Old Versions Of Commercial Software

It’s not up to date, but older commercial software will work just fine on your Mac. Office 2008 is the last version for this platform, and that’s not bad. It’s compatible with files from the latest version of Office, and is the last version of Office to not feature the Ribbon interface (perhaps a plus).

office-2008-mac

It’s also worth checking out iWork ’09, which many feel is actually better than Apple’s latest offering. This software is lightweight, so its pretty fast even on older Macs. Many longtime Mac users swear by its word processor, Pages, though Excel fanatics may find Numbers disappointing as a replacement.

Are you a designer? It’s worth noting that your PowerPC Mac can’t run the latest versions of Adobe’s Creative Suite – but it can run CS5. While lacking the latest features, this software is extremely capable to this day. You’ll be hard pressed to think of features you’re missing out on, compatibility with newer versions aside.

Finding More Software

This quick list shows that there is, with some digging, uses for a PowerPC Mac running OS X. There’s a lot more software out there, however. I highly recommend you check out this archive of PowerPC software.

powerpcmac-software-archive

I also recommend you check out and subscribe to MacPowerPC.com, a blog that to this day digs up software compatible with PowerPC Macs. And you can simply search for software on your own. Any download marked as “Universal” or “PPC” should work for you.

Replacing OS X With Linux

Want up-to-date software on your PPC Mac? Consider making the switch to Linux. You’ll find the latest versions of Firefox, LibreOffice and basically any other open source software you can think of, all in a central repository. Stop searching for software and simply get to work.

ubuntu-desktop

Ubuntu, among the easiest versions of Linux for Mac users, offers a community-maintained version for PPC Macs. The Ubuntu Wiki offers an in-depth outline for installing on PowerPC, which you should check out if you’re interested. I’d also recommend checking out PowerPC Liberation, a blog about installing Linux on your PPC Mac. You’ll learn a lot.

It’s worth noting that most commercial software for Linux will not work on your PowerPC – this means no Adobe Flash, no Dropbox and no Google Chrome. Put simply: companies are not compiling versions of this software for PowerPC, even on Linux.

Still, open source isn’t exactly limited: you’ll have access to tens of thousands of programs. Install, then explore. You’ll be amazed what your old Mac can still do.

Alternative Uses For Your PPC Mac

We’ve established that it’s perfectly possible to use an old PowerPC as a regular computer, but is it ideal? Not really – these machines are probably quite slow to anyone used to modern devices. Don’t panic: there are other uses for this hardware. Here’s a quick list:

As Your Own Alternative To Cloud Apps

We taught you about OwnCloud, which is a cross-platform, self-hosted alternative to Dropbox, Google Calendar and more. Well, as it turns out, this software is easy to install on a PPC Mac running Linux: just check out your distro’s package manager.

ownCloud-music

Set up the server on you old PPC, then install the client on your other computers – Windows, Linux or Mac. You’ve now got your own version of many popular cloud service – there’s even an online music player! – without the need to trust a third party company.

I couldn’t find a PPC Mac version of OwnCloud. Consider this a compelling reason to install Linux.

As A File Server

Your Mac can serve up files to your network. Plugged directly into your router, this makes for a decent local server. It’s not as full-featured a solution as OwnCloud, but it works if you just want local file storage.

Jackson outlined how to share files across Mac and Windows computers back in 2008 – these instructions should work perfectly on your PPC Mac.

As A Bittorrent Machine

So long as you’re using your old Mac as a server, why not also put it to work downloading torrents? MacPowerPC.com has a list of BitTorrent Clients for Mac, many of which offer support for adding files over the network. It’s worth trying out.

As Anything You Can Imagine

Is an old PPC Mac the ideal computer in 2013? Not really. Is it useless? Absolutely not. With the above tips you should help you put old hardware to good use.

What have I missed? A lot. You could, for example, strip the Mac parts out of your old device and rebuild – but that’s something for another article entirely. In the meantime, leave what you think an old PowerPC Mac could be useful for in the comments below.

Oh, and if anyone wants to try any of this out, I’ve got an old PowerMac G5 in my closet. If you’re in Colorado we could make a deal…

iMac photo by Omega21, usage of image free under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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Comments (62)
  • Anwar Shiekh

    My main machine at home is still a G5 power Mac.

    * WebKit 600.7.7 keeps Safari up to date,

    * Microsoft Entourage (Web Services Edition) works with an exchange server, although I still use Native Mail. Microsoft Entourage (Web Services Edition) goes with office 2008 but needs to be downloaded separately.

    * MacTeX 2015 still runs on a PPC Mac

    • Justin Pot

      That’s pretty cool! I’ve got a G5 Power Mac still, but I never use it. I should find out if someone like you would be willing to buy it.

    • Anwar Shiekh

      Nice, and I’m in Colorado; but what would I do with a second G5 PowerMac?

    • Justin Pot

      I’m sure you can find something to do with it…

    • Anwar Shiekh

      Maybe so, but it is not something I can afford to put money into.

    • Justin Pot

      Ha, I was expecting you to! Enjoy your setup, it sounds great, let me know if there’s any PPC software you’re missing – I used to be pretty good at finding it.

    • Anwar Shiekh

      Much appreciated, but I think I am in great shape.

  • omar

    you can use almost any PowerMac (incl. iBooks and Powerbooks) with G4 and ATI gfx to run MorphOS (http://morphos.net).
    Its an alternative operating system, coming from the Amiga world – it is de facto a successor of the Amiga OS.
    Its got a modern khtml-based browser with html5 support, very fast OS, can play 720p (or even some 1080p) on a stronger G4 (1ghz and above).
    Its a fun little (hobby) OS perfectly suited for everyday computing and gives new life and outstanding speed and performance for the G4’s (it even runs on some G5).

    • Christian Bonato

      Thanks Omar! I’m going to try MorphOS on HD partition, and will try to give my feedback here.

  • Christian Bonato

    Well, the iBook G4 is not doing aynthing per se… But now I can code from my laptop, and the VNC graphic latency is VERY good (almost none). We’re talking 10.5.8 accessing 10.10.2., and a 1024×768 max on the iBook G4. I guess VNC had its standards pretty well defined a decade ago or more. Remote control is one more reason not to throw away a G4 laptop.

  • Christian Bonato

    Could you add a chapter on VNC ? I’m astounded. I read your article and was already resigning myself on installing Linux (not that this option is not interesting, quite the opposite).
    I was looking for a way to code an HTML5 Web App from my iBook G4, and that means no PPC-compiled HTML5 brower available… Not to mention Textmate, and other mandatory softs (node.js, etc).
    But there’s VNC ! And it performs surprisingly well. I have control over an iMac running Yosemite, and 9 1920×1080 virtual screens !
    I’m going to lower the resolution though, not because of performance, but because the 1920×1080 interpolation on the iBook G4 screen, while pretty good, makes for a too tiny GUI.
    Wow. I’m baffled.

    • Justin Pot

      VNC is a pretty good use case, I didn’t even think of that! So you’ve got your portable old laptop controlling an iMac, clever. Have you used it for productive work at all?

    • omar

      “I was looking for a way to code an HTML5 Web App from my iBook G4, and that means no PPC-compiled HTML5 brower available…”

      there is: its the Origyn Web Browser (OWB) for MorphOS.

      Its for ppc, its fully html5 compatible, got webinspector and its available and up-to-date (updated regulary).

    • Justin Pot

      That’s pretty cool, have you had any luck with MorphOS on Macs, omar?

  • jason stanford

    Thanks Justin, gonna hook it back up soon, there was a lil tech issue of the fans attempting take off rpms a while back, it seemed to subside, hopefully its not gonna come back if I stick ten-four fox and one of these xmbc programs on (any idea which?) http://mirrors.xbmc.org/releases/osx/ppc/.. Jason..

    • Justin Pot

      Hey, I’d grab 11.0 but know that it’s a couple years old. Most addons won’t work, but for local video this should work great!

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.