Mac OS X 10.3 on Beige G3

This tutorial is not a step-by-step walkthrough, but should include enough key details that a PC user familiar with PC hardware can follow it and successfully get OS X 10.3 installed and running. I use Linux on x86 hardware, and that is the perspective that I am writing this from. Windows users should have no trouble following this assuming moderate hardware knowledge.

The Hardware

This is a Macintosh Server G3 with a 300 MHz processor. I have upgraded the RAM to 256 MB. There is a SCSI card and one 4.2 GB SCSI hard drive. I couldn’t get the stock CD-ROM drive to boot, so I installed a DVD-ROM drive I had laying around. I am using onboard sound and video.

Install Mac OS 9

If it isn’t already installed, you will need this. Because Mac OS X 10.3 is not made with compatibility with this particular hardware in mind the system can’t boot directly into OS X unless it is rebooted using XPostFacto. After you use it once to reboot, then you don’t need it again unless you explicitly reboot into OS 9 or do anything that changes the code that XPostFacto installs to get the system up and running. It’s also a good idea to have a known-good supported OS installed for emergencies.

  • Problems:
    I had difficulty getting the system to boot from the CD if there was a valid bootable hard drive with a Mac OS installed. To get around this I powered on the system with the hard drives unplugged then plugged them in after booting from the CD (hold c on the keyboard and while holding c turn on the power to the machine. Keep holding c until the OS 9 boots from the CD). You can now plug the hard drives back in and run Disk Utility. It will scan all the buses and you can now edit the partitions and format the drives.

Initialize and Format Partitions

I have relatively small hard drives so I didn’t have any problems. There are numerous reports that Panther will only install and boot properly from a partition that lies completely within the first 8 GB of the hard drive. Because there are hidden partitions before the main system partition the recommendation is to make the first partition 7.5 GB and then make the rest of the drive the second partition. Make sure OS 9 is not installed in the first (7.5 GB) partition. Install OS 9 somewhere else.

Get XPostFacto

XPostFacto is what makes it possible to install and run Mac OS X 10.3 on officially unsupported G3 machines. You can download XPostFacto here. I had trouble getting version 4 to work properly. It would just reboot and hang at the grey on grey apple logo screen right before the Panther installer started up. Click on version history and look for version 3.1 if you are having problems.

Run XPostFacto

Insert the first Panther CD into the drive, but don’t run anything from it. Open XPostFacto and select the drive you want to install to and select the CD below that. The default settings worked for me, but they may not always work properly. Click the install button and go!

Install Mac OS X 10.3

Here’s where the real fun begins. If all went well, the OS X style light grey with dark grey apple logo startup screen will appear. If the screen turns blue you are ready to continue the install. Make sure that you choose the same disk you told XPostFacto you wanted to install to. Don’t change any options except for what programs you want installed. Don’t choose “Archive & Install” or the Clean Install options or else it won’t reboot properly.

Once it reboots again you will be presented with a setup wizard of sorts where you can set the default username to log into and change some of the basic behaviors and local settings for time and date and currency display.

Update Mac OS X 10.3

The first thing you should do, assuming you already have network connectivity (if you have a router and you are plugged into it, then you are probably good to go already) is update your software. To do this click on the apple in the upper left-hand corner and select “Software Update…” Follow the onscreen instructions. This is a Mac, after all. You didn’t think they would make this kind of thing difficult, did you?

Update Mac OS 9

This step is optional, but recommended. You need to do this in order to use Classic from within OS X without rebooting. Download the updates for OS 9 from Apple’s website. Use the OS 9 boot CD you used to install OS 9 in the first place. Run each of the updates in order. Once that’s done, reboot into the updated OS 9.2.2 and run XPostFacto. Choose to restart into OS X.

  • Problems:
    When I downloaded the updates for OS 9 from Apple’s website two of them uncompressed automatically and two of them remained in .bin archives. OS X can open these natively and extract them while OS 9 cannot. I applied only the first patch then tried to boot into OS 9 to download a program to extract the .smi files from the .bin files. This didn’t work and the system always stopped part of the way through the boot process unless I started with extensions disabled. This makes it impossible to connect to the internet and to use XPostFacto. Do it right the first time. Make sure you get all four patches uncompressed and apply them in order without rebooting between them:

    • 9.0 to 9.0.4
    • 9.0.4 to 9.1
    • 9.1 to 9.2.1
    • 9.2.1 to 9.2.2

Configure Mac OS X 10.3

This part is up to you. Now that you have a working copy of OS X on your ancient hardware, you can add all the programs that you want. Don’t expect to be able to do anything spectacular with multimedia and video. You might be able to get away with some simple audio, but don’t expect miracles out of Garage Band.

NFS Shares

If you are a Linux user and would like to be able to access NFS shares, you can do it the hard way, or you can use NFS Manager which greatly simplifies the process. It’s not free, but the demo version is fully functional, albeit with nag screens. Once you get the settings right, however, you don’t need to run the program, so it’s not too bad. I would buy it if I worked in a Linux/Unix shop and wanted to run a Mac.

Synergy

I have two monitors on my desk with only one mouse and one keyboard, and I use Synergy to move between the monitors as though they were both connected to the same machine. It’s an excellent tool and makes life much easier than having to juggle mice and keyboards. Lifehacker has good instructions for setting up Synergy.

Be Productive

You may find it quite strange how productive you can be using this old slow hardware. The truth is that you might even find that you can get more work done on this machine than you can on your faster systems. Part of this might be that Youtube plays like a slideshow and games are out of the question so the only thing you can do is work. You may soon find yourself trying to convince friends and colleagues that they need to switch if only for the wonders of SubEthaEdit.