Adventures in Problem Solving

March 18, 2012 by  

Several years ago, my older brother, primarily a Windows user (though the rest of the family doesn’t hold that against him), bought an iMac for his wife. Somehow I wound up playing the role of “thousand mile screwdriver” for him, providing a lot of telephone support. This was one of the older Luxo Lamp style iMacs, which recently died a horrible death (it has since been replaced with a shiny new aluminum iMac). In spite of all my warnings, and in spite of the fact that I even set up a backup environment for them a few years ago, it apparently had not been used for some time.

Unfortunately, there were a number of irreplaceable photos of their granddaughter, as well as drafts of a number of books my sister-in-law has been working on. It fell on me (see Thousand Mile Screwedriver above) to figure a way to recover said data. When I received the drive in the mail, it smelled burnt–a bad thing to smell in computer components. I pulled out my trusty IDE/SATA to USB adapter, connected everything up, and it was a big no-go. The drive wouldn’t mount. In fact, it wouldn’t even spin up. The controller board showed evidence of overheating (dark brown spots are not good), so my guess was the controller board died. Well, thank goodness for eBay! I identified the drive model number and firmware revision and found a used board on eBay for about ten bucks. Even with the new board (the drive did spin up after replacing the controller), it still wouldn’t mount. I tried all my tools, including Data Rescue, Drive Genius, Disk Warrior, with the same unfortunate results. I even went so far as to take apart a perfectly good PC, plug the suspect drive into it, and boot the PC with my Spinrite 6.0 CD. Spinrite can fix drives that are otherwise unfixable, and can even fix drive defects on a Mac-formatted CD without damaging the overall file system. You can hear the success stories on the Security Now podcast hosted by Leo Laporte and security guru Steve Gibson. Spinrite identifed the disk as being fine, and didn’t make a single repair. Hmmmmmmmm.

Finally, I said to myself, “Self, what if it’s the IDE/SATA to USB adapter thingie?” I figured it was worth a shot, and certainly cheap enough at about $25 bucks, so I hopped in the car and drove to my friendly neighborhood “new” CompUSA store. My hunch was right–the adapter was bad, and after doing all the cabling and such, the drive mounted immediately! I was able to extract all the data from the drive, copy to a couple of DVDs, and all was well.

Note To Self #1: Make sure all your tools are indeed working. If you have a drive that you know is good, check it in the adapter before you go off on an unproductive tangent.

As it turned out, this was only part of the problem. The old iMac ran MacOS 10.3.9 along with Classic mode (MacOS 9.2.1). Their shiny new iMac is an Intel box which, of course, does not run in Classic mode. This was a huge disappointment to them because they had several favorite games (Milles Bornes and Bridge) that didn’t have equivalents they liked in Leopard (MacOS X 10.5.x).

I did a little research and found the solution in a book written by’s own Chris Seibold: Big Book of Apple Hacks book (which also has a nice section on running a website at home that was written by, well, modesty prevents…). It’s a product called SheepShaver. Its whole purpose is to permit owners of Intel Macs the ability to run Classic apps by installing any Mac OS from 7.5.2 to 9.0.4 (retail version) into a separate environment, at pretty much the same speed as the host machine (though it runs much slower on a PowerPC-based machine). They even have a version that will run the Classic MacOS on a Windows machine. Let’s see now…install SheepShaver on Windows XP running on VMWare Fusion which is running on my MacBook. Do I feel like living that dangerously? Probably not.

Along with a retail version of one of these OS’s, you will need a copy of a Mac ROM. While Apple doesn’t like for people to do this, you can download a Mac ROM updater file from their download area. The only caveat here is that you need to have a machine running in Classic mode to run the software needed to extract the ROM file from the installer file (TomeViewer). Once you’ve gotten these pieces together, just follow the excellent directions in Chris’s book, or the fairly well-written online docs. One warning, though… The docs indicated that you can install the OS from a mounted ISO image file (the entire contents of the CD, formatted as a CD, in a special file format that emulates a physical CD–you can make ISO image files of CDs and CDs from ISO image files using products like Roxio Toast). I couldn’t get that to work. I had to make a CD from the image file and then mount it.

If you don’t have a retail package CD of one of the supported OS’s, try sites like, or eBay. You shouldn’t have to pay more than 10-20 bucks.

This blog has gone on long enough, so I won’t bore you, dear readers, with the details. Other than the one warning above, the instructions took me through the process with no glitches. After I was sure everything was running on my MacBook, I copied the two game files to a special file folder that bridges the two operating systems, then copied them to the Applications folder in my Mac OS9 window, and ran them. From what I could tell, there were no problems. It seemed stable enough (nothing crashed in the brief two minute tests of each of the programs).

Some other caveats… You can only assign up to 256 MB of RAM to this environment. You cannot fill your entire screen with the Classic OS window (1024 x 768 pixels worked great for me).

Another tip: If you have some REAL old apps or files, I think you can still buy floppy drives with USB cables, and as far as I know (I haven’t personally tested this), you should be able to make Sheep Shaver recognize the floppy.

The installation and setup were easy enough that I think my brother can handle the installation. I’ll send him the SheepShaver app with instructions on how to get the rest of the stuff (he has an older retail copy of MacOS 9 in one of his many boxes–he just moved recently). Lets’s just say that I will help him with his ROM issues.

So, do you absolutely, positively need to run one or more Classic applications on an Intel-powered Macintosh? SheepShaver will do it for you. An alternative to this app is Basilisk II, but only if you want to run a MacOS up to about 8.1.

It’s a real blast from the past. If you haven’t used Classic in a while, you’ll really appreciate all the improvements in MacOS X.