iBook G3

August 08, 2020

Roger Ngo

History

Steve Jobs introducing the iBook G3

In July 21, 1999, Steve Jobs revealed the iBook G3 at the Macworld press conference. Known famously as the “clamshell”, this machine was equipped with a PowerPC G3 CPU, and no legacy ports. With only USB, Ethernet, modem ports, and an optical drive, this laptop was intentionally designed to be the next-generation portable computing device geared towards the internet.‌

The iBook G3 was also significant in that it was the first computer to be sold with integrated wireless networking, in the form of Apple’s AirPort technology. Although the antenna was built into the bezel of the iBook G3, the card itself was separate, and was needed to be installed. Regardless, AirPort gave users the ability to browse the internet without being wired to the wall.

AirPort Express card

Jony Ive, most famous for the design of the original iPod, iPhone, and the original iMac, made his signature aesthetics known. Although the clamshell iBook G3 gained notoriety for looking like a “toilet seat” by critics, it was appealing for many consumers due to the chassis coming in a variety of colors: Blueberry, tangerine, graphite, indigo, and key lime. The colorful chassis was distinct, and recognizable in other forms of media such as ads, and television shows.

The many colors of the iBook G3

Other notable qualities in the design was an included handle, curvy body, no latch, and rubberized accents to reinforce the already durable plastics making up the chassis. The aesthetic of this machine clearly deviated away with trying to look like Apple’s professional line of notebooks, the PowerBook. In comparison to Windows-based notebooks from other companies, the PowerBook looked more, or less the same. However, the clamshell iBook G3 could be easily picked apart from the rest of the notebook world. With an MSRP of $1599, the clamshell iBook G3 was clearly designed for the user on the go. This was the perfect laptop for the student.

iBook G3 Ad

The base specifications of the clamshell iBook G3 in 1999 was:

Component Specification
CPU PowerPC G3 @ 300MHz
RAM 32 MB PC-66 SD-RAM
Video ATI Rage Mobility (2x AGP, 4 MB)
Hard Drive 3.2 GB ATA2
Optical Drive 24X CD-ROM
Ports 1 USB 1.1
AirPort Expansion
56k v.90 modem
10/100Base-T ethernet
Audio out
Display 12.1" TFT, 800x600
Battery 45W h Li-on
Operating System Macintosh OS 8.6

In 1999, the base PowerBook, the PowerBook G3 333 Bronze with an MSRP of $2499 USD had the following specifications: ‌

Comparing the clamshell iBook G3 with the more professional, and powerful PowerBook G3 333 Bronze, it was priced and spec’d quite fairly.

The iBook G3 466/SE

The iBook G3 466/SE

This iBook G3/466 SE was released in September 2000 as the final iteration to the clamshell line. The unique feature aside from having more powerful hardware across the board was the AV out through the 3.5mm audio jack.

Component Specification
CPU PowerPC G3 @ 466 MHz
RAM 64 MB PC-100 SD-RAM
Video ATI Rage Mobility (2x AGP, 8 MB)
Hard Drive 10 GB ATA2
Optical Drive 4X DVD-ROM
Ports 1 USB 1.1
1 Firewire 400
AirPort expansion
56k v.90 modem
10/100Base-T ethernet
Audio and AV out combo port
Display 12.1" TFT, 800x600
Battery 50W h Li-on
Operating System Macintosh OS 9.0.4

I was extremely fortunate enough to get myself an iBook G3 466/SE off of eBay a couple weeks ago. This machine I acquired is more or less the same as the stock configuration, except that it had included 128 MB of RAM instead of 64 MB, and an AirPort Express card already preinstalled!

iBook in a box!
Looking good
iBook G3 466/SE

The condition of the computer was like-new overall. Everything was included in the box as to what it would have been like if the computer had been purchased in late 2000. Notice the design of the computer – it was meant to be carried around!

AV out cable

Included with the system was a 3.5mm jack to composite video/and stereo audio out. There could be a few uses for this type of port for a computer like this back in 2000.

Most computers in this era had usually included video-out only through S-Video or Composite, but rarer to have included audio out. I will be playing with this to see what the quality, and experience is like.

When it came to software, Mac OS 9.0.4 came preinstalled along with internet, and multi-media software such as iMovie. Coupled with the Firewire port, the iBook G3 466/SE made it a great machine for users who wanted to get started with video editing. This specific version of the iBook was meant to be a multi-media content creation machine!

iBook booting

I will be exploring what this specific machine has to offer in the perspective of using it in the year 2000. I will also explore the possibilities on whether or not, it is possible to use such a Mac today for some of the things I do daily, 20 years later.

Booted up to the desktop

Immediate Problems

First, the bad part about this machine as it is now so old is that the battery no longer holds any charge. It takes a while to even get it to the point where there is some sort of charge being held. The original stated charge for this iBook G3 was said to be about 6 hours. Whether or not this is true, I will never know since I was just 9 years old when this machine came out, and thus never had a chance to own it in its prime. I am curious however, to get a new battery and test to see how well this machine can manage its battery life. That will probably be sometime in the future for another adventure!

Since this laptop had an AirPort Express card already installed, I wanted to connect to the internet immediately to test some of the network capabilities, and whether or not, it is possible to use this iBook for light internet browsing in 2020.

AirPort Admin tool

It turns out that the original AirPort card only supported 40-bit WEP encryption over 802.11b. 😞 Unfortunately, my home router only supports 64-bit WEP as the minimal encryption algorithm for wireless connectivity. I had to eventually fiddle around my router to include a GUEST network, and unprotected in order to get this iBook online.

Software

System profiler

This machine came preinstalled with Mac OS 9.0.4. I think Mac OS 9 is one of my favorite operating systems from Apple. I really dig the user interface, and the Platinum theme. I have many fond memories as a child using OS 9, and because of this, I have a lot of nostalgia just browsing around, and using the computer in its stock form.

Mac OS 9
Appearance Manager

The machine came with Internet Explorer 5, and Netscape Communicator 4.8 preinstalled. Both browsers were prominent during this time period. At the time, Microsoft must have had some deal with Apple to bundle Internet Explorer 5 as the default browser in Macintoshes, as the “Browse the Internet” icon lead to starting up Internet Explorer. I had to dig into the Macintosh HD to find Netscape Communicator 4.8. Talk about weird!

Internet Explorer

Here I am trying to browse my personal website through Internet Explorer 5. It looks okay. Readable, but not the formatting I would like. Pretty much every other website is unusable nowadays, especially since Internet Explorer 5 (and older browsers) don’t really support the modern encryption algorithms performed when browsing in HTTPS. Also, so many websites today are so JavaScript heavy, an old internet browser simply just doesn’t know what to do when encountering scripts.

What about Classilla, the most modern internet browser available for Mac OS 9? There is so much hype surrounding this browser. Unfortunately, the hype has become quite aged. Anyway, I downloaded Classilla 9.3.3 from 2014. It’s a little newer, but not by that much. Let’s give it a shot anyway.

Classilla browsing rogerngo.com

Again, browsing my website, it is better!

Classilla browsing Hacker News

And I can even get on Hacker News! However, there isn’t much else I can do. Again, most websites run more complex encryption algorithms, and newer version of JavaScript, that even Classilla just chokes when attempting to render. However, if all you would like to do is browse text-oriented websites, then it is possible.

Classilla Hacker News fail

Here’s a list I found in this GitHub repository awesome-lite-websites that makes browsing the internet at least interesting. I really only found the text version of NPR, and lite version of CNN to be particularly useful.

Classilla browsing NPR
Classilla browsing CNN

However to find more content that would definitely work with Classilla, wiby.me is a great search engine to use. Browsing websites definitely made for the late 90s, and early 00s can be pleasurable:

Classilla browsing the internet of old

I also have a network printer, How does office type work perform? Let’s print!

USB Printer Sharing

Aww man, looks like it isn’t recognized even after connecting my printer to the unencrypted GUEST network. Well, okay, guess if I wanted to print, I would have to transfer my documents to a flash drive, and then use a more modern computer to print.

Well, while I’m on the topic of documents, what’s it like “doing work” on the machine? Can I still write documents, do spreadsheets, and make slideshow presentations? Of course, I can, but how realistic? I actually don’t really work on spreadsheets, or make slideshows very often, but I do write a lot. So, let’s explore that.

AppleWorks 6

AppleWorks 6 is the bundled office suite here. It is pretty nice. I would say one can still get most work done with AppleWorks on an iBook G3. I wish the word processor has much more to offer, but it does get the job done if you would like to write simple documents.

What if you’d like to do more “heavy-duty” office work? Well, thankfully Microsoft Office 2001, the most recent version for Mac OS 9 can be installed!

Microsoft Word 2001

One can really work with large projects with Microsoft Office 2001. I definitely can see the iBook G3 with Office 2001 serving as a “focus-writing” machine. Perhaps, I will write a future design document with this laptop.

Now, what about e-mail? Can I check e-mail, and send them too? Let’s see if Classilla’s built-in e-mail client is usable for this type of work. I’ll connect to a personal e-mail account and will try to do some work here.

Email Client

Looks like TLS is supported for e-mail, and I can connect the client to my Gmail account without much trouble.

All this lets me conclude that the clamshell iBook G3 is still very useful for office work, and writing emails. That already covers a lot of my daily use cases for me, personally. It’s a shame that the modern internet is just simply too much for this machine.

Multimedia

Okay, now what about watching movies, and listening to music? ‌

If most of your movie collection are in DVDs, then the iBook G3 is still very good. Apple DVD Player is generally pretty good for most DVD movie watching experiences.

One thing I am calling out now is that I’m not particularly a fan of the late 90s/early 00s skeumorphic UI design that was really popular. It’s just really hard to tell what functionality a particular button triggers when pressed.

Skeumorphic DVD Player Controls

I personally have a few movies on DVD, and a lot of anime still on DVD, so the iBook makes a good DVD-movie player.

As far as playing videos go, any video encoded in a modern codec won’t be able to play very well in the machine. This is simply due to the iBook G3 not having enough CPU to decode the data. However, older DivX, and Xvid videos may work! Unless you already have a huge library of DivX, and Xvid videos, it probably isn’t worth re-encoding your existing library just so that they can play on this machine.

There is software that conveniently converts DivX videos to MOV too. I did just that for an episode of Dragon Ball Z.

Videos!

For my personal use-cases, music is easy on the computer. Out of the box, the iBook G3 can play music in a couple of ways:

  1. Audio CD
  2. MP3 using iTunes, or another player like Winamp

I don’t have many Audio CDs, but I do have a lot of MP3s. What’s it like playing MP3s on Winamp? Well, if you used Winamp when it was still popular, the experience is pretty much the same! That’s AWESOME!

Winamp

I dabble in some video editing here, and there. I used to make Anime music videos. Is it possible that I can make one now using iMovie? Well, there isn’t a good way to find out until I try!‌

Here’s some low-effort video editing…

iMovie

That’s pretty good, I think. I would say… no, not really. 😂 Of course, if you are a super-pro editor, you would probably want to use Adobe Premiere, or Final Cut Pro 2.0.

What about photo, and image editing? Although I have a real physical copy of Photoshop 4 for the Mac, 5.5 is more appropriate for this computer, and so let’s see if it fits the needs of what I would need it to do. Most of my image editing is just a lot of drawing over screenshots and creating annotations. So I would say my day-to-day graphics work is relatively simple. I don’t do any hardcore graphic design in this case.

Photoshop 5.5

AV Out

As mentioned previously, the iBook G3 466/SE came equipped with AV-out capabilities. How easy is it to set up? Well, one would just need to plug in the dongle to the audio-out jack to the iBook, and then connect RCA cables to the TV.

For example, here is me enjoying an episode of Dragon Ball Z through the TV.

AV Out

Of course, there can be more uses. Remember the days where parties would connect their computer to a projector and play visualizations of the music being played? Yeah, seems like that would have been the thing to do too. 🤣

Gaming

It is no question, and there should not be any doubt that the iBook G3 466/SE is still a very capable game machine for retro-video games, and some emulation.

For retro-video games, you have the standard famous Macintosh games like Wolfenstein 3D, Fallout, Marathon, and others. A few particular games I have fond memories playing are Nanosaur, Space Junkie, and a few edutainment titles in the late 90s/early 00s. Let me show you them!

Nanosaur is a game that was bundled in Macintoshes in this era. It’s a third person shooter where the player controls a dinosaur. The gist is to collect a bunch of eggs. It’s really simple, and fun. At the time, I thought these were amazing graphics.

Space Junkie is an addictive arcade shooter which I feel is “done right”. I spent many hours playing this game as a kid, and it was one of the only games I had on my family computer growing up. Love this game.

Sim City 2000

Of course, everyone likes to be play God once in a while… Sim City 2000 is the game for you if you like that sort of thing!

And finally, a few edutainment titles I played over, and over again while in primary school. To this day, I credit some of these games to how much I love the 3-Rs (reading, writing, and arithmetic 🤣).

On the topic of emulation, I mainly like to play Super Nintendo games. Snes9x 1.43 is a good emulator for Mac OS 9, and has great compatibility for most Super Nintendo games. Now, I can easily play the JRPGs I love so much!

Another great system I really like to emulate is the Gameboy. I’m a Pokemon fanatic, and hey, if I can play the Pokemon games on this machine, then it is a keeper. 😇 KiGB 1.42 is a great Gameboy emulator for OS 9.

Gameboy Color Emulation

Okay, so the point is made. The iBook G3 can make a GREAT gaming machine! There are so many fun titles available.

Virtualization

Now back in the day we wanted to run Windows programs. Most likely those running on Windows 98 at the time. What was cutting edge at the time was Connectix Virtual PC 6.0. Let’s install that and see if I can get some Windows 98 programs to run some basic Windows utilities and programming environments.

For Windows 98, I would do some retro programming, so installing Visual Studio 6.0 is handy. But one thing a lot of Mac users used these types of virtual machines for was for classic DOS gaming. Whichever task you choose to do with a virtualized Windows installation, keep in mind that the performance might be limited as the iBook G3 at 466 MHz might not have enough processing power!

If all your tasks are business/back-office work, then it might just work out in the end. 😇

Virtual PC 6.0

Upgrades

When it comes to upgrading the system, a few options are possible to bump the performance of your clamshell iBook G3:

For myself, I am not brave enough to replace the ATA2 hard drive just yet, but I will be installing a 512 MB memory module to replace the additional 64 MB. This will take my iBook G3 466/SE to having 576 MB of RAM, and should be more than enough for year 2000 type tasks.

I checked and OWC has a 512 MB stick for just $12.88! https://eshop.macsales.com/item/OWC/100SO512328L/

I have been on the look out for a new battery to go with this system, but it seems like these things are very expensive on eBay. I would have to convince myself that this type of purchase is justified. It’s likely I won’t be using the computer without a battery, but it would be nice to have.

In terms of software, I managed to update my installation of Mac OS 9.0.4 to Mac OS 9.1. I would need to find a copy of Mac OS 9.2 somewhere, or go on Macintosh Garden to download the CD image to upgrade to 9.2, and then update everything to 9.2.2. I’ll definitely do this one day.

In Summary…

In summary, the clamshell iBook G3 is a great machine if your use case is related more to offline work. If you do some basic photo editing, or write a lot of documents, then this machine is great for heads-down, deep focus work.

As a person who writes a lot, using this machine is a great experience to write documentation, and blog posts while listening to some JRPG OSTs 😁

My daughter is also going to be the right age for some toddler/pre-school edutainment in a couple of years. Perhaps the iBook G3 can be a great introduction to computing for her. It is colorful, durable, and lots of edutainment titles are available. I can’t wait to pass this machine down to her when she is ready!

The Good

The Bad

The special editions

References