TenFourFox: The Savior Of PowerPC Web Browsing?

Forged in the wake of Mozilla’s decision to drop support for the entire Mac PowerPC platform, TenFourFox is a web browser which brings the Firefox experience to PowerPC Mac users, whether one is running a G3, G4 or G5 PPC. While there have been several attempts at furnishing PowerPC users with a compelling web browser, TenFourFox is perhaps the first to provide a Firefox build which is tuned so well to cater to the PPC platform, that it can offer remarkable JavaScript performance, offering a reported twofold benefit over Firefox 3.6 and surpassing even Safari 5 (which is only available for Leopard users) in some respects.

Clearly, the TenFourFox team are to be lauded for their efforts, but can they really deliver a modern, stable and secure browser to the aging PowerPC? Let’s take a look.

The Backstory

Before Apple made the radical decision to transition their entire computer line to Intel CPUs, PowerPC (or PPC) was the engine that drove the Mac computing experience. Never shy to move forward in technology, Apple discontinued the PPC Mac in 2006 and so, while still perfectly capable machines, non-Intel Macs are now considered obsolete by Infinite Loop and all but ignored.

Unfortunately, but perhaps inevitably given Apple’s own stance, PPC Mac owners have been left in the cold by many software development companies and as a result miss out on a lot of the latest applications. Indeed, probably the other best web browsing option for newer and more powerful PPC Mac users is Safari 5.1 but there are rumours that Apple will not be further updating the browser and only Leopard users can run Safari 5.1 anyway – those running OS X Tiger are confined to Safari 4. TenFourFox brings users running OS X Tiger or Leopard a fork of Firefox which is optimized for PPC and offers massively increased performance as a result.

TenFourFox is made by the same team that’s behind the excellent OS 9 browser Classilla

Getting Started

Just enter "machine" into Terminal to work out which TenFourFox is right for you

Just enter "machine" into Terminal to work out which TenFourFox is right for you

Heading over to the TenFourFox website, one cannot help but feel impressed by the clear and concise manner in which the Floodgap team explain the need for TenFourFox and the strides which they have made thus far (as well as poking some good natured geeky fun at Intel-Mac users).

As is explained more fully on the website, since TenFourFox is so highly optimized for each operating system and processor type, there are three separate versions of TenFourFox and in order to begin using the software, one must first ascertain which such version one needs for their Mac. This is established by firing up Terminal and entering:

machine

The data that Terminal spits back out will point toward the version of TenFourFox needed, as shown in the screenshot above. Though this method feels slightly hacky and perhaps even intimidating for some users who are wary of anything command-line based, in practice its very simple indeed.

Using TenFourFox

Websites load quickly and correctly with TenFourFox

Websites load quickly and correctly with TenFourFox

When putting TenFourFox to the test as my main web-browser, I mostly used a late-model 15″ PowerBook which has been upgraded and maxed out with RAM but in order to give a more rounded impression, I did also try the browser on a bog-standard white USB iBook and I found that the TenFourFox experience was largely comparable on each machine. While the best browsing speeds were naturally found on my more beefy PowerBook, the iBook was certainly no hardship to use either.

In real world use the browser felt far more snappy than Safari or the other browsers which PowerPC users often turn to, such as Opera, Camino, Firefox 3.6 and even the dreaded Internet Explorer – though I should note I haven’t yet tried the also very highly regarded iCab for comparison.

Visually, TenFourFox seemed identical to its more mainstream Intel-Mac Firefox counterpart and I was pleased to note that the few add-ons I use (including the ubiquitous Adblock Plus) worked correctly, as is apparently the case with the majority of add-ons. The browser handled multiple tabs with ease and there were no crashes nor beach-balling on my faster PPC Macs.

The Catch

While Plugins are disabled on TenFourFox, Add-ons are on hand to take up the slack somewhat

While Plugins are disabled on TenFourFox, Add-ons are on hand to take up the slack somewhat

As previously mentioned, the TenFourFox team recently dropped support for Flash and other plugins such as Quicktime and PDF in favour of offering a more stable and secure browser (the full reasoning for this decision is offered here) and instead supporting add-ons, which are far easier to maintain. For some this may be a deal-breaker, but with much of the web now transitioning to tablet-friendly alternatives like HTML5, one can usually find a workaround for mainstream websites such as YouTube or Soundcloud with a poke around the website’s settings. With HTML5 browsing support enabled, YouTube videos reasonably well on my PowerBook but the older PPC Macs struggled somewhat.

TenFourFox’s developers point toward the free application MacTubes to browse YouTube videos and in brief testing I found it to work very well, proving a definite alternative to Flash or HTML5.

If you really want to, Flash can be added via these instructions written by Simon Royal for LowEndMac, but doing so is not recommended by the TenFourFox team.

Conclusion

On testing TenFourFox, I’ve come to really appreciate the hard work put into such a project and I can’t praise the developers enough for their efforts. TenFourFox definitely does give users a compelling reason to keep hold of that PPC Mac for the meantime and if the technology industry at large continues to head toward lower-power devices and lightweight Flash alternatives, one can imagine the venerable PPC Mac continuing to be of use for some time yet.

About the only negative point one could reasonably throw at TenFourFox is its lack of Flash support, but this is more due to the decision of Adobe to stop supporting the PPC platform rather than any fault of the developers themselves and for this reason I feel that it cannot really be taken into account as a criticism against the application.


Summary

TenFourFox delivers a browsing experience which almost exactly matches that of Firefox and for this reason it truly is a must-try application for any PPC Mac owner who wishes to connect to the internet.

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  • Prakhar

    I’d be interested in AppStorm doing a poll to see how many people actually still use PowerPC as their first computer. Honestly, I don’t know anyone (nor have I heard of anyone) who is still using that archaic technology.

    • Oracle

      I do. So now you’ve “heard of” at least one…

    • Teri Pittman

      I use a G5 PPC running Tiger for my work computer. I telecommute and log into my regular work computer through my VPN. I do tech support for an ISP and have worked there for about 6 years now.

      You can use whatever technology you want. I get seriously tired of people trying to force their views on the rest of us. People can use whatever technology they feel comfortable with and should not have to throw away a perfectly good computer just because some tech company needs to make a buck. Most folks just use their computers to surf the web and get email. There’s no real need for them to upgrade, but they will be pushed into it by the lack of support for their current OS.

      Tiger runs nicely on this G5 and it has enough power for my needs. I enjoy playing around with OS 9 apps, as I used to rebuild and restore old Macs for folks who couldn’t afford a computer. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a computer for young kids to bang around on. So please, do whatever you want to do. If you want to piss off your money to keep up with the lastest hardware, go right ahead. Some of us have been through these cycles and seen the changes come and go. You do what you want, we’ll do what we want.

    • lf

      Me 2. That makes 2 of us.

    • john clarke

      Some of us nearing 80 with $3.00 carfare per diem have limited options. With a dual 1 gb I have enough for my G4. By the way I moved from thermionic based computers to Z-80 at 1 meg. Before that ham CW at 30 wpm.
      73s

    • Kim

      I do, and I fit them out with larger hard drives for mates who need a laptop for browsing, mail, word processing/document layout and light photo editing, and haven’t the dosh for even a used Intel MacBook. With a 5400 rpm 250 gig hard drive humming inside, the old iBooks really respond well – and TenFourFox is a godsend :)

  • Paul Dunahoo

    The PowerPC chip has been dead for almost seven years now. Time to move on…

    • http://adamawilliams.com Adam Williams

      Fair enough but I guess that if a PPC Mac can still run iWork ’09 sufficiently, sync with the latest iPhone and iPad and serve as a basic web browser, some may feel like their PPC Mac isn’t quite ‘dead’ yet – TenFourFox is for those people.

    • Jeremy Harton

      @Paul Dunahoo

      Not sure what you’re getting at. So long as a fair number of computers remain that use it and they do not regularly fail to work/die due to mere age and are not completely unusable, there is no reason at all to call a chip dead. We could say the same of Intel’s line of processors prior to the new Core iX ones. That doesn’t make them unusable.

      Further, what makes computers unusable is not merely the age or speed, it is, at least for a time, the fact that developers have moved on and circumstances make it difficult for anyone not already educated in such to develop new applications since the tools/documentation are not readily available for sale or from Apple itself. For that matter, Apple has a record of obsoleting hardware and software before their time. By that I mean that they frequently cause obsolesence by stopping production, sale, support, etc rather than merely acknowledging a reality. One need only point out how they replaced ADB and SCSI with usb during the early 2000s while PCs had PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports as well as parallel and serial ports with some regularity for at least another 5-7 years.

      The fact that Classilla and TenFourFox even exist and are moderately viable for some uses says a lot to the effect of my point above. It shows that the hardware is more capable than the software available for it necessarily makes use of. Sure, no one should deny it has it’s shortcomings, but I really doubt that most software comes anywhere near maximizing the resources available to it in the most optimal fashion. It’s most likely rarely in development or use long enough (with the partial exception of a some categories, such as video games) to come even close to the ultimate limits.

      Further, while sites such as this, admittedly need their primary focus to be on the present, it is completely appropriate to point out software which exceeds expectations and to an extent exemplifies what can still be done acceptably on old machines.

      * just because, I will point out that I am browsing this site and posting this comment from a power macintosh G4 quicksilver 800mhz dual-processor machine using TenFourFox 9.0. I don’t see any obvious visual or functional problems with the website. Not that it’s my regular computer, but I use it to get to use mac os x for kicks since I don’t own any modern macs and I certainly am not the original owner.

    • Hugh

      I have a dozen macs doing different things, a couple are PPCs, very capable and necessary to some tasks. Having a browser alternative is very useful.
      But hey, Paul, since you don’t have a PPC what are you even doing here. How about you take that nerd-ass face of yours and go fuck off.

      • http://thedunahoos.com Paul Dunahoo

        Oh, yeah right. You don’t have to with a nasty comment such as that, just because I said that the PowerPC chip is dead, and has been for a very long time.

        • http://thedunahoos.com Paul Dunahoo

          *to reply

    • Drexel Hodge

      PPC has been in the Ps3 and Xbox for a long while after the G5, hence I can watch Netflix on a 1st version of the PS3 with a PPC CPU in it, but I can’t in my G5 with dual 2.0 PPC. Just ridiculous. XP is still supported. Not for much longer, but XP is way older than the G5 as far as tech goes. It’s not the hardware, but merely the software developer’s not willing to help out people who bought a mac in 2005. It’s like stereo profiling almost. Netflix is just one example past this whole browser issue… There are many more. I personally blame Intel, And yes Apple too, but I don’t think that intel addressed the CPU conversion nearly as much as they should have. Desktops are still awesome, and the G5 is still a mighty stable/powerful machine. I use mine as a server. Works fabulous. Never has it crapped out once. Grow the F up with your whole OLD FART comment. Stupidity. This is the tech you would rely on if the system ever collapses.

    • me

      Good for you did your parents buy your new one!

  • imix

    To Master Dunahoo 7 years must seem like an eternity. I’m guessing that’s about half his life. Understandable then that he would see PPC as an archaic technology. For me, 7 years is but the blink of an eye. I still use my ibook G4 everyday. It gets the job done. As an original Apple Fanboy (first Apple product was an Apple II in ’82, stuck with them, even in the mid 90′s death spiral) I can now see the way technology moves far more clearly then when I was Master Dunahoo’s age. The only way forward now is Linux, and opensource. Sorry Apple, but no more money from my pocket into yours.

  • john clarke

    Now exactly was NASA chip du jour on CURIOSITY? Why that choice by creme de la creme programmers?

    • Robin Romero-Dutschmann

      Hi John,

      I am also a MAC PPC user, aged 56. We do have similar backgrounds, as I also used to be a HAM also doing CW and phone, I am LU1BDT and have to renew my licence, Have you tried Echolink (net based)? 73′s and keep in touch!
      Please send your e-mail address.
      Tnx
      ROBIN

  • MrAtariMac

    I have multiple Macs – both PPC and Intel. My favorite workhorse is a late 2005 G5 Dual Core 2.3 Ghz w/ 8 GB memory (can hold 16 GB) that kicks ass in everything with one exception – Flash. These high-end G5s were over $2000 back in their day, and can now be bought for $300 or less. As far as web browsing with Flash content, most sites will work, but a few don’t (e.g., ESPN2). If not for Flash, PPC Macs are great machines. They also make great donation computers, especially if they have good software like Microsoft Office for Mac 2008 or equivalent. iLife programs still work great. Like a prior post noted, syncing iPods and the like work great. I still manage my photo library on the G5 using iPhoto. Convert VHS to digital and make DVDs with iDVD. I do these things on my G5 with Leopard even though I have Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion on 64bit Intel Macs! That’s the beauty of Macs; if you got a good program that worked like it should (and most Mac apps always did), you could use it forever without needing to get the latest and greatest versions. Even browsers that no longer develop updates for PPC work fine, with the exception of Flash. It is really the only drawback. I have a few older PCs that suck at just about everything when compared to my PPC Macs with just that one exception – playing Flash videos. And here’s the kicker: Adobe (and Macromedia) really owes its success to the Mac PPC because high-end ‘media’ developers used Macs. Adobe’s initial customer base was solely Mac at one time. Maybe that’s why Steve Jobs publicly trashed Flash – it became so clunky they had to put all their resources to a single chip architecture and ultimately abandoned the platform that gave them life (ingrates). I wish Steve was around to say it again a few more times because I’m still hoping that HTML5 becomes the norm and Flash dies quickly so that PPC Mac can have a reasonably good web experience (Flash-free) where second-hand PPCs can be a great donor computer again to kids, cash-strapped schools, the poor, etc. G3s are old and slow, but the newest G4s and virtually all G5s could have a very productive second (or third) life were it not for Flash on the web.

  • ESC

    I have 2 PPCs, a Quicksilver that has dual Processor Upgrade, still runs great for my needs, and an iBook 1.33 PPC G4 running Leopard.
    For Basic Computing things they still are handy. I have and Intel Mac that works when it feels like, has been more of a problem with it’s internal hardware.

    Many times we are forced by manufacturers to move on to newer, products long before the current technology we have has been fully used to it’s maximum potential.
    Just because a developer stops making an Item that one owns, that does not mean that the Item has lost it’s potential. To me their are hidden agendas behind the new products that are placed on the market now. Everyone runs to grab these new items because subliminally we are programmed to think that what is new is better. That’s why every couple of months there are new iPhones, and Macs, being made.

    But, I say if you own a PPC and it still works with programs that one is comfortable with, at a pace that one is comfortable working with, use it until it can’t be used anymore.
    Hey, it’s yours, why should someone tell you not to use what’s yours because something new is out there. :)

    • buff537

      Freedom of choice of computing platform should be a no brainer as no one platform suits everyone. For example, I own a MBA (2012) , MB (2007) and a 16 GB Toshiba thrive tablet (2011) and lots of PPCs that I use daily like G4 Emacs, Ibooks and powerbooks that have proven to be rock-solid performers. My MB had system board and HD replaced in the same year. But the last straw for me was SEPT 2012 when I tried to buy a battery and A/C adapter off the Apple site for my MB and neither could be found-actually I need to stop before I get angrier at Apple.

      Bottom line, I’ll keep using my PPCs as long as there are decent browsers- and in the end switched my interest to Linux on both PCs and PPC MACs as I can’t see myself buying a $2K i5 MBP.

      • buff537

        I’m sorry I didn’t edit my first post! I have found TenFourFox to be an excellent browser for my G3 and G4 PPC macs running 10.3, 10.4 and 10.5 but I also use Camino, Omniweb and Stainless as supplemental browsers.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/imickey503 imickey503

    You know Microsoft makes a great RDP software that works like MAGIC MIKE on a Mac!

    If you need to surf the web and do it in the here and now, Just fire up the RDP app, then log in to your PC you have around, then just go for it. You will be amazed just how fluid it can be. And if you got a dedicated network GREAT! If not, what a great use of that fire wire 800 port.

    Any old XP machine will work. And they make network drivers for 1394 for VIsta, 7 and soon to be 8.

    So really, you just may have to take a little more steps, but there is nothing stopping you form using it as is. Besides, A mac never stops doing what it is good at. Surfing the web has always been a PC affair anyways. Its hard to imagine that there are some cheapo cell phones and tablets that out do it. One more reason to worship the code.

  • ivor goodswede

    I agree an old mac ppc setup right is fantastic !!!, I use a crappy dual core 3 ghz PC for the net and it deserves it !!. IG.

  • Victoria Hill

    I have one too, and so does my mom. I know some of you people just don’t value money or the things that can be bought with it but for those of us that do. We don’t like to spend 1500-3500 on a new system every couple of years because something flashier has come along. We bought our macs used, both for $500 and so far they are working great (except for these add on or update issues). Mom spent $600 on a new pc several years ago and it died after 2 years, after that we thought it’s now or never both of us are without computers and loosing a new computer every 2-4 years was getting really old and expensive, so we decided now was the time for mac. No regrets. NO crashes, freezes, glitches, or real problems. We just regret not doing it sooner….A lot sooner!

  • Valerwood

    I bought my Mirror Door Drive PPC from a private party and for the first year or so, it ran pretty fast on Firefox, even though we had the cheapest DSL AT&T had to offer. Safari was too moody and would crash for no apparent reason. So Firefox started slowing down and of course it wanted me to update, but I couldn’t, because the latest OS I can run is OSX 10.5.8.

    So I deleted Firefox and returned to my moody Safari…..in fact, I deleted everything and reinstalled my software…thinking I just had a bunch of confused extensions & plugins. haha! Didn’t work! So onward with the quest of discovering the miracle browser. I tried Opera, SeaMonkey and Netscape (yes, they are still around!) While functional, NONE of those options worked for me, because I also have a PC, so I’m used to Google Chrome and the latest version of Firefox.

    So I started getting much more specific with my search criteria….and stumbled upon TenFourFox…..HALLELUJAH!!! It runs fast and smooth, and has a clean face…and my TABS! Looks the same as Firefox but cleaner, because we don’t need that messy menu bar since as every Mac user knows, we already HAVE a menu bar….DUH!

    I had to do a little tweak to enable my Flash, but that was easy peasy. I’ll deal with Quicktime later. Right now, all I know is that I have my lightning fast Mac back….and so far, no crashes, no weird dialog boxes, no freezing…nada!

    TenFourFox ROCKS!

  • http://www.kevinbryce.com K. Bryce

    I too use my G5 PPC DP 1.8 as my main computer. It’s fast and dependable and given me little trouble over the ears I’ve owned it. Several I know who have purchase Intel based Macs have had the equipment die for a variety of hardware reasons. I might sound like a dinosaur but in my book “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

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