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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.