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OS 9, Mine, All Mine
Pages: 1, 2

"It would cost a couple of thousand for two new machines"

Deep in the idyllic countryside of Sussex, near the south coast of England, Ben Gabel and Kate McAvoy operate a small business supplying high-quality natural vegetable seeds for gardeners.

The VidaVerde seed catalogue is kept up-to-date using two PowerBook 3400 laptops running OS 9. Ben is clearly very proud of his low-cost computer setup (pictured below).

Ben Gabel's FileMaker database
Ben Gabel's FileMaker database.

"It's a great setup; we have 5 enormous FileMaker databases that track all the seeds in the seedbank, with photos, growing notes, passport data, and so on.

"They also generate instructions for people who request seeds. We also use Dreamweaver for web site maintenance, and Word for most of our business document."

And if all that isn't delightfully lo-fi enough for you, just wait until you hear how the computers are powered and networked:

"Our setup is solar-powered. Internet connection is via a village-wide wireless network; then to a DirecPC satellite link belonging to a neighbor.

"I have no problems at all running this lot from OS 9, except that the machines themselves are getting a bit old -- about six years now -- and so backlights and keyboards do need replacing from time to time."

Upgrading to OS X would be nice in theory, but this is a small business designed to bring in a family income. Costs have to be kept down. By saving money on hardware, Ben and Kate have been able to spend more on seed stock.

"Why not go to X? Well, for a start it would cost a couple thousand for two new machines. Our budget is very small for this project; by using old machines bought on eBay for a couple of hundred pounds, we have much more funds available for our seed-saving.

"And everything works under 9. We have the recent versions of almost everything, and it works great. They are perfectly fast, even with big FileMaker searches. I think the newer ultra-fast machines are really only necessary for 3D games or intensive graphics work."

"The current setup works"

Doug Murray is a freelance sound editor. As with other specialized professionals, he has very specific requirements from the computers he uses for work. Unlike our other interviewees, Doug runs OS X on his personal laptop, but usually finds himself using OS 9 in the editing suites he works in.

OS 9 and Pro Tools 5.x have become something of an industry standard in sound-editing environments, he says. While there would be some obvious benefits to upgrading, commercial commonsense dictates that the studios keep using what works.

Doug Murray's dual-monitor desktop, showing his professional sound-editing environment in Pro Tools
Doug Murray's dual-monitor desktop, showing his professional sound-editing environment in Pro Tools.

Doug says: "I use Pro Tools every day, and like most sound editors working in established facilities, I work on an older G4 machine with older Pro Tools hardware and software and OS 9.

"For reliability, to get the most out of the extensive hardware and software investment, and to minimize training requirements, most of the installed base of Pro Tools film post-production sound facilities is very slow to change.

"But I use OS X on my own laptop. I have written about Pro Tools 6 and OS X, and I am a fan of both of them. If you have a fast enough machine, OS X is well worth using.

"Pro Tools 5.x and OS 9 have together become a standard in the sector I work in, sound editing for film. Most sound editors work as freelancers, moving from one editing facility to another. Equipment is provided by the facility, which might be quite small, or a very large one with dozens of editing rooms. Since one setup has become the standard in most of these suites, it will take quite an effort across the sector to upgrade to Pro Tools 6 and OS X.

"I think people know that we should upgrade; everyone knows there are arguments to be made. The thing is that the current setup works.

"People wouldn't get enough benefit from the upgrade to make the cost of doing it worthwhile. The day will come, eventually, but it's not here yet."

This theory is confirmed by another interviewee who preferred to remain anonymous. He works as a graphic design consultant in London's Soho, where there is a high concentration of TV, film, advertising, and design companies within a small area.

This mystery contributor uses OS 9.2 on a G4 Quicksilver, and has no inclination to switch to OS X until it becomes "absolutely necessary."

He says: "I work with several studios and with the exception of the odd machine reserved for a specialist task all are still working with OS 9. This is simply because they have an infrastructure that works, they know how to troubleshoot it if need be, and in a busy environment everyone needs to be on top of their game.

"The last thing that is needed is production teething troubles, searching for an OS X driver for peripherals, or finding one's way around a system that appears quite different from previous versions.

"Applying OS X across the board would render a proportion of existing equipment useless or require further investment in RAM [and] processor upgrades, when it can do its job perfectly well under OS 9. A lot of expense, in other words.

"OS 9 is very stable. I'm sure OS X is a fine operating system, but for plenty of us it is not a 'must have' right now."

Giles Turnbull is a freelance writer and editor. He has been writing on and about the Internet since 1997. He has a web site at

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