Note: This article is for all you fans of lowendmac.com. The author was using an old Power Macintosh 6100 with Mac OS 8, AOL 4.0, and Netscape 4.08. Stability of later systems should differ, but the speed benefits offered here should still be seen. These tips work in Mac OS 9 also.
Apple doesn't tell you everything you need to know. Here are a few tips I learned the hard way:
Partition the Disk. If you use Virtual Memory, put the VM Storage file in its own disk partition.
Why? This ensures that the VM Storage file will always be contiguous (defragmented), which minimizes disk-seek activity during swapping. You get faster processing and longer disk-drive life.
When: Partition the disk whenever you next have to reformat the hard drive. If you want n megabytes of virtual memory, make the partition n MB (actually n+1 to allow for overhead). After restart, use the Memory control panel to place the VM Storage file in the new disk partition.
Buy Lots of RAM. If you buy enough RAM, you can run with Virtual Memory turned off, and your applications will absolutely fly.
Use Disk Cache.Why? This cuts out most -- most -- of your disk activity.
How to Do It: Use the Memory control panel. Set aside 8 MB for disk cache, and see how performance improves. See how quiet your computer becomes!
Hide Netscape Navigator 4 When Not Using It. Why? I find that doing so eliminates most of my crashes and freezes.
How to Do It: Use the Applications menu, or option-click whenever switching from Netscape 4 to another application.
Frequently Delete Netscape's "Global History" or "Netscape History" File. Why? Doing so greatly reduces disk activity during browsing, and reduces Netscape's memory usage by megabytes.
I tried simply setting Netscape to expire all visited links after 10 days, but the Global History file seems to keep growing to 300k and larger. Better to just delete the file.
How to Do It: Open Netscape's preferences folder and drag the file to the Trash. Or, open Netscape's prefs panel and click "Expire Now" (in the "Navigator" preferences category).
Use RAM Disk. Put your Netscape Cache folder on the RAM Disk.
Why? Netscape Navigator 4 is, as you know, rather crash-prone on older Macs; and every Netscape crash has a high probability of corrupting the cache disk (by default, the hard disk). Reformatting the drive is not fun. But by putting your cache files onto RAM Disk, you move the disaster area onto RAM Disk also; and the RAM disk is reformatted every time you reboot. Yes, you do lose your cached pages every time you power down -- but if you're like me, you rarely visit any site twice; so there's little need to keep every page. And certainly the convenience of caching is totally cancelled by the inconvenience of ever having to reformat the hard disk, and the grief of having to reconstruct your valuable files! Also: RAM Disk contents are not lost when you restart ("warm re-boot") your machine; so even if you sometimes have to reboot, your cache survives until the next crash or power-down.
--> Just 1 MB works for me.
--> If you really must cache files for the long term, consider creating a separate disk partition for them. Again, this keeps any browser-caused catalog damage away from the partition where you keep your valuables.
When Browsing, Turn Images On. What? Common sense says the browser will run faster and use less memory with images turned off -- so why am I recommending the opposite? With images turned off, Netscape 4 has a problem with certain poorly tested web pages, notably those which overuse nested tables to hold graphics. I've seen Netscape react to such web pages by taking 30+ minutes to render a page and using up all available memory (which almost always corrupts the free memory pool, making a reboot necessary). Also, Netscape 4 fails to multitask during its rendering phase, which may force you to force-quit Netscape if you really need to regain control of your machine during a long delay. A good rule to follow: If you plan to surf a lot of web pages you've never visited before, turn images on. Your average wait time will go down. OTOH If you're browsing familiar well-designed web sites, it's often best to experiment with turning images off.
Add a Few Keyboard Accelerators. These will greatly speed up your work by reducing your use of the mouse. The most convenient command-key combination I've ever seen was one I added myself: Command-` to Hide Other applications. Here are a few other indispensable Macintosh accelerators you can add:
Activates this menu item:
Can be used left-handed while the right hand is busy moving the mouse -- very convenient for cleaning up the screen.
Hide current (topmost) application
The fast way to switch applications in Mac OS 8 and Mac OS 9. Important esp. on Macs using Virtual Memory, as hidden apps use less runtime because they don't have to redraw when foreground windows move. Useful in quick sequences like Save-and-hide ("Command-S Command-*"), to save and hide a notepad after jotting something down. Close-and-hide is often useful too, as is Copy-and-hide.
Open Bookmarks File...
That's Command-Zero. Works after Command-B (Bookmarks).
Show/Hide Navigation Toolbar
Show or hide the icon buttons.
Show/Hide Location Toolbar
(or use Command-8 for consistency with iCab)
(or use Command-Y for consistency with iCab)
Generally you add accelerators by editing an application's MENU resources. This is easy if you have a copy of Apple's ResEdit [click here to download from Apple].
To assign System command keys (system accelerators), use ResEdit to edit the "rANDy" and "Maura" menus in your Macintosh's System file. Do make a backup copy of the file before changing it! And practice on a less essential application first. Also note that you may need to boot off of another disk when you edit or change your System file.
The System accelerators don't work when certain applications (Netscape 4, IE 5, FrameMaker 5) are in the foreground.
America Online 4's and America Online 5's (AOL 4's and AOL 5's) menus are not based on Apple's MENU resources, and cannot be changed using ResEdit.
If you mean to hit Command-* but accidentally hit Command-Power Key and put your computer into the low-level debugger, remember you can continue by hitting "G" and then the Return key.
America Online 5 for Macintosh.
Switch Screen Name: Do not use the "Switch Screen Name..." menu item. It is highly crash prone. There are two symptoms: Freezes, and blank white windows. The bug may revolve around a programming error in a level-1 interrupt service routine; the MacsBug debugger often reports that this is where the resulting freezes occur. To switch screen names, disconnect completely from AOL, and dial back in with the desired screen name. I experience far fewer crashes this way.
Choosing a Browser for Speed.
Best overall browser: iCab 2.9.8 with images turned off. Simply indispensable.
Most reliable browser: On Macintosh G1 systems, use Netscape 4.08 with images turned on. Slower but ample backup browser. On G3 systems running Mac OS 9, use iCab 2.9.8 with images turned on, or Internet Explorer 5.
Most troubled browser: When web content is too wide to fit a window or monitor, Netscape 7 tends not to provide scroll bars. Unforgivable. I cannot recommend Netscape 7 as a browser of first choice.
How they compare:
Rendering: With images turned off, Netscape 4 sometimes takes infinite time to render certain web pages, and may need to be force-quit. iCab 2.9.8 with images turned off renders much much faster and reliably on most web pages.
Robustness: Netscape 4 reacts badly to HTML syntax errors, and will often give you a blank window if it sees HTML it doesn't like. iCab 2.9.8 is much more fault tolerant.
Memory Usage: Netscape wins. iCab 2.9.8 with images on quickly eats up 30 MB of RAM. Netscape 4.08 tends to max out at only 15 MB. Update: Since I upgraded to a G3 with Mac OS 9 and 256MB RAM, none of my browsers hogs memory; I've never had to quit-and-restart any browser to reclaim memory. The need to reclaim memory may indicate heap corruption.
Crashing: On a G1, iCab 2.9.8 with images on has a tendency to exit without warning when memory fills up.
iCab 2.9.8, Microsoft Internet Explorer 5, and Netscape 7 cannot do FTP upload. Use Netscape 4.