Brainstorming about the iMac G4 as an auxiliary display

So, I have a number of 15″ iMac G4 machines, some of the 800Mhz/512MB variety and at least one of the 1GHz/512MB variety. The 800Mhz machines are capable of booting Mac OS 9.2.2, and are among the last machines Apple made that can, although my G4 MDD is about the fastest (1.25GHz) machine I have (and that exists) that I could boot Mac OS 9 on. However, I think I’ll reserve the power of the MDD for Mac OS X, and so I will designate one of my 800MHz G4s as being a Mac OS 9 machine. The iMac G4s are certified for Mac OS X up to 10.4.11, though 10.5 is possible to do. I don’t actually have very much nostalgia for Cheetah, Puma, Panther, or Jaguar. Absolute no way would I run any of these machines on Cheetah now, that was terrible. For the most part, major upgrades to Mac OS X have been big enough steps forward even in performance that I don’t think I’ll install anything less than Panther unless forced. The iMac G4 is modern enough that it can take an AirPort card, too, so I could use that to get it on the network.

One of the things I have been doing with my modern iMac is hooking up a second monitor that I often use in advising appointments with students as a screen that I can point at them without necessarily revealing everything that I have on my own main screen. But the second monitor I have is a big old gargantuan CRT, and the iMac G4 seems like it has a better physical design for this sort of use.

There are two approaches to this. One that might be a sort of feasible option is to run something like Air Display (which I love for making my iPad a second monitor for my MacBook Pro) on the iMac G4, but unless there is another competing option with lower minimum requirements, I would need to push the iMac G4 up to system 10.5.8, which is well beyond what it’s supposed to run. It can be done using something like LeopardAssist, but it goes against my principle of trying to keep the older machines snappy by sticking with their shipping OS. This would most closely match my current usage, though. Perhaps this is enough of a reason to use the 1GHz machine, too, though I think I’ll want to try to kick up the RAM as well, since 512MB is also not really going to cut it under 10.5.8. I suspect that the iMac G4 would still wind up being very slow when not acting as a second monitor. The hard drives are only 60GB or 80GB big, so there’s not a lot of room to maneuver, but I might try to make the machine dual boot into 10.5.8 and 9.2.2 and use it in 9.2.2.

The second approach is of course just to leave the iMac G4 on 10.4 and use its native processor to do the displaying of the PDFs and web pages and screen-share into it, since 10.4 includes a VNC server. This might work well also due to the fact that I have a somewhat higher number of machines than I have keyboards and mice. One thing I am not sure about is what versions of what browsers function acceptably under 10.4. I need to be able to browse through the university’s data pages in order to get to transcripts, which does involve a certain amount of modern JavaScript, but I think I should be able to find something that can do this acceptably. I also would ideally link my Dropbox folder on the iMac G4, which would make all of my PDFs available (though in fact my Dropbox folder in total is bigger than the hard drive on the iMac G4, so I’ll need to take advantage of their relatively new selective sync ability to sync just my PDFs folder and not the rest of my Dropbox folder). But at least as of now, Dropbox still supports 10.4.11.

Not quite sure where I’ll go with this, but I’m sure I’ll report it here.

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