Firefox’s PowerPC fork that lasted for over a decade has reached the end of the road | GeekComparison

An old PowerBook G4 running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, Microsoft Word 2008 and the TenFourFox browser.
enlarge An old PowerBook G4 running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, Microsoft Word 2008 and the TenFourFox browser.

Andrew Cunningham

It’s been over a decade since PowerPC Macs roamed the Earth—so long that the Intel Macs they replaced are themselves being replaced by something else. But to this day, a small community of people still develop software for PowerPC Macs and Mac OS 9.

One such project was TenFourFox, a fork of the Firefox browser for G3, G4, and G5-based PowerPC Macs running Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5. Mainly maintained by Cameron Kaiser, the TenFourFox project came about in late 2010 after Mozilla pulled PowerPC support from Firefox 4 during development. And amazingly, the browser has continued ever since.

But continuing to roll back Firefox features to outdated, stuck PowerPC processors only got harder as time went on. And in March of this year, Kaiser announced that the TenFourFox updates would end after more than a decade of development. The last scheduled release of TenFourFox was earlier this month.

Kaiser’s full post is long, but well worth a read for vintage computer enthusiasts or anyone working on software – Kaiser expresses his frustration at the reality of developing and supporting a niche app, but he also highlights TenFourFox’s impressive technical achievements and muses on the nature of the modern Internet and the development of open source software, saying:

I’m also proud of the decent number of TenFourFox features that have been successfully reverted or are completely new. TenFourFox was the first and still one of the few browsers on PowerPC Mac OS X to support TLS 1.3 (or even 1.2), and we’re the only browser with a JavaScript JIT. We’ve also completed some features that were long planned for Firefox but never made it, such as our support for AppleScript (and AppleScript-JavaScript bridge). With our implementation, you can even manipulate web pages that may not work properly to function usefully. Over the decade of TenFourFox, we’ve also implemented our own native date and time controls, basic ad unit, advanced Reader View (including sticky and automatic features), additional media support (MP3, MP4, and WebP), additional features and syntax for JavaScript , and AltiVec acceleration in any different parts of the browser. There are also numerous backport bug fixes in large parts of the browser that fix long-standing issues. All of this kept Firefox 45, our optimal platform base, usable for much longer than its sell-by date and made it a major upstream resource for other older browsers (including, unbelievably, OS/2).

[T]he biggest investment is time: trying to stick to a regular schedule when the ground shifts beneath your feet is a big part of my free hours, and since my regular profession is highly specialized and has little to do with computers, you can pay not really enough for me to devote my day-to-day existence to TenFourFox or any other open source project because I just don’t scale. (We’ve never taken donations anyway, mainly to avoid people thinking they’re “buying” something.) I know some people make a living off of free open source projects. I think those people are exceptions and remarkable for their rarity. Most open source projects, even those with a large user base, are ultimately black holes and always will be.

Kaiser doesn’t plan on stopping work on the browser completely, but he’s switching it back to what he calls “hobby mode.” He will continue to backport security patches from newer ESR releases of Firefox and post them on the TenFourFox Github page, but anyone who wants to use them will have to build the app themselves. Kaiser also makes no commitment to support or deliver these additions on a schedule. Other developers are also welcome to release TenFourFox builds of their own.

There are many reasons why you wouldn’t want to surf the 2021 Internet on a PowerPC Mac, even with a fully supported browser. G4 and G5 processors are an order of magnitude slower than modern Intel, AMD, or Apple Silicon processors, and trying to load a bloated modern website on a machine with only a gigabyte or two of RAM is an exercise in frustration.

Plus, it’s been years since Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5 received security updates, and most third-party app developers are way ahead of that. Old computers can still run old software, as I learned when I tried to use Mac OS 9 in 2014, but getting online or trying to communicate with other computers is trickier. TenFourFox and its development blog are proof of how difficult it can be to swim against that tide.

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