Monthly Archives: September 2008

Whither MacOS 9 Classic: Time to update my data

The following was a post I started a while ago and I'm not sure if I finished it. So, here's a quick re-write…

In practical terms, MacOS 9 is dead, again. Now that Leopard doesn't support “classic” mode, the Mac universe is going OSX… finally. On the other hand, Classic made me lazy. I have tons of stuff still floating about that is not OSX compatible. Now, I'm forced to do the unhappy task of data migration.

The Problem of Technology Creep and My Data

The one area in the whole computer/workflow yadda yadda is the problem of migrating data. When I say data, I mean anything, such as graphics, data files, video, etc. Many of these files are in custom file formats attached to specific software. When your software no longer works with the OS, well, you can see the problem. The technology creep, the slow continuous progress in technology, can cause data loss for many reasons, but the loss of apps is hitting me hardest lately.

Some Problem Apps:

MapInfo – I bought MapInfo (GIS Software) just before MapInfo cancelled the mac version. It served me very well over the years (I still used it up to Leopard). Now MapInfo must be retired. Because of business concerns, I now use ArcGIS. With Classic going away, I'm forced to do the migration.

MacDraw Pro – No, I don't use this anymore, but oh man it was stable in classic. A really well written app. However, I have tons of MacDraw images from my dissertation. If I want to keep them, they must be converted.

Canvas – Another graphics app, which just recently died on OSX, but my images were generated at a university with version 3.5, and I didn't have a copy!

Pagemaker – Similar problem as canvas. I just had a few files, but no app.

Corel Draw – I had a few files in this format. Again, I had no app to convert.

Other problems:

Many apps work happily in OSX, such as word and excel. However, the classic naming conventions, with no file extensions for example, sometimes need changing. The files will often still work, but updating the name and extension keeps you current.


I was planning to detail all of my solutions to the data migration problem. However, I did this work a little while ago so I can only hit the highlights.

Spotlight: As it turns out, Spotlight is a great tool for data migration. type codes are available to Spotlight, so you can search for all the data files created with a particular software package, such as Corel Draw. Furthermore, for cases where you don't know the file format, they often have a type code. This way, although you can't always figure out the creator app, you can find all the files created with the same app.

Automator: This was a great way to change file name extensions.

Demo Versions: If you don't have an app, some demo versions can allow you to read your old files (even very old OS 9 demos are still floating around). If you're fortunate, the demo will allow you to save it or print it in PDF or, if you're very fortunate, it will allow you to export it to another file format that you currently use, such as Adobe Illustrator.

Assessment: No tool here, but advice. Assess the value of your data. This is the current stage I'm in now. I have a lot of data that don't need migrating, but I'm learning to delete, like free videos from iTunes. I've always been a data hoarder; after all, you never know when you might need it! I've got a basement full of books and reprints in the basement, and shelves full of backup DVDs and CDs. It's gotten worse with the climate modeling where a single simulation I'm running has generated over 180 GB of data. The shear volumes of data I'm generating means that I need to be more selective of what I keep or else my house will be full of DVDs, CDs, and hard drives. So, if you don't really need it, don't bother to migrate it. If you don't bother to migrate it, you might as well get rid of it because you wont be able to use it anyway.

Open Source File Formats: I know that open source applications are handy and useful, but they don't always fit the bill. However, one way of protecting your data is to put the into open file formats, or at least well documented file formats. These days, I commonly use XML, NetCDF, and SQLite. The advantage of this approach is that you're not tied to a particular application that may or may not be open source, but you're data are safe because the file itself is either supported by open source (or better yet public domain) code that will likely be in the wild for a long time to come. This is, of course, not always practical, but if this works, it's just as much protection of your data as backing it up.

Final Words

I realize that I've done a little more data migration than most people. The worst is often when you change platforms. For me, the big migrations were C64/C128 -> MacOS6, MacOS9 -> MacOSX and MacOS9 -> Windows (GIS stuff mostly). Keep in mind, however, that these big migrations aren't the only migrations you need to worry about. Software apps become incompatible with MacOSX all the time and sometimes you're faced with the choice of buying software updates or switching software all together. It's best to plan you migration a little and get it done, or else your data will languish and possibly be lost forever.