MaxSea [legacy 2001 version]

Note: as this is a legacy page, we are no longer checking the links periodically. The information and links (if they still work) are here for interest only.

From searching the Internet and talking to other boats we had become aware of GRIB files and their use for multi-day weather forecasting. We could never find any shareware to handle this file type – what we found seemed to be for Unix first, then a smaller amount for Windows machines and finally not much of anything for the Macintosh. I should point out that there were public domain C routines available which possibly could have worked on the Mac but that would have entailed purchasing a C compiler for the sole purpose of compiling a GRIB program. As our crossings grew into multiple days and we looked forward to crossing the Atlantic we wanted to get a better source for our weather.

In conversation with another Macintosh user, we found out that the Dashew’s SetSail website had struck up a partnership with the highly rated MaxSea company. Although MaxSea was originally developed on the Macintosh, somewhere around 2001 or 2002 they dropped the platform due to lack of sales. This implied that we would have to either purchase a Windows PC or run one of the Connectix PC emulators on our Macintosh. Given the investment we had in the Mac we decided to stay on that platform. Users of platforms other than Mac will probably not get much out of the rest of this page.

The table below lists all the components that were changed on our laptop as part of installing MaxSea. The table also indirectly gives the technical specifications for the iBook model we use to run MaxSea.

 

 

Hardware and Software Summary

Resource Before After Action Taken
CPU 600 mHz G3 same none
Memory 128 megabytes 384 megabytes added 256 megabyte chip to the single available expansion slot
Hard Disk 20 gigabytes same none
Operating System Mac OS 9.2.2 Max OS X 10.1.5 Converted to a more recent version of the operating system (the Virtual PC installation documentation recommended is as a faster way to run Virtual PC)
Windows Emulator Virtual PC 6 with Windows 2000 Installed the Connectix product Virtual PC with Windows 2000
Navigation Package MaxSea 9.2 Installed MaxSea 9.2
MaxSea V9 startup screen on iBook MaxSea V9 weather & chart on iBook

 

The following discussion follows a number of steps that must be gone through:

Verify Hardware

Hardware resources must be verified against the requirements for both Virtual PC and MaxSea. Principally these are CPU speed, physical memory and available disk space. In our situation we were operating OS 9.2.2 and had to decide whether to move up to OX 10. When we purchased our iBook 600 mHz 128 megabyte G3 in the spring of 2002 it came with both Mac OS 9.2.2 and 10.1.2 installed. We had partitioned the 20 gigabyte disk and each operating system had half to itself – a decision recommended if both systems will be used extensively. Our decision whether to upgrade the operating system caused the hardware and software issues to become slightly entangled. For example, for the version of Virtual PC we chose (Windows 2000) required a minimum of 192 megabytes for use under OS 9 but 256 megabytes for use under OS 10. A minimum of 2 gigabytes of free disk was required for either installation.Anyone not upgrading their Macintosh operating system should skip to the next section Verify Software Levels.

We had sufficient disk space available but were required to upgrade our 128 megabytes for either configuration. When we phoned for memory prices it turned out that an extra 10 euros got us 256 megabytes instead of 128 so we decided to go for the larger chip (beware that most if not all iBooks have only one memory expansion slot so a second memory upgrade implies removing the first one). Our memory upgrade gave us 384 megabytes which was well above the requirement for running Virtual PC with Windows 2000 under either Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X.

The Apple website has numerous articles on upgrading iBooks. These computers are considered largely “customer upgradeable” for many things that used to require a visit to an authorized Apple Dealer. Memory is one of the customer upgradables and there is a PDF document titled “Memory (SO-DIMM RAM) Installation Instructions on the Apple website (we have not provided a link as the website keeps getting reorganised). This is what we used and it is quite clear, the only tools required are a small Philips screwdriver and a small blade screwdriver. There is also a QuickTime movie available covering the same procedure – as it was 4.5 megabytes and larger than a diskette we could not download it. Once we lifted up our keyboard (described in the PDF document) there were stickers on the underside which also described the procedure. Probably the most important step is to ground yourself against static electricity which is clearly outlined in the PDF document. Within about 10 minutes your computer is back together again, rebooted and running a lot faster thanks to its extra memory.

If there is not enough disk space available then either something must be deleted or a newer and larger disk needs to be purchased. For purchasing a new disk there are two choices: a replacement for the internal disk will possibly cost as much in labour for the data to be moved over to the new disk as it will for the new disk itself. Buying an external disk is more straight forward but the logistics of having files on a detachable volume must be worked out. Also if Virtual PC and MaxSea are located on the external disk then that disk will always have to be attached to the laptop which makes the laptop a lot less portable and robust (especially in a moving yacht). In our case we had enough unused disk space for both Virtual PC and MaxSea.

Verify Software Levels

Software levels must be verified – usually this is simply ensuring that the operating system is a high enough level. It should be noted that as MaxSea runs totally within the Windows operating system it does not have any direct requirements of the Macintosh software levels (whether level 9 or 10). It is the Virtual PC software which hosts Windows that will require specific versions and resources from the Macintosh operating system. Prior to installing MaxSea our versions were OS 9.2.2 and Mac OS X 10.2. Version 9.2.2 was sufficient to install Virtual PC and MaxSea had we wanted to but the Connectix documentation said that Mac OS X ran Virtual PC faster than Mac OS 9. This lead us to decide to migrate our iBook from OS 9 from OS 10 prior to installing Virtual PC and MaxSea.Anyone not upgrading their Macintosh operating system should skip to the next section “Select a version of Virtual PC, Install and Configure It.

Having made the decision to switch over to OS X we decided to upgrade to 10.1.5 which was the last upgrade on the 10.1 level and the last free of charge upgrade (the 10.2 upgrade was only available for sale). The upgrade was achieved by downloading the upgrades from the Apple website and then applying them to the iBook. There was one upgrade that covered upgrading previous versions to 10.1.5 which we used (there were also upgrades for the specific minor versions e.g. 10.1.3 and 10.1.4). The full name for the upgrade was “Mac OS X Update Combo 10.1.5” which is described in article “122011” (search for this article ID in order to get the web page which will have the link to download the upgrade). Additional information on the 10.1.5 upgrade process is in the article “106888”. We also upgraded some application packages (iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie) at the same time. Once we had Mac OS X 10.1.5 running we then had to check our various applications packages and for some of them re-install them for Mac OS X as previously we had installed everything for Mac OS 9.2.2. In a couple of instances we had to download new versions off the internet. But this step was necessitated by our decision to take advantage of the opportunity to upgrade our Macintosh operating system while we were installing Virtual PC and MaxSea. It was in no way required by the Virtual PC and MaxSea installation.

Select a version of Virtual PC, Install and Configure It

Virtual PC came in the following configurations when we purchased ours: Windows 95, NT, 98, ME, 2000, XP. It should be noted that MaxSea requires a “dongle” to work which is a hardware anti-copy device. The dongle may be ordered to fit either the USB or parallel port. Mac computers never were fitted with PC style parallel ports and so it is strongly advisable to order the USB dongle. This rules out ordering Windows 95 or NT as those two systems do not support USB devices. We ordered Windows 2000 as it most directly followed on from a version of Windows NT we had on another laptop and also the SetSail website listed it as the most stable in their tests. As various patches are released for the different Windows software the basis for making this choice changes.

  • When we installed Virtual PC with Windows 2000, it only used the first CD, the second CD was not requested
  • After the installation we could not startup Internet Explorer without configuring the a Communications Port. This we configured as a dial-up connection with a fictitious phone number, selected a modem at random. Doing this took about 10 minutes for Windows to churn through and set up something that will never exist. Obviously this is the standard setup for almost all Windows installations but it did seem a little esoteric to have to do this for a machine which has never seen the internet and possibly never will.
  • Virtual PC offers “Shared Folders” which are used to make the Macintosh disks accessible from within the Windows environment. As mentioned earlier on this page we have our 20 gigabyte hard drive partitioned into two equal partitions – one for Mac OS 9.2.2 and the other for Mac OS X 10.1.5. We defined four shared folders in Virtual PC for each of these partitions so that they show up as drives W:, X:, Y: and Z:. This way we can go seamlessly back and forth between the Mac and Windows environments. The Shared Folders option is found under the Window menu of Virtual PC – there is also online help available for the procedure. See below for the specific associations we made between the Windows folders and those in the Mac OS X file system.

Install MaxSea

We installed MaxSea using the photocopied sheet packed with the CD and took the defaults for all queries (as the photocopied sheet suggests) and we had no problems.

Some minor points are:

  • A note on shutting down the computer, when the MaxSea install instructions state that the computer is to be shut down, this refers to the Windows emulation. Simply exit from Virtual PC.
  • The first time we inserted the dongle Windows 2000 did not recognise it (the error message was “Error: No hardware key present or bad connection”). We simply re-inserted the dongle and a message appeared to the the effect “New hardware recognised”. We then started MaxSea and it started without any further problems.
  • We never had to install drivers for the USB dongle (maybe Virtual PC had installed these already but we don’t know).
  • Once you exit from Virtual PC, OS X will announce that it does not have the software required to use the dongle as it sees it as a piece of USB equipment for which it needs a driver. Simply cancel this query and remove the dongle from the USB port, if the device is not in the USB port then OS X will not protest.
  • Depending on how you exit from Virtual PC, it may save the present configuration of the Windows 2000 environment including the hardware attachments so that the next time it is started it can restore the Windows 2000 environment exactly as it was when the user exited. This is actually more than a regular PC does, where it complicates things for the MaxSea user is that part of the information preserved is whether there were USB devices connected or not. And this includes the dongle. When Windows 2000 starts up, if it expects the dongle in the USB (because it was there when the PC state was saved to disk) then it will produce the following message:
    “The saved PC state indicates that USB devices were connected before saving. USB devices may be used, but must be selected again from the USB preferences panel.
    Windows 98 and ME may experience a long, 2 minute pause before the PC is responsive.”
    Simply click the Continue button (the only choice there is) and insert the dongle, then start up MaxSea. On the other hand, if Windows 2000 did not have the dongle in the USB port when it was saved to disk and the dongle is connected when it starts up, then it does not seem to have an issue. It simply registers the dongle and when you start up MaxSea everything is in order.
  • As we do not use MaxSea for actual navigation but rather for weather management, we do not have our GPS connected which causes MaxSea to prompt every 15 seconds or so that it has no current position. By going to MaxSea’s Navigation menu and selecting “Dead Reckoning” MaxSea will stop expecting GPS input and no longer put up the warning messages.
    There is also an annoying chime sound which is actually delivered by Windows not MaxSea. T o solve this we went into the Control Panel for Windows (which is located inside the “My Computer” icon), opened the “Sounds and Media” control panel and then shut off all the sounds (including the obnoxious sound produced when Windows start up).

MaxSea Version 10 Upgrade

Version 10 came out shortly after we purchased version 9, as it introduced 500mb weather displays we decided to apply this upgrade. Nothing could have been simpler. The upgrade was acually a complete new version rather than an upgrade, we inserted the CD, ran the install process which did its work and then rebooted the Windows system. Nothing could have been simpler. When the Windows system restarted MaxSea version 10 was available. The improvements were not only limited to the introduction of 500 mb weather data, the user interface had been overhauled and was much superior.

Dongles

Nobody likes dongles. Our major concern with it is probably loosing it (it doesn’t look like it will float) or accidentally knocking it and damaging either it or the USB port on the iBook. Having said the previous, the Mac software handles the dongles quite well. If a Mac OS X window is the current window when the dongle is either inserted or removed then the Mac OS X will deal with the event. A message saying that a driver can not be found or that a piece of hardware has been disconnected will appear. Both windows are informational only. Click the Cancel or Close buttons and they will disappear. If the Windows (i.e. Virtual PC) window is current when the dongle is inserted or removed then Windows will deal with the event. MaxSea is not a happy camper if the dongle comes and goes while it is running, where as Windows doesn’t really care too much.

What we do for starting and stopping MaxSea is we insert the dongle after Virtual PC displays the message “USB Devices must be manually selected”. Of course this assumes that the dongle was still inserted when Virtual PC was shut down.For shutdown we remove the dongle once Virtual PC has exited and the display has returned to the Macintosh desktop. Sometimes Mac OS X displays a message that it has no “driver” for the USB device and offers to search the Internet for us, hoping to find one. Simply click the “Cancel” button to dismiss this query and remove the dongle. By following this sequence of starting and stopping MaxSea, the image of the PC disks that Virtual PC saves to disk as part of its shutdown always indicates that the dongle was inserted which must always be the case in order for MaxSea to operate. If other packages are being used then such dongle concerns are not relevant.

Occasionally if the dongle is left inserted while Virtual PC is shut down and then restarted (without the dongle having been removed) the software will fail to recognise the dongle. In this situation when we get the error message “Error: No hardware key present or bad connection” we simply remove the dongle and re-insert which seems to rectify the problem.

Unix

The actual fact of switching from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X is one of going from the 15 year old Macintosh environment (AKA Mac OS) to a Unix environment. The old environment is emulated very well within Unix – in fact you really never know you are running Unix. But there are a few let-downs – and based on Apple’s 15 year history of aroggance towards its users these quite probably will not be fixed (or at least fixed properly).

  • any software which has access to hardware devices (e.g. USB) will require a software re-install. This caught us in that our digitizing tablet initially failed to work under OS X;
  • there are now no drivers for individual drives (such as diskettes) – the drives are handled by generic Unix drivers. This includes the USB mounted floppy. It now can take up to 8 minutes to copy 1 megabyte of information from diskette. For some reason writing to the diskette seems to go faster than simply reading it. We contacted the manufacturer who said that the problem is with the generic Unix driver that Apple uses to operate the floopy. Being on a boat and depending on the diskette (AKA “Sneaker Net”) to maintain our link with the internet cafe ashore this is very noticeable;
  • we have had Mac OS X crash a number of times, once this was because of a diskette being inserted (which did not cause us much confidence). In that situation we finally rebooted under Mac OS 9 and reformatted the floppy, the problem was then solved. A couple of times Mac OS X has just just crashed when we were doing normal day to day activities. Overall Mac OS X crashes more than Mac OS 9.2 ever did. This is not what Apple claims but as heavy users of diskettes (which seem to be a thorn in the side of Mac OS X) this is what we have found;
  • the power management under Mac OS X is much poorer than it was under Mac OS 9. Previously there were separate settings for power management depending on if the machine was running from battery or electrical mains (AKA shore power) – there is now only one setting regardless. There used to be settings for dimming the screen, spinning down the disk, and sleeping the processor for each of the two power modes – each of which could be set down to 2 minutes. The same 3 settings now exist (but not separate values depending on battery or electrical mains) but the minimum value is 5 minutes regardless. Also the manual hard disk spin down control from the control strip in Mac OS 9 is gone with no replacement. We used this frequently to stop the disk from spinning if we were simply reading or typing. All in all we have noticed a much reduced processing time from the rechargeable battery with Mac OS X – we attribute this mainly to the much weaker power management facilities. This had mean that we have had to use the invertor much earlier than before.
  • There are some cosmetic changes which are inevitable with such a switch – how much they effect each person will depend on how they used their Mac under OS 9.
  • OS X decided to loose the disk partition that OS 9 was residing in and with it all our data. OS 9 could still access the data for both operating systems but OS X could only see its own data. Apple’s solution (which wasn’t really a solution at all) was to reformat the disk and repartition it. Thanks guys.

But all in all Mac OS X seems to be faster (aside from using diskettes) although it is not as stable as other Unix implementations we have used (and after our data loss we suspect it is not as stable as OS 9 was). Now that we have made the transition we feel it was the right thing to do but a lot of that is that after 15 years dealing with Apple we realise that Apple will not give any support to the old operating system now that they have announced the new one. We still do some things out of habbit in the Mac OS 9 style and get caught out but this will remedy itself quite quickly.

Installation (MaxSea and Macintosh operating system)

The installation process could not have been simpler. Ignoring that we made some upgrades to our iBook which were totally unrelated to the objective of getting MaxSea running, we upgraded our memory (which is clearly specified in the Virtual PC product description) and then installed Virtual PC where a couple of minor problems arose (as described above). With the MaxSea installation there were no issues at all. We have never dealt with a Windows PC package installation that went so smoothly.

Usage (MaxSea Version 9)

We bought MaxSea primarily for the weather facilities. These work very well. On our first attempt we signed onto the weather download site from an internet cafe, selected an area and downloaded the GRIB file. It was about 60 kilobytes in size, downloaded in a number of seconds and seemed to give us a 7 day forecast in 6 hour intervals. We found it easier to see the weather information if we shut off all charts and left MaxSea to simply draw the landforms as solid brownish shapes (these are in a chart of sorts which MaxSea refers to as the “Planishpere”, it is initially located in the “My Documents” folder). With all the over view chart data displayed (especially the coastal depth contours) the coastal wind indicators can get a bit obscured.

As of yet we have not had a problem in the MaxSea software while Virtual PC has crashed a couple of times already. We put this down to Microsoft inconsistencies as MaxSea has usually not been running when Virtual PC crashed. In addition Windows 200 keeps prompting to display the Windows 200 tour when it starts up. It wants the distribution disk inserted but when we put either Virtual PC CD in the software claims that it is the wrong volume. Most of the crashes of Virtual PC have happened when we clicked on one of the Windows menus.

Running MaxSea within a Windows emulator on top of Unix is not the most efficient approach in terms of raw processing speed. We find the system usable but assume that running “native” on a Windows PC it must be even more responsive. Our laptop is well within the specifications given by Virtual PC for running Windows 2000 but there are times when we do not think that our solution of using MaxSea within Virtual PC on the Macinoths would be quick enough for real time navigation. For weather management and route planning we have no questions but using it to manouver in tight confines and then reverse the track in to use as a route out may not be feasible with this configuration. At this point we have not even hooked up a GPS input yet so we are only speculating about that.

After some usage we found that we can save the Virtual PC program along with any program (such as MaxSea) that it happens to be running. Simply select the “Save All and Quit” option under the “Virtual PC” menu. This takes about to 11 seconds and saves MaxSea in the exact state so that when you restart MaxSea will continue processing exactly where you left it, the screen will be the same, the same charts, weather files etc. will be loaded. Starting it again after saving it this way takes about 25 seconds. This is how we normally exit MaxSea when we will not be using it for a period of time. If we simply need to leave it to use the word processor, weather fax etc. then we simply click on the other application and MaxSea becomes a background process. One thing to note is the USB dongle must be in place when theVirtual PC and MaxSea are started from a previous “Save All and Quit”, otherwise the software will stop and request it (see notes on dongle usage above).

We set up a Shared Folder (accessed by the “Shared Folders…” option under the “Drives” menu) to point to the Mac OS X folder where we store our weather files. We either download one of the standard weather files from the MaxSea website or request a tailoured file via the Chopper facility at the Internet cafe. We bring the floppy back to Maringret and then copy it onto the hard disk to the folder which the Virtual PC Shared Folder points to. That way we simply switch to MaxSea and tell it to Open File, selecting the new weather file from the file selection box. If we generate weather movies then we drag them from the Virtual PC Windows desktop to the shared folder which causes them to be copied through to the Mac OS X folder where we run them under QuickTime which is much more efficient than trying to run them under the Windows version of QuickTime. We pointed these shared folders as follows:

 

Drive  

Usage

W: Points to the Macintosh desktop so we can write things like weather movies straight to the Mac OS X desktop, we can then double click them and view them using QuickTime which is a lot faster than viewing them using MediaPlayer under Windows under VirtualPC
X: We store our Route files here so they are outside of Windows and we can back them up separately.
Y: This folder is for the weather files we download, one of which is the current GRIB weather file for the area we are in.
Z: A top level directory under which we load the current charts we are using, so the charts are actually in the Mac OS X file system but by using the shared folder, Windows (and therefore MaxSea) can access them as per any other hard drive.

 

Obviously the exact letters of the drives (or shared folders) are irrelevant, it is the locations and uses that are important.

Although we had a GSM phone connection in other countries which enabled us to receive email aboard Maringret we have not had this facility since purchasing MaxSea. The process involved in making up the formatted email that is to be sent to the weather file server at the MaxSea website is really the same as that described in the MaxSea User’s Guide that is supplied by SetSail. After generating the first version of it and taking it on diskette to the local internet cafe, we now keep this formatted email in our draft folder within our Internet email facility. We simply send the same weather request email every day, when we move into a new area then we will generate another one covering the new area. Generally we get the file sent back within 5 minutes, occasionally it takes 10 minutes. If one of the standard areas is sufficient then it it there waiting for download which takes under 2 minutes.

Usage (MaxSea Version 10)

We upgraded to Version 10 after using MaxSea (and of course Virtual PC) for about 4 months. The improvement in weather projecting (i.e. stepping through the GRIB file to see the weather forecast interval by interval) is very good. Also there is now a screen snapshot function under the File menu which allows the current MaxSea screen to be save in a variety of formats including GIF and JPEG. We save these to one of the shared folder that corresponds to the Mac OS X desktop. Then we simply print them off from the Mac which is simpler than trying to get a printer defined in VirtualPC. The movie function seems to run better also – at least for users within Virtual PC. In version 9 it used to take quite a long time and crash MaxSea. Under Version 10 it has not crashed and is much faster. As mentioned above, we then copy the AVI file out to the Mac OS X where QuickTime runs it without problem. Something to note is that the installation disc for MaxSea would not install as documented and we had to contact the MaxSea technical support group who had us enter the command to run the install manualy – everything then went smoothly.

  • The Dashew’s SetSail – the product information here is as clearly written as the Dashew’s books
  • Apple Computers – required for any software upgrades to the Mac OS
  • Connectix – the website for the Virtual PC product which emulates a number of versions of the popular Windows operating system. Note: Microsoft bought Connectix in February 2003 which possibly implies that products and policies might change in the future.
  • MaxSea – we didn’t find much information here that wasn’t covered more clearly on the SetSail website

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