Linux on an OLD Mac
February 25, 2005 5:14 AM   Subscribe

This may be more of a Slashdot question, but as those super geeks would rip me to ribbons; I am asking yall instead. I have recently become enamored with the idea of running MK Linux or PPC Linux on an old beige Macintosh. What is the best distro to use? What is the ideal beige Macintosh model (Performa 5200CD?) Have any of you actually done this? Is ALL the hardware supported? Any horror stories? Thanks!
posted by Livewire Confusion to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
The 5400/5500 is a much better choice than the 5200. As well as being lots faster (120-275mhz vs 75mhz), the 5400/5500's are PCI based, which means it's a lot easier to get Linux running on them. I do understand that beggars can't be choosers, but the 5400/5500's are much better.

Additionally, the graphics chips are much better supported. The PCI slot means you can add a combo USB2.0/Firewire card which Linux will recognise. The Ethernet commslotII cards work under Linux quite well.

They also use standard ATA hard drives, unlike the 5200CD. I think they still have SCSI CDs in them, however you can get SCSI CD burners..

No, I haven't done it, but I have owned a 5200, 5400 and 5500 and am pretty familiar with the hardware in them all (still have one of the motherboards in a color classic, but that's another story :)
posted by theducks at 5:44 AM on February 25, 2005

Yellow Dog Linux is probably the best known PPC distro, but the latest version doesn't work with all older hardware, viz., the beige stuff. There's also the Debian PPC port, which page describes what is and isn't supported. See also (Not that I know anything about this stuff, I just know that this stuff is out there.)
posted by mcwetboy at 5:54 AM on February 25, 2005

I futzed around with installing a flavour of linux on an old G4/500 before Christmas. I agree that YDL is the easiest to install and likely the best supported distro, although I don't know if you could support the current or historic distros on a beige. You might also want to look at one of the BSDs -- netBSD, freeBSD.
posted by docgonzo at 6:16 AM on February 25, 2005

I would go with Yellow Dog Linux, but, if that won't run on your old hardware, I'd say to go with NetBSD, instead.

NetBSD is, relatively, easy to install. It's a bit more complicated than a FreeBSD install, but last time that I looked, FreeBSD wasn't ready for Mac hardware.
posted by veedubya at 7:07 AM on February 25, 2005

("FreeBSD wasn't ready for Mac hardware"... true, except for this.)

NetBSD is tricky, if only because you have to futz around with the BIOS. My advice to you (if you go this route) is to partition and prepare your disk using a Powerbook with the target computer mounted through FireWire. It'll save you a lot of heartache.
posted by docgonzo at 7:20 AM on February 25, 2005

Now, now, docgonzo. A FreeBSD toolset does not an OS make.
posted by veedubya at 7:34 AM on February 25, 2005

("FreeBSD wasn't ready for Mac hardware"... true, except for this.)

What is the current status?

FreeBSD/PowerPC currently is on the verge of booting to single-user mode.

I've always wanted to be on the verge of booting, myself. Saves me from all those pesky things like being able to use an OS.
posted by angry modem at 8:53 AM on February 25, 2005

(veedubya and angrymodem are right -- i was just being a bit pedantic.)
posted by docgonzo at 9:16 AM on February 25, 2005

I'm not familiar with the 5200, but I've done this sucessfully on both a 6100 (NuBus based, SCSI, etc.) and a 7200 (PCI based, also SCSI). Both are "Old World", so you can't boot directly into Linux. Instead, you have an HFS "helper" partition with a minimal MacOS install, and run the bootloader as an extension.

With that out of the way, the 7200 was a piece of cake. The kernel and initrd live on the HFS partition along with the bootloader (I think I used BootX? Been a while...). From there I just installed Yellow Dog Linux. After some kernel work I had a bitchin' firewall/NAT/VPN router.

The 6100 was not so easy. It took me a long time to track down a kernel that would boot, and it seems like mklinux (a distro for NuBus Macs) has been abandoned. I did manage to get it running, on my network (with the AUI/RJ45 adapter thing), and playing MP3s. At that point I kind of questioned the utility of a pizza box sized MP3 player that eats 50 watts and called it quits =D

Either way you're looking at a decent bit of work, and plenty of research. You'll need a copy of MacOS that can run on your hardware. I think I used 7.6 on the 6100. I'd also recommend having a running machine with a CD burner handy, to put files you'll be downloading to CD.

I gave both machines to a friend who's a Mac nut, but I think the installs are still intact. If there's anything I can help with feel free to email me at mack at rebellands dot net. I can probably dig up those machines and figure out exactly what I did with them.
posted by kableh at 9:37 AM on February 25, 2005

Thanks everyone for the info BUT this is sounding a bit out of my league. I was hoping to purchase a used beige Mac and get it up and running on Linux. I don't know much about "Old World" terminology and "helper" partitions. I was just hoping I could find a distro for a beige, buy the easiest to load beige Mac computer, download distro CD image (or images), insert the disk into the CD drive and be up and running after a fairly easy install. I figured with the closed architecture on Macs it would be easy to get Linux running in terms of driver support. Also What's with this whole new concept of Linux not running on old hardware? That was Linux's main selling point. I was running slackware on 386 Notebooks and now all of a sudden Linux has to run on new hardware? Crazy. Maybe what I need is a visual how to website, does anyone have a link to one of those? Thanks.
posted by Livewire Confusion at 10:50 AM on February 25, 2005

The Beige G3 is by far the easiest beige model to load Linux on. It was one of the last models before the G4, and the motherboard is basically the same as the early G4 Powermac. It's a New World machine, so you just drop the Yellow Dog disc in and run with it.
posted by kableh at 10:57 AM on February 25, 2005

Don't go near the 5200/5300. It was cobbled together out of leftover pre-PPC parts that were never meant to work with each other or the PPC chip. Possibly the worst Mac ever made.

5400/6400/etc are fine.
posted by cillit bang at 9:43 PM on February 25, 2005

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