Help me resuscitate an ageing G4 Power Macintosh with a linux distribution
March 27, 2011 7:59 PM   Subscribe

Can I rehabilitate an elderly Power Mac G4 for study?

I'm going back to uni later in the year, and the netbook I habitually use to check my email in the morning isn't going to cut it for research and for writing essays, if only because of its tiny screen and keyboard.

I've got this elderly Power Macintosh G4 sitting idle, or rather, running OS 10.4 badly, which amounts to the same thing. It has rather more RAM on it than the specs show—I put in some more to bring it to 1.75 GB. I have the idea of running a distribution of linux on it, perhaps with one of the smaller window managers like fluxbox or xfce, but I'm not sure about how viable my plan is.

Is it realistic to use an ageing, nearly decade-old, system to get me through the web research and word processing of one more degree? Would it be a better use of my time to dip into my savings and simply buy a cheap but fresh new desktop computer with a contemporary processor?

I've previously used Ubuntu with GNOME (and am running it on the netbook), but I'm quite happy to branch out to other distributions.
posted by Fiasco da Gama to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
Best answer: 1) Couldn't you plug a bigger screen and keyboard into your netbook?
2) A system with those specs (and that much RAM) should run 10.4 just fine.
3) I did this with a 600Mhz, single-processor G4 a three years ago and using the (now unofficial) PPC port of Xubuntu. It's not awful, and definitely usable. Make sure you are comfortable with the Linux-based word processors before taking the plunge, and can also live without things like Java, Flash, or any closed-source application (because virtually none of them have PPC-linux ports)
posted by schmod at 8:11 PM on March 27, 2011

You've got to be kidding! I'm running a similar aged G4 at home right now. It's still plenty fast on web and text work and I use it for fairy intensive Photoshop work, too. Max it on RAM and it should serve you for a few more years. (To be honest I'm also running an old Sawtooth G4 with OS9 to play some of my old fave legacy games. and it's still quite capable for text work.)
posted by a humble nudibranch at 8:36 PM on March 27, 2011

Ain't nuthin wrong with that old G4, might take some tuneup effort to make it play nicely... and I think NeoOffice will run on it just fine. That and Firefox should serve your needs, I'd think.
posted by drhydro at 8:46 PM on March 27, 2011

I'm using this here PB G4 with OS 10.4 for all you mention and more: Camino for web browsing (Firefox is fine but a bit slower); Open Office or Libre Office for writing (haven't tried NeoOffice).
posted by anadem at 8:50 PM on March 27, 2011

Best answer: Its fine but make sure you keep great back ups, you don't want to lose everything due to old disks.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:23 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just installed Debian on my iBook G4 867mhz, 768mg ram yesterday. I got a serious performance boost over the previous Tiger install, plus I can run modern software. Due to the death of my modern laptop, this is now my workhorse and I'm really happy with it. With 1ghz and more ram, you'll be more than happy, I think.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:07 AM on March 28, 2011

Best answer: Debian is one of the few remaining "mainstream" distros that ships for PowerPC (current stable ISOs here), so I'd suggest trying that with GNOME or whatever suits you. I just don't think (from my past experiences) that XFCE will make a significant difference compared to GNOME here.

1.75 GB of RAM is, according to my standards, an insane amount of memory. A heavy multitasker like me never has to think about memory usage with that much RAM available to run GNOME (for casual, single-task users, even 512 MB works fine).

Also, I heartily recommend LibreOffice + Firefox4 if you can get them. Firefox4 actually makes web browsing possible again by being roughly on par with Chromium.
posted by a007r at 6:32 AM on March 28, 2011

My slightly-less-old G4 (2x1.25GHz) runs NeoOffice well, all the browsers, R statistical package, whatever. It has an ATI graphics card (model: ATY,RV250) and I have a 1600x1200 monitor attached to it. It won't play games, I think, but that doesn't matter to me. There is nothing wrong with this machine that I didn't induce by sticking in a cheap aftermarket USB 2 card that seems to 'stick' periodically.
posted by jet_silver at 12:46 PM on March 28, 2011

Response by poster: You were all correct, I have no idea what was making OSX 10.4 run so sluggishly. I am now writing this from GNOME and Ubuntu 10.04 and the machine fairly clips along.

Next job: automated backups...
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:34 PM on March 28, 2011

Install deja dup from software center
posted by quaisi at 6:03 AM on March 29, 2011

Not now relevant to you FdG as you're running Ubuntu, but today I was lucky enough to find TenFourFox, a really good port of Firefox 4 for the PPC and OS 10.4. It's much, much quicker than any browser I've used on OS X, so maybe note of it will help other PPC users. Being a port, the Firefox bookmarks and Add-Ons work seamlessly, and it's very, very fast.
posted by anadem at 10:00 PM on March 30, 2011

For shits and giggles, I'd still give xfce a try.

It's so darn snappy!
posted by schmod at 11:35 AM on March 31, 2011

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