Linux on PowerPC Revisited

PenguinPPC ]

In a [previous post] I stated my thoughts on using Linux on a PowerPC Mac. At that time my Powerbook was my only computer, since then I have got a new machine. At the time of writing the first post I was looking at it from a consumer stand point in which case Linux is a bad option since it is very buggy and you don't get specialized apps you would of have other wise on Mac OSX.

So with having a new computer and pretty much not using my old Powerbook anymore it made me look at it from the tinker standpoint which is a big potion of Linux users. Knowing the PowerPC is very good at internal task and the Powerbook requiring pretty much no power opens a lot of doors of possibility for things I could do with my old Powerbook. With built in wireless and a screen it could be a home router or even a small web server, if you could get say 100 old iBooks and cluster them together you would have a pretty efficient server. These kind of things are driven by Linux and is were Linux thrives. Most Linux users aren't fighting for the consumer acceptance they are simply working on their latest project. 

I left a couple links at the top of the page for any of you interested to start tinkering with your PPC Mac.


  1. My 73 year old mother has been happily using MintPPC 11 (basically a Mint LXDE GUI layered over Debian PPC) on her iMac G3/450 DV+* for some time now. I transitioned her from OS X 10.4.11 awhile ago. Her computer now receives regular updates from a living OS rather than trying to coax functionality out of old software abandoned by Apple.

    Folks, as to Sawyer's generalizations about Linux ... I suggest y'all take him with a grain-of-salt and some independent research. I suspect the 'Dunning-Kruger effect' is coming into play.

    'Linux' is a broad term—much like 'jazz'—it covers many different things. I suggest folks be wary anytime they come across someone tossing the term 'Linux' around without also making references to specific versions (distributions/'distros') and/or applications.

    tl;dr ↑↑↑
    Curious about details? ↓↓↓

    For instance 'Android', the OS on smartphones and tablets, is a form of Linux. Hence, many of you are probably already using Linux everyday. In addition to the fact that much of the backbone of the internet runs some form of Linux. Odds are that Linux servers have helped carry this message from me to you. Google runs Gubuntu (a customized version of Ubuntu Linux) as their default desktop OS on company workstations.

    A decade or more ago, yes, running a Linux desktop OS was likely a bit too arcane for the average user. But not now. Many distributions currently exist which aim to be readily accessible to new Linux users from non-tech backgrounds (e.g. Linux Mint And Ubuntu). And a great deal of support forums and 'how to' videos are available. IMHO, most anyone already displaying the wherewithal to milk functionality out of an old PPC Mac running an outdated version of OS X by web searching for info on forums—like this—should find upgrading to a modern PPC Linux distribution achievable. And once setup—worthwhile and enjoyable. BTW, it's not necessarily an either/or decision ... if one has enough disk(s) space [10 GB+] then by all means consider 'dual booting' and choosing between OS X and a Linux distro at start up. Or 'triple boot' Linux, OS 9, and OS X if that's your fancy.

    'Under-the-hood' Linux distros and OS X versions have much in common as they are both originally modeled—to a large extent—after AT&T's Unix OS. Many of the command line terms are the same and they use much of the same filesystem directory structure. Linux and OS X are 'kissing cousins' at 'Unix family' reunions whereas Windoze is an alien invader ... err ... stranger from another town.

    *As a test/practice/curiosity I previously had installed MintPPC on an even older 333 MHz G3 iMac with 320 MB PC66 RAM for which OS X Tiger wasn't even an option. Worked, but was mostly a novelty until I replaced the default LXDE desktop GUI with the Enlightenment 17 Window Manager. E17 amazingly provided better GUI visuals, more configuration options, and improved responsiveness.

    1. If I didn't understand what linux was I wouldn't write anything about it. But I still don't recommend a common user to even consider using linux on a powerpc mac, since you lose a lot of apps and optimizations from all the guides on this site.

      The only people that will know how to utilize linux will be a linux user, and you don't have to convenance linux user to use linux.

      Never said it was a bad option, just for normal desktop os use I prefer either tiger or leopard

    2. Sorry for the bit of 'snark' laced in. I'd just read the (aspie?) flame comments at and may have soaked up some 'tude by proxy.

      It's great that you're playing with some PPC LInux options and sharing links to such with others.

      However, I still find "... Linux is a bad option since it is very buggy and you don't get specialized apps ..." to come off as way overstated, if not flat out spreading of FUD (,_uncertainty_and_doubt). Especially the "buggy" bit. Even with your qualifications which precede and follow my quoted excerpt.

      If Linux was inherently ''buggy'' it wouldn't run most of the internet. Uptime, baby, it's da' bes'!

    3. When trying a PPC version of ubuntu , the sound didn't work and many of the apps didn't work, a lot of little random things didn't work, same with debian and a lot of other distros since they all run off pretty much the same core. It's a server os.

    4. It's not that Linux is a server OS.. it's that there are only 5 people running it on powerpc, so there are only 5 people testing it and only 1 of them is writing bug reports.. and that leaves nobody fixing bugs.

    5. Use a source-based distribution and all of those problems go away. (gentoo, funtoo, sourcemage, T2 SDE, yadda yadda yadda

  2. As to app options, while some commercial titles may not be available, options with the same or similar functionality typically are. It's like shopping at Aldi's, you're not gonna' get 'Kellogs Cornflakes', but you can still get 'cornflakes'. Web browsers, word processing, personal accounting, mail clients, music & video players ... a wide variety of options exist to accomplish all these common tasks. From tricked-out to simple. The simple options are likely of particular interest to those running older PPC tech as one can typically find—actively maintained—Linux apps which accomplish common tasks with less (CPU and RAM) feature bloat than many current proprietary options. That is if the current proprietary product even still supports older versions of OS X at all.

    Even top-end gaming (traditionally a thin spot for Linux desktop users) has picked up significantly over the last year with Steam offering an Ubuntu client—which has now been ported to many other distros. Not a gamer myself, but I've also heard that the 'Humble Indie Bundle' now has a bunch of quality Linux game options as well.

    For the many users who just use a few common tools to get to the web, keep some financial records, play media files, tweak and store some photos, and word process/desktop publish now and then, plenty of Linux tools exist for them. Many, if not most, desktop Linux distros come with an array of such bundled in by default at install.

    Ah, but I've started to slip into promoting/defending desktop Linux in general rather than 'PPC desktop Linux' ... I noticed that I'd strayed the same way in my first post as well. I am at this point—admittedly—a Linux fanboy. Kinda' evangelical about free & open source options in general. And I suspect I detect a bit of Apple fanboy-ism on your part, eh, Sawyer? So folks would likely do well to take us both with a proverbial grain-of-salt.

    If I reflect back, it occurs to me that my coming on strong here is in part influenced by my having seen PPC Linux options downplayed and disregarded (FUD) on other Mac PPC forums as well. As someone who started on TRS-80's, in the '80's, I don't have a particularly strong brand imprint when it comes to the Mac vs. PC team-sportsfan hullaballoo. I enjoy running a free OS that let's me do a wide range of interface customization regardless of the hardware it's on. So to me, much of the 'tude towards Linux options just looks like Team Apple 'Cult of Mac' dynamics kicking in. 'Don't stray from the fold brethren' ... and such.

    1. Like I said before, pretty much the only people that will want to use linux, is a linux user, and you don't have to convince a linux user to use linux, but for 99% of people I recommend staying on either OSX Tiger or Leopard for PPC Macs

    2. also i'm a fan of what works best, and I prefer just Mac OSX on PPC Macs

  3. That said, getting back to PPC Mac specific Linux options ... well, there are fewer distro (OS) options available for PPC by far than there are for Intel machines. There are likely at least hundreds of options for Intel Linux desktop users. Maybe a coupla' handfuls for PPC. And not necessarily every option for every type of app will be available. But some option generally will be. And in Linux land one often starts with a lot of options. The diversity of choice in fact is one of things that may be overwhelming for some users. Hence, it's handy to start with a distro that has a pre-selection and then branch out from there if one gets curious to explore different features and GUIs.

    Installing and initial setup may be a bit more involved with PPC Linux than with some of the super simplistic point-n-click options provided for many current x86 distros. But anyone who has installed older Mac OSs or Win OSs and/or played with disk partitioning before should get along ok by reading online documentation first.

    Basically, if one has an 'occasionally-changes-their-own-oil/sparkplugs/airfilter' level of computer skill/confidence/knowledge they should get along ok installing a PPC LInux distro. If they have the patience to read another page of 'how-to' tips they can even set it up to dual boot alongside OS X so as to still have access to all their familiar options as well.

    Realistically, YMMV. Some models require extra TLC to change default settings or add drivers so a bit of model specific research on forums and how-to articles is advised in advance. For instance I had to follow some online tips to tweak display settings in terminal to get the GUI up and running on Mom's G3 iMac. But I'd had plenty of warning in advance (online) and so had the necessary config file at hand and added it upon first boot after install. Fairly painless 'cause I'd done the research. Coulda' been annoying/frustrating if I hadn't.

    For someone who's very computing naive and doesn't 'change-their-own-oil' installing any OS unsupervised might well seem a daunting challenge. However, many such folks would likely still get along fine with a PPC Linux distro if a more tech savvy friend/relative installed and set it up for them.

  4. Once again my 73 year old mother (who used to be adamantly opposed to touching a computer for any reason) uses Linux desktops everyday. Mostly she uses the Chrome or Firefox browsers—depending on whether she's on her old G3 Mac w/ MintPPC 11 or an old P4 IBM w/ Macpup 529 in another room (there's no PPC Chrome option). Well, actually I have her using generic FOSS 'chromium' on the Puppy Linux IBM and as for the MintPPC iMac—being Debian based—it came with Ice Weasel (generic Firefox, same under-the-hood just no licensed FFox logos) which I saw no reason to change just to get a more familiar icon. The Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox plugins and extension work on both browsers regardless, respectively and the branded versions of the browsers are available for Linux if preferred. Same goes for Opera. And Midori, and Qupzilla, and Konqueror, and Epiphany ...

    For word processing, she's easily transitioned from OpenOffice—and, later, NeoOffice—under OS X to LibreOffice on her Linux desktops. OO is still available as well—and Abiword, and Softmaker, and others—but I've read that most of the original core development talent left OpenOffice and forked to LibreOffice after a corporate buy out threatened to cramp the open source project's style. New name, same devs.

    She rarely uses much else, but has plenty of options readily available if she wants to view pics of the grandkids, watch vids, or play music. VNC, MPlayer, Audacious, DeadBeef, and a gazillion others. Lottsa' PDF viewers to choose from ... The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) if ya' wanna' get 'Photoshop' fancy or a gazillion other image editors of varying complexity ... MyPaint for Wacom tablet fun, Darktable for handling photos, Lightworks for pro video editing, Calibre for E-book management, and son and son and son ...

    IMHO, today in 2014—in most cases—for someone with an old PPC Mac, choosing between using an expired version of OS X and a current PPC Linux desktop will come down to questions of familiarity more often than functionality. Linux will do it, but you just might have to 'think different' to get it done. ;-)

  5. 3 huge comments, please make a tl:dr , if you didn't notice I like to write in a way that isn't full of filler bull shit

    1. You're kind of a dick to your readers, eh Sawyer.

  6. Yeah, it's much easier to quickly make a few brief generalizations than to address specifics in detail. But one might also give some consideration to how brevity and broad strokes might leave their readers with the impression they've simply stumbled into a hollow click-bait vanity project. Perhaps there's a middle ground somewhere between glib and verbose, eh?

  7. i.e. Sawyer, perhaps your readership might benefit if you were willing to share your experience as well as your opinions/conclusions.

    What version of which distros have you tried on what PPC hardware? What worked, what didn't? Some detailed specs would offer the readership the courtesy of drawing some of their own conclusions and the option to make comparisons to their own situation.

    Note that I revealed such in the first sentence of my first comment, "... MintPPC 11 ... iMac G3/450 DV+ ... transitioned ... from OS X 10.4.11 ...".

    Sawyer, we've yet to learn as much about you. All readers really know at this point about your experience is that you ostensibly had some problems with some as yet unnamed version of Ubuntu on some as yet unnamed old Powerbook.

  8. BTW, fellow readers, Debian ≠ Ubuntu.

    As one who actually, IRL, has used Debian and Ubuntu Linux distributions—and many distros derived from them—I can confidently say that while Ubuntu builds upon Debian source code so as to have binary compatibility with most of the Debian software repositories the end user experience is often significantly different in both interface and technical defaults.

    I tried live booting a few modern Ubuntu PPC derivatives (versions of Xubuntu and Lubuntu) on the iMac G3/450 DV+ and failed to get 'em working. Although the outdated Xubuntu 6.06 (the last 'officialy supported' version, later releases of PPC 'buntus are 'community supported') ... Xubuntu 6.06 booted up just fine after changing a display setting (a common, documented, issue on G3 iMacs).

    Anyway, what I eventually went with—that has pretty much worked fine OotB—is MintPPC 11. MintPPC came well recommended by multiple tech journalists who had actually, IRL, installed and used the OS on old Macs. MintPPC is directly built on (as opposed to derived from) Debian PPC which—unlike Ubuntu—is still officially supported by Debian and actively maintained.

    "It first became an official release architecture with Debian GNU/Linux 2.2 (potato) and has retained that status ever since."

    See also ... ... I know, from personal experience that it works well on some old G3 iMacs. Maybe it could breath some new life into your Mac as well.

    ... And provide a learning adventure along the way for those like to 'think different' and try new things ... ;-)

    [Tip: If you direct your installation to the 'testing' software repositories (Linux repositories are kinda' like free app stores) ... if you add the 'testing' software repositories instead of the 'stable' repos you'll be able to simply add the optional E17 desktop GUI—which I found ran so well on an older 333MHz G3—through the default software managers.]

  9. "NASA decided to switch the International Space Station laptops running Windows XP to Debian 6."

    Just a server OS? Bullshit. Linux is outta' this world! : }


      This guy likes linux and types a lot you guys should be best friends forever

  10. Yeah, no thanks, already noticed that link in the thread where he was flaming your ass.

  11. As most people who are not interested will say "Meh" or worse , but since Sawyer tried to get his old Chevy , sorry , Power PC , on unleaded , sorry , on Linux , at least he expressed an interested even if he's not a mechanic under the hood of BSD Linux Unix etc .
    If the Car / Truck looks good why not try to keep it running longer ? Motorized Vintage PC's mowing my Lawn is my next project .... : )

  12. any ideas how to install LinuxMintPPC on a wireless connection? My PowerMac is no where near a eathernet source and gets it's internet solely by a Linksys WMP54G PCI card.

  13. I glanced at the Debian site and it says that one can install Debian PPC via wi-fi with the net-install image. As MintPPC is a layer on top of Debian PPC it should work. If not you could install basic Debian PPC (via either wi-fi w/ the same net-install image, or via a full DVD image) and then ad the MintPPC desktop and related stuff afterwards.

    I suggest checking (and/or inquiring on) the MintPPC forums. Someone has likely run into the same challenge before. Personally, I've only used ethernet along with the net-install CD as per standard MintPPC instructions.

  14. I found Lubuntu works best with the PPC powerbook G4 i have, debian looks like lubuntu 12 and MintPPC if the superdrive could read the iso to CD was never tried. Remember that on the G4 you arent able to boot the the USB in a normal instance. I also tried Morpheus that never worked very well the Superdrive couldnt read the ISO converted to a normal cdrom. The only real issue is configuring the Broadcom wireless cards in the Mac, but they work thru is just get a old wireless card, were lunbuntu will detect just fine, Ive tried several different flavors of PPC Linux for my G4 Powerbook and found that it is the best we can get current, Ubuntu didnt work so well it was very bloated and slowed down the Mac, Lubuntu is very lean works well on this old beast, Cheers

    1. Just wanted to say here that you can actually boot USB's quite easily with powerpc macs. in my case (openfirmware 3.x) it is as simple as

      > devalias

      < prints a bunch of device aliases, look for usb0, usb1, usb2 etc. usually they are 'ud' 'ud1' and 'ud2'

      > boot ud:,\\:tbxi

      ^^ that will boot something that is on an APM/HFS disk, but you can also (what I do) use APM/FAT32, and just copy the files from the ISO over to the USB. Then you can do something like " boot ud:,\boot\ofwboot.xcf kernel " for BSD or " boot ud:,\boot\yaboot vmlinuz " for Linux. check out a manual for openfirmware yo =P

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