Do you have an old Mac G3 or G4 lying around doing nothing? Did you know that old dinosaur could make a great server or desktop with the help of everyone's favorite open source operating system Linux? Most people don't realize there are Linux ports for PPC. There are, and they will make that old machine seem like it's younger and snappier than it ever did.
One of the issues with trying to use those older Macs is that they do not meet the requirements of newer versions of OS X. Within the last year I purchased an older eMac which had a 900 Mhz processor. I bought it mostly just to have it. It wouldn't get too much use. When I received it it had the latest version of OS X it would support. The machine had a Gig of ram along with the G3 900 Mhz processor. I shouldn't have to even type the fact that the machine ran very slowly. At first I attributed it to the processor speed. But after a few OS X updates I realized it wasn't the processor but the version of OS X that was placed on it. That, of course, got me thinking...
I have installed Linux on a Mac before. The Mac in question was an old G3 800 Mhz iBook. With OS X the laptop felt sluggish. With Linux on the machine it felt much more powerful than it should have. The version I used on the laptop was Ubuntu. And man did it make a difference. I really felt like I was using a much newer laptop. On top of that I had the whole of the Linux catalog of software at my disposal.
And now I am faced with reviving an aging eMac in the same way. So I thought I would bring the possibility to the attention of the curious ghacks readers before they toss out those old Macs to make room for other projects.
Which versions to use?
There are a few distributions to use for Mac hardware:
Yellow Dog Linux
There is a Linux distribution that has been around since 1998 called Yellow Dog Linux. This distribution was originally based on Red Hat but has since been migrated to being based on CentOS (the Free enterprise version of Red Hat.) Yellow Dog Linux is a Linux distribution that is only created for PPC architecture. It installs like any Linux distributions. One of the only pitfalls of using Yellow Dog Linux is you might have to extract the firmware from your current, working OS X in order to get the wireless working. This is made possible with a tool called fwcutter (for Ubuntu or an rpm based distribution.
Download YDL here. [Update: not available anymore]
Unlike most newer releases of Ubuntu (and Linux in general) the Ubuntu PPC installation is text based. If you are only used to the graphical installations, fear not - the Ubuntu text-based installation is very simple to use. Take note, however, sometimes, when using a G3, you might wind up with Ubuntu basically not wanting to install at all. If this happens you might want to upgrade your Mac's G3 firmware. Once installed you will have one of the most user friendly versions of Linux on your Mac.
Download the ISO for Ubuntu for PPC here.
Once you download your ISO images, burn them onto disk, and give the installation a try. Hopefully you will successfully end with Linux running your older Mac hardware better than it ran when it hosted OS X. This is not to say that all installations will go smoothly. I have found that, when installing Linux on PPC, the installations can be flaky. Sometimes they will install and sometimes they won't. If you don't get it on the first try, give it a second. The good news is that the effort will be worth it in the end. Your old G3, G4, or G5 will run faster and smoother than it did with OS X.
If you give this a go, please let your fellow ghack readers know how your experience went.
Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.