MkLinux—Linux Comes to the Power Macintosh

Macintosh users can now come in from the cold—MkLinux has arrived. Here's how it happened, and how you can get it.
Your Mileage May Vary

Despite being distributed by Prime Time Freeware, MkLinux is not yet ready for prime time. As already noted, many people have had problems right from the start, being unable to even boot from their drives. Sources at Apple say this problem will be solved by the time you read this article, but if you're considering purchasing a new drive, you will want to check whether the one you're considering has been used successfully by someone else before spending money on it.

Video support in the first Developer's Release is a bit sparse. Only on-board video and the HPV card are supported, and this has caused some problems with people who have “AV” Macintosh systems.

Floppy drives and, more unfortunately, serial output, are not supported with this first release. Thus, while you can play around with networking if you have access to Ethernet, those of us who connect to the Internet via PPP will have to wait a bit. The lack of serial support also limits printing options.

On the SCSI bus, only hard drives and CD-ROMs are supported at the moment. The release notes say other devices, such as the Iomega ZIP drive, have not been tested, but I have not gotten mine to work, and I know of no one on the Internet who has.

Finally, as with any developer's release, your mileage may vary with respect to getting various programs and systems working. For example, while I have not gotten Emacs to work, I know of several people who've had no problem with it. On the other hand, Apple's own Errata, as of May 25, mentions a problem regarding a shell script that will cause you to be logged out the first time you log on as root; I have never encountered this problem.

However, the MkLinux teams at Apple and OSF got a lot of things right. The installation procedure (assuming you have a MkLinux-friendly drive) is one of the smoothest installations I've ever been through for a software package of this size. Considering this is a developer's release, it has been remarkably stable. While there have been some surprises, usually either some work-around has been developed or the situation is put right on the “to-do” list by the Apple/OSF teams.

MkLinux's Future Shines Bright

According to Michael Burg at Apple, MkLinux will go through at least one more developer's release, scheduled near the end of the summer, before the Reference Release is distributed in September. The MkLinux world has proven that it moves as quickly as the Intel Linux world, with updates and patches appearing on Apple's FTP site on a weekly basis. According to a schedule that Michael Burg released to the Internet in early June, most of the bugs and omissions from DR1—such as video console and driver issues, SCSI driver bugs, and the lack of serial support—should be solved and implemented by the time you read this article. PCI bus support is scheduled for the Reference Release with support for the PPC 603e platforms coming some time in autumn.

Sidebar: Prime Time Freeware

MkLinux Discussion Lists from MKLinux FAQ

After autumn, what's next? To a large extent, like any Linux, that depends on us. Apple and the OSF have released the full source code for this project to anyone who wants it, respecting the spirit that has guided Linux since Linus Torvalds first released it. Some Intel Linux hackers have wondered whether there is enough of a critical mass of MkLinux programmers to keep the project alive. Based on the beginnings of the community that has come alive around this first developer's release, I don't think we'll disappoint our Intel brethren.

Sidebar: As We Go To Press

The Macintosh is a computer which, through its eleven years of life, has inspired a lot of love and dedication. With MkLinux, we have the opportunity, as the saying goes, to “fall in love all over again.”

Richard Kinne ( is using the MkLinux project to re-acquaint himself with the Unix operating system after having been exiled to VAX/VMS-land for ten years. He works as the User Services Consultant for the State University of New York at Morrisville. When not writing or hacking with his significant other, he enjoys Star Trek, Babylon 5 and playing with his cats.