Two months ago, our cover featured an iMac running Yellow Dog Linux. Next, I saw an iMac running SuSE 6.4. in the SuSE booth at the O'Reilly conference. What's happening?

Linux on the Mac isn't new. There has been Linux development for M68000 and PPC-based systems for many years. What has changed is both on the Mac and the Linux end.

First, the iMac has become a reasonably inexpensive platform with enough documentation on the architecture to make it a place to host your favorite OS. Today, for around $1000, you can buy a cute little plastic box the size of a monitor that has enough computing horsepower to run Linux. So, why not give it a try?

On the Linux side, what you get today is more appealing to the person who owns a Mac or might want to own a Mac. Two big issues are ease of installation and having a GUI-based system. In the August LJ review, installing Yellow Dog was covered. Clearly an easy install. While we haven't had a chance to install the SuSE version yet (the CD is on the way), if SuSE's recent install on Intel-based systems is any indication, it is going to be easy, perhaps very easy.

But, what about when the Mac user sees Linux come up? Will he be scared? Not likely. Yellow Dog defaults to the GNOME GUI, SuSE to KDE. Either is a reasonable desktop that shouldn't scare off the newcomer.

Finally, Mac on Linux (MOL), included with both distributions, allows you to access files and run native MacOS applications under Linux. So, if beige isn't the color you want for your Linux system, it looks like the time for colorful alternatives is here.

PARTY WITH Linux Journal!

A Friday the 13th party like you've never seen before....

LJ and the Atlanta Linux Showcase organizers are teaming up to host a grand party during ALS this October. (See www.linuxshowcase.org for show registration information.)

The evening will feature the first annual ALS Best of Show Awards and the Fifth Annual Linux Journal Readers' Choice Awards, followed by a fright-filled evening including music, dancing, prizes and lots of beer. But beware, the evening just may turn out to be more than you bargained for...

Stop by Linux Journal's ALS booth #417 to pick up your invitation.


Rock Linux is a distribution whose claim to fame is that it's harder to install than other distributions. Rather than being user-friendly, this distribution tries to be “administrator-friendly”; that is, something an experienced UNIX sys admin would like. Its motto is minimalism: “All you ever wanted in a distribution—and less!” This distribution tries to get out of the way as much as possible, exposing you to the raw Linux system behind it.

Of all the major distributions, Rock Linux most closely resembles Slackware. Rather than using a custom packaging format like .rpm or .deb, Rock uses ordinary tarballs as its packaging format. (*.tar.bz2, to be exact. The new .bz2 is a younger cousin of the ubiquitous .gz format. Its practical advantage is that bzip2 produces files approximately 20% smaller than gzip.) Like Slackware, Rock Linux prefers to patch upstream programs as little as possible. “If it's good enough for the upstream author, it's good enough for us!” Any desired customizations are the local sys admin's responsibility.

This is in sharp contrast to most distributions, which usually make many changes to the programs they include. They do this both in an attempt to “social engineer” the distribution to hide the operating system's complexities from the user, and to differentiate themselves from other distributions in the marketplace. Unfortunately, this social engineering comes at a price: inflexibility. Those snazzy GUI configuration dialogs may be nifty and easy to use, but if you need to change an option in a way the GUI designers didn't envision, you're out of luck. If you do try to outsmart the GUI tool and modify a text configuration file by hand, you may find that the GUI tool will happily overwrite your changes the next time somebody runs it.

Rock Linux has no GUI administration tools. However, there are a few command-line utilities provided to make the administrator's job easier. One is runlvedit, which helps you edit your system's run levels. (A run level specifies which d<\#230>mons should be running in a particular situation. Thus, run level 2 might be your “normal” mode, run level 3 is without X, run level 4 is without the network, etc.) True to the Rock Linux philosophy, runlvedit doesn't invoke a dialog. Instead, it uses your favorite text editor as its user interface.

Rock Linux is not for the faint-hearted. You have to compile your distribution before installing it (!), and this will take days, even if nothing goes wrong—but of course, something will. The installation process consists less of choosing options in dialogs, and more of using standard Linux commands—mke2fs, mount, etc.—or changing a configuration file and then running a shell script to do the mundane work.

If you want to try and tame this beast, plan on spending a week or two to get familiar with it. You'll be rewarded with a more intimate knowledge of your Linux system and how it works than perhaps any other distribution can offer.

For more information on Rock Linux, see these URLs:

  • http://e-zine.nluug.nl/hold.html?cid=59 Rock Linux: Not for woozies! (a review)

  • http://e-zine.nluug.nl/hold.html?cid=1 Rock Linux Philosophy by Clifford Wolf, the author of Rock Linux

  • http://www.rocklinux.org/, the distribution home page