The Trials and Tribulations of Installing LinuxPPC 2000 Q4

Read the manual before turning your Mac over to Linux.

I recently wrote about using Mac OS X as my main desktop OS (see “Mac OS X: First Impressions” at Prior to working with Mac OS X (the X is read as ten), I ran a Mac OS 9/LinuxPPC dual-boot system. A longtime Mac user but a UNIX geek at heart, I was thrilled with the prospect of Mac OS X—a Mac-like GUI on top of a UNIX core. I enthusiastically installed the Public Beta of Mac OS X on my desktop machine, a Macintosh Server G3.

Initially, all went well with Mac OS X. However, once the honeymoon was over, I became increasingly frustrated with Apple's latest OS. The main problems are it is terribly slow, it has no support for floppy diskettes, there are GNU software compatibility issues and it has poor “classic” Mac OS emulation. In particular, there is no support for AppleTalk file sharing with older Macintosh computers. The lack of backward-compatible AppleTalk support was the hardest to take. After all, this was Apple's new OS not talking properly to its old OS using Apple's own networking protocol.

Late last year I decided to dump Mac OS X in favor of LinuxPPC. General availability of LinuxPPC 2000 Q4 (LPPC2000) was announced in time for the January 2001 MacWorld Expo, and pre-orders were being taken on the LinuxPPC web site. I wasted no time in ordering a copy.

LinuxPPC Arrives

In early February a LinuxPPC box-set arrived in the mail. For $30 US (which included shipping), I received four CDs, a printed user's guide and my very own LinuxPPC “Think Linux” t-shirt. The four CDs were Install, Source, FWB Software's Hard-Disk Toolkit-PE and Extra Software. The CDs were all dated December 2000.

I wanted to install on three computers: my G3 (128MB RAM, 4GB HDD), an original translucent green iMac (32MB RAM, 4GB HDD) and a cherry iMac (32MB RAM, 6GB HDD). Of the three, only the cherry iMac would require the services of the FWB-Toolkit (third-party software that allows an existing Mac hard disk to be repartitioned while preserving the original contents). This wasn't a concern with the other machines—the G3 was running Mac OS X, so repartitioning and reformatting were the orders of the day, and the green iMac was running an older version of LinuxPPC, the 1999 Q3 release. This machine's hard disk would also be wiped prior to installing LPPC2000. The cherry iMac is at home and is used by my kids to run a collection of Mac-based educational software.

The Green iMac

I started with the green iMac. The LinuxPPC web site and the user's guide made a big deal of the fact that this release was shipped on a bootable CD-ROM. It was simply a matter of dropping the Install CD into the CD drive, rebooting and holding down the C key while the iMac started up. What could be easier? I did this on the green iMac, and after a few moments Linux booted, and the LPPC2000 graphical installer (X Linux Installer) loaded and appeared on screen. So far so good. All I had to do was follow the instructions on screen.

Up popped four large buttons and two small ones. The large buttons were labeled Instructions, Language, Select Partitions and Choose Packages. The smaller buttons were Options Menu and Reboot. The Instructions button gives a brief introduction to the install process, and the Language button lets you choose a language to work in. The real work starts with the Select Partitions button. Clicking here brings up the Mount Partitions and Setup Swap window, providing a means of specifying the mount points and names of any partitions. The partitions can then be formatted and mounted from this window. Of course, prior to doing this I needed to get my partitions in order, and LPPC2000 ships with partitioning software called Perldisk. Now Perldisk isn't pretty, but it does work, even though it can be a little strange to use. I didn't like the Add Partitions dial control for specifying the size of a newly created partition. It was, for example, hard to move the dial to exactly 20MBs, so I ended up manually calculating the exact size of the partition and entering the value into the text field under the dial. It is important to calculate the size using the proper formula. For instance, to request a 20MB partition, use

(1024 * 2) * 20

to get the correct value.

The partition information is then written to disk; then the Installer requires a reboot (remember to hold down the C key while the Mac starts up to continue with the install). With the Installer back on screen, I selected the Select Partitions button again and specified the partitions to format and mount prior to starting the install. For the green iMac, my partitioning strategy was to have /boot (20MB), swap space (128MB), /root (1GB) and /home (1.8GB). A further 1GB was set aside as a Mac OS formatted drive. I clicked on Done, and the partitions window disappeared.

The list of package groups then appeared in the Choose Packages window. Over and above the default selections, I selected the Editors, Interpreters, Network Servers, Network Apps/Utilities and Development package groups. A word of warning: don't unselect any of the default selections from this list—things tend to come out muddled as a result. I clicked on the Install button, and the process of copying LinuxPPC and its packages was underway.

It took a long, long time to copy over the 600MBs worth of packages, and I attribute this to the awful CD drive shipped with the original crop of iMacs. Some four hours later I was presented with a message box detailing the name of my root partition (a nice touch) and offering two further buttons: Reboot and Additional Options.

Clicking on Additional Options brings up the Configure LinuxPPC window that lists a selection of Post Install Options. There are buttons labeled Set Password, Set Date & Time, Set Timezone, Configure inetd, Set Network Settings, Configure Modem Port, Configure PPP Settings, Configure Runlevels, Setup Users and Groups, Configure X Modifier Keys and Run linuxconf. I made sure the clock settings were correct, set my root password, set the timezone to “Eire”, removed any unnecessary network processes from inetd and then configured the iMac for use with IP. (Note that I prefer to use chkconfig over the Runlevel Editor.) I closed the Configure LinuxPPC window and then clicked on Reboot.

The green iMac restarted, then the dreaded Apple flashing question mark appeared in the middle of the screen. The green iMac couldn't find an OS to boot!