Yellow Dog Linux Installs Neatly on an iPod

Forget bootable USB pendrives and use an iPod to boot Linux on a Mac.
Basic Network Configuration and Installation

After dancing the Disk Druid dance for almost an hour, it was a distinct pleasure to get to a prompt asking about DHCP and network configuration. I picked all the basic defaults, except I skipped configuring a firewall. It didn't like that, but let me proceed after giving me a little lecture on system security.

As I originally chose a Personal Workstation configuration, it meant that my default package set was X Window System + KDE + + Mozilla + Evolution + IM tools + games. Not good. Why? Because my disk partition was 367MB too small.

Going back to the proverbial drawing board, I started trying to pull out individual applications, guessing how much each one would take of the installation. It's amazing, really, after all these years, that Anaconda doesn't indicate how big each package is when you're trying to navigate through it. Instead, I piddled around removing Gaim (a multi-IM utility) to save 41MB; XChat (an IRC client) to save 5MB; all the sound and video applications (saving 57MB); all the graphics applications, including The GIMP and ImageMagick (saving 100MB); and the KDE component kdegraphics (saving 26MB). I attempted to re-install, and wouldn't you know it—still too big, by 185MB.

As you might expect, this was pretty tedious. But when I dug around in the Office Utilities area, I was amazed and delighted to see that the support package (a package with lots of localization libraries for was a whopping 668MB in size. Because I didn't envision that I'd be editing documents in German, Hebrew or Kanji, I happily deleted it and re-added all the individual apps I'd deleted earlier. I even threw in kdegames, eating up 23MB, but hey, who doesn't like games?

Finally, 75 minutes after I started the process, I actually was able to proceed with the full installation. It took 18 minutes before I saw “installation finished”, which I attribute to the fact that the iPod firewire drive is slower to access than the internal hard drive in the PowerBook.

Reboot and Be Happy

I held down the OPTION key on the keyboard during the boot sequence to be able to access the Yellow Dog Linux OS as an alternative to the Mac OS X on my main PowerBook drive. After about 60 seconds of hunting for options, it showed me both Mac OS X Tiger and Yellow Dog Linux. Eureka!

I selected YDL, clicked on the continue button (an arrow) and then was in the yaboot program, where I pressed L for Linux and sat back. Lots of status information scrolled past, including the information that eth0 (the built-in Ethernet port) failed to initialize, which made sense as I wasn't hooked up to a network. Otherwise, I was soon looking at the attractive KDE login window, to which I typed in my new user account information that I'd specified seconds earlier in the first boot utility.

I then was prompted to select display specifics and was pleased to see that one of the display manufacturers listed was Apple. Scrolling down the long, detailed list, I found the right match: “Apple Titanium PowerBook G4” and accepted the defaults for that display.

The next step was particularly satisfying, as it asked about audio hardware configuration and worked with the default settings. Previously, when I had installed an earlier version of YDL on the PowerBook, the audio subsystem had failed, never to work again—a valuable upgrade by itself.

Once the setup was done for KDE, I was running in a full-blown Linux/KDE environment, with all the applications, utilities and games I could want. It was fast, smooth and quite a delight to have a different desktop and user environment on my system.

But, I wanted to test and ensure that everything still worked properly, so I shut down YDL, and sat looking at a dark screen, realizing that there was really no way to know when it had completed its shutdown. Fortunately, I also was watching the iPod screen, and once the system finished shutting down, the iPod switched from “do not disconnect” to an Apple logo, and then rebooted into iPod mode.

Indeed, the iPod works perfectly. All my audio files remained intact, and now when I go to the System Information area on the iPod, it shows that the storage capacity of the unit is 1.96GB rather than the earlier 5GB value. Perfect!

Everything unplugged, I restarted the PowerBook and was gratified to watch it quickly and easily restart in Mac OS X, without any indication that I'd installed anything unusual, touched any hard drives or restarted in a foreign OS just a few minutes earlier.


And in the End

Alright, it's geeky, but I think it's way cool to have an iPod that can boot any G4 Mac into a full Linux work environment with only a few keystrokes. If you need Linux functionality and don't want to touch your existing Mac OS X systems, this can be a great solution, and you don't even lose the functionality of your iPod along the way. Indeed, a quick search on eBay shows that you can pick up one of these ancient 5GB iPod units for less than $60 US, on average.

There are some caveats about this installation, however, particularly regarding the very latest iPod systems, which have a slightly different filesystem. If you are going to proceed with this, don't follow my lead but start on the Terra Soft site and read the hardware and configuration notes. It'll save you a lot of heartache down the road.

Dave Taylor has been involved with the UNIX community since 1980 and was the original author of The Elm Mail System. He's written 20 books, including Teach Yourself Unix in 24 Hours and Wicked Cool Shell Scripts. He invites all true Linux fans to visit his Weblog at


Dave Taylor has been hacking shell scripts for over thirty years. Really. He's the author of the popular "Wicked Cool Shell Scripts" and can be found on Twitter as @DaveTaylor and more generally at


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usefull news

karrysony's picture

I did not install this yet
I will try that

would this have any chance

davethegeek's picture

would this have any chance of working on a windows computer or are you develpoing one as we type?

What a Great Idea

Dani's picture

I was seriously thinking of getting a new PC, one for important work stuff about uv bulb
installations and another for, By getting hold of an Ipod I can
keep the two separate. Thanks for the tip!

No 5G Ipods on Ebay today!

Lee's picture

You said. "... a quick search on eBay shows that you can pick up one of these ancient 5GB iPod units for less than $60 US, on average."

This article must have been written several months ago as there are absolutely no 5GB iPods on Ebay today.

Have you checked on the

Anonymous's picture

Have you checked on the effects of using a swap partition on your Ipod. From the goggling that I did on the subject, I came away with the impression that the ipod is not really meant to host an os. And that it would quickly kill the Ipod.

Though something I was playing with is using a Ubuntu live disk too debootstrap a pen drive and then booting it with a ram disk kernel. That way it would cut way down on disk activity.

Something to think about anyhow.

linux on mac

Anonymous's picture

I like ubuntu on my g3 that I received used. os/x is harder to use and you have to pay a fortune for the os and application software to even use your machine. Debian Rocks.

Ubuntu on G3

Anonymous's picture

I tried running xubuntu and ubuntu on a dual usb G3 with no luck. How did you get yours to work well?

G3 iBook, sorry.

Anonymous's picture

G3 iBook, sorry.

A few things.

Joshua Rodman's picture

Firstly, I kind of wish the title of this article was clearer about whether it was about executing linux on the ipod processor, or about running linux on the computer to which an ipod is attached. Maybe it's hard to squeeze that into a title (I haven't thought too hard about it), but from the title I assumed it was for running linux on an ipod.

I guess i'm kind of in the dark also about anything that's special booting a computer off an iPod. It's just a disk, you should be able to install anything on it. Perhaps if there's a common use case then a howto document might be useful for people. Maybe I'm just being a curmudgeon.

Lastly, "squeezing" Linux into a gigabyte? Surely this is a joke. When SuSE Linux was shipping on 6 CDROMs a relatively complete install took only a little more than this. Single floppy and dual floppy editions of linux are well known. I'm kind of confused that this capability was ever in question, having run Linux off a 60MB partition for several years.

I loved the article, a shame

yoeluk's picture

I loved the article, a shame I found it after I managed to do the same. I didn't realised of the trick using Druits partition and pre-partition the iPod using iPartition to free enough hard drive on my 20GB iPod. Install Yellow Dog by asking the partitioner to install in the free space of the iPod - it took me a while to figure this out.
Wanted to install Ubuntu rather but unfortunately the corrent version doesn't support external drive installation - there are some article explaining how to go around that but I won't go that far.
I reply to this message because I totally disagree with this message. I think that is very useful to have Linux running from my iPod. The article also have the novelty value but people alway have something to complain about.
Thanks very much for the article. Welldone!

Re: A few things

Mario Irizarry's picture

I agree with Joshua. At first I thought it was about running linux on the iPod, and perhaps connecting one of those folding keyboards to it.
Thanks any way for the aricle.

The 1 gigabyte partition is not for linux !!!

Anonymous's picture

The 1 gigabyte partition is not for linux... it's just the apple bootstrap that is used for booting the system. If you look at the patitionning table you will see 2gigs and a half (sda6 ext3 /) for linux.

I did follow this tutorial to install linux on my 40G third generation ipod, an I must say it's not that easy because the MAC OSX "Disk Utility" sucks. You cannot detroy and recreate a partition with it, you have to use the command line utility "pdisk". Don't use the yellow dog disk utility to destroy or recreate your ipods' partitions because it is totally unable to format or resize an hfs+ partition.

What you have to do is connect your ipod (in disk mode) on your MAC, backup your ipod's data, unmount the ipod, destroy partiton number 3 using pdisk (terminal sudo pdisk /dev/disk1), recreate it smaller to keep free space for your linux installation (using pdisk as well), recreate a filesystem on this partiton (newfs_hfs -J -v myIpod /dev/disk1s3), mount it anywhere (/tmp for example) and copy back all your data on the ipod. Then you will have a working "smaller" ipod where you will be able to start the yellow dog installer.

RE: A few things

Anonymous's picture

While I also believed this to be an article on installing Linux on an iPod, i didn't carry that belief past the first paragraph.
As for the nothing special about booting off an iPod... I think it's an achievment none the less, especially when preserving that data and iPod filesystem. As for a common use case... how often have you sat down at a computer and wished it had what you wanted to boot.. with all your settings etc?

As for your squeezing remark... people generally like to have a linux distro running with a decent desktop, not just a shell. Nobody cares how long you have been running linux on 60MB. There are thousands out there running it longer on less.

Quit complaining and accept the article for what it is and not what you want or think it should be!

I think pendrives are useful

Anonymous's picture

I think pendrives are useful enough to install Gnu/Linux inside them. Why?, well for many reasons, I don't agree the "forget...", because are things very differents. Pendrives doesn't have 30 / 60 gb, and yes, iPod s are disk, you are able to do things inside them. If iPod are useful, pendrives are too.

Imho, there's nothing to do about pendrives and iPod's, because many things, I guess you know.

The lymited cycles of the

Anonymous's picture

The lymited cycles of the pendrives are an issue. It's recommended to use Slax, or another distro designed to work in that kind of hardware, with less activity logging, and stuff.

Sam Bannister's picture

YDL on 30 GB iPod?

sukhoi37's picture


I wanted to give a try YDL4.x for my 5th gen 30 GB iPod. I have 2 questions:

#1 Does YDL4.x support my model?
#2 If I install YDL4.x for sometime...HOWTO get back to my original Apple iPod software? Or HOWTO revert back to my original Factory settings state? (assuming YDL4.x wipes off entire drive & puts ext3 based filesystem)

Any help is highly appreciated.