Yellow Dog Linux Installs Neatly on an iPod
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 + OpenOffice.org + 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 openoffice.org-18n (a package with lots of localization libraries for OpenOffice.org) 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.
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.
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 www.askdavetaylor.com.
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 www.DaveTaylorOnline.com.
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One of the best things about the UNIX environment (aside from being stable and efficient) is the vast array of software tools available to help you do your job. Traditionally, a UNIX tool does only one thing, but does that one thing very well. For example, grep is very easy to use and can search vast amounts of data quickly. The find tool can find a particular file or files based on all kinds of criteria. It's pretty easy to string these tools together to build even more powerful tools, such as a tool that finds all of the .log files in the /home directory and searches each one for a particular entry. This erector-set mentality allows UNIX system administrators to seem to always have the right tool for the job.
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