Chair Force Engineer

Monday, August 01, 2011

War of the Operating Systems (Part 2)

Success! This blog is being updated from my 2001-vintage Power Mac G4 again, but this time running Xubuntu 6.10. If you still "bitterly cling" to PowerPC Macintosh hardware, it's becoming increasingly rare to find a suitable Linux distribution. Most of the major distros (Ubuntu, Debian and openSUSE come to mind) have either dropped support for PowerPC, or support it erratically from release to release. And when they do offer PPC support, the distro often takes up a full DVD--little use to owners of systems that were built before DVD's came standard with most computers.

My first attempt at PPC Linux was Debian 6.0.1, but it didn't seem to support the ATI Advanced Graphics Port video display in my system. (I found it funny that the Debian installer didn't even quiz me to select my video card from a list of choices.)

After two attempts and staring at a screen that was a garbled, frozen mess of black and gray, I looked into the other Linux distributions. Xubuntu 6.10 (from back in 2006) was the last Xubuntu release I could find that supported PowerPC. And it conveniently fit on a single CD. Besides, the Xfce lightweight desktop seemed to be a good fit for a system that currently has only 256 MB of RAM. The install process was a little bit slower than I expected, but in the end I got a working system with a clean (albeit simple) interface and very little lag. And I didn't need to resort to anything crazy like buying a new DVD drive to install in a system that cost me all of $30 to purchase.

Even with the Xfce desktop environment, Linux on the PowerMac seems sluggish in comparison to MorphOS. Maybe the situation would have been different if Linux was written from the ground-up to run on PowerPC as MorphOS was. But I'll still probably use this system almost exclusively for Linux, since Linux has a pretty good selection of software written for it. Eventually I intend to host a website from this system.

On a side note, I've also attempted using one last OS: Dragonfly BSD. It's a fork of FreeBSD with some ideas taken from the old Commodore Amiga's OS. And I say "attempted" using it, because the disk images I've burned all appear to be corrupt. Perhaps someday it will be worth a try, as the BSD family has a very strong base of users who swear by its stability and its usefulness in applications such as web servers.

Now that I've succeeded in getting Linux on the old PowerMac, I don't intend to end my flirtation with non-Windows, non-Mac operating systems. I do hope to revisit the subject in a future post with a more detailed comaprison, and perhaps some commentary on newer Linux distributions.