Sometimes I get lucky and something cool happens to fall in my lap. This happened last week when I ran across a G5 tower dual 1Ghz /8Gb ram that was getting tossed. I decided ti rescue it as I hate to see useful hardware go to waste. As the version of OS X that runs on such beasts is getting long in the tooth AND I happen to be a Linux enthusiast, I decided quickly that this would be a great box to look at the recent offerings of PPC Linux. Here are my thoughts:
This happened completely by accident, but Debian was the first distro I tried. You see, the Mint PPC installer will install Debian PPC by default if you don’t specify to install Mint, which I completely forgot to do on my first try. Debian is, well, Debian. I wish I had the foresight to actually get a screenshot, but the installed version on PPC is what I expect it looks like anywhere else as well. Debian is fantastically consistent about that. That being said, Debian and I differ in opinion on what software I generally want to have available under Linux. The Debian folks are very staunch on the “free software only” thing and *I* am one of the guys who thinks I should have the “freedom” to actually enjoy proprietary and non-free software if I want to. As I really wasn’t looking to do a Debian install anyhow, I played for a few minutes and then moved along.
Mint PPC 11:
Now *this* is what I really wanted to try. As a long time admirer and user of Linux Mint, I was thrilled to try it out on the PPC too. Unfortunately I was slightly disappointed. You see, Mint PPC is not an “official” port, per se, so it’s not quite the same. First thing I noticed is it is obviously built straight off Debian, and uses their software “choices”, which I have previously described. Secondly, the default desktop is an LXDE with nautilus. Ok, but a little clunky feeling to me. It wasn’t long before I was wanting to check out what else was out there, and so I did.
Years ago, when Dann and I first started the Lehigh Valley Linux User Group, YellowDog Linux was quite a contender. Shortly thereafter, they made their presence really big in Japan and I sort of didn’t hear much from them anymore. Well, it appears they are still going strong and offering what turns out to be a really nice and robust PPC Linux distribution. Honestly, in retrospect, this is the one I would settle on as my second choice. There is plenty of support and plenty of packages available and it runs rock solid stable. If you are at all familiar with RedHat, CentOS or Scientific Linux this would be an no-brainer for you to use. The *only* thing I didn’t really like about it was the default DE was Enlightenment. It worked fine and was completely functional, just not to my tastes. I am sure I could change it to suit my needs better, but there were more PPC Distros to try!
Fedora 16 PPC:
Now THIS one I was SURE would be the one for me as soon as I got it running. The install went really smooth, especially for a Fedora install, which has a really bad historical habit of being broken in one way or another. Once I had the desktop up I was greeted by a standard Gnome3 DE, which is completely familiar to work with for me, even though it was minus the desktop icon support available in Mint. No matter, I was excited to use it and it was FAST and really responsive. Unfortunately, as is the habit of my ventures into Fedora land, it was hopelessly broken, and there is not a lot of package support. Here are a few for-instances: EPEL repo will not install. Flite makes the core dump. Worst was nautilus refuses to prompt for user/password on any shares (ssh, smb, webdav, etc.). It just says you must enter the password and then doesn’t afford you any way to do so. Nice try guys.
Ubuntu 11.10 PPC:
Saving the best for last, I *finally* hit on one that’s a keeper, otherwise I was going straight back to YDL. Ubuntu, as it turns out, ends up being a very polished product for PPC. Sure there are some issues, such as Unity completely rots on this machine, but they are easily overcome and then you have a nice solid worker with good package support. In my case, like I mentioned, I had an issue with Unity. It seems that the Unity 3D doesn’t like this mac. I am not sure why as Gnome-Shell works great with the 3D stuff. Unity 2D was fine, but not only do I prefer Gnome-shell over Unity, but I was working on a 4×3 screen, which nobody should ever use Unity with. Once I switched to Gnome-shell, I was set. I installed my standard set of packages I use. All of them installed without crabbing about anything and everything worked, even user/pass in nautilus
If you have an old PPC machine you want to keep in service or press into service, Linux PPC is surely the way to go. You just cannot go wrong with either YellowDog or Ubuntu on these machines. No sense in wasting or chucking good computer equipment right! Stuff Linux on there and make it useful once again!