posted by Thom Holwerda on Sun 12th Mar 2006 20:50 UTC
IconToday, I decided to give Linux a try on my iBook. I've been wanting Linux on my iBook for a long time, but I've simply never had the time to do it. I ran the occasional PowerPC live CD, but live CD's are far cries from the real, installed thing. A second showstopper was that suspend never really worked-- and I cannot use my iBook without suspend. After trying out a new live CD yesterday, I found out that suspend on lid closure now worked mighty fine on Linux/PPC; hence, it was time to do the real thing. And oh how I was left surprised. Note: This is this week's Sunday Eve Column.

The usual reaction to 'Linux on the Mac' is 'Why Linux when you have OSX?' Various reasons can be cited for wanting Linux on your Mac. The primary one if of course simple curiosity: probably the thing that first drove you to non-Windows operating systems in the first place. Secondly, one may not like OSX. Yes, don't be flabbergasted, I know enough people who cannot stand OSX. Linux might be a good alternative for them. A third reason is that of Freedom: some people prefer Free software, but want a small, affordable 12.1" laptop (flame all you want, people, but the 12" iBook is anything but expensive, compared to x86 12" laptops).

My personal reason is a mix of number 1 and number 2: I'm sometimes completely frustrated by OSX (for whatever reasons), and it would be nice to have an alternative hiding beneath the power button.

Yesterday, the Ubuntu Team released flight CD 5, the 5th test release en route to the Dapper Drake release, later this year. I couldn't stop my curiosity, and as such downloaded the live CD for the PPC architecture. My last experience with Linux/PPC was not very good: I wanted to write an article about it earlier this year, about running Linux on a G5 iMac (the same iMac I reviewed early January), but a batch of bugs prevented me from running the Linux kernel on that revision of the iMac (at that time; it might be fixed by now; it was something related to the videocard).

However, this time it was completely different. The live CD booted fine, and loaded the GNOME desktop without a hitch. And to my utter surprise, almost everything worked out of the box. The power manager was correctly recognizing the power state (plugged/unplugged), including remaining battery life. Via the power settings, I enabled 'suspend on lid closure' (a dialog warned me that suspend might lead to data loss, since it doesn't work on all configurations), and closed the lid of my iBook. The machine immediately blanked the screen, and the pulsating suspend light started, well, pulsating-- as fast as in Mac OSX! Opening the lid almost immediately brought the GNOME desktop back to the screen (almost, because for a few seconds you see kernel output). Two things did not work immediately. Sound did not work, and neither did Airport. The latter was to be expected, the former should be fixed before the Dapper release goes final.

This pleasant experience made me think: should I install Linux on my iBook permanently? I regularly am away from my Linux computer (a normal desktop tower), and I don't like that: I enjoy using Linux, and rather have it as an option available everywhere I take my iBook to. However, a big problem always comes up when wanting to install Linux on a Mac: resizing MacOS's HFS+ partition. This is impossible to do without buying 3rd party partioning software.

Then I found this. A detailed and complete guide on how to resize HFS+ partitions using nothing but-- GNU's parted. The author found out that parted can resize HFS+ just fine-- after you disable journaling via the shell. After sleeping on it for a night, I decided to do it. Backed everything up, followed the guide (resizing took an agonizing 15 minutes), installed Dapper Flight 5, and was again pleasantly surprised.

Everything worked. Sound worked, suspend worked, and, to my utter surprise, even the function keys on the iBook's keyboard worked fine. Screen brightness, volume, and even the 'eject' key, they all worked (changing the volume with the function keys even used a nice OSX-like on-screen display). The Ubuntu team did two very smart things too to solve the single-button mouse and lack of a delete key problems. They mapped F11 and F12 to middle and rightclick respectively, and mapped fn+backspace to 'delete' (iBook keyboards lack a dedicated 'delete' key; OSX uses backspace as delete).

As expected, Airport did not work out of the box, but I haven't had the time yet to configure it properly (I did find a good guide on it). I will do that as soon as possible-- I'm awaiting major pains and CLI magic to get it up and running, but I'm so close now-- I will get it working no matter what.

Besides many others, that leaves one burning question unanswered: did parted hose my OSX install and kill my bunnies? I'm happy to report that I do not have any bunnies for parted to kill, and that OSX booted fine, as if nothing ever happened.

In conclusion: the Ubuntu team have done excellent work in bringing the PowerPC version of their distribution on par with its more grown-up siblings. Many issues turned out to be non-issues, and basically all hardware is working fine, without any hitches. Even infamous things such as suspend seem to be working just fine. And with the 'discovery' that HFS+ can be resized fairly safely with parted, there are no reasons anymore why any Linux user should not be dual-booting between Linux and OSX.

--Thom Holwerda

Note: Neither OSNews nor the authors of the guides linked in this article should be held responsible for any damage the step outlined in this article might do to your Macintosh computer. In other words: it's all at your own risk.

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