The first boot was pretty painless. The CUPS daemon took a long time to start on the first boot, I guess as it figured out I don't actually have a printer. This hasn't been an issue on subsequent reboots, I think it fixed itself. The firstboot application ran fine, and I set some system options and tested my sound card.
I logged on and a very familiar GNOME desktop appeared, almost identical to Redhat's apart from the default panel position. Yellow Dog puts the panel at the top of the screen, presumably to make previous Mac OS users feel at home. This was soon remedied ;-)
The first things I tested was the suspend mechanism, which was one of the things that impressed me most about OS X. I closed the lid, and to my surprise the little breathing LED that I was familiar with worked first time. I opened the lid, and after half a second, my desktop appeared again, perfectly. I was impressed. Very impressed. I started the GNOME battery monitor applet, and it displayed the status pretty accurately (I'd ran the whole installation process on batteries, so I was down to about 30%).
Now, the real test, the extended keyboard functionality. I tried the brightness and volume controls, which also worked flawlessly, as did the F12/eject button. The F10 and F11 keys take on the role of the middle and right mouse buttons respectively, a fairly cumbersome solution, and I can see it causing problems for the mouse-dependant. I don't really see a much more elegant work-around for this problem, and well done Yellow Dog for including this feature as a fall back for those without external mice. Another nice feature that users of the iBook's track-pad may appreciate is the pad-tap functionality. Using the option-F1 and option-F2 keys you can set the tap functionality, from a mouse click to drag mode etc. While Linux was never designed to work with single mouse button systems, Yellow Dog have done well to make X usable.
By this point I was pretty much speechless. I've had various problems with laptops and Linux in the past, and I didn't expect everything to work so well out of the box. If anything I was a little upset I wouldn't be able to get my hands dirty under the hood to make it all work again :-)
As far as the applications go, I suggest you go and read any review of Redhat 9. OpenOffice.org is there, in all its glory (I'm using it to type this), and Yellow Dog seem to have decreased the start time a respectable amount. OO.org Writer takes around 6 seconds to load on this machine, OO.org Calc just a little longer. Mozilla 1.2.1 is included with anti-aliased fonts by default, and Evolution is getting more and more mature each time I use it. Apart form these, all the usual suspects are here, emacs, The Gimp, gphoto2 and suchlike, along with a few themes and backgrounds. The GTK2 font smoothing looks excellent on the iBook's LCD panel, set to the 'sub-pixel' rendering method. Overall system performance seems pretty snappy, and certainly more responsive than using OS X.
Keeping my system up to date has been a snap, because unlike Redhat, Yellow Dog uses apt-get for RPM out of the box (and why Redhat haven't followed suit yet is a mystery), and updating is as simple as 'apt-get update && apt-get upgrade'.
There are still some holes in the bundled applications. MP3 support isn't here, as in Redhat, and there is the conspicuous lack of a video player. MPlayer with a nice GTK front-end (the current MPlayer GUI suffers from an annoying bug where the GUI appears underneath the GNOME panel, making some buttons inaccessible) would be a good start, or maybe something from the excellent VideoLan project. I downloaded RealPlayer, which worked fine out of the box (I experienced no /dev/dsp permission problems that seem to persist with standard Redhat installations). While all of the above can be fairly easily obtained and installed, it's a protracted process, and including these applications by default would be a great plus; maybe a Debian-esque 'non-free' repository which could be scanned during installation for extra packages which don't necessarily meet the licensing restrictions of the standard CDs. I think Gentoo Linux got this system exactly right; those applications which requ! ire click-through agreements or binary-oply releases could be downloaded then installed using an RPM spec file. One of my pet-peeves is installing applications that don't get listed in my RPM database.
Hardware support looks good. My external USB HP CD-writer was auto-detected, and worked fine with the new Nautilus CD burning capability. I also have a USB MS Sidewinder joy-pad, which worked fine once I ran /sbin/modprobe joydev as root. I don't have any FireWire devices to test the support, but there is mention of FireWire in /proc/bus/pci, so I can only assume the Yellow Dog kernel comes with compiled-in support. Some sort of XFree voodoo meant that when I plugged in my USB mouse, it was working instantly (with wheel support) without me having to touch my XF86Config.The Conclusion.
I love my Linux iBook. It really is the perfect computing platform. The marriage of such excellent hardware and a Linux distro customised to take advantage of it all make the iBook a joy to use with YellowDog. Using it for day-to-day tasks brings back a joy that I thought died with the Amiga. Everything just works. If you're someone who needs to use their computer to work, and can't tolerate software failure or hardware incompatibilities, this Yellow Dog Linux on Apple hardware fits the bill very well indeed.
So do I regret ditching OS X? Not really. I have some issues; it's much harder to find PPC RPMs on the net that x86 rpms (It should be noted that the excellent Freshrpms repository provides PPC packages). I'm a little more limited in my use of other operating systems within Linux; I can't get VMware, for example, but that's really a problem with the choice of hardware platform that operating system.
About the Author
Jon Atkinson is currently taking a year out from a Computer Science degree at University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and in his spare time likes tinkering with old hardware, boozing a little too much and spending excessive amounts of money on his better half. His (largely) juvenile website can be found here.