The Amazing MorphOS 2.4 G4 Mac Testing Effort!

As we all know, the MorphOS team recently released MorphOS 2.4, which added support for the PowerPC G4 version of Apple’s Mac Mini. Even though this long-awaited ‘feature’ is a very welcome one, I personally think that of all the G4 Macs MorphOS could support, the Mini is the least interesting. As such, I want to find out if any other G4 Macs happen to be supported too – without us knowing about it.

This is pretty much a very, very long shot, but I figured I would call in everyone’s help anyway. The Mac Mini G4 is still quite an expensive machine (250-350 EUR here in The Netherlands at least), and combined with MorphOS’ price of 150 EUR, that’s a rather big sack of money.

There are other PowerPC G4 Macs out there that are much cheaper, especially if you look at the PowerMac line of machines. The G4 PowerBook and iBook models were also very, very popular, probably much more so than the Mac Mini.

Apart from the aforementioned money issue, I also want to do everything in my power to promote the use of alternative operating systems. In the end, that’s what OSNews is here for. Sure, you have to wade through boatloads of nonsense about Windows 7, Ubuntu, and Mac OS X, but alternative operating systems are still at our core. Sadly, news about these operating systems are rare.

This is why I am writing this article. I want to find out if the MorphOS 2.4 CD, which is available as a demo version, boots on other G4 Macs too. The chances we encounter a machine (other than the Mini) which supports MorphOS is extremely slim, but I want to try anyway. If we do find a machine, this could mean a few more sales for the MorphOS team.

Of course, before I explain how you can try out the MorphOS CD on your G4 Mac, it is important to note that whatever happens, this is a completely unsupported undertaking. The MorphOS team only supports the G4 Mac Mini, and any other machine that might happen to be able to boot MorphOS (again, highly unlikely) will not be supported in any way by the MorphOS team. If your machine blows up in the process, or kills your collection of rare Flavian dung beetles, that’s your problem – not mine, not the MorphOS team’s.

In addition, OpenFirmware should not be messed with. The commands in this article are completely harmless, and none of them change or alter any settings. Still, messing in OpenFirmware without knowing what you’re doing can have destructive consequences. As such, you’re doing this completely at your own risk. I am not responsible in any way.

So, how do you go about testing to see if your G4 Mac supports MorphOS? First, download and burn the .iso image. Bear in mind that this is a demo version, and will slow down after 30 minutes of use. It’s a live CD, so you can perform non-destructive testing. Since my very own PowerMac G4 (dual 400Mhz, 1GB of RAM, Radeon 8500 64MB of RAM) would not recognise the MorphOS CD using the default boot method (that is, hold down the ‘c’ key during boot), we’ll need to perform a little OpenFirmware magic.

After you’ve burnt the CD, put it in your Mac’s drive, and shut down the machine. Then, press the power button while holding down cmd+opt+o+f. Note that on newer Mac keyboards, opt has been renamed to alt. This will boot your Mac into OpenFirmware, leaving you at the characteristic ‘ok>’ prompt. Therefore, note that in the following commands, the ‘ok>’ does not need to be typed in.

Now that you’re in OpenFirmware, you first need to make sure it can actually read from the MorphOS CD you just burnt.

ok> dir cd:\

This should list the contents of the CD in the drive. ‘cd’ Is automatically set up as a device alias in OpenFirmware on Macs, but in the unlikely case yours might use a different alias, you can issue this command to check:

ok> devalias

This will list all current aliases. Here you can see which alias is used by your CD/DVD drive. Once you’re sure the device alias is correct, you can issue the boot command to try and load the MorphOS kernel:

ok> boot cd:\mac_ppc32\boot.img

Be sure to replace the device alias “cd” with whatever your Mac might use. The Mac Mini boot.img file resides in the mac_ppc32 directory – contrary to the Pegasos 1, EFIKA, and default boot images, which are all located at the root of the CD.

Now, the most likely outcome is that the boot process will fail at the line “Quark/OpenFirmware” (Quark is MorphOS’ kernel). This is what happened on my PowerMac G4, and this simply means that the machine is not able to boot MorphOS – as is to be expected.

It would be awesome if we can get an as wide a number of tests as possible. Even though the chances of us striking gold are virtually zero, I think it’s still worth it to try, especially as it takes very little effort, and can be done in a few minutes or less. This process is entirely non-destructive, but do be aware that if you do not know what you’re doing, you should not muck about in OpenFirmware. Stick to the above commands if you are not well-versed in the world of OpenFirmware.

I hope we strike gold, no matter how unlikely it might be. Happy testing!


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