Yellow Dog Linux 3.0 Review

The new Yellow Dog Linux 3.0 brings recent Linux user interface improvements to the PowerPC architecture. Smooth, anti-aliased fonts and the clean, refined style of Red Hat’s Blue Curve theme make this a beautiful creation to look at. There are
screenshots here
, though they aren’t big enough to really do it justice.

Running on Apple’s well-built laptops, YDL makes an outstanding portable
Linux. My 500 MHz iBook was feeling left out since it can’t run the latest
Quartz Extreme graphics in Mac OS X. YDL 3.0 gives it a fresh life.

I’ll offer some thoughts on YDL 3.0 after about a day of use, and give
my reasons for giving Linux a place alongside the equally Unix-y Mac OS X.

Getting the software

I paid heavily for getting YDL 3.0 a couple of weeks before everyone else:
it cost $60 for a account, plus $30 for six months of “
Enhanced”. is a modest bonus for
Yellow Dog Linux customers, providing a “lifetime” e-mail account with a
qualifying purchase. You can also buy an account separately.

The enhanced version is a subscription arrangement with one key benefit:
early access to YDL releases. It costs $5 a month for the subscription,
with the money collected six months in advance.

YDL 3.0 won’t ship until April, but Enhanced customers
get a username and password to private FTP and HTTP servers. I never did
succeed in getting a good image off the FTP server, so stick with the HTTP
version (look for instructions as one of the files on the FTP server).
Access was slow, even drinking from a large pipe — a couple of hours per
disk — but that will probably get better as the initial rush subsides.

I used the standard Mac OS X Disk Copy application to burn the images to CD.
There’s no need for any special software or command line fiddling.


Because YDL only runs on a limited range of machines, it is much more
likely to come with the drivers you need. Linux is often troublesome on
x86 laptops, but YDL 3.0 purrs on an Apple laptop. Close the lid and YDL
goes to sleep, complete with pulsing light. Pop the lid open and YDL
starts working just as fast as Mac OS X. Plug in a USB mouse and it works
right away; I only wish I could get my x86 laptop to do the same when
running Linux.

The only configuration problem so far is that I haven’t been able to get
the internal modem to work. I didn’t expect it to work, though, since the
iBook supposedly has a software modem. But the modem is recognized and
does respond to some modem commands, so I have hopes of figuring out
a solution.

YDL 3.0 is based on Red Hat 8.0, but with many Mac-specific enhancements
and updated packages. The “Blue Curve” theme is renamed “Wonderland,”
but it’s the same thing. Mozilla 1.2.1 is included, and it’s the smooth-font

Installation looks like RH 8.0 and is based on the same installer
program. The default desktop is KDE, so you have to customize the packages
if you want GNOME.

And I do suggest using GNOME. The Blue Curve/Wonderland theme looks
better under GNOME than KDE: there is something wrong with the gradient
on the title bar under KDE. Plus GNOME is much faster to start up.


Of course, the big news is that YDL 3.0 has smooth, anti-aliased fonts!
This alone is reason to ditch all previous versions of Linux. With the
high pixel density of the iBook, I don’t think you can get a nicer display.
Appearance is a huge deal for me, far more important than it really should
be. I definitely judge a book by its cover typography. And RH 8.0/YDL 3.0
is the first Linux I can really bear looking at for any length of time.

It’s hard to believe that Linux can now compete side-by-side with Mac OS X
for quality of fonts. YDL 3.0 doesn’t come with a large selection of fonts,
but the “best shapes” setting in the font preferences gives a slightly sharper
look than Mac OS X and a little more character to each font.

The Blue Curve/Wonderland theme is excellent. If you’ve seen it in Red Hat
8.0 you don’t need an introduction, since it’s the same in YDL 3.0. Both
window decorations and widget set are clear and usable with a subtle amount
of detail to give visual interest. I tend to pick my favorite theme and
stick with it, so I like something that doesn’t grow old and stale.

It’s a good thing I like Wonderland, though, because in GNOME on YDL 3.0,
that’s your only choice. In KDE, you get the usual absurd collection of
mismatched themes, window decorations and widgets. Feel free to make every
window look unique, but don’t make me look at your desktop.

Getting more software

YDL 3.0 uses the Debian command line program apt-get for
updating. Be sure to select the packages you want from the CDs during
installation because it doesn’t look like you can run that same package
selection program later. apt-get can get the packages for you
and resolve dependencies, but it’s not as easy to use as the Red Hat menu
of packages.

During this initial rollout there appear to be some setup problems
with the YDL servers for apt-get. I assume that will go away
once the release is public.

I don’t know if there’s a Java 1.4 for PowerPC Linux.
Blackdown has a PPC 1.3.1 Java, but it
dies on YDL 3.0 with an Illegal Instruction error. Instead, I used the
IBM Developer Kit.
You have to pick the “pSeries” version to get a PPC virtual machine, but it
works fine on YDL 3.0. It would be reasonable to assume that IBM (and
Blackdown) will eventually do a PPC version of Java 1.4. I didn’t see any
sign of a browser plug-in with the IBM Java, though, so your web viewing
with YDL 3.0 will be limited for now.

Checking the YDL 3.0 distribution CDs, I found that the IBM Java 1.3.1
runtime environment is included. I must have missed it on the list of
packages to install, pointing out the flaw that you can’t go back and
revisit that list as you can with RH 8.0.

CDs aren’t automounting for me. This doesn’t bother me much, since I
normally use the command line to access CDs anyway. But it could be tricky
for someone fairly new to Linux.

YDL 3.0 claims to be able to run Mac OS X as a client operating system.
I will admit that I haven’t dug around to figure that out yet. It would be
cool as an impressive demo, but it brings up the ultimate question of what
YDL is for.

Why run Yellow Dog Linux?

I would say that YDL is ideal for exploring Linux, since it has a nice
out-of-the-box experience. I can’t say that the performance is any better
than Mac OS X on the same machine, but the visual appearance is excellent
and a nice antidote when the sticky-candy look of Mac OS X begins to grate
on you.

It’s possible there are a few UNIX software packages that will compile
on YDL but won’t yet compile on Mac OS X. That’s because OS X has some
strange quirks in the way it handles shared libraries of subroutines. But
with a comparatively large market share, all the big programs are being
ported to OS X. And you have a much larger selection of pre-compiled software
on OS X. Things are rather limited on YDL because most pre-compiled software
is built for x86 Linux. The problems with Java are an example of that.

Linux is still not for the faint of heart. Mac OS X is a much better experience for anyone who wants to avoid the command line. And with Apple’s beta version of X Windows, Mac OS X really can do almost anything that YDL can do. It even has apt-get, thanks to the
Fink project.

My ultimate reason for using YDL is the old question of which operating system is “strategic”. Mac OS X is a niche product, and probably won’t ever get out of the single digits in terms of market share. I wish this weren’t the case, but I have to be realistic about it.

Linux is already mainstream. It’s easy to get approval for it at work. In fact, in one recent case I was told I had to use Linux, because we didn’t have the budget for a Windows Server license. And of course, no chance at all of buying new hardware, so Mac OS X was out.

So I’m using YDL because I like the way it looks, and because I see much more Linux in my future. You could say that a PowerPC Linux is a niche within a niche, at least on the desktop. But Linux in general has legs, and
there’s a certain open source radical inside me that says, if I can’t compile it, I don’t want it. And if it compiles on Linux, it compiles on YDL 3.0, so I should be all set. Who needs Java when you’ve got Python? The Python
version in YDL 3.0, by the way, is bang-up-to-date!

About the Author:
“I’m the online development manager for a large newspaper chain. My infatuation with operating systems goes back to TSS/8 on the PDP-8, and recently caused me to think seriously about downloading that TOPS-10 emulator mentioned here.”


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