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Appendix D. LinuxPPC: Installing Linux on PowerPC Computers

By Jason Haas

Linux/PPC is the native port of the Linux operating system to the PowerPC processor. The effort to port Linux to PowerPC began in 1995 by Gary Thomas, and Australian developer Paul Mackerras initiated work on porting Linux to the Power Macintosh hardware. Linux now runs on almost every implementation of the PowerPC processor, including the 60x and 750, and the less-known 840 and 860 processors.

While the Linux port itself is called Linux/PPC (note the slash in the name), the most popular distribution, and the company maintaining the distribution, are called LinuxPPC (no slash). In this appendix, I provide information about the general port as much as possible, but some details will change in the next release (5.0) of LinuxPPC in any case.

Linux on PowerPC has become popular in the past two years as Mac OS users have started to search for alternatives to the Mac OS. For one thing, it's fast. When people install Linux, they're amazed at how fast their Macs really are. Linux can turn an old PowerMac 7500 into a responsive and capable machine, and it really unleashes 604 and 750 (G3) machines. It's also quite stable. When a Linux application crashes, it doesn't crash the OS as well.

And then there's multitasking. Linux can run a lot of programs at the same time and not slow down. When you click on a menu in the Mac OS, everything stops until you release the mouse button. The Mac OS can't do anything but draw that menu. A Mac OS-based web server that I used to administer was disabled overnight because of this. When the mouse button was unstuck the next morning, the server promptly crashed when the listserver tried to process all of the backlogged email messages that had accumulated overnight. All this because of the mouse button being stuck! (Linux has no such problems with the mouse buttons.)

Another excellent example of the benefits of Linux multitasking: Photoshop can run only one filter at a time. And the whole Mac is tied up in running the filter. LinuxPPC ships with a Photoshop-like graphics application called The GIMP. Unlike Photoshop, GIMP can execute several filters simultaneously, and you can switch to other applications and keep working while GIMP runs the filters. (You can even hold down the mouse button.)

The most popular distribution for the PowerPC is called LinuxPPC (without the slash), which is developed and sold by LinuxPPC, Inc. You can order LinuxPPC on CD-ROM from http://www.linuxppc.org.

Another Linux distribution that is popular among very advanced Linux users is called Debian. The Debian for the PowerPC distribution is not as polished as the LinuxPPC Inc. distribution and is not available on CD-ROM. However, users who are familiar with Debian for other platforms may wish to use it. The Debian GNU/Linux web site, http://www.debian.org /ports/powerpc/, should provide up-to-date information about the status of the Debian project. The instructions for installing Debian GNU/Linux on top of a base LinuxPPC are available from:

LinuxPPC Inc. is an active supporter of the Debian project and has contributed hardware to the Debian organization.

LinuxPPC Inc. has developed a demonstration version of LinuxPPC that can be booted straight from the Mac OS. This version, called LinuxPPC Live, is a 105 MB version of LinuxPPC and doesn't require any installation or configuration on the part of the user. To download LinuxPPC Live, see the list of mirror sites at http://www.linuxppc.org /mirrors.shtml.

D.1. Compatible Hardware

LinuxPPC runs on any PCI-based Power Macintosh, which includes the iMac, the PowerMac G3, and the PowerBook 3400 and G3 models. As of this writing, the iMac is a little difficult to get Linux running on. Special iMac installation instructions are at http://www.linuxppc.org/iMac/. We hope the upcoming LinuxPPC 5.0 will have better iMac support.

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