Another Look at Yellow Dog Linux

Yes people, it’s another review of Yellow Dog Linux.

Several people have written to me to ask why I haven’t looked at the Debian and Mandrake PowerPC ports. Hopefully people aren’t afraid that I work for Terra Soft Solutions – I wish I did, but I don’t.

My review policy is simple – send me a CD, and I’ll look at it. I haven’t the time or inclination to download an entire Linux distro, so if anyone at Debian or Mandrake fancy a review, pop a CD in the post to me (hopefully emailing me first to get my address, or the CD won’t get very far).

Less than two years ago, Unix was a minority interest for Mac heads, used only by geeks wanting to gain experience in a bare metal OS or sysadmins running A/UX on Apple Workgroup Servers. These days things have changed, with most of us either already running Unix in the form of Mac OS X, or at least considering the upgrade.

For me, Linux was my escape strategy from Apple – remember that in the pre-iMac days, it did look a lot like things were going to go pear shaped for the boys and girls at Infinite Loop. Thank goodness I didn’t bank on BeOS is all that I can say….

Linux failed me on a number of fronts – it was ugly and unwieldy and didn’t have the applications I needed. These days, regular readers will know that my escape strategy (not that I need one any longer) is Silicon Graphics. I have a strange desire for a company with even more expensive products and a more cavalier approach to customer care than Apple, but that’s another story.

Some people have found installing Linux difficult. Personally, I’ve never had many problems. I started toying with Linux several years ago, when I borrowed a Pentium machine from work (it was gathering dust – we all used Macs for every conceivable task), and armed with several popular distros I had a go. I installed RedHat 5.2 and Turbolinux without a problem. Debian wouldn’t install, but that was probably due to my stupidity. However, these days it’s even easier, and new graphical install tools allow everything from simple workstation installs to complex individual package selection. In this respect, Yellow Dog Linux (YDL) 2.3 is no different.

With YDL, installation is a fairly straightforward process, requiring partition of your hard drive, followed by installation of the Mac OS, and finally installation of Linux, which, thankfully, is now a fully graphical experience and not much more taxing than installing the Mac OS itself. YDL 2.3 is happy to run alongside either Mac OS 8 and 9 or Mac OS X, which is a relief for those who wish to give it a spin without abandoning their current setup.

The list of included applications is impressive – arguably you’d never need to install another package, but the problem is that the Mac applications which we’ve all grown used to are not available. GIMP offers Photoshop users a similar interface and most of the functions they’re used to, but it lacks the ability to handle CMYK separations, and so is of no use in professional print scenarios.

For vector graphics, Terra Soft have included Kontour, which, though capable, isn’t up to the standard of Illustrator or Freehand.

Office users fare better with the inclusion of OpenOffice, the free-software version of Sun Microsystems’ Star Office that offers excellent interoperabilty with Microsoft Office.

Developers will be in heaven with the inclusion of tools for a vast array of languages, including IBM’s interpretation of Java, C/C++, PHP, Perl, and TCL/TK. Printing is handled by the Common Unix Print System, which ensures support for a vast range of printers, including many which don’t currently work with Mac OS X. Remember that Runtime Revolution is available for free download.

The inclusion of the Mac On Linux environment means that you can also run the Mac OS in a window or full-screen from within Linux. Performance is similar to that of the Classic environment in Mac OS X. Sadly, it doesn’t currently support Mac OS X.

The question that has to be asked is why you would want to run Linux on a Mac? The main reason has to be if your Mac can’t handle Mac OS X or runs sluggishly under Apple’s new, graphically intensive OS.

Almost any PCI machine from an ancient Power Mac 7200 to the latest iMac will run YDL 2.3 well. The inclusion of multiple desktop environments and window managers may mean that Linux lacks user interface consistency, but it also mean that you’ll be able to find a desktop that runs well on your machine, no matter how underpowered it is by today’s standards.

For those with a G3 or G4 processor, KDE 3.0.1 is included with the “Liquid” theme, which is about as close as Unix has come to the Mac OS in terms of eye candy. Also included is GNOME 1.4 with the Nautilus file manager, famously created by former members of the Apple human interface team. Users of less powerful machines would be advised to try Enlightenment or the NeXT-like AfterStep. AfterStep (below) is particularly interesting, as being based on NeXT technologies, it is a bit Mac OS X-like, though without the transparency and with a superior dock, in my opinion.


Buying Advice

If you’re in the market for Linux, YDL is an excellent choice, but if your machine can handle it, you’d be better off with Mac OS X, as using Linux means kissing good-bye to all of you favourite application programs.

If you want to learn about Unix or operating systems in general, you could do worse than installing YDL 2.3 on a partition, as you’ll get a lot closer to the metal than you do in Mac OS X.


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