Fedora Core and Yellow Dog Linux: 2 More Good Choices for Macs

Last week in Getting Ubuntu Linux Up and Running on a PowerPC Mac, I looked at what I considered to be the best current Linux distribution for PowerPC (PPC) hardware, Ubuntu Linux. At just over a year old, Ubuntu’s relatively easy installation, use, and maintenance have made it a top pick not only for PPC, but for x86 Linux boxes all over the world.

Yellow Dog Linux

Yellow Dog Linux iconNot too long ago, one particular distribution came to mind when someone mentioned PPC Linux, and that was Yellow Dog Linux from Terra Soft Solutions. Terra Soft has always closely aligned themselves with Apple and the Mac platform, delivering a Linux tailored for Mac hardware.

For example, you could count on the function keys that control your iBook’s brightness and volume to work under Yellow Dog just like they do under Mac OS X. You could also count on being able to close the iBook’s lid and have it safely go to sleep – and wake upon opening.

It was this attention to small details, along with a relative dearth of competing distributions, that made Yellow Dog so attractive as the Linux for Mac hardware. Terra Soft also more-or-less has Apple’s seal of approval, as they are the only Apple reseller certified to sell new Apple hardware with Linux preinstalled.

Up until Version 4, Yellow Dog also supported PPC machines older than G3, giving several older Macs not supported by OS X a Unix-based OS.

These days the source code from which Yellow Dog originated has made its own emergence into the PPC market. Yellow Dog has basically been a port of Red Hat Linux to PPC hardware. With Red Hat being one of the bigger names in the Linux world, especially in the server market, the connection to Red Hat gave Yellow Dog an immediate air of credibility.

Fedora Core

Fedora logoAlong the way, Red Hat became an increasingly commercial company, turning into something resembling the 800-pound gorilla of the Linux world. Today they sell a multitiered series of very expensive server software because, well, they can. They have a big name name, and enterprises might actually see $2,000 for a server OS being cheap in comparison to some Microsoft alternatives.

Red Hat, the financial giant, and Red Hat, the open-source citizen, could no longer coexist, so the Fedora Core project was spun off. Fedora is the free, bleeding-edge version of Linux, providing a place for development of code to be rolled up into later versions of Red Hat.

By version 3 of Fedora Core, it was relatively simple to get it installed on PPC hardware using some of the innovations made by Yellow Dog years earlier. By version 4, the PPC version of Fedora was given full support, and it’s kept generally in sync with the x86 version.

YDL or Fedora?

With Yellow Dog and Fedora resting on a very similar code base, which one is right for your Mac hardware? The answer isn’t very straightforward, but Fedora is more up-to-date and benefits from having a wide range of contributors in comparison to the relatively small resources of Terra Soft.

On the other hand, I’ve had video trouble with Fedora on some Macs that use older ATI chipsets. Yellow Dog has installed fine on these machines. Terra Soft’s knowledge of the Mac platform shines through in situations like this.

Overall, I would go with Fedora over Yellow Dog if your Mac takes it without too much hassle. Yellow Dog has always been somewhat behind the latest Red Hat code base and suffers from a lack of packages tailored for Yellow Dog. Having the Red Hat community contribute regularly to Fedora has only exacerbated this situation.

While a lot of software exists for Yellow Dog, it’s usually not the latest version, a version which may have bugs or security holes. It’s very easy to get Firefox 1.0 for Yellow Dog, but if you’d like something newer like 1.0.7 or 1.5, it’s going to take a lot of work.

As I mentioned last week, I like to have MySQL installed for when I need it. You can easily get MySQL 3.2.3 up and running under Yellow Dog, but I can easily get 4.1.x working on any other OS I use on a regular basis.

I’ve never been able to get a full-functioning VLC install on Yellow Dog, and I consider this an essential tool for a Linux desktop. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I know it shouldn’t be difficult at all, as it’s easily done under Ubuntu or Fedora.

The desktop setup I described last week and all the software that goes along with it can be pretty much equaled on Fedora. It may take a little more work and hooking into some alternate repositories, like the ones offered at www.freshrpms.net. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Yellow Dog.

I hate to speak of Yellow Dog in any sort of negative light. The work done by Terra Soft proved that PPC Linux was a worthwhile pursuit. They have been a great citizen in the Mac community. Yellow Dog was the de facto Mac Linux standard for many years, and it’s still very usable as a server OS (or a desktop OS, if you don’t mind being a little behind the times).

But we’re at a real crossroads. Not only is Fedora providing stiff competition, but Apple is switching to Intel. Terra Soft has announced a partnership with Mercury, which makes systems that are basically G5s without OS X, in hopes of remaining a dominant OS in the PPC market. But Terra Soft’s association with Apple was one of its trump cards, and Mercury clearly doesn’t have the brand recognition that Apple does.

Other Distros

There are lots of other distributions that run on PPC, a fairly complete list of which can be found at DistroWatch.com. I haven’t had the chance to experiment with them all, and some don’t even pretend to be full-featured desktop-oriented systems.

I will definitely be talking about more in the future, but I hope in the past few weeks I’ve achieved a few things:

First, I hope you might consider Linux as a desktop replacement for a Mac that is starting to show its age with the latest revisions of OS X.

Second, I hope the article on Ubuntu showed that you can get software for everyday tasks for free with minimal effort.

And lastly, I hoped this week’s column helps you sort out the mixed heritage of Yellow Dog and Fedora, and prepared you for what’s in store if you decide to choose either one of them.

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