Miscellaneous Ramblings

Should You Run Linux Instead of OS X?

Charles Moore - 2001.05.09 - Tip Jar

The focus of the Mac community these days is on OS X, and understandably so, but it should not be forgotten that there is another route to utilizing the power and stability of Unix on a Mac platform - the PowerPC Linux variants.

Why would you want to run Linux on the Mac instead of OS X? There are several possible reasons. An obvious one is that OS X doesn't officially support any machines older than the beige G3 desktops, and, at least so far, it runs quite sluggishly on anything slower than a 400 MHz G3.

On the other hand, Linux supports most PCI Power Macintosh models and PowerBooks, as well as some Mac clones, and it has substantially more modest RAM demands than OS X.

Another reason is the flip side of the old "there's no software available for Macs" saw - the software selection for Linux is much richer than what can be currently found in native OS X mode. Indeed, SuSE Linux ships with six CDs containing over 1,500 bundled applications.

Thirdly, Linux is inexpensive. SuSE Linux 7.1 with the aforementioned bundled software and an excellent 500 page manual sells for a modest $49, compared with $129 for Mac OS X/OS 9.1. Lots of Linux software is free as well, such as Sun Microsystems' Star Office suite of business production applications.

As for a graphical user interface (GUI), while nothing in the Linux world compares with OS X's Aqua, there are several very decent GUIs available for Linux, including KDE, Gnome, and Eazel's Nautilus.

Linux installation is still a bit of a challenge, but it is now substantially aided by GUI installation helpers like SuSE Linux's administration and configuration tool YaST2 that walks you through the installation process with point in click functions. YaST2's automatic hardware detection and a selection of preinstalled configurations enable the setup of a complete SuSE Linux within 20 minutes (not counting formatting your hard drive).

In order to install Linux , you must reformat at least part of your hard drive into A/UX partitions, but the Mac OS can remain installed on another partition (indeed, it must be there for initial booting purposes), so you can switch back and forth on the same machine, although not as conveniently as with OS X's Classic mode.

You can also run the classic Mac OS under emulation in lilacs using the freeware emulators Mac-on-Linux , which works very much like the OS X Classic mode, but has an advantage in that the Mac OS Finder completely fills the screen.

SuSE Linux 7.1

SuSE Has just released their SuSE Linux 7.1 PowerPC Edition with enhanced USB support. SuSE Linux 7.1 PowerPC Edition also features the support for the sound system ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) for Power Macs. individual packages can now be installed by means of the SuSE tool.

SuSE Linux bundles the graphical user interface KDE 2.0.1. XFree86 4.0.2 and SaX2, an expanded graphical configuration tool that ensures a simple and secure setup of supported graphics cards, is also a new feature. An improved version of MOL (Mac on Linux), the virtual machine used to start Mac OS in Linux, complements the distribution.

SuSE Linux 7.1 PPC offers the ability to bring Mac users the best of both worlds - the same features that have made Mac OS successful - including graphics, video editing, multimedia development, and more - while experiencing the power and versatility that Linux has to offer.

As noted, SuSE Linux 7.1 PPC includes more than 1,500 bundled applications on six CD-ROMs - from general business productivity to multimedia and advanced functions like software development and heterogeneous network implementations. Bundles software includes:

  • Mac on Linux emulator allows users to run Mac OS from their Linux desktop
  • Office Utilities: Abiword, KOffice (beta), HTML editors including Quanta, Bluefish, and Webmaker
  • Imaging: GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), a Photoshop-like application for image authoring and manipulation
  • Sound: CD player, MOD player, MP3 player, MIDI sequencer, Open Sound System, ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture)
  • Desktops: KDE, KDE2 2.0.1, Gnome
  • Automatic (RS/6000) or Manual (PPC) partitioning
  • Networking: TCP/IP, IPSec, NFS, UUCP, SLIP, PPP, IPX, AppleTalk, ISDN, Samba, TokenRing, ARCnet, Internet
  • Databases: MySQL, PostgreSQL
  • Internet/Networking: WWW, mail, news, IRC, ICQ, DNS, firewall, proxy, PPP dial-in, DHCP, Internet telephony (H.323)
  • Editors: Emacs, XEmacs, vi, joe, aXe, nedit
  • Unix tools: awk, sed, grep, find, fcs, make, groff, bison, flex, perl
  • Programming: C/C++, Fortran, Pascal, Java, Perl, Python, PHP

Some of SuSE Linux's features:

  • Full AppleTalk support allows you to integrate PPC machines into a Linux network with full IP sharing!
  • Choice between Linux kernel 2.2.18 or 2.4.2, optimized by SuSE, featuring USB support for most mice, keyboards, and printers
  • YaST2 graphical installation tool featuring automatic hardware detection - including multiple sound cards, printers, ISDN cards, and modems
  • Various configuration options available, including multiple preset configurations
  • XFree86TM 4.0.2 and SaX2, the new graphical configuration tool for XFree86 4.0.2
  • Multiple languages
  • Detailed context-sensitive help

SuSE Linux 7.1 PowerPC Edition includes 60 days installation support, and is available directly from the manufacturer as well as from bookstores and software retailers. The recommended retail price is $49.00. The SuSE site includes a list of US and Canadian retailers.

Yellow Dog Linux 2.0

Another new Linux variant for Mac users is the soon to be released Yellow Dog Linux 2.0 for PowerPC from Terra Soft Solutions.

Yellow Dog Linux is a complete Linux operating system for PowerPC computers, and like SuSE, YDL can coexist with the Mac OS in a dual-boot environment or replace the Mac OS on "New World ROM" (Blue & White G3s) machines and newer.

YDL 2.0 will introduce a graphical installer, KDE 2.1, and over 900 applications to fulfill server, code developer, and home/office needs. With Open Office, AbiWord, Mac-On-Linux, and 4 web browsers to name a few.

YDL 2.0 offers an array of graphical environments (KDE, Gnome, Enlightenment, XFree4.0; development tools (C, C++, Fortran, Python, PHP, shells, and many more); and all the tools required to build an email, FTP, NFS, web, and proxy (intra/Internet) server with the world-renowned Apache and 5 databases - over 900 applications and utilities in all!

YDL2 Key Features; 3rd Party & Included Software:

  • Red Hat 7 based components
  • Rock-solid Red Hat installer
  • Guide to Installation
  • Kernel 2.2.18 and 2.4
  • Easy updates with "yup" update Program
  • Bootable Install & Rescue CD
  • Full Source CD
  • Run Mac OS in Linux with MOL
  • Dual-boot with BootX or yaboot
  • Improved hardware support
  • Improved USB support
  • Updated C libraries & compilers
  • XFree86 4.0.2
  • KDE 2.1
  • Bundled applications

Mac-On-Linux

Mac-On-Linux, which is bundled with SuSE Linux 7.1 and Yellow Dog Linux 2.0, is a freeware emulator that lets you run the Mac OS under PowerPC Linux (Yellow Dog Linux, LinuxPPC, SuSE Linux, etc.) on PowerPC-based machines. Since it runs natively on the processor, it is very fast. Unlike most Mac emulators, Mac-on-Linux runs Mac OS 8.6 and later without a ROM image [It is necessary, though, to make a copy of the file "Mac OS ROM" which is normally located in the System Folder (this file can also be copied from the MacOS installation CD)]. To run earlier versions, a ROM-image is probably needed.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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