Ubuntu on an iBook


  • I did this installation at the beginning of 2007. Ubuntu since then has officially dropped support for PowerPC’s. The Ubuntu community however is continuing development of Ubuntu (see the Ubuntu wiki for details.
  • For alternatives, I use Gentoo Linux and enjoy it alot. Installing Gentoo on an iBook is a more advanced install but I’ve discovered because it is extraordinarily customizable can be more efficient than standard distros.

    Chasing the Rabbit

    I have a clam-shell iBook, (one of the originals, mind ya kindly, a rev. B 300 mHz, bondi blue!) I love this computer, so don’t ask to buy it ;). It’ll be forever a classic in my view. I have to admit, though, it was beginning to feel a little bit dated. When I used it to surf the web was when I began to feel it was a bit dated. Webpages would load slow and some pages would just not load at all! And, continually, MacOS9 apps became more depracated (unuseful) and I wasn’t able to find new ones to do the things I wanted/needed to do. So, I admit, I became curious when a group of my friends one day talked Linux. I can tell you that Linux isn’t as intimidating nowadays as the days I first tried it 10 or so years ago. But some of you may be asking why change when Mac OS 9 is a pretty reliable OS?

    Looking Down the Rabbit-Hole

    I confess though, I got the bug. I had to try it. What I had just wasn’t enough, wasn’t exciting enough. If Ubuntu didn’t work, I justified to myself, I would just go back and restore my OS 9. I can tell now that it did work, better than I thought dreamed it could. And the installation is nothing like the installation I did ten years ago. It did have one concerning “kinda”, never mind that though, I’ll get to that later.
    So, I read a lot of what I wanted, what I needed, to do to get Linux installed on my on my iBook. I mean alot. I’ve messed things up before on computers, like the time I deleted an entire Windows 95 from a simple command line. Shhhh! So this time, I am happy to say that, I!, was prepared.

    After studying what linux distro may be best, I choose Ubuntu. Ubuntu is the most used Linux, and hence, has the most support. Literally hundreds of thousands of people use it and many of them belong to Ubuntu Forums. The forums are a great place to ask and have questions answered and to learn what I could do with my new OS.

    The Dark Plunge – Leaving OS 9

    I started by backing up my information. Everything, everything – including the System Folder. I used Disk Copy to image everything in around 600 MB chunks so that I could burn them to a CD. It isn’t necessary to image the files, but for me it gives a nice insulation to protect the files. However, to my surprise, because my iBook had ‘Disk-Burner’ in the Apple Menu, I thought I had a CD burner. Heh lol. Fortunately, I do know a friend that does. So I connected to the Internet and used the Web Sharing control panel to transfer my files. Web Sharing completely rescued me. Since I know little to nothing about networking, it was able to make the transfer files relatively easily. In Web Sharing, all I had to do was tell the folder I wished to transfer. Web Sharing gave the folder with all my images a web address. I just booted my friends computer, opened the web browser and download the files.

    Because Macintosh files are generally corrupted on other types of computers, Web Sharing encodes them before they’re transfered. I gave up transferring the files after a couple hours. Web Sharing appear to have issues with encoding large files. So, I found ZipIt to be good solution. I made sure I had the MacBinary checked in options and zipped the images. Alternately some people use the DropStuff program to do this.
    With all my MacOS9 and data on the other computer, I burned them to CD’s.
    The Ubuntu Installation Guide is a good guide on what needs to be done – though is is a little sparse MacOS9 support, it’s not too bad. I read through most of it in a breeze, then just kept it nearby when I installed.

    The Ubuntu Install ISO for the CD needs to be downloaded. I made sure I chose the PowerPC version. I choose to download since I was using a friends computer :) It’s 600 friggin’ megs. The Installation Guide recommends doing md5 checksum on the downloaded ISO to verify it, but there isn’t any md5 checksum utility for MacOS9. I burned the CD without any problems. I found a great program on Windows that burned the ISO called ImgBurn – it did a good job, and it was free.

    Stop Smilin’ Cheshire

    I planned to have both Mac OS 9 and Ubuntu on my computer, so the first job I had to do is division the hard drive. It would have been nice to have a another hard drive lying about but… I ]separated the drive into four pieces. One for Ubuntu Linux, another for Mac OS 9, another a Linux Swap, and a boot-strap. Linux Swap is used for memory; while boot-strap is needed to dual-boot. It’s not for the feint of heart, trust me I’m one of them, I’ve done this before so I knew what I was doing. Partitioning will un-index all the information on the hard drive, effectively erasing it – thats why everything was backed up.

    I started my computer holding C with my MacOS9 Install CD in the computer. I started Drive Setup in the Utilities Folder. I noticed first my original MacOS9 install has already partitioned the drive a little bit. The MacOS creates 7 or so mini-partitions that are used for hard disk driver, directory info, and some other things I don’t know about. They have to stay there if I want to use MacOS9 on your computer so I didn’t touch them. From the pull down menu I selected four partitions (Drive Setup doesn’t show the 7 mini ones). The first partition had to be the boot strap partition so that I can dual-boot. This partition only has to be 832 kb. Drive Setup only allows partitions down to 32 MB so thats what I did. I left its type as unallocated so that Ubuntu Install could later create it correctly. The next HAS to be the MacOS partition. I’ve heard of others putting MacOS on a later partition but from all the documentation I saw, it is not a good idea. This partition I put at 2.6 GB – pretty small but would do for what I needed. I set this partition as HFS+ Extended. The next was Swap then the Ubuntu partition – it doesn’t matter if swap or Ubuntu are interchanged. Swap I set at 191 MB – the same as installed memory – and it works plenty well. The Ubuntu partition the Installation Guide recommends to be at least 2 GB. Both these (the swap and Ubuntu partition) I set as unallocated letting the Ubuntu Install CD partitioning-tool finish the job correctly. Drive Setup partitioning worked best if I sized these when I worked from the bottom. At this point, everything is new. The Ubuntu Installation Guide says to install MacOS now. I’m not sure if this is necessary but I did it anyway. Since I was booted from the MacOS install CD there was no way I could use my burned CDs to restore my saved MacOS9, so I just installed the one from the CD temporarily.

    A Little Lighter – Oh Pooo!

    I have an internet connection so I chose the LiveCD (the default one). I do believe there is a minimum install CD as well that doesn’t require an internet connection. The LiveCD (6.10 Efty Edge) has alot of Ubuntu Linux on it but still needs to download a fair deal to have a well rounded Linux setup. So after I finished Drive Setup I put CD in and restarted. Holding down C, the Live CD booted to the Ubuntu Desktop. I got a several warnings at the very start that the PCI something or other had an error, but these were just errors appling to the startup-screen. I clicked on Install-icon. Basic information will be asked. Name, name of this computer, time and date. Do you like Tom Jones? I did my name and named the computer lastname-iBook. This made it pretty easy for me to spot it on the network.

    When the installer got to the part about partitioning I choose not to have Ubuntu do the recommended partitioning scheme and chose to manual edit the partition-table myself. Here it is pretty easy for me to select my already sized partitions and make them the type I need them to be. The hard drive in Linux is called is called hda, it says it on the upper right. Its called sda on some computers, etc etc. This varies depending on the type of hard drive a computer has. Here I needed to format (make the right type) the Ubuntu partition, the swap-partition, and the bootstrap. Now I can see the 7 mini-partitions (this may vary too) hda1 – hda7 the ones needed to boot MacOS, I didn’t touch them. I selected the first partition (hda8 on this computer) after the mini-partitions and changed it to bootstrap from the format menu. hda9 (the MacOS disk) I left alone. hda10 I choose swap. And hda11 I choose ext3 (the Linux file system). I hit Continue. On the next screen, I needed to tell the installer where to install what. On the left, I selected bootstrap from first pull down menu and on the right I choose hda8 (my first partition.) Next, I picked swap from the next pull down on the left and chose hda10 on the right. On the third pull down on the left I chose “/”. This “/” is known in the linux world as ‘root’. This is where Ubuntu will be put. After selecting / on the left, I chose hda11 on the right. Now, Ubuntu is ready to install.

    The Red Queen

    Thats about it, I sat down and grab myself something to drink. I does take a little bit depending on connection speed etc etc. My installation didn’t hang at all though. I haveread others that did. Generally these aren’t hangs and just take a little while. I was recommended to give a potential hang at least 30 or 40 minutes.

    Finally, Ubuntu installs yaboot on the bootstrap. This is the program the allows the iBook to dual-boot. Well, that’s it! I restarted to see how it did.

    The Keyhole in the Tunnel

    yaboot starts up and asks press m for macos, or l for linux. I press l. Another screens appears after thats asks what version of linux do I want to start. I press return to do the default. Everything loads and runs quickly. I type my password and I see my desktop. After spending an hour to get things just how I like. And I really do mean as I like. I linux you can change just about everything! I tell ya, I liked Ubuntu from the start. Clean, and neat. Runs great! More responsive than MacOS, doesn’t hang. It beautiful bro. I thought I was gonna cry. I’ve used the desktop for over a month now and I’m not turning back. Everything I wanted is here and almost all the programs for linux are open-source. Firefox is a great web browser. It’s much quicker at loading and had been able to load every thing I’ve thrown at it. The apps I need are all available to me. But it isn’t feathers and roses.

    Note: Ubuntu 6.10 Efty Edge used an outdated version of yaboot that was why I wasn’t able to book into MacOS as I detail below.

    It was awhile before I even tried to boot into MacOS again, but since others occasionally use this computer. I wanted to get it going. So at yaboot I press m to load MacOS. The screen turns to the dithered grey we’re used to and then I see a flashing disk. And everything I try to get MacOs running does not work. I’m not gonna get into all the details, but its been frustrating and aggravating. I got to the point where I removed the memory as a desperate measure.
    There is a little light at the end of this tunnel though. A great program call MacOnLinux runs MacOs through Linux just as good, and it’s a very simple to put up. All I had to do was select the Synaptic Package Manager and I found it in there. Instructions are pretty easy:


    I had a lot of fun doing this, and I love my clamshell yet even more. If someone has an aging iBook, iMac, etc. Linux is definitely worth a look. It can even become a great hobby!


    – Ubuntu has an alternate Live CD for those who have a issues with the original one.
    – There is no accelerated video, so don’t expect to be playing the newest games.
    – check for firmware updates before install.
    – It’s been suggested to be to use Yellow Dog Linux. I had thought of this since Yellow Dog Linux specializes in PowerPC. Yet, I made my Ubuntu very very comfortable and customized. Also it is true that by 2008 Ubuntu will probably drop PowerPC support.
    – I had read writings that I could do partitioning without deleting my MacOS9 and it’s data. By setting up MacOS9 at the beginning part of your disk drive, partitioning, and rebuilding the disk directory – it is possible. Highly unrecommended however. Linux on a Mac needs that first partition to run well.
    – Lastly there’s Xubuntu for a lighter system.

    Enjoy All!

About Todd Partridge (Gently)

Good times, good people, good fun.

Posted on 2008-11-28, in Linux. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

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