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Old machines, new OS and an appearance by Colonel Panic

January 17, 2007 Leave a comment

A fact of life is that older Macs never die. Apple may systematically forsake them, as their quest to add to the upward spiral of their corporate coffers seems boundless, but the hardware still works well 10 to 15 years (or longer) down the line. I should know: My home lineup includes an eMac (commandeered by my wife), a G3 mintower with a G4 Sonnet upgrade maxed out memory-wise (mine, mine, mine!), a PowerBook G3 Wallstreet and a Newton — yes, a Newton (Jobs’ only error is 86ing this project) — are still in constant use.

In storage (translation: lying around the house somewhere) are PowerBooks of the 1400, 5300, 160, 120 variety. All these machines power up and still work, even though the three-digit PBs may be obsolete for anything other than word processing.

The point here, before I get into the following tale of “whoa” not woe, is that open source developers have a gold mine waiting for them with older Mac machines; hardware which keeps on keepin’ on but which has been abandoned by their maker. Ubuntu needs to pay special attention to this, because the rumor that they’re abandoning the PowerPC version would be a pretty big mistake.

Talking the talk, I decided to walk the walk by installing Linux on the 1400.

This once oft-used PowerBook 1400c — a machine that served me quite well in the past — was liberated from its box beside a bookcase at home, dusted off and fired up. The PRAM battery is dead, but with its full allotment of memory (64MB) and OS9 still percolating under the keyboard, it works very well.

After determining that whatever was left on it — software- and document-wise — could be sacrificed, I set out to see what was available for NuBus PowerMacs and came up with, voila, a page called “Welcome to the World of Linux 2.4 for NuBus Power Macs”.

So here’s the drill: Download on eMac. Burn CD. Turn on 1400. Boot from OS9 CD. Format hard drive (standard, not HFS+). Restart. Play finger Twister once again to hold down the required keys to boot from CD (command-control-shift-delete — the 1400 is quirky that way, as other models require that you just hold down the “c” key) and . . . .

. . . a penguin! Success! A penguin welcomes me to GNU/Linux while a variety of type sprints up the screen. A few more screens of type sprint up my screen until the final lines say, and I quote directly, “Kernel panic: No init found. Try passing init= option to kernel. Rebooting in 180 seconds . .”

Good thing that the Silicon Valley Linux Users Group is holding its Installfest this Saturday (or at least I hope they are — they hold them on the third Saturday of each month at the Google offices in Mountain View). While I’m there, I’ll also bring the PowerBook G3 and the Ubuntu disk, throw myself at the mercy of someone who knows Linux better than I do, and hope for the best.

Meanwhile, it’s back to trying to make the 1400 work. If I can get this penguin to do more than smile back at me while embracing the Mac on the screen . . .

Categories: free software, open source
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