Archive for January, 2007

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

In the beginning, there was the command line . . . .

January 16, 2007 2 comments

. . . or do I overstate things?

After I extend my sincerest apologies to science fiction author Neal Stephenson who wrote the essay of the same name — my deepest apologies, Neal — I’ll offer a brief introduction: My name is Larry Cafiero, also known as “Larry the OpenSource Guy” or just plain Larry (unless you’re my mother, who with the government are the only people who call me “Lawrence”), and if you look to the right, you’ll see a Reader’s Digest version of who I am.

How did I become the open source and free software evangelist whose words you now read? It was somewhat simple, although at this point it might behoove you to get a cup of coffee before reading this. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

As you can see at your right, I was the Green Party candidate for Insurance Commissioner in California in last year’s elections. In an e-mail exchange with Cameron Spitzer (an Internet guru for progressives in the Silicon Valley and the point man for the Green Internet Society) I lamented that I couldn’t afford to compete with the major party candidates in producing quality materials.

Cameron’s reply, and I’m paraphrasing here, went something along the lines of, “yes you can,” and explained the virtues of open source and free software.

Bingo: OpenOffice replaces a woefully outdated Word. Gimp replaces an all-too-early version of Photoshop. Scribus replaces a 20th Century edition of Quark.

Cameron’s advice became a revelation wrapped in an epiphany surrounded by a satori.

During the course of the campaign — especially during those long drives throughout California wishing the state was more the size of Rhode Island — thoughts kept surfacing about how society would benefit by the practice of using open source and free software. On a philosophical level, the open source and free software paradigm lends itself to building a society where people practiced teamwork, rather than competition, in developing the software and contributing to its working properly. On a political level, one has to advocate for any system that would provide the planet’s populace — especially those less fortunate than those who live in industrialized nations — an alternative to the software shackles foisted upon the world by the mandarins in Redmond (Vista: Need I say more?) and, to a degree, those in Cupertino. Even on the most basic, practical level, reasonable people understand the basic human right to choose whatever software they wish to use on their computer, without the interference of national or multinational corporations, while being able to use, configure and understand this software in its use on a daily basis.

After the campaign, I spoke to some open source developers about this subject, and thus happened upon my mission: To boldly go and spread the gospels of open source and free software, with a missionary goal of converting the average computer user to exercise his or her freedom to choose software that benefits the general populace — as opposed to filling corporate coffers — and to provide a vehicle to make open source and free software more comprehensible to the common computer user.

A major component of this evangelical zeal comes in the form of OpenSource Reporter, which officially goes on-line February 1 (with some features appearing on-line earlier), and its bimonthly print version counterpart with a first copies slated for May/June 2007 (watch your local news stand).

I’m not a “tech” by anyone’s definition, and I’m at peace with that. I’m a journalist by profession. So you may encounter both in OSR, and in this blog, items that the most seasoned programmer or developer may find to be “pre-Programming 101″ or earlier. I make no apologies for this: OSR and this blog serve to inform and instruct those who are not programmers or developers; the mere mortals who use the software bestowed by those with a higher understanding of the binary world of 1’s and 0’s than we have.

I’m willing to bet you’re reading this — those of you who aren’t related to me, that is — because you’re a computer user who does more than merely use software and may (or may not) be a “power user,” or you are looking for alternatives to the software on the shelves. If you’re a developer or programmer, I’m willing to bet that you’re here because you’re smart enough to realize that the key to getting your software used by a wide range of users is to run it past those of us who are the digital equivalent of “backyard mechanics” — those who aren’t afraid to delve into their hardware and software to change the oil and brake pads and do maintenance most people pay others to do.

To all of you who have gotten this far, welcome (and thanks for not nodding off). By all means, let’s move forward in this endeavor together.

Now, does anyone out there have Ubuntu running on their Mac (and if so, how did you do it)?

Categories: free software, open source

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