Sunday, April 09, 2006

YALAL (Yet Another Look At Linux)

Linux is interesting to play with, I'll give it that. There's something awe inspiring about seeing the console screen scroll through all of that information when it runs for the first time, and starts firing up different device drivers. And the fact that this operating system has been compiled for just about every device in pretty cool.

Even usability has come a long way. KDE has some pretty cool little widgets, yet things seem strangely familiar to the old Sun SPARCs that I used to use back in college. I also like the behavior when you run as a regular user (not root) and you access something that requires administrative access: it simply prompts you for the root password, and then runs that one application as root. Sure, Windows has Runas just like *nix has su, but the autodetection makes this is a step beyond simple user switching.

The trip down Linux Lane this time started with a New World G3 iMac that I happen to have acquired. I don't have a MacOS CD, and there's no way that I'm going to buy one just for this old thing. So, what's the next best thing? Yellow Dog Linux.

I upgraded the iMac to 256MB of RAM, and dropped in a 20GB Hard Drive. Then, I downloaded and burned the YDL 4.1 CDs. Installation was pretty easy with the exception of partitioning the drive.

To make a long story short, in order to have OpenFirmware load yaboot, your drive will need an Apple_Partition_Map partition, and YDL's installer does not seem to be able to create one. Normally, after dropping in a new hard drive, you would use the MacOS CD to create the Mac partitions, including the all-important Partition Map, and then install YDL. Without a MacOS CD, I had to find a PowerPC LiveCD (Gentoo project has one), and then use mac-fdisk to initialize the disk (i), which creates the Partition Map partition. Once that was done, the YDL installer did everything else for me.

So, now that I have Linux running on a PowerPC, is it usable? Yes, as far as everything that comes on the CDs. However, if you want to install something else, you need to look for a source-code distribution and build it yourself. That pretty much rules out commercial software.

You see, it's almost guaranteed that any company that distributes a binary Linux version of their product will only have x86 available (not PPC). That makes it kind of tough to download things that you take for granted in the Windows environment that only runs on x86.

Case in point: almost every web site out there that my daughter would want to visit seems to use Flash, but Macromedia does not have a PPC Linux version of the Flash player (they do have a Linux x86 version, though). So, this means that this new machine, even with it's very standards compliant FireFox 1.5, is almost worthless in the eyes of an 8-year old.

I'll give it another 6-12 months, and then I'll get the urge to see what's new in Linux. Next time, I'll likely install on x86 so that I can get a true representative experience.