Thursday, November 5, 2009

Xubuntu 9.04 running smoothly on a 1999 iBook

My friend Shaun gave me an old iBook to play around with, and after messing with it for about a week, I gave up on it. It was incredibly slow, especially with networking. I looked online and did lots of optimizations, and got it to run a bit faster, but it was just painful to use. Since I didn't have the OS reinstall CD, I figured I was out of options.

About a month ago, I started playing around with Linux, and am really getting into it now. I did a few searches and found that there's PowerPC builds of Ubuntu. Given the modest hardware specs (300MHz G3, 192MB RAM), I decided to try Xubuntu 9.04 (alternate install). Xubuntu doesn't have all the slickness of Ubuntu, but it usually works really well on old hardware (I've got it zipping along on an old 700MHz PIII box w/ 192MB RAM, that functions as my DVR (using Mythbuntu)).

I'll give a rundown of the problems I encountered below (mostly related to the iBook itself, not Xubuntu), but the bottom line is after ~3 hours, I have a very decent-performing and very usable laptop now.

- The CD drive wouldn't recognize a CD. I reset the PRAM and shot come compressed air onto the laser. Holding the "C" key down on boot still didn't work, but holding the "Option" key down gave me a boot menu - the CD took a while to show up, but it eventually did.

- The battery wasn't holding a charge. There were two problems here - the power cord was a bit frayed and had to be positioned just right to work (temporarily solved with electrical tape), and the PMU needed to be reset.

- Wireless wouldn't work. Wireless issues Ubuntu turned me off of Linux two years ago, but I was hoping that since this was a PPC build, that they would have the Apple Wireless stuff figured out. And they do, except that Xubuntu didn't support the wireless encryption scheme I was using. Fortunately, this was an easy fix - just install and configure wicd (it's in the repositories - no need to download it from the web site).

Done - working laptop. I kind of feel bad having deMAC-ed a Mac, though (I was a HUGE Mac fanboy back in the day). Maybe I'll put a dock application at the bottom of the screen as an homage :-), or just go all out and do this.

UPDATE: Just found this helpful link that lists all distros that support the PowerPC architecture: