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Installing Debian on a Beige G3 PowerMac (OldWorld)

On Dec 29, 2006, at 9:34 PM, Stephen wrote:

Rick wrote:

But first a couple of questions:

1a) How much RAM do you have?

356 MB

Good. That's plenty. I've heard of folks installing Etch on as little as 96MB but it's reported to be cramped. You've got enough that we won't have to worry about that.

1b) What kind of disk(s) do you have.  How big?  SCSI or IDE?


You *may* want to invest in a larger disk eventually. 16GB will be more than enough to run a fully configured etch system, but if you plan to do anything that takes a lot of disk space, it may get crowded. 16GB is certainly enough to get started on.

1c) Any other hardware that's interesting (e.g. special video card?)

Stock Apple


That information will help in planning.

2) Do you want to install Sarge (current "stable" release and a year
or so old) or Etch (current "testing" release, and -- barring the
unforeseen -- soon to be "stable").  Sarge is solid as a rock (I run
it on a couple of my machines where I care about stability).  Etch is
pretty stable, but has a few minor glitches that will undoubtedly get
worked out before it goes "stable".  Etch is a moving target --
you'll want to run "aptitude update && aptitude dist-upgrade" at
least once or twice a week to keep up with the latest bug fixes.

I'll probably go with Etch when it's the current stable.

Then let's go ahead an byte the bullet and go with Etch now, just for the experience. There's no point in installing Sarge just to dist- upgrade it in a couple of months.

Well, I'm experienced in Debian, and have been running it for close to 10 years. The last time I tried to install Linux on the old world box, was a few years ago, and it just wasn't worth the bother, with all the hoops
one had to jump through. But I'm now willing to try again, since MacOS
X, runs like a pig on it, and I'm not really interested in running MacOS
9. :)

I guess what I'm asking is how hard is it? Does one still have to create a special boot disk, or can one just boot from the Debian CD and go from
there ?

You don't need anything but a network connection, the powerpc "businesscard" CD, and one or more of the bootloader options (see below).

When I tried last,time  it wasn't easy getting around the Apple

You are absolutely right about the Apple "Open Firmware" The OldWorld machines' firmware implementations were just barely enough to boot Mac-OS -- everything else was unreliable and buggy. The situation improved a bit with the NewWorld machines, but that doesn't help us Beige G3 owners.

There are four bootloaders available for PowerMacs.

The first and easiest to use is "yaboot", but it's NewWorld only.

The second is "miboot" which works quite well on OldWorld, but it only boots from floppy disk.

The third is "quik", which boots from IDE or SCSI hard disk, but is dependent on some parts of the Apple Open Firmware that vary widely in their implementation from model to model. It is possible on nearly all PowerMac models to get it to work by setting the right combination of options in the Open Firmware. But the particular combination of options are model dependent and arcane. Worse, the option settings are prone to getting wiped out by accident (running MacOS-9 will clear them; zapping the PRAM will clear them; an aging/ tired PRAM battery can wipe them out as well.) When that happens, your machine won't boot til you re-key the options. I find this prospect enough of a potential PITA that I strongly recommend the fourth option.

The fourth and final boot loader option is MacOS-9 with a simple little extension called BootX (This is *not* the same BootX as you may be using to get your G3 to run MacOS-X. This BootX was written by Benjamin Herrenschmidt, who does most of the heavy lifting porting work for Linux on PowerPC hardware. (He also wrote miboot.) The way this works is that you install a minimal MacOS-9 on your boot disk (it need not take more than a few hundred Megabytes) and copy the BootX extension into the extensions folder. There is also a BootX control panel that allows you to set preferences telling it where to get the Linux kernel, initial-ramdisk image, and set boot-time kernel parameters. The BootX extension runs very early in the OS9 boot process. It displays a dialogue box allowing you to make last minute changes to the preference parameters, and asking whether you want to continue booting OS9 or boot Linux instead. This is what I use, and what I recommend.

Let me hasten to point out that, even though you must have OS9 on your hard disk, you're just using it as a vehicle for the BootX bootloader. Once you've installed Debian, you don't need to deal with OS9 on a day-to-day basis ever again.

If you are OK with OS9 and BootX, I suggest you get a copy of the BootX 1.2.2 (latest -- vintage April, 2000) software from BenH's web page, http://penguinppc.org/historical/benh/ and read the documentation that comes with it. Once you've got that under your belt, we can proceed with the actual installation.



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