Installing Debian on a Beige G3 PowerMac (OldWorld)
On Dec 29, 2006, at 9:34 PM, Stephen wrote:
But first a couple of questions:
1a) How much RAM do you have?
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?
IDE 16 GB
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?)
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
years. The last time I tried to install Linux on the old world
a few years ago, and it just wasn't worth the bother, with all the
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
I guess what I'm asking is how hard is it? Does one still have to
a special boot disk, or can one just boot from the Debian CD and go
You don't need anything but a network connection, the powerpc
"businesscard" CD, and one or more of the bootloader options (see
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
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.