Originally Published: Sunday, 5 March 2000 Author: John Palmieri
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Alternate Hardware

One thing I noticed however was that the x86 versions of Linux suffered from the fragmentation of PC hardware. Unless I was extremely careful I could end up with a great OS that didn't support the hardware I had. So when it came time for me to get a laptop I weighed my choices and went with the Powerbook G3 from Apple.

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I've been an on and off Linux user ever since I was introduced to it in 1995. I first installed Slackware Linux on my Pentium 100 by downloading the package onto around 20 floppy disks from my school's labs. It was fun rooting around the system but in general I stayed away from X because of its crude FVWM interface that seemed to get in the way more than help. After a short stint with Slackware I was forced to take it off because of lack of disk space and the fact that a lot of the devices I had weren't supported.

I finally decided to get back on the Linux horse with a CD of an old Red Hat distribution (pre 5.0?) I got in one of those Learn Linux books. Unfortunately it didn't have the correct drivers for my CD-ROM so I never got it installed. In 1997 I decided to get the Red Hat 5.1 powertools CD and install it on my work computer. I fell in love with it instantly. Though X was still crude for someone used to Windows and Mac it was nonetheless very useful. I used it to install routers, intranets, and CGI test beds on everything from a 386 to the Pentium II's. When KDE first came out I instantly installed it and then switched to GNOME when the project reached 1.0. Linux was improving fast enough to become my default OS.

One thing I noticed however was that the x86 versions of Linux suffered from the fragmentation of PC hardware. Unless I was extremely careful I could end up with a great OS that didn't support the hardware I had. So when it came time for me to get a laptop I weighed my choices and went with the Powerbook G3 from Apple. Out of all the laptops I surveyed it gave the best bang for the buck and as an extra bonus, Apple was actively developing MkLinux for use with their PPC line of products. I quickly bought it and put in an order for MkLinux Developer Release 3. To my chagrin MkLinux did not support the graphics card on my PowerBook and Apple had dropped its participation in the MkLinux project. I was more than a bit pissed off thinking that I had thrown my money away.

For about 6 months I rarely touched my PowerBook and then, not wanting to be defeated (I've gone through a lot worse on my x86 systems), I decided to check out my alternatives. MkLinux had a cousin called LinuxPPC that had just released a version that was compatible with my Powerbook. I decided to install LinuxPPC 1999 Q3 on my laptop and see how it worked. I was amazed to see how easy it was to install. Being based on Red Hat helped a lot but what really impressed me was that there was no need for boot disks. All I had to do was partition my hard drive, put some files in specified directories, and install Benjamin Herrenschmidt's BootX program using a simple Mac installer. BootX is LinuxPPC's answer to lilo.

Though my graphics did not work at first I simply searched for information on my particular hardware and was presented with a XF86Config file that got me up and running in my familiar GNOME interface. I was even able to configure my system to use the F11 and F12 keys as my middle and right mouse buttons respectively. So far I have had no problems with my system and it had become my main development machine. I did however have to upgrade my Kernel to run some newer programs. I had never done this with my x86 boxes because fumbling with rescue disks if the Kernel didn't work scared me. LinuxPPC made this trivial by having me install the new Kernel in my Mac's system folder and giving me a choice of kernels to boot via a drop down menu on BootX.

One thing that is of concern however is the general lack of applications that have been ported to the PowerPC architecture. For instance Corel's WordPerfect, on which I am writing this article, has yet to be offered in a PPC version. For me, this does not pose a problem because I am running it on my LinuxPPC through a remote X session on my x86 server, but others might find this a bit annoying. At the current rate of development most if not all Mac and PowerPC hardware (including Amigas, BeBox s, IBM s POP, etc.) will be supported in the future and programs such as Mac-on-linux will allow for integration with the MacOS in a manner that x86 users have been pining for with Windows.

As of this writing there are several distributions of PPC Linux. These include Debian, LinuxPPC, MkLinux, TurboLinux, and Yellow Dog Linux. The verdict? I see cheap PowerPC desktops such as the iMac becoming a preferred choice for Linux desktop users in the future because of its easy installation and increasing device and application support. Now that the OS is no longer a factor, users have the freedom to choose what hardware they wish to run their applications on, and isn't freedom what Linux is all about?

John Palmieri (aka Quinticent) is the founder of the Snaglepuss project and owner of Martian Rock Interactive. He is no stranger to alternatives of the mainstream, as he enjoys aggressive in-line skating, skiboarding, the NYC music scene, and alternative OS's.





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