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Debian on an Apple iBook G3 500MHz - Little HowTo

This is a brief description of how I installed Linux on an Apple iBook (May 2001). In oder to understand this ddescription you will require some basic knowledge of Linux commands, the usual editors and installation procedures.

Before you start with your installation, there a a couple of things you have to decide about: the Linux distribution, the installation process, the kernel, etc. I will not elaborate different possibilities but just describe what I did and the problems I encountered. Whatever you do, you will probably run into your own, very peculiar problems because your iBook is not the same as mine or this website does not refer to current file versions anymore. Just take this document as a kind of guideline through the whole process and make your own experiences. Drop me an email if this text was useful to you.

Ingo Naumann, May-June 2006


Here is what I want to install and how:

Linux distribution: Debian

Installation method: network installation
This requires a broadband internet connection. I will assume for the rest of this document that your iBook is connected to somebody who provides an IP address via DHCP (e.g. a router).

Dual boot: yes
This means I kept, or rather reinstalled, my old Mac OS v10.1 and installed a boot loader (yaboot).

Step 1: Backup

No further comment on that.

Step 2: Linux LiveCD

A Linux LiveCD might come in handy. Since my machine only has 128MB RAM, I prefer the Finnix distribution. Another option I tried is the LiveCD (PowerMac!) from Ubuntu. By the way, if you are looking for an easy solution rather than installing "pure" Debian, you might want to install Ubuntu on your iBook anyway. Choose the "Alternate Install CD" if your system does not have enough memory.
You find a list of other distributions here.

Step 3:

Start your iBook with Mac OS X (it still works, does it?) and download the following four files from this site.


Amendment: It seems that the above link is broken, so you have to work around this step. Try to download the yaboot software from this page and the images from the Debian site. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Copy the files into your Mac OS X root directory (/). This requires root user privileges. (Need help?)

Step 4: Hard disc partitions

Reboot your iBook and press "alt","Apple","o" and "f" at once after hearing the start sound. You have never seen that screen on your iBook before, haven't you? However, welcome to OpenFirmware ("o" + "f")!
The next step is to start the boot manager with the following command:

boot hd:5,yaboot

Since your hard drive might be partitioned in a different way, try to replace the "5" with the number of your main data partition (probably 5 or greater - just give it a try). Having done that, choose the installation kernel by typing "install" or "install-safe", at least one of them should work. You will then enter the Debian installation menu, I assume that you are familiar with it already. Follow the installation steps until you reach the fdisk menu (mac-fdisk) which allows you to modify the partition table.

Keep all the funny little Mac partitions and only delete the big Apple_HFS partition. Create four new partions: A new Mac partition, a linux swap partition (e.g. 500 MB), a linux partition and a linux home partition. To learn more about Debian hard drive partitioning on PowerPCs, read this.

After leaving the installation procedure check the file /target/etc/yaboot.conf: "boot" should link to your bootstrap partition; is the link to ofboot.b ok? Here you will find another example of a yaboot.conf. If everything is fine, initialize the bootstrap partition with the command

mkofboot -v -C /target/etc/yaboot.conf

and -- reboot!

Optional step: Network install from a minimal CD

If the last step does not succeed or if you -for whatever reason- want to restart the installer you may want to download a so-called "netinst" CD from the Debian website. Burn the CD, restart the computer pressing "c" (or choose "c" in the menu) and follow the instructions. You usually do not have to do the whole partitioning thing again.

Step 5: KDE

Here is an example of a XF86Config-4, located in /etc/X11/. I had to perform the changes manually since the configuration tool did not work properly. I recommend trying the configuration tool first and if it doesn't work, have a look at the changes and comments in my XF86Config-4 file. You can choose the default values in most cases. Set the value for horizontal sync to be 59-63 and vertical refresh to be 43-75. Use "/dev/input/mice" as mouse device.

Step 6: Kernel Configuration

The Linux Kernel under Debian

Step 7: ALSA

Kernel: --> Sound: You need "Sound card support" and "PowerMac DMA sound support".

Step 8: Power Management

You should install the packages pmud and pmud-utils.

Some useful links:

Last revision: January 5th, 2008
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