Linux on Mac

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Linux on Mac

Postby Nanook » Mon Sep 29, 2014 12:49 am

For those who are considering setting up your Mac to run Linux instead of Mac OS X or to dual-boot, I thought I'd share my experience.

I now have my ancient PowerMac 1,1 dual-booting Mac OS X and Linux and running Windows XP in a VirtualBox virtual machine under Linux.

The first issue I ran into is that the Mac bootloader will not recognize Linux DVD's as bootable media. There is a special Debian install ISO that overcomes this problem but there is an easier and more versatile solution that also makes dual-booting super easy in the form of a free boot manager called rEFIt, which you can get at

rEFIt is super-easy to install. You just download it as a '.dmg' file, click on it, and it installs. After that, when you boot, you'll get a menu with graphical images (which are very nice by the way) for each bootable image, an Apple for Mac, Tux the penguin for Linux, etc.

Then to install Linux, you only need to place an appropriate 32 or 64-bit edition, as appropriate for your hardware, in your Superdrive, boot, and click on the image.

I tried a number of distributions, and I ended up with Debian because it both performs well, is stable, and has a large selection of applications available. Debian has supported Mac for many years and even has a version for the PowerPC Macs.

Along the way I tried OpenSuse (Yast is a great installer and I really would have liked to run OpenSuse), but the 32-bit version of OpenSuse wasn't stable. Fedora20 was stable but slow as snails. CentOS also stable but a severely inadequate availability of software for it. Debian has the next best installer, after OpenSuse's Yast, available (it's native installer is crap but Synaptic is nice).

Debian has been completely stable on the Mac, has some very nice Desktops (I personally prefer Mate with the Cairo dock), performs well, and has a huge amount of free software available.

I am running with MacOS on drive A, Debian on drive B, and it was very easy to install because Mac OpenBoot PROM (the Mac equivalent to a BIOS) does not re-arrange disks to make the boot disk the disk 0 as some PC Bios's do), so the install program defaults loaded the boot loader to the right place.

Linux performs much better than MacOS on the same PowerMac hardware. Under MacOS, I had problems with audio and video stuttering, and this is on a Quad core Xeon based machine with 4GB of RAM, so it really shouldn't have been a problem, but under Linux audio and video are smooth without the stutter. I haven't done any objective measurements on disk I/O but I can tell you Linux boots faster and subjectively feels much snappier.

Linux can mount HSFS just fine so I can get access to all my MacOS side files under Linux without any problems.

Getting Windows to run under VirtualBox on Linux also was easy but the 3D accelerated graphics are SLOW. There may be some tweaking to do yet.

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