Apple Everywhere

I Love Ubuntu 10.10 on Older Macs

- 2011.01.03 - Tip Jar

It's been a while since I've written anything for Low End Mac. Between being at college, doing my homework, and my endless tinkering with anything electronic/mechanical/electromechanical, I've been pretty busy. I've got some time to write now, so here's what I've been up to this whole time.

iOS 4.2 for iPad

I know you were expecting a review of iOS 4.2 for iPad - rest assured, it can do everything advertised and nothing more. Overall, it was worth the wait, but it's nothing to write home about: the folders are nice (I've arranged all my apps into neat little folders), multitasking is okay (it's surprisingly good at managing the iPad's limited RAM), and the mute switch isn't as useless as it might seem - I use it to keep my emails from sounding off while I'm playing my iPad as a tuba for pep band.

But that's another story...

Maverick Meerkat

To me, the latest Ubuntu release, 10.10 Maverick Meerkat, merits much more excitement. For what is supposedly an incremental upgrade, Maverick Meerkat runs stunningly well on PowerPC (and x86/AMD64, of course) machines - so well, in fact, that only two computers in the whole house (the iMac G4 and the PowerBook 180) are without a Ubuntu partition.

I'll get into the details of each of those installs below. First, though, I'm going to give you a little background information.

It Started with a Netbook

My brother bought a netbook last summer - a Hercules eCafé EC1000W, to be exact. Now this thing isn't exactly mainstream - you may or may not remember the Hercules brand of video cards, but they're now owned by some French company and supply a few models of Windows and Linux-based netbooks to Europe and North America. My brother is a little more security-minded than I am, so he was less than pleased to find out that Windows "calls home" for just about everything. He needed an alternative, and Ubuntu fit the bill.

I was able to install Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx on the eCafé via USB, and, after a little fiddling with the wireless card driver, it ran like a charm (the PCI-based Ralink 3090 is a fussy card). A few months later, I showed him how to upgrade to Maverick Meerkat, and he (and I) think 10.10 is a much better version than 10.04. For one, the Unity desktop environment is more efficient and aesthetically soothing than the old interface. I'd say it's positively Mac-like, but my brother would disagree (haters gonna hate). For two, he's been able to install all sorts of new apps (Ubuntu calls them apps, in a somewhat successful attempt to attract more non-geeky users), from classic video games to music-teaching apps. The Ubuntu Software Center has really matured since 9.10 - now it is beginning to feature paid apps, which I see as the first step towards commercial success.

My brother loves Ubuntu on his netbook, and my other siblings began to take notice.

The Domino Effect

The Pismo is a wonderful laptop . . . that is now in the custody of my sister Ashley. I promised I'd let her keep it this time, and, despite my difficulties using the iPad to read textbooks and write reports simultaneously, I'm going to let her keep it.

Pismo PowerBook G3One modification she requested was that I add Ubuntu to it. Since her (formerly my) Pismo sports a 120 GB hard drive, leaving plenty of room for an Ubuntu/Tiger dual boot, this was really a win-win situation for her. If Ubuntu had problems, she could always boot back into Mac, and if she liked Ubuntu, there was plenty of disk space for her to grow into. So I went ahead and installed it.

Other than the usual xorg.conf problems (thanks to fellow LEM writer Simon Royal for posting the working Pismo xorg.conf file), the install went off without a hitch. Currently, I'm sorting through some AirPort connection issues (which have never happened before), but it works fine with a USB WiFi antenna (I'm looking at some PC Card solutions as well).

Performance-wise, Maverick effortlessly glides past Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. One of the major reasons I left Ubuntu before was because 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) and 9.10 (Karmic Koala) were just too much for the Pismo's 500 MHz G3, but Maverick, like Lucid, seems light as a feather and very responsive. Another reason was because suspending (sleeping) the Pismo would cause some major problems under 9.04, 9.10, and 10.04, but under 10.10, this has been completely resolved.

So, my flagship Mac is now running Ubuntu. Nothing wrong with that. But then...

The iBook Terror!

300 MHz clamshell iBook"Hey Austin?" said my youngest brother (Cavin), the proud owner of my old iBook G3 Clamshell.

"Yeah?"

"Could you put Ubuntu on the Clamshell?"

And then it hit me: What have I done?!?

Those of you with Clamshell iBooks know that they're not the fastest cars on the track. My brother's iBook sports a measly 300 MHz G3 with 256 KB L2 cache, 320 MB of PC100 RAM, and a slow 6 GB hard drive. Not exactly a land of opportunity for a brand-new OS - still, it was worth a shot.

Spending roughly two hours with the Ubuntu 10.10 alternate CD I'd burned for the Pismo, I managed to install Maverick on the iBook. What shocked me was how smoothly it ran afterwards. The mouse didn't jerk at all!

While I'm still having some problems with it - namely, the dead battery wreaking havoc on the date and time (which affects a lot of other things), GNOME taking forever to load apps, and the iBook not staying suspended when closed - I'm surprised how well it is working overall. Right now, I'm in the process of moving it to LXDE, which should mitigate the resource demands quite a bit. Since it also lacks an AirPort card (at least for the time being), Ashley and Cavin are sharing the USB WiFi adapter, and it works equally well for the Pismo and the iBook.

Conclusion

I'm more thoroughly convinced than ever before that once Ubuntu is widely known, it will quickly become a major player in the OS field. I'm also convinced that my next laptop, sadly, will not be a Mac. Since I'm running on limited funds but demand good battery life and decent performance, I've been looking at the IBM ThinkPad R51 for quite some time, and I'm preparing to buy one as a fixer-upper.

You can probably guess what OS I'm going to install on it. LEM

Further Reading

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Austin Leeds is a Mac and iPad user - and a college student in Iowa.

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