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Reviving a teenage Mac with Debian

Posted 05-25-2015 at 08:32 PM by wagscat123

So my newer laptop that ran openSUSE 13.2 got an LCD cable in it pinched off, and the new parts and a open heart surgery-like repair awaits this laptop from 2011.

But I wanted to be able to surf the web with a mouse in the library, in lounges, and not be trapped to my dorm. So I dug up a 1999 PowerBook G3 "Lombard" that we were given in 2005, and downloaded some Debian.

I did this back in 2012 with Debian 6.0 and XFCE, but with no motive beyond pure curiosity.. Although the battery was dead by then and there's no WI-Fi card in it, with an ethernet cable it had enough power to run XFCE and Firefox, with few issues or freeze-ups.

Fast forward to 2015 when finals are looming around the corner and the dorm is so muggy from the '70's Windows XP of air conditioning systems, the luddite way was my only option.

I quickly pulled up in a Virtual Machine some x86 Debian LXDE installs with both version 7.0 and 8.0. While the bloat in both was up from 2011 Debian 6, I didn't want to go through the hassle of an EOL upgrade in just a year. Debian 8 interestingly used about a third more RAM than 7 did to do just about anything, and with 128 MB of RAM, Debian 7 was an obvious choice despite its older age.

The installation was limited to command line, and on the supporting virtual terminals with BusyBox I noticed the Debian install system used the computer's RAM up to the brim. Since the processor was only 300 MHz and the CD drive was probably like only 4x or something, the installation clocked in at about 4 hours on the final and successful attempt.

Once I booted it, I saw LXDE and basic X window utilities ran pretty smoothly, which made doing things like pulling up my python (with from math import *) calculator feasible. Back in the VM tests I saw Firefox nearly crashed the system after it got wonked out from swapping out most of the system's memory, so I gave Midori a quick try. Not fancy, and a cheap GTK rendition of a mid-2012 Chrome. It was light, but had enough to do JavaScript, which is what my online textbooks and homeworks required.

As I used it daily for a good week or so, anyone who knew something about Macs was interested to see a black Mac that was almost an inch thick closed boot up. I explained how Apple only did a few early OS X releases for it, and how Debian was my only sane option.

The computer sometimes got a little slow, and pulling up PowerPoints in LibreOffice Impress took a good five minutes sometimes. But the configuration saved me from wading in my muggy closet laced with the odor of dry rot during a stressful time, and gave others' a cool show.

So a cheer to the pliability of Linux and the universality of Debian, running on 16 year-old PowerPCs with less power than cheap phones these days. It helped me, and gave me a new knotch in my Linux belt.

If you are curious about anything I did, or want ideas about your old Mac, don't hesitate to comment, even if it's 5 years later or something.
Posted in Uncategorized
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Total Comments 6


  1. Old Comment
    Another good data point in favor of Debian. Good post!
    Posted 05-27-2015 at 12:46 PM by flshope flshope is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Debian's not my main distro, but it does great filling in the cracks where openSUSE and Mint don't go.
    Posted 05-28-2015 at 09:10 AM by wagscat123 wagscat123 is offline
  3. Old Comment
    That's been my experience, too. I had to try to revive an old (2003) machine recently when Ubuntu dropped support for my graphics hardware. So I tried installing Debian as a shot in the dark, so to speak. I use the gnome classic desktop. Now the machine is mostly running OK and serves as a back up to my main linux box. I do have to admit that after running Debian a while, I am beginning to wonder what Ubuntu really brings to the table, since I don't use Unity.
    Posted 05-28-2015 at 09:23 AM by flshope flshope is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Unity is slick and easy to use if you manually restore your privacy, just it takes a fairly powerful machine to run decently. Even 12.04, a few years of bloat ago, runs moderately sluggishly on my 2005 Dell.
    Posted 05-28-2015 at 03:39 PM by wagscat123 wagscat123 is offline
  5. Old Comment
    I used to run Debian on a G4 iBook, and it ran nicely with a full XFCE desktop. It's a bit lighter and snappier than other distros, but I haven't tried Jessie on the ibook since it bit the dust not too long ago. Hope your experiences continue to be as good as mine were on this hardware.
    Posted 06-04-2015 at 10:34 PM by goumba goumba is offline
    Updated 06-04-2015 at 10:36 PM by goumba
  6. Old Comment
    Thanks - nice to hear another success story.
    Posted 06-05-2015 at 09:29 PM by wagscat123 wagscat123 is offline
    Updated 06-05-2015 at 09:30 PM by wagscat123


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