post music: auris - i don't belong ft. becca jane grey
Okay, so. A lot of people who know me also know me as "The Power Mac King". I have several Power Macs and PowerBooks around the Lab, and I use them quite frequently for someone of my occupation, hobbies, whatnot. I change Power Macs like women change clothes. Despite this, I have a bit of a confession. The Mac Yak community runs a yearly PowerPC Challenge; the objective to be to replace as much of your modern computer usage with a PowerPC as possible. I have never done it. Not once. It's not for lack of trying but more that I would need much more preparation for the Challenge than your average individual. But I told myself that this year was the year, that I was going to do the preparation and go forth with the PowerPC Challenge.
But by the time I had sorted everything out I noticed I had already missed the challenge window by two weeks.
No matter. I'm doing it anyway, and I'm going to give it the best shot I can give for success. I haven't yet started as of this post, but I'm going to dedicate at least a significant chunk of February if not the whole month for it. Of course, if I want to give it the best shot I can give, I have to shed the last bits of limitation: Mac OS X.
Mac OS 10.5 (Leopard) was the final release of Mac OS X to support Power Macs. 10.5 had its last major release in 2009, with security patches up to 2011. It's considered archaic nowadays, and despite the work of a few enthusiasts, is rather obsolete in the internet-powered world of today. I have Mac OS X installed on a few of my Power Macs, but at least for one of them, I have to ditch it.
So what are my options? Well, several, actually. There is a mostly complete list of operating systems built for PowerPC. It includes the expected: Mac OS X, distributions of Linux, the BSD Holy Trinity (Free, Net, Open). But it also throws in some oddballs. Technically, a port of Haiku exists for PPC. It is borderline nonfunctional, but it does exist, and thus is listed. Several embedded solutions also have PPC support, thus they are listed. There are then original operating systems-- those not based on Linux or BSD. Depending on your use case, they might work, but probably not for the average user.
I have combed through the list, and here are the options and my thoughts for each headed into 2023 and beyond.
The de facto go-to for Linux on PowerPC. I have used Debian before on one of my PowerBooks (my 15" Al still has it installed in multiboot). It is pretty good, though it has some quirks. Having a stable choice for an old system is very nice, and Debian is the second easiest of this list to install-- only missing out on top by needing a couple of workarounds to work correctly, and it being a second-class citizen by being delegated to Debian Ports doesn't help too much either. Nonetheless, Debian is my personal recommendation for a Linux installation on Power Macs. But I didn't go with it this time.
So, Ubuntu is the install that Debian beat out; however, it comes at a rather dire cost. Ubuntu hasn't been officially supported on PowerPC since the 16.04 LTS, which was four LTSes ago. That said, an updated image exists to install 16.04 on a Power Mac. For me, though, no upgrade path and no official support is a bit of a dealbreaker for me, and so I didn't go with it.
No, I don't use Arch, btw. I'm a KDE Neon user. But through the ArchPPC project, Arch Linux is possible. If you're in to Arch, this one's for you. I myself am not, so I didn't go with it. But I'd probably have been cancelled by r/unixporn if I didn't mention Arch.
A port of Linux Mint (likely LMDE) exists. It probably works about the same as Debian. I didn't go with it.
This one is a fresh distribution of its own upbringing, rather than being based on or is the big three, with its own vision and direction. Being an independent distribution means that it's not at the mercy of a bigger distro, which will likely mean better support for PowerPC. Unfortunately, current installers are broken, making it impossible to roll a new install out. This is apparently fixed and will come with rc3, but rc3 hasn't come yet, so I didn't go with it.
Fienix is a PowerPC-first distro, which would indicate this is the one, but it's Debian-based, so it's at the mercy of Debian. Then again, Ubuntu is also at the mercy of Debian sooooo. If you want a deb distro, this is probably the one to pick up, but I didn't go with it.
Another independent distro. I've heard great things about Void, but I'ven't used it myself. Apparently the PPC port has also gone unmaintained, so that's a yikes, and I didn't go with it.
Ah yes, Gentoo. If nobody got me, I know Gentoo got me. Being a distribution built entirely on the concept of building source code and having a solid community foundation, Gentoo may have the best support and the best longevity for the platform. But it's not for the faint of heart; you've gotta be committed to following the handbook and making decisions... and multitasking, because unless you're on a G5 or build a crossdev environment, compile times are gonna suHUUUck. If you're power user enough for it, this might be the pick for you, though. This is the one I went with.... kind of. It's a little muddy because--
Because why not have the best of all worlds? Bedrock is a "meta distribution" whose purpose is to allow software packages from any distribution to run as seamlessly as possible. I went with Bedrock on the Gentoo base-- having a solid, well-supported foundation paired with any packages felt like the better pick over something like Debian. And Bedrock supports PowerPC, because it supports just about every architecture that its base distribution does when Bedrock takes over. This also helps out a ton with Gentoo's compile times issue since I don't have to stick with Gentoo's ebuilds. Said, for an average user who wants Bedrock, I'd try a Debian base instead just for the ease of installation factor; you'll have the same outcome regardless.
While this is a Linux-focused piece, I'll shine a quick light on four other picks as well: the BSD Holy Trinity, and MorphOS
OpenBSD is probably the best pick for Power Macs as far as BSDs go. Still well-supported by the OpenBSD community, a significant portion of available packages, though still not all, remain available to install, and if Linux on PPC goes under, OpenBSD is still it.
Of the Trinity, FreeBSD is, as far as I'm aware, the least popular of the three. But I'm not sure why, really. Does it lack hardware support? Is it difficult to install? Maybe I should find out some other time. I've used FreeBSD a whole one time on an ancient piece of trash P4 machine, so I'm not as familiar with it as I am the other two.
NetBSD is in the middle, and may be a contender for the top pick, considering it supports just about literally everything. If it computes, you can probably run NetBSD on it. Seriously. I can probably run NetBSD on my PlayStation 2. I have a slim NetBSD instal on my WorkPad z50. A Windows CE machine. Software options are also there, though not as fully as OpenBSD. Tier II supported, though, so it's not as much of a main focus as on OpenBSD either.
The only paid software option on this entire page. MorphOS is an evolution of the old AmigaOS made for Power Macs and other PowerPC machines. Apparently it has the best performance of any operating system here, but at €79 EUR for the OS, that might be a fairly significant pill to swallow.