If you are looking to extend the life of your G4 or G5 PowerPC machine, open source software is a valuable tool for interesting software packages that can provide better security and breath some life into our aging computers.

One of the Linux variants that is available for PowerPC Macs is Lubuntu-Remix.

You won’t find this one on the official Lubuntu pages, because it is maintained by “wicknix” over on the MacRumors forum. He provides a few different versions, including one that is based off of Ubuntu 16 and works better on G5s. The one I have been utilizing to test some things out is MacBuntu, based off of Ubuntu 12 but with some newer software packages and more modern web browser options. Oh, and a shiny little bit of Mac friendliness like a faux Dock.

As you can see from the screenshot, MacBuntu is functional and provides some nice software options right out of the box (including ArcticFox pictured above). You will need to pay attention to your boot options, as Linux on PowerPC machines often requires making some adjustments to the boot string to make the GPUs function correctly. Without doing so, the system will likely lock up. There are helpful guides in the thread, and wicknix does a great job answering questions from newbies.

In the screenshot above, I am running MacBuntu on an old Mac mini G4. It doesn’t take too long to boot into the desktop, and it is decently responsive. You can browse the web, although webpages are fairly slow to load. Using terminal is of course nice. I also enable a vnc server, so I can remotely log in and tinker with it a bit. Ultimately, it works, and it’s something nice to mess with on a machine that is old and is limited to 1GB of RAM. Keep all that in mind as you tinker with it.

The other challenge is figuring out ways to load the OS in the first place since using a CD/DVD is likely the friendliest solution, but in my case and many others, the old slot loading CD/DVD drives in these PowerPC machines have reached the end of their life. I ended up just pulling mine out, so I was able to get the G4 to boot off a flash drive. It took some trial and error though.

I won’t say that it is as pleasant to use or speedy as a Leopard or Tiger install. It certainly isn’t as fast as OS 9 (which you can install on these old G4s). But since some of the software is newer, it is a nice alternative to throw in the mix and tinker with.

My Mac Mini G4 Saved Me & APFS Is Here

Last week, I picked up a super cheap Core 2 Duo iMac that is capable of running High Sierra for under $150. With a couple of extra sticks of RAM and an inexpensive SSD, the Mac will likely ease up my back and forth between work and home, so I don’t have to worry about leaving my MacBook Pro behind. But there was one hitch…

The SSD, a Samsung 840 Pro, would not show up in Disk Utility in the High Sierra USB boot drive. And opening up and fiddling with iMacs requires firm but patient hands. The less I was yanking that drive in and out, the better. What to do, right? Why wouldn’t it read in this newer machine? What mistake did I make?

Before I panicked though, I decided to the simplest task first. Open up the iMac, pull out the drive, toss it in an old USB hd exclosure I had, and plug it into my Mac Mini G4. And yeah, it showed up in Disk Utility there. Weird, right? I formatted it to HFS+, moved it back to the iMac, and was off and running.

Speaking of formatting, APFS, Apple’s new hard drive format, is here, initially only working on SSDs. High Sierra did not install correctly when I formatted the SSD in APFS at first – kept booting back to the USB drive – but when I formatted the SSD as HFS+ first, the installer reformatted the drive and the install worked. Apple has some kinks to work out, especially as the support doc ominously warns “you can’t opt out of the transition to APFS”.

With this new drive format though, it’s time to face the truth – newer Macs using APFS cannot be read by older Macs. Yes, a newer Mac using the standard can access older shares and hard drives, but this represents another one of those milestones that leave those of us with Macs on 10.5 or before a little bit farther behind. If you are running a mixed bunch of Macs, it may be that figuring out how to stay on HFS+ will sidestep this change. Alternately, keep using things like Dropbox to share files between your computers or have a separated shared file server of some kind.

The question is – will it be possible to make an APFS driver/app to access newer Macs? I wonder.

— Nathan

A Mac Mini G4 Tangent

Icon credit to Kyo-Tux via the Creative Commons license 4.0

I’ve always wanted a Mac Mini G4.

I grabbed a cheap one off of eBay sometime ago, and I’ve had it sitting around waiting for the right stretch of free time to open it up and go to work. It’s turned out to be kind of a pain to work on, in truth. It is awfully tight once you pop off that top case and start trying to tinker around.

In general, I would only pay money for a 1.42 Ghz or 1.5 Ghz version. If you can, get the latest version since it has a bit more kick and a little more VRAM. The entry level versions though are only worth it if you can get them free. Once updated and refreshed, they don’t run TenFourFox too bad and make nice writing machines in particular.

On my 1.42 Ghz Mac Mini, I decided to repurpose my old Corsair 60GB SSD with a $4 IDE-to-SATA adapter. (It took forever for that tiny adapter to arrive via mail from China.) I used Corsair tools on my Windows machine to refresh the Corsair back to its stock speed with a secure erase. I also maxed out the ram for $20, though it was probably workable to stay with 512 MB if you aren’t going to do much browsing. Installing these upgrades was, again, a pain. The SSD is really just hanging in there, although there seems to be enough pressures from the sides of the plastic enclosure to keep it steady. Taking it apart also meant dealing with its fickle bluetooth cable. I don’t think I put it back together in quite the exact way it came, but it fits.

On the first try, the Mac Mini would not boot from my DVD nor would it eject my DVD! I had noticed that there was a little jumper on the IDE-to-SATA adapter, and that it would work fine in that state. After various troubleshooting techniques, I had to pull apart the thing again, pull off that jumper, and try to make it fit securely. This time, the Leopard DVD booted right up, even though the built-in speaker stopped working. It’s probably disconnected, but that’s not critical.

I went to work installing Leopard, updating the machine, and putting on the few programs I am going to keep on there. Part of this included doing a few cosmetic changes to the system, including the Mountain Leopard theme, for instance. In an attempt to install a special dock, though, I accidentally put a version of SIMBL that started causing the G4 to freak out, hang, and act like it was seriously messed up. Deleting SIMBL restored the G4 to solid operation.

As it is now, the G4 runs pretty well. The SSD definitely helps, although it seems like the motherboard is more of a bottleneck than the drive. WriteRoom serves as a perfect beautiful text editor/writer. I have future plans for the machine as a file server as well, but that will come another day.

Sorry for the tangent – we’ll get back to some crucial G5 info soon.

— Nathan