Teaching an old iBook New Tricks the OpenSUSE Way
Since Ubuntu was giving me the finger on this old iBook, I decided to try a different distribution. I’ve heard about and been meaning to try OpenSUSE for a while now. Given it supports my vintage PowerPC, I figured it was worth a try.
The first issue I encountered with OpenSUSE 11.1 was that I needed a DVD to do the installation! Since my iBook only has a CD drive, I thought I might be out. However, they have a “mini CD” that downloads everything off the Internet.
The instructions for network installation weren’t very specific, but I was able to figure out what choices to make. The installation process, after the initial load of the installer, was graphical and fairly straightforward. A high-speed Internet connection is definitely recommended since pretty much everything is downloaded–2.5 gigabytes of data!
Or so I thought. I should tell you something at this point that I did something that complicated matters a bit.
The power plug inside the iBook has been flaky for a while. You wiggle it and it acts as if it is not plugged in. Since the OpenSUSE installation process kept dying as a result of this, it was time to fix it. Unfortunately, like any laptop, this requires major surgery. Since I had to do major surgery
anyway, I figured I’d upgrade the hard drive, which on this vintage computer, requires major surgery.
Following these steps on iFixit, I was able to replace the hard drive with a 20 gigabyte. Still not that big, but it’s bigger than the 10 that was in there. I was also able to fix the janky power connector inside the iBook with a soldering iron.
After all that, I proceeded to do the install of OpenSUSE, which thanks to my work with the soldering iron, now was running smoothly without the computer powering off mid-way through the process. It took a while, between the slowness of the computer and the fact it had to download 2.5 gigs of stuff, but it eventually completed.
When the system rebooted, it was still booting off the CD instead of the hard drive. I figured that the boot manager wasn’t getting loaded. I read up on how this works and figured ok, lilo didn’t get installed on the drive. I booted into rescue mode and did various things to try and fix it.
During the process of trying to fix this, I booted off the CD a couple of times and told the boot program to load the installed OS off the hard drive. The install process finished and KDE loaded without a hitch. I didn’t spend too much time messing around, but apps were loading and it looked like I had a usable system–except it wouldn’t boot off the hard drive!
I eventually figured out what was going wrong: the drive I put into the iBook originally came out of a PC. Guess what? PCs use a different partitioning scheme than Macs. I booted again into rescue mode, manually partitioned the drive with pdisk, and then rebooted the installer. In the installer, I had to choose the custom partitioning mode. I made sure all the partitions were set up properly, would be configured to mount in the right place (or not mount at all), and be formatted.
After answering all the questions–again–the installation process ended up with a system that boots off the hard drive! Pretty much everything worked right out of the box, including graphics (it defaulted to 1024x768x15), and WiFi. Flash video support is a bit sketchy, but it always has been on non-Intel platforms. Not that this machine would be particularly fast at it, either.
All in all, it was a relatively painless experience compared to installing Ubuntu.