Debian PPC Installing Debian Linux On A Nubus Power Mac

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1. Obtain Software

You'll need the following software packages:

As a Debian beginner, your best bet will be to install from CD-ROM. I burned a set of CDs from Debian 3.x ISO disk images, and installed from these. You should be fine with just the first 3 of the set, unless you want to recompile from source. It is possible to install over a network connection, but I wore out my patience after several failed attempts with Debian 2.x. If you don't have a CD burner handy, I'd suggest buying the CDs. Having the disks makes for a convenient medium when screwing up... er, starting out.

2. Format A Hard Drive: 1 HFS and 1 'Free' partition

I have only installed to SCSI drives. IDE boot drives may work with the Nubus kernel installer, but I don't have a system to test this with. The "normal" Debian PPC installer for PCI bus Macs works just fine with IDE drives. Partitioning is a process which causes the computer to treat a disk like several disks, and you'll need to do this to get both the MacOS and Linux onto the same device. An alternative is to add a second hard drive. It doesn't matter how or if you format any of the partitions besides the one the MacOS goes on, since the Linux installer will format these later in the installation. If you're using something other than Apple's Disk Tool to format the disk, remember not to delete the existing driver partitions, which are probably only 30KB or so.

After booting from a MacOS 8 CD (see section 3, below), I used the included Apple "Disk Tool" ("Drive Setup" on MacOS 9) to create a 200MB HFS partition for the MacOS, and left the rest of the disk as free space.

When you've finished, quit Disk Tool, click once on the hard disk icon that should soon appear on the Desktop, and select Erase from the Finder's Special menu to initialize the new HFS partition.

3. Install Minimal MacOS 7, 8, or 9

You'll probably already know how to do this. Insert the MacOS installation CD, reboot, and force the system to start from the CD by holding down the 'c' key. 'Simple Install' will be fine if you have enough room in your MacOS partition. Otherwise, select custom install and opt for the minimum installation needed to get your machine to boot. It might be convenient to install network support and a web browser, if you don't have another system to download the support files to (see section 4). When done, quit the installer, eject the installation CD, and reboot. Your system should come back up running the MacOS within a minute or two.

4. Add Linux Support Files To MacOS

Macintoshes prior to the advent of the G3 processor and Open Firmware are unable to boot directly to Linux, and need a MacOS-based boot loader. Therefore, if you've finished the MacOS installation in the previous section, now is time to install the support files mentioned in section 1, which include:

Each of these files needs to be uncompressed. An OS 7, 8, or 9-compatible version of Stuffit or Stuffit Expander should do the trick. I believe Stuffit Expander is included as part of a full MacOS 8 or 9 installation (but I've gotta double check that). If your version of these tools won't work with the two kernels, try expanding them using MacZip or MacGzip.

After everything has been unstuffed and ungzipped, you should have the following files: "MkLinux", "MkLinux Booter", "MkLinux.prefs", "lilo.conf", a regular kernel (for example: "MachKernel-2.4.27-040811"), and an installer kernel (for example: "MachKernel-Debian-woody-021029"). After making a note of the original kernel file names, it's a good idea to rename the kernels as "Kernel" and "Kernel.install" respectively, so that you can keep track of which is which. Move these files into the System Folder as follows:

  • MkLinux to Control Panels folder
  • Kernel to Extensions folder
  • Kernel.install to Extensions folder
  • MkLinux Booter to Extensions folder
  • lilo.conf to Preferences folder
  • MkLinux.prefs to Preferences folder

Within the Extensions folder, make a duplicate of "Kernel.install", which you'll then rename as "Mach Kernel".

Within the Control Panels folder, double-click on "MkLinux". Click on the radio button next to "MkLinux", and then the "Custom" button.

MkLinux Control Panel

SimpleText will open the file "lilo.conf". You need to edit it so that the MkLinux Booter will load "Mach Kernel" as a RAM disk. The file originally reads like so:

# 'rootdev' defines the location of the root device.

# 'mach_options' defines all other Linux command line options
#mach_options= video=ariel2fb

After editting it should look like this:

# 'rootdev' defines the location of the root device.
# RAMDisk Debian Installer

# 'mach_options' defines all other Linux command line options
#mach_options= video=ariel2fb

Select "Save" from the SimpleText "File" menu, and quit the application. You should now be back at the MkLinux control panel.

Now is a good time to insert Debian Installation CD #1 into the CD-ROM drive.

5. Restart Using MkLinux Booter & Installer Kernel

Within the MkLinux control panel window, click on the "Restart Now" button. At the conclusion of the reboot cycle, your Mac will display the MkLinux Linux Booter dialog with MkLinux selected, and a 10 second countdown. If MkLinux isn't selected, select it now. At the end of the countdown, the screen will blank out before displaying quite a few text messages related to Linux bootup.

If all goes well, you'll be left with a primitive graphics display, and a text prompt asking you what language you'd like to work with.

By default, you're now running the Debian Installer, so the rest of the process will be familiar to any Debian user. However, as is the case with PCI-based Power Macs, there are several steps that your hardware doesn't support, so I'll point out what to skip.

Within The Debian Installer: (Oops, I forgot to include the Linux partitioning step. You can research that here.)
1. Choose The Language - use the up or down arrows to pick one, then press return.
2. Choose Language Variant - if you're given this option, use the up or down arrows to pick one, then press return.
3. Release Notes - read if of interest, then press return.
You'll be presented with a text menu. The top item is always highlights the default next step, the second item the suggested alternative step.
4. The default is "Configure the Keyboard", press return.
5. Select a keyboard - use the up or down arrows to pick one, then press return.
6a. I FORGOT TO INCLUDE THE LINUX DISC PARTITIONING STEP. I really need a separate page for this step (but, this page was originally written in 2005, so you shouldn't hold your breath while waiting). The experienced Debian user should select "Partition a Hard Disk" BEFORE Step 6b. If you don't know how to use the Linux disk partitioning tool 'pdisk' (called 'fdisk' on Intel systems) and don't want to wait for me, take a look here, then come back for the rest of the installation.
6b. The next default is "Initialize and Activate a Swap Partition, press return.
7. Scan for Bad Blocks? I'm feeling bold, and stick with the default "no". Use the tab key to select "yes", if that's your desire. Then press return.
8. You'll be reminded which partition you're about to initialize. I hope you kept notes while partitioning your disk. If the partition is correct, press
9. Be patient, especially if you selected "yes" for step 7. If all goes well, you'll be back at the Installation Menu, which offers "Initialize a Linux Partition" as the next step. Press return.
10. Again, scan for Bad Blocks? Make a choice, then press return.
11. Again, are you sure you want to initialize this partition? Refer to partition notes. If all's well, press return.
12. More patience. If all goes well, you'll be asked "Mount as the Root Filesystem?". Probably. Press return.
13. Back at the Installation Menu, defaulting to "Install Kernel and Driver Modules". Press return.
14. Select Installation Medium. If your CD-ROM drive is properly connected, it should be first on the list. Press return.
15. Please insert the first installation disk, then press return.
16. Select Archive path. If all is well, the installer will have already found it, and displayed it on screen. Press return.
17. Back at the Installation Menu. We don't want the default or alternatives. Use the down arrow key until you've highlighted "Configure the Hostname", then press return.
18. Choose the Hostname. If you don't like "debian", backspace over it and type in a name of your choice, then press return.
19. Back at the Installation Menu. Use the down arrow key until you've highlighted "Configure the Network", then press return.
20. You'll have to know something about your network set up. My network uses fixed addresses, so I tab to select "No", then press return.
21. Networking: type in the correct fixed IP, then press return.
22. Networking: type in the correct netmask. If the default works for you, press return.
22. Networking: type in the correct gateway, or delete the default if you don't use one. Press return.
23. Networking: if your network has a domain name, enter it, and press return.
24. Networking: if you know it, enter the IP number of at least one DNS server, and press return.
25. Back at the Installation Menu. Use the down arrow key until you've highlighted "Install the Base System", then press return.
26. Found a Debian CD-ROM. You should still have CD #1 in the drive, so press return.
27. If your CD-ROM or drive has problems, the installation may bail part of the way through. If so, you have two immediate choices: try again, or finish using another installation medium. If you configured your network link correctly and have a fast connection to the internet, consider ejecting your CD, go to step 14, and install from "http/ftp" to finish the installation. Otherwise, try again with the CD-ROM by going back to step 6.
28. Back at the Installation Menu. Use the down arrow key until you've highlighted "Reboot the System", then press return.

6. Restart Using MkLinux Booter & Standard Kernel

Soon after rebooting, you'll be presented with the MkLinux Booter dialog again. Select the MacOS. Once you're back into the MacOS, open the System Folder's Extensions subfolder. Within, rename "Mach Kernel" as "Mach Kernel.install", then rename the "Kernel" file (see section 4) as "Mach Kernel". Open the MkLinux control panel, and click the "Custom" button so that you can edit "lilo.conf" one more time. The point of the edit is to let the MkLinux Booter know which hard disk partition to run Linux from. Refer to the notes you took while creating Linux partitions within the Debian installer, particularly the label for the "/" (root) partition, as you review the existing "lilo.conf" text:

# 'rootdev' defines the location of the root device.
# RAMDisk Debian Installer

# 'mach_options' defines all other Linux command line options
#mach_options= video=ariel2fb

Comment out the line "rootdev=/dev/ram" so that it reads "#/rootdev=/dev/ram". Uncomment the line "rootdev=/dev/sdb5". Replace "sdb5" with the label of your root partition. For example, if your root partition is "sdb3", your "lilo.conf" file should look like this:

# 'rootdev' defines the location of the root device.
# RAMDisk Debian Installer

# 'mach_options' defines all other Linux command line options
#mach_options= video=ariel2fb

Save the file, and click "Restart Now" in the MkLinux control panel dialog. If you've typed in the correct "rootdev", you should end up with a Debian Linux login prompt after several minutes of MacOS and Linux bootup gymnastics.

Once your newly installed Linux environment is up and running for the first time, you'll be prompted to run through the Debian system setup process. Refer to the Debian instructions.

Setting up the X window system is left as an exercise for the reader. I administered my 6100 remotely as a web and AppleShare server, so I didn't run X. A Powerbook G3 replaced it, and after Debian switched from XFree86 to and I messed up the transition, I didn't bother to use it there, either. I switched to OS X on the subsequent iMac DV, G4 "Sawtooth", and (as of 2011) Mac Mini (Intel) servers. If/when you get X running on a Nubus- or older PCI-based system, it's going to be a dog, unless you've got lots of RAM.

7. You're Cooking With Linux, Now

Got Linux? Here are a few places where novice and experienced Linux users can go for more information about using Linux, on the web:

UNIX Power Tools: Ok, I just said "on the web", but virtually any UNIX/BSD/Linux user should have this book on their desk.
The Beginners Linux Guide
The Ultimate Beginner's Guide: since you've already installed Linux, skip to the sections on basic commands, intro to utilities, etc.
Linux Online: the how-to section.
TLDP: the Linux documentation project, lots of valuable how-to's and other nuggets.
LinuxDoc: the how-to section of the Linux Review online.
LinuxNewbie: now called JustLinux, a library of questions and answers from other users.
Librenix: a conglomeration of hints and how-tos.

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