Apple processor supplier IBM has published an introductory guide to running Linux on PowerPC computers, such as Macs.

"Even though most Linux users have treated Linux as an operating system for their x86 white boxes, it runs equally well on PowerPC machines," the report says.

The report offers a realistic assessment of the Mac platform and how it can be positively employed by Linux users.

"For many Linux users, the best reason to buy a PowerPC machine will be, quite simply, the range of well engineered and reasonably priced machines available from Apple."

The report admits to the performance liability Apple had been suffering from until it shipped the G5: "Admittedly, the G4 lines – bottom line – do not quite keep up with comparably priced x86 machines in CPU power. The G4s do not lag that far behind, but they do a little. However, Apple makes some of the best laptops available from an ergonomic, aesthetic, battery-life, and weight perspective. All of those features are far more important to me, for a laptop, than raw number-crunching," the author writes.

"All of Apple's machines have a good reputation for durability and reliability, including their rack-mount servers, which are nice for clusters and server arrays," it explains.

High performance

The report adds that Power Mac G5s are competitive in performance terms with x86-based PCs, adding that with the recent release of GCC3+ compiling code, G5 performance can only improve as software designers recompile their applications in order to benefit fully from the G5 chip.

It suggests a number of scenarios in which installing Linux on Macs makes sense – for example suggesting that Linux on an old Mac can be "quite snappy" on such systems.

The author ran four Linux distributions on an iMac, and found that the Yellow Dog and Mandrake distributions were "well-polished and easy to use", while Linux systems from Debian and Knoppix were "not ready yet".

"The killer problem I found with Debian/PPC was my inability to get X11 working on it – the installation seemed wholly unaware of any remotely relevant video card models, and some post-installation attempts at configuration proved fruitless, too. I am certain that there are Debian/PPC users who have worked out the configuration issues, but compared to the ease of installation of other distributions, I have trouble recommending Debian to many users," the report states.

The PowerPC architecture is criticized on one point: "As of this writing, no tools yet exist for non-destructive repartitioning of HFS+ partitions (at least none that are post-alpha and can run from OS X or Linux). Unfortunately, this means that you cannot easily configure a multi-boot system from an existing Mac OS X system."

The author points out that when Linux is installed on a PowerPC processor, a free emulator (Mac-on-Linux) will let users run an entire Mac OS – or a number of Mac OSes – at full speed.

"Mac-on-Linux gives you a nice way to continue using your Mac OS applications while running Linux – even proprietary applications for which you have no source code."