Linux, the free Unix-variant operating system that runs on just about any computer you could name, is now available as a commercial release for the Macintosh. LinuxPPC 1999 runs on most PowerPC-based Macs and works with most Mac peripheral hardware, including USB and FireWire peripherals. It also includes the latest Linux graphical interface, and is easily installed by any steely-eyed propellerhead – but not, unfortunately, by mere mortals.
The packaging is stunningly minimalist: a single CD in a cardboard slipcover, with nary a scrap of paper documentation. The company says a boxed version, complete with printed manual, is “in development”. Inexplicably, the CD itself contains no installation documents – you must download those from LinuxPPC’s Web site. You’ll need those installation docs, too, because the install process is harshly non-intuitive. You first partition your hard drive to separate your Mac OS and Linux worlds. Then you boot-up Linux from the CD, and run a graphical installer to load the application itself. If you do everything correctly, installation takes about one hour. Mac OS and Linux operations are mutually exclusive, but a Bootx utility lets you choose between the two at start-up.
Once you get LinuxPPC up and running, it’s fairly easy to operate, using the vaguely Mac-like X Window interface and K Desktop Environment. You get plenty of bundled software: the Apache Web server, Netscape Communicator 4.5, multimedia players – including one for MP3 – complete C and Java environments, other communication tools, and – Linux’s hallmark – all the source code.
The most common application for Linux is as an Internet or intranet server – the Apache Web server boasts legendary performance and a price that can’t be beat. Keep in mind, however, that you get what you pay for, and with the $32 LinuxPPC you didn’t pay for support – at least not by phone. The company offers limited support via email, and a number of mailing lists and newsgroups provide communal support.
Linux ran well on our 450MHz Power Mac G3. The interface was responsive, and an informal test of the Apache Web server showed it to be faster than Apache running under Apple’s OS X Server. But, we had several unexplained crashes of the graphical interface.
LinuxPPC 1999 is a well-executed port of the latest Linux distribution. If you’re technically savvy, you’ll find Linux a speedy server. But a Macintosh it’s not, so don’t even think about running a LinuxPPC-equipped machine as a desktop computer.