Debian Linux On A PowerMac 7200


Those of us that run Linux on a modern or nearly-modern PC know that it’s a capable operating system.  It’s also (at least in my case with Ubuntu) extremely easy to install on a semi-modern computer. On a mid-90s era PowerMac 7200, things aren’t quite so simple.

In a testament to both his technical ability, and possibly even more so his tenacity, [Chris] was able to get Debian 6.07 running on a PowerMac destined for destruction. He had slated a few hours to upgrade this 56 Megabyte monster, but it turned out to be a several-day event. Those that are well-schooled in Linux may find the hairy details useful, and some more background can be found in part one. This project was a stepping-stone to something else, so we’re anxious to see what the end result is.

If you find this interesting, feel free to check out the retro edition of our site. It’s not entirely about ancient computers, but it can hopefully be displayed on one.

via [twitter]

27 thoughts on “Debian Linux On A PowerMac 7200

  1. Awesome work! The school districts used to throw out palettes and palettes of these machines. These, and the PowerMac 5500 AIOs. The motherboards in the 5500s weren’t quite as friendly towards Linux, but these venerable machines are too awesome to get rid of. SCSI hard drives, FTW!

    1. About 15 years ago I installed MkLinux onto a circa 1992 NuBus 6100/66. I didn’t think it was that difficult to install a Linux distro onto supported hardware.

      NuBus powermacs will happily run MkLinux with a Mach microkernel.

      5500s, 7220s, are rubbishy IDE drive machines. If there is a dumpster full to choose from, go for the PCI + SCSI 7200/7500/8500/8600/9500/9600 units if possible.

      NetBSD is also an option for some of the older 68k and PPC macs, for those with a predilection for OS installation masochism.

      Amiga users whose hardware and floppy drives have finally died and need an OS that’s no longer supported or sold but is really awesome and better than anything else out there, take note: BeOS will also boot on the older PCI machines.

  2. In my opinion, the best way to run Linux on a PowerPC is with YellowDog. Back in 1999 I ran a dot com with a pair of G3 mini-towers running YellowDog. Booting from OS 9 into Linux was a little funky but it ran beautifully!

  3. Oh come on. Linux on a PowerMac is really old news. I used a to-be-recycled PowerMac 7200 for a quick hack as a masquerading gateway running Linux in 1999, using some Linux distribution (not Debian) for the Mac. It worked so well that we completely forgot the root password. So we hot-unplugged it a few years later, moved it to another server room, re-plugged it and apart from several hundred days of lost uptime, it happily worked as if nothing had happened.

  4. He seems have miss understood what an initrd is. I couldn’t see why he even bothered with woody in the first place..
    If this had been about porting uboot or your own bootloader to some obscure hardware and getting debian running on top of that it would be a hack. As it is it’s just “things are hard to do if you do them wrong”.

  5. I’ll pile on as one of many who loaded Debian onto a PowerMac (6100) back around the turn of the century, running my web and mail servers over DSL. Once the MacOS boot loader got the Linux kernel/installer into RAM, it was just another day with a Debian installer. It made the host Mac a much more capable server than it was using OS 8/9. I reached its limits when I tried to host even toy web apps with Tomcat.

  6. However, kudos to Chris for going the extra mile, and building a 2.6 kernel. As for his goal of interfacing netatalk with serial LocalTalk, best of luck. AFAIK, no one outside of Apple has any chip specs from which one could write a driver, or put in the time to reverse engineer such using a logic analyzer and ROM disassembler.

  7. I used to have a PowerMac 7200 running Debian Linux about 10 years ago. I named the system “butthead” because Apple renamed the PowerMac 7200 to “BHA”, short for “Butt-Head Astronomer” after Carl Sagan tried to sue Apple for calling it the “Carl Sagan” as their internal codename for the product.

  8. I used to have all three variants of the beige Mac G3 line and it was a real challenge to put any modern Linux on it because the support for PowerPC was dwindling. I managed to get Debian to work but I never could get the resolution to improve past 640X480

  9. This is a good hobby project, and definitely will teach you a thing or two (hundred) in the process, but it’s not a functional machine for modern times. People like to recycle old hardware for routers and other purposes, but it’s a complete waste of electricity for a machine which can barely do the task when you could buy a tiny development board (maybe a Raspberry Pi) or micro PC of some sort with extremely higher specs and extremely lower power consumption. Hell, you could use an old Android phone and do more, as far as that goes. It’s like that guy who made an NES crunch bitcoins even though the Raspberry Pi he used for the internet link to it could have done the job all on its own. So like I said, this kind of thing is good for a personal project, and kudos to the guy for making it work, but let’s not forget how wasteful it is to try to maintain this old hardware. Less developed nations might get some use out of it, but it would make more sense to just run older software which would be more efficient to begin with.

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