A Mac Users LinuxPPC Experience
by Eric Black
I, like many other people, was enticed by the Linux buzz. I have always been the kind of person who favored the underdog. I mean, why else would I be the Macintosh nut that I am. I've always felt that the best Enterprise computing environment consisted of a Macintosh front-end and a UNIX back-end. And, what could be better than a Unix that ran on the Macintosh. Sure, I played with Rhapsody DR1 and it is very slick. But with the high price for MacOSX Server, many smaller companies are going to have to look elsewhere for their server needs.

But wait, LinuxPPC, is not only trying to appeal to the server crowd, but to the workstation crowd as well. To that end, they have bundled their software with one of the more advanced X-type GUIs and are going to be bundling with ApplixWare, an office suite for Linux.

I first entered into my LinuxPPC experiments by downloading a copy of LinuxPPC-Lite. This is a stripped down version of Linux missing most of the development tools, and aimed at casual tryer-outers like myself. Well, the first hurdle that you have to pass through is installation You are best off if you format your drive with Drive setup first. That way you have the Apple drivers on there as well. You also have to make notes of things like partition numbers so that you know where you are going to install which directories. The instructions that I got from the
LinuxPPC website were quite thorough in this regard. But. I came across a huge problem. Apparently, you cannot install LinuxPPC on a G3 that has more than 64MB of RAM. You get an installation error. The suggestion was that I remove some memory in order to do the installation (once it is installed, it has no problems running on this configuration). However, all of my memory is on one 128MB DIMM. Fortunately I had access to a 7600 at work so I took my external hard drive into work and installed it using that. Once I took it home and hooked it up to the G3 it worked fine.

The installation sets up Linux so that it boots straight into the GUI. Which in this case is the KDE desktop environment. Be warned, it is very clunky. Trying to do things by the GUI alone is enough to drive any Mac person mad. And I very nearly became so on several occasions. There are a number of applications that are included and more out on the net that are written specifically to take advantage of KDE, they are the easier to use applications. And by the way, Netscape absolutely rocks on LinuxPPC. LinuxPPC has a great TCP/IP stack. The fastest web browsing I have done is with Netscape on LinuxPPC (of course I tried it out on the LAN at work before I brought it home). Of course once I brought it home I had to setup PPP dial-up in order to connect to my ISP. While KDE includes a nice graphical PPP client it is deceptive in its appearance of simplicity. If you're used to using FreePPP or OT/PPP or the new Remote Access you may be a little frustrated with KPPP. I found that to access my ISP I had to set it up to do a command line dial up so that I could negotiate things manually. For whatever reason I couldn't get the automatic settings to work for me. Also it took quite a bit of playing around to get it to recognize the modem. These are hurdles that old-time Mac people are not used to surmounting.

So, I was able to get dialed into my ISP, I was blazing along with Netscape and I even got onto IRC. I used KIRC which is the IRC client written to work with the KDE environment. It is a good example of the advantage of GUI based programs. I had tried a few other IRC programs but found myself in control line hell. KIRC looked a lot like MIRC which is popular with the Windows 95 crowd. It doesn't have nearly the feature set of, say, Ircle, but it is quite usable.

Now I didn't just want to play with the KDE applications and the X applications (which run just fine by the way). I wanted to play with the more powerful applications like Apache and netatalk (the Appleshare client). I wanted to do server stuff. However, to do most of that stuff means editing configuration files. I found this to be a completely alien place for me. Here I am trying to type operational parameters into a configuration file for a process that is basically going to run in the background. Ack! I'm used to AppleshareIP and it's crazy graphical interface. I don't edit text files! Still, one of the features that makes Linux and other unices so poplar is the ability to merely configure a server application and then basically not have to worry about it until you need to apply a patch or the like. And still, that is what Linux still seems to be best suited for. As a graphical workstation it falls well below the Macintosh in usability. I couldn't accomplish near the number of tasks that I would on my Mac at any given time. Part of that is user experience and part of it is software. LinuxPPC falls behind the Macintosh in general use software. Normally when I am on the net I am running Cyberdog (for mail and web surfing), Better Telnet (to connect to the well), Ircle, AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ, ICMP Logger (to see who is pinging me), and AGNet Tools (to do all of those things you would just do on a unix command line). When I was on the net with Linux I was running Netscape, KIRC, and Kmail(?). There are ICQ clones out there for Linux, but I have yet to get one installed and configured. Well, because the one I downloaded was in tar format.

One of the things that bugged me about the Lite installation was that it didn't include tar. So when I downloaded files that were in tar format, I couldn't open them. And of course I couldn't download tar, because it was tarred!! So I eventually resolved to get the entire LinuxPPC installation CD. Well, fortunately for me MacWorld was right around the corner and I received an invite to the LinuxPPC party. It was great fun, and Jason Haas was an excellent host And, of course, he gave me a LinuxPPC CD. Thanks Jason.

Using the Red Hat Package Manager to install applications is really the only way to go. It is very similar to using an installer on the Mac or in Windows, except that you have to type in commands rather than just double clicking. But at least you don't have to move things around to various directories on your own. Which, by the way, was one of the things that the KDE environment was useful for. Typing move commands in Linux can be quite tedious unless you're a blazing fast typist who can keep track of path names in your head. Though, I managed to freeze when copying from my HFS partition to the EXT2 partitions. Hey, I can crash anything, even Linux.

Linux is still the killer OS for server stuff, but has a long ways to go to become a usable workstation (well for us mere mortals, a.k.a "The rest of us"). Though, the folks at LinuxPPC are doing a pretty good job of moving it along. I can't wait to see what their next release brings. And if you're brave enough, check out
which machines are supported and go for it.