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Fedora Core 5 on Apple Powerbook G4

So, I decided to install Linux on my Powerbook G4 12″. Why? (Feel free to skip to the real install notes while I rant!)

Recently, I’ve become slightly bored, slightly bugged with OS X. Nothing much wrong with OS X, just that I tend to do most of my work on Linux, and switching context back to the Mac takes brain cycles. Even though nearly everything works the same, there are minor, but painful differences. How you copy and paste text to and from Terminal / iTerm, gVim behavior, virtual desktop switching – minor things but very irritating and distracting at times. There are three main computers I use – my desktops at home and lab and my Powerbook and finally, all three run Fedora.

I’ve got the linux-ppc urge for quite some while now, I guess the last straw was the Apple battery recall fiasco, my Powerbook, after nearly a month of turning in the battery is still battery-less and therefore nearly use-less. So I didn’t have much to lose by experimenting. And I came across this post after which I decided to take the plunge.

PPC is not x86

Just in case you’re planning to try this out on your G4/G5 based Mac – these computers have a different architecture called powerpc or ppc, and aren’t as well-supported for Linux as the x86 architectures of AMD or Intel processors.

Ubuntu vs. Fedora

There are a number of resources online for installing Ubuntu on ppc architectures, but relatively few for Fedora. I was initially tempted to go for Ubuntu because of this but I really prefer Fedora. No harm in trying (we Linux folks are supposed to do that aren’t we?) and I could always reinstall Ubuntu if Fedora didn’t work out. Like I said, my Powerbook without a battery was just a toy to play with.


My original configuration was a single partition containing my entire Mac OS X partition. I wanted to make a dual-boot system (didn’t know how well Linux would work out and OS X is useful for PowerPoint). There are a number of paid utilities and some free/shareware ones to resize an existing hard drive but I didn’t find anything that I could trust. I figured after more than 18 months my Powerbook could use a OS X reinstall anyway, and so I backed up my data and reinstalled Mac OS X, leaving about 15 GB in free space on my disk for Linux.


I burned myself a FC5 ppc DVD and set to work. To boot from CD, you need to restart your mac and hold the ‘C’ key while starting up. First hitch: touchpad didn’t work in the graphical installer for some reason (it started working just fine after installation – on it’s own). I plugged in a USB mouse which worked fine. For partitioning, I chose to manually partition. The first thing you need to create for a Powerbook is an Apple bootstrap partition, of size exactly 1 MB (any larger and the installer will complain). Following this, you can create the usual partitions – I created swap, root and home partitions. The rest of the partition went smoothly. I foolishly unchecked the eth0 wired-LAN connection that FC5 detected (don’t do this). On my Powerbook, the system clock is set to UTC and timezone is offset, so I checked that.

Wired Networking

Wired LAN is detected in Fedora by default. I had mistakenly unchecked the device during install, I got it back running the neat command. Then, I plugged in an ethernet cable and did an ifup eth0 to breathe the fresh air of the Net.


The good news is – Airport Extreme does work – relatively painlessly. What you need to do:

  1. Update your kernel to 2.6.17 or later: yum update kernel
  2. Do yum install bcm43xx-fwcutter (firmware cutter – does some stuff to the wireless card firmware)
  3. Download firmware: wget
  4. Run: bcm43xx-fwcutter -w /lib/firmware wl_apsta.o
  5. Run: modprobe bcm43xx
  6. Run: cp /usr/share/doc/bcm43xx-fw-cutter-004/modprobe.bcm43xx /etc/modprobe.d/
  7. Run: system-config-network, click on add device, and choose the Broadcom Wireless LAN device and your desired settings, and activate.

And wireless works!


Fedora detected the sound card. To get it working though I had to load the snd-powermac module by running: modprobe snd-powermac every startup. And somehow, putting this in modprobe.conf etc. did not work. Finally what worked was adding /sbin/modprobe snd_powermac to the file /etc/sysconfig/modules/udev-stw.modules. Note the underscore in the latter addition as opposed to the hyphen that I was using earlier. I don’t really understand this, and for another guy I spoke to at #fedora-ppc the hyphen was what worked. Anyway, this got the sound module auto-loaded at startup.

One more thing – sound is muted by default. I needed to run alsamixer at the prompt and “mute” a volume bar called “auto-mute” (don’t ask me) before sound would work. Also, the volume control is strange, it needs to be set to at least 75% for me to hear anything.


The touchpad, while not detected during the installer, works fine once you reboot after installation. However, the standard touchpad leaves a lot to be desired, especially since the Powerbook has only one click button. Fortunately, the synaptics driver can be used to give good touchpad functionality quite easily. The synaptics driver was included with my FC5 install, if not you can get it by yum install synaptics. Now edit the file /etc/X11/xorg.conf. Insert the following in the “ServerLayout” section:

Section "ServerLayout"
InputDevice "TouchPad"

And then add the following lines somewhere in the file:

Section "InputDevice"
Identifier "TouchPad"
Driver "synaptics"
Option "SendCoreEvents" "true"
Option "Device" "/dev/input/mice"
Option "Protocol" "auto-dev"
Option "LeftEdge" "0"
Option "RightEdge" "850"
Option "TopEdge" "0"
Option "BottomEdge" "645"
Option "MinSpeed" "0.4"
Option "MaxSpeed" "1.5"
Option "AccelFactor" "0.05"
Option "FingerLow" "55"
Option "FingerHigh" "60"
Option "HorizScrollDelta" "0"
Option "VertScrollDelta" "30"
Option "UseShm" "true"
Option "SHMConfig" "on"

This gives you the ability to scroll vertically using the right side of the touchpad, middle click by tapping two fingers on the touchpad, and right click by tapping three fingers on the touchpad. The values for MinSpeed, MaxSpeed and AccelFactor are what I am comfortable with, and you may want to experiment. I made a couple of modifications to this – the Apple touchpad single-click is too sensitive for me and I end up inadvertently clicking a lot of times, so I disabled the single click tap (single click is only by pressing the button below the touchpad). Also, I find it more convenient to right click using two fingers. These modifications can be made by inserting the following lines into the code above:

Option "TapButton2" "3"
Option "TapButton3" "2"
Option "MaxTapMove" "0"


Sun doesn’t have a release of Java for PPC. gij (gcc-java) is hopeless for GUIs. Fortunately, IBM has released a Java 5 SDK for PPC here. You want the 32-bit iSeries/pSeries file. Once you have it, simply unpack it and put it somewhere appropriate, like /usr/java. To install the Java plugin for Firefox, simply go to /usr/lib/firefox-1.5.x.x (depending on your firefox version) and make a symbolic link: ln -s /usr/java/jre/bin/

So far this version of Java has been quite stable, running fine on my internet banking site and running applications such as JabRef.


After doing yum install apmud closing the lid suspends to RAM. However, this doesn’t work in KDE for me (yet).

Mounting the OS X partition

Just make sure you have hfsutils installed and it’s as simple as mount -t hfsplus /dev/hda3 /mnt/macosx

Flash doth not work

The ways around this are obscure and IMHO not worth exploring. You can run the normal flash player in some emulation environment called qemu, though apparently only Gentoo users have been able to do this. You can try OSS implementations of flash like gnash. Let me know how you fare :)

Yet to try

External monitor support, remapping F1-F5 keys, hibernate. I’ll update this post if I try out any of these. If you’ve had experience with these, do leave a comment.

The bottom line is that I’m quite impressed. I expected to face a lot more problems getting a workable system on linux-ppc. I have a system now that I can fully work on (except for MATLAB, which doesn’t support linux-ppc platform).


  1. Aaron Hart wrote:

    just wondering where you get the modprobe program for Fedora, I did a normal installation and added development tools afterwards, but its still not in there, is there a way to install it?

    Tuesday, September 26, 2006 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  2. Anshul wrote:

    Aaron: Try /sbin/modprobe, the binary should be there. You usually don’t have a path to /sbin unless you have logged in as root (sudo and su root do not give access to /sbin in path)

    Tuesday, September 26, 2006 at 3:21 pm | Permalink
  3. Adrian wrote:

    Aaron: use “su -” to make su work like a login shell, thereby loading the PATH environment variable for root. This includes /usr/sbin and /sbin.

    Anshul: I enjoy your blog. Greetings from California.

    Friday, September 29, 2006 at 5:37 pm | Permalink
  4. Anshul wrote:

    Thanks, Adrian. Nice to see you.

    Friday, September 29, 2006 at 6:27 pm | Permalink
  5. zman wrote:

    Thank you,
    You answered lots of questions I’ve been trying to figure out and when dual booting mac and linux I tend to spend most of my time in mac because I do school work there, so haven’t had much time to do this kind of stuff. If you knew how to get bluetooth working that would be great :) to get the wireless apple mouse and keyboard to work, and for some reason in Fedora it can’t recognize my powermac sound card. It has for no reason recognized it twice and seems to only load it when it feels like it. If I figure any of this out i’ll add another reply.
    Again thanks for posting what really needed to be posted

    Monday, October 9, 2006 at 6:53 am | Permalink
  6. Atit Shah wrote:

    Hi Anshul,

    Though my question is not directly related to installation of Linux on a Mac, but i was justing wondering on “Airport Extreme” and Wifi. From what i have read i believe Airport Extreme is to make your Mac a hotspot – a base a hub (whatever u want to call it) to which other compactible systems can connect to the internet. am i right?

    But how does the Mac connect to the internet. it sure does have an ethernet port, but the confusion i have is if it has a wifi capabilities. can a mac – mac book and mac book pro running intels “core duo” have wifi to connect to some other hotspot?


    Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 3:57 pm | Permalink
  7. Anshul wrote:

    Thanks for dropping by. FC6 seems to detect my bluetooth well enough – though I don’t have any BT device to check it against. You could give it a try.

    “Airport Extreme” base station is a router – a separate device by itself that allows other computers to connect to the Internet.

    The Mac laptops can connect via ethernet (standard cable) or via their wifi card (which they call “Airport”, but is no different from other wifi cards on the market for PCs). They can connect to any hotspot or router that is offering wifi capability, just like any other laptop.

    Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 4:42 pm | Permalink
  8. Wolfram wrote:

    Did you try an external monitor? I am wondering whether my Apple monitor will work, which is crucial for me.

    thanks for all the great info!

    Thursday, November 23, 2006 at 2:42 am | Permalink
  9. Dan wrote:

    Thanks for the information! I recently put Ubuntu on my iBook G4 and decided to put Fedora on it instead for pretty much the same reason that you did. The stuff you listed helped a lot. I ran into almost all the same problems and I was able to get through most of them painlessly with your help.

    I’m still having problems getting the wireless to work but I haven’t had much time to tinker with it yet. Any other information you might have that would help would be great…

    Saturday, February 24, 2007 at 2:19 pm | Permalink
  10. Geoman wrote:


    Having pretty much the same result as Dan, Wireless worked a couple of times, but when I installed wpa supplicant…bye bye Airport! Hoe is yours working?


    Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 5:50 am | Permalink
  11. Anshul wrote:

    Wolfram: Nope, I haven’t tried external monitor – been too scared to do so :)

    Dan: Nothing much more to report except that I installed Fedora Core 6 later and got significantly fewer problems.

    Geoman: wpa_supplicant doesn’t work for me either unfortunately

    Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 7:45 am | Permalink
  12. james wrote:

    will your suggestion for making airport work, work on my intel macbook running fedora core 6?

    Saturday, March 17, 2007 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
  13. Anshul wrote:

    james: I doubt it. There’s a whole new black art to getting things running on the Intel Macs, though there are quite a few resources on Google which should help with that. Good luck!

    Saturday, March 17, 2007 at 12:45 pm | Permalink
  14. Marc wrote:

    Hi, I’m curious about the trackpad… I installed Ubuntu 6.06 and later 6.10 but both times the trackpad is brutally slow. Do you have any such issues with Fedora?

    Friday, April 13, 2007 at 9:47 pm | Permalink
  15. Anshul wrote:

    Marc: Try changing the “minspeed” and “maxspeed” options in the xorg.conf?

    Sunday, April 15, 2007 at 12:53 am | Permalink
  16. Rene wrote:

    Found your site in google, and it has a lot of usefull information. Thanx.x

    Monday, June 25, 2007 at 3:58 pm | Permalink
  17. sasidhar wrote:

    hi Anshul..
    I am a newbie for FC7 and Mac mini,as I have a mac mini on which i have to load FC7.
    I have went through so many posts and installed FC7 on my mac mini,but there seems to be a problem with wireless card(Airport Extreme).

    I have installed bcm43xx-fwcutter as posted in Fedora groups.
    but I am not able to find device in iwconfig.
    but i can see all bcm43xx_mac80211 modules in lsmod.
    Since mine is a mac PC I have no windows drivers with me, so I have not tried ndiswrapper.

    Please can you help me for this problem, this is very important for my project to continue.
    thanks for help.

    Tuesday, July 3, 2007 at 3:37 am | Permalink
  18. Anshul wrote:

    Sasidhar: Did you try modprobe bcm43xx_mac80211? I am not sure if your Mac Mini will have a Broadcom chipset. A good place to go for help is the channel #fedora-ppc on freenode; they can usually help you out.

    Tuesday, July 3, 2007 at 7:24 am | Permalink
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