viva PowerPC

Holy wars

Long time no see. I've been working on my master's thesis and did not have time even for my regular blog in czech language, so you have to pardon that this place was even more abandoned than ever. After finishing with my thesis, I looked in Google Reader and found out, that there is something like operating system wars between PowerPC-related websites going on. Oh, my...

I was never afraid of any operating system. For years I had only an 8-bit computer, then MS-DOS machine came into our household, being replaced with MS Windows computers a few years later. After I was fed up with Windows, I installed Linux and I've been using Linux for fifteen years now, on standard PC hardware, on PowerPC machines (Mac and non-Mac), ARM-based devices and on MIPS.

Linux+WindowMaker on PowerBook G4

I am not afraid of it, in fact I like Linux as much as I like Mac OS X 10.4/10.5 and I like it even more than current OS X versions, but let me tell you one thing:

It is not a miraculous solution to the fact that our PowerMacintoshes are getting old. It won't make our machines as fast as current machines. It won't fix the situation, that there is no new professional software for OS X on PowerPC. It can help you with many things, but you'll have to learn new stuff, often different from your previous Mac experience.

Linux on PowerPC is minority in minority. I have first installed it on PowerPC seven years ago, when it was still the only CPU in Mac computers and was supported by many mainstream distros (Kubuntu 6 on iBook G4, if you want to know). Everything worked even back then, so the talks about non-existing drivers are untrue. But many things changed since then: The only big distro still officially supporting PowerPC is to my knowledge Debian. Others are either community builds (Ubuntu and derivatives), small projects (Crux) or are oriented on Power-based servers (Fedora). In either case - you can't tell if there will be a version working on your Mac next month or next year or ever again.

And if there is a new version, you have no certainity about software available for PowerPC. CPUs in our machines are big endian by default, I've come across couple of apps, that were hard-coded as little endian and although they worked, they could not process any data, which is a serious problem with let's say photo-processing software. There is an emerging group of hardware dependent software in Linux. Many things can't be just compiled for PowerPC and have to be rewritten. Nobody will rewrite them for couple of Linux/PowerMac users. Again I wanted to use some photo-processing software with the idea of replacing iPhoto in the future. That particular software had all core routines written either in x86/x64 assembly or for OpenCL/CUDA compatible VGA cards. As there is none such graphics card working on PowerMac, I wrote to the author whether PowerPC support can be added. He replied that according to statistics of his favourite distribution there are not enough users to bother. A few months after that ARM support was added, so there is probably even more Linux/ARM users than us.

Linux+Xfce on PowerMac G5

I am not telling you not to try Linux or to give up trying if you already started. Why would I do that? I like alternative operating systems. But do not expect that installing Linux will do the same thing as going to the nearest Mac store and buying a new Mac. Think about why do you still use PowerPC Mac. Is it because you do not want to spend money on a new one? Because you have bought some PowerPC software and want to use it? Because you do not like current OS X versions? Because you like the architecture? In many cases Linux can help you, in many It can't. Either way there is no reason to hate each other.

And when we're talking alternative operating systems: Have you tried NetBSD or MorphOS on your PowerPC Mac? The first is really fast and robust free unix-like operating system, that is in on command-line level more related to OS X than Linux is and performs better on elder hardware than Linux. And the latter is community developed desktop operating system for PowerPC and only for PowerPC (at the moment). It's small, fast, has a very good support for PowerMac and PowerBook computers and can run hundreds of Amiga and native apps, original or ported from various other operating systems. If you like diversity, go on and try them, but still bear in mind what I told you in this post.

Your comments: 1

[1] Anonymous (January 15, 2013 at 4:05 AM CET)
I need OS X apps, so therefore I still use OS X. But nothing against Linux or the BSDs.

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