PermaLink I've had it with Linux on Macs!11/26/2008 12:18 PM
I'm done, it's over, I'm tired of fucking with Linux on Macs.  Forget it.

I've been with Linux longer than you.

(OK, all you geeks who've still got your Minix source code on a 1.2-meg floppy, castigate me)

I've been fooling with it for years, back to Red Hat 3.0-something in late 1996. I FTPed the distro over a 64kbps ISDN link, actually. I've put or tried to put Linux on nearly everything I own. A Zenith 486 portable. A long string of beat-up home-built clones. My iMac G4 in 2002. I even (if I can ever find it) a 3rd-gen iPod with Linux on it.

But I have now drawn a line. I will no longer bother trying to get any form of Linux running on an Apple portable. In 2002, I tried getting Yellow Dog Linux running on my G4 iMac (the one with the big chrome cantilevered support for the monitor and the white dome-shaped CPU). It loaded OK, and did Linuxy things, and the wired networking worked, but not the Airport Extreme card I'd installed in the G4 myself. At the time, I figured I could live without that, and understood the issue at hand, which was that the Extreme used a Broadcom 4300-series chipset for which Broadcom had never bothered releasing technical data from which open-source drivers could be built. I left YDL 3.0 on that machine for a couple of years, then, wanting the 20Gb it occupied back so I could use it for other things, I took it off.

It's now almost 2009. The other night, curious about reports that the Extreme was now "supported" under various Linux distros, I put up YDL 6.0 on my G4 iBook, vintage 2004 or early 2005. Same G4 architecture, same Airport Extreme.

Same complete lack of drivers for the wireless card.

Well, damn if I'm going to run a laptop on a wired connection.

I looked around, and as it turned out, yes, it's possible to get the Broadcom 4300 chips working on an Apple. However, the process for doing so involves an assload of downloading of source code, linking of a "vampire" utility that is supposed to identify the particular version Extreme you have, running the utility, then modifying some parameters in a makefile that you then use to build the driver, then manually installing and configuring the driver.

And it's about this point that I discover that the default YDL installation doesn't install a single one of the many C/C++ packages you need to actually do any of this.

More to the point, it's six years later, and nobody, not even Yellow Dog, who have been the leading proponents of Linux on PowerPC Apples all these years, has come up with an even moderately-straightforward way to get one of the most popular wireless networking cards in the world to just... work.

There was a time when I'd have said, no problem, I'll just rerun the YDL install, add the missing packages, link up the cutter utility, grab the Broadcom firmware with it, modify the makefile, link the driver, run a bunch of command-line utilities to enable and configure the driver, and I'll be great.

I did the other thing, which is to say, well, what the fuck is Yellow Dog going to give me that I don't already have under Mac OSX? Gimp? Got it. Firefox? Thunderbird? Lack of a Unix-based Notes Designer and Admin client? I already have all that stuff.

So I removed YDL for the last time, nondestructively repartitioned the drive to give OSX back the 15Gb I'd taken away from it, filed the YDL DVD away somewhere, and moved on.

The sorest point for Linux continues to be device support. Yeah, I can understand why Apple won't produce a Linux driver for its hardware, since in their eyes, they produce a perfectly good Unix-based OS. And they do. But jeez, Apple ships five million machines a year, more than half of them portables, and if it's an Apple portable, it has an Airport Extreme in it. It's one of the most common single wireless cards out there. And still, to use it on Linux, you have to dork around with linking C code and prowling around in system configs and hardware registers.

Yes, I understand the difficulty of reverse-engineering a firmware-based device. The Extreme's hardware pretty much only loads the firmware, and that's much harder to reverse-engineer. But with that many older Apple laptops out there, and that many Linux distros and users, you'd think by now I could get this pretty-common card to work on a very common iBook without having to get blood on my clothes.

I guess not.

Shit, I had an easier time getting Mac OSX running on an old eMachines clone. With wireless networking!

Will I continue to explore Linux on Apple? Yes, but only on virtual machines loaded on my MacBook Pro. Ubuntu works great on both VMWare and Parallels. OpenSolaris, as I've previously discussed, runs like ass on Sun's own VirtualBox. On all of them, though, the wireless just works because it's hooked into the underlying OS, and that OS is Mac OSX.

I think I'll just make it easy on me from now on. When someone comes up with a Linux build that works and installs wireless networking without my having to have been a computer technology maven lo these last 28 years, I'll check it out. Not until. I work with machines all day, I don't want to have to screw around with their guts when I get home.

See also, "why I own Apples."

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1. David Vasta11/26/2008 02:04:46 PM

I am with you. Linux on a Mac is a pain! I just leave old MacOSX and I don't have any pain. Run Linux in Fusion and call it a day. I agree it's sad, but MacOSX is so perfect and works so well, why replace it?

The Wireless thing is a problem no matter what hardware you put it on. Most DELL's, HPs, Compacts, all come with the same Broadcom wireless card the macs do, so they all suck.

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