Resurrecting G3 iBook with Linux

At work we are in the process of sorting through some old books, documents and equipment in the run-up to moving into a new building.

During this process I ran across an old Mac iBook.  The model I found was a stock configuration iBook G3/800, model number A1005.  After turning it on I discovered that it was running Mac OS X 10.2.8.  My manager suggested that we just discard it since it was not upgradeable to the latest OS level and since the hardware specs were so low.  Given my penchant for playing with old, sometimes admittedly obsolete hardware, I decided to see what I could do to resurrect the little guy with Linux.

After investigating the various options available, I settled on Linux MintPPC.  This particular distribution is a port of the Linux Mint LXDE project to Debian/PPC.  The reasons behind this choice were:

  1. Use of lightweight X11 window manager, which is important given the paucity of memory and hardware resources in the iBook
  2. This distro is based on the Linux Mint project and Debian/PPC Linux


The installation couldn’t be much easier.  I downloaded the latest Debian/PPC net install iso image, then started up the laptop from the CDROM.  At the boot prompt enter the following:


After this it’s a simple matter of walking through the standard installation process for Debian then letting the network install complete on it’s own.  After approximately an hour, I had a fully functional Linux install working on the iBook!

Post-Install Niceties

Right Mouse Click

After the installation was completed and the laptop had rebooted I began a few post-installation configuration changes.  This model iBook didn’t have the multi-touch capabilities that Apple introduced in later models, so it was limited to left-button only operations unless you add in keyboard modifiers.  The default configuration for the left and middle button operation is to use the F11 and F12 keys to operate the buttons.  Since MintPPC includes the mouseemu daemon, I wanted to configure the system to use the Mac OS X configuration of control-click to operate the right mouse button since this was the mode I was used to.  Here’s how to accomplish that:

  1. Open the terminal and become root
  2. cd /etc/default
  3. vi mouseemu (you did backup the original right?)
  4. Add the following to the end of the file:
    RIGHT_CLICK="-right 29 272"
  5. Restart the mouseemu daemon:
    kill -HUP `cat /var/run/`
  6. Enjoy the new configuration!

Turn Off Login Ready Beep

By default the system is configured to beep when the system is ready for login.  Since I work in a cube farm, I wanted to observe better cube etiquette by disabling this.

  1. Open up the Login Window preferences: Menu -> Preferences -> Login Window
  2. Enter the admin password into the authentication dialog (this is root, not your sudo password!)
  3. Click on the Accessibility tab
  4. Uncheck the box next to Login screen ready

Openbox Configuration Tweaks

There are a number of configuration tweaks that can be made to the default Openbox setup to improve rendering performance on machines at the low-end of the spectrum.  Here are a few that I have made.

  1. Menu -> Preferences -> Openbox Configuration Manager
  2. Appearance
    1. Uncheck Animate iconify and restore
  3. Move & Resize
    1. Uncheck Update the window contents while resizing
  4. Desktops (very subjective change with negligible performance benefit)
    1. Set Number of desktops to 2
I am still working on the final configuration to fit the hardware footprint on the iBook G3, so there will be more updates along these lines soon.
  • ptolemy

    Hello, I have a G3 600mhz with mintPPC 9.3. Have you gotten your wireless to work?

    • arfore

      Unfortunately my G3 MacBook is not currently equipped with an AirPort card. I am planning on adding one if I can find it for cheap enough. From what I have read on the web, though, this card should be natively supported.

  • Thumbs

    Airport cards are broadcom and handled by b43 / b43 legacy drivers.
    All the procedures described above extract one legacy and one generic firmware into /lib/firmware/b43 and …/b43legacy
    You can do the extraction and save firmware files on any other working Linux (or Cygwin) installation.

  • zed

    So how well is it running for you? I’m inheriting an iBook A1007 (not sure about the Mhz) and was planning to put a roll your own Crunchbang on it.

  • Eric Jay Hilgart

    Hey there! How were you able to get WiFi to work? I’ve been unable to connect to my WPA network at home… or did yours work right out of the box?