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Old Feb 19, 2013, 05:18 AM   #1
Wildy
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Mac-optimized Linux Distro

tl;dr: Who'd be interested in a Linux distro with a familiar OSX look-and-feel, decent performance on PPC Macs, intuitive user experience (App bundles / software centre instead of package manager to install apps) and a bright future through the latest software?


I'm part way through porting the excellent Crunchbang Linux to the PowerPC platform (I'll hopefully have some progress on my blog in the coming days) and am toying with the idea of an OSX-esque Linux distro specifically optimized to get the last drops of performance out of these machines. I would like to gauge the interest in such a distro, because it is no small undertaking.

Now there will be people from the Linux camp gathering up their pitchforks and torches, but the truth is that there are a lot of PPC users out there still (I've had over 1,500 downloads of my Flash 11.5 hack, I'd be interested to see how many downloads the Mountain Lion theme has had), and not many of them have the patience nor time to learn Linux. I know Ubuntu exists for this purpose (among others), but let's be honest, it's severely bloated. While the Ubuntu derivatives are much better (Lubuntu, Xubuntu), the user experience for a non-technical person is not going to be fun - especially as they don't hold your hand all the way like Ubuntu does.

The problem is OSX works wonderfully, but it is long abandoned. There is a core group of developers who still do some brilliant work (TFF etc.), but that is it as far as app development goes. I'd be hard-pushed to find many popular apps which are still developed for PPC - it seems they've all dropped off these past couple of years. So while the OS still works fine (let's not forget security issues mind!), we are stuck with the prospect of next to no new apps. People like the eye-candy, the way it just works, and the quality apps.

Such a combination is rare in a Linux distro and is why I am suggesting such a thing in the first place. Taking the best from both worlds is what I envisage. A familiar OSX (Tiger?) look coupled with a carefully thought out selection of software built with PPC optimizations and an intuitive way for managing apps (I wrote an OSX-style app bundle implementation for another distro I was working on) and I think you have a really nice solid base for a future-proof OS for daily use.

I started a thread the other day saying what technologies were keeping our Macs alive and relevant - I don't think any of them were tied to the OS. We have hardware which is still perfectly relevant and useful in this day and age (graphics hardware, USB 2.0, wireless etc.) as well as a rich and open platform for apps on the web (HTML5). Taking advantage of all of that in such a distro would be an amazing bonus.


Thank you for staying with me thus far, it was a lot to read! I'd be interested to hear comments.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 05:54 AM   #2
leman
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To be honest, I fail to see the practical point. Why would you go to such extent to support a dead architecture? The last PPC mac was sold in 2006 - that is almost 7 years ago! Intel CPUs offer superior performance at dramatically reduced power consumption. I am afraid that by the time your distro is up and running in a more or less stable state, there will be simply almost no PowerPC Macs left...
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 08:19 AM   #3
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Although I could see this as an interesting project, I don't really see how your distribution would make a big difference with what we have now with Tiger and Leopard. Tiger is a fast OS with relatively good compatibility. Wouldn't it make more sense to make good applications for the operating systems we already have? They already have relatively good support and ease of use.

However your ideas seem like they should be applied on x86-Linux. Ease of use could still be a lot better. I have never understood why they make these complex systems of packages for app installation when they could make it as easy as Mac OS X; I want to be able to put my apps in the folder I want.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 08:23 AM   #4
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I can't remember the name of the distro off the top of my head but, tree is a distro that is optimized to look and feel like OSX. It is for x86 so I know it's a bit different from what the OP suggests, just pointing out that something like this exists.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 08:42 AM   #5
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I can't remember the name of the distro off the top of my head but, tree is a distro that is optimized to look and feel like OSX. It is for x86 so I know it's a bit different from what the OP suggests, just pointing out that something like this exists.
Pear Linux is most likely what your thinking, there is another but it's even less popular.

@OP Please don't mess up crunchbang it's a great distro making it easier to use will in some ways ruin it.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 09:13 AM   #6
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Keep it up man there's still many power pc's bought and sold every day and dedicated people and people looking to try something else on their older machine would love to see what you can come up with.I have been thinking about maybe putting a linux os on an old ibook especially because it's very easy legally obtained,but for lack of a better word I trust what I have with leopard but i'd like to see what you come up with.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 09:23 AM   #7
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Ok:

1. Great effort! I always wanted to know how to compile your own distro

2. Crunchbang looks awful. I'm sorry but that looks real awful and just like another Linux distro. Yeah yeah I can 'change' the look but that's not the point. They should at least put some effort in making things smoother and prettier.

3. Although it is the most powerful, robust and reliable OS for Servers, for home users just sucks. Remember the Walmart Linux powered laptop fiasco? Return rate was over 100% and such laptops had a better RAM/Processor than our beautiful powerpc macs. Linux just cannot be as user friendly as Windows/Mac/Solaris

4. Apps. Unless apps can be distributed as stand-alone installers, the Linux you are working on will be a success. Installing an application in Linux is a pain when you don't have prerequisites or something like that. I don't care about installing prerequisites, but sucks when you have to install them.

5. Apps again. Are you gonna provide apps in the distro? Are you going to compile for specific laptop, like ibook G4 compilation or powerbook G4? Are you going to make use of Altivec?
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 09:59 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by GermanyChris View Post
Pear Linux is most likely what your thinking, there is another but it's even less popular.

@OP Please don't mess up crunchbang it's a great distro making it easier to use will in some ways ruin it.
This is a separate project from Crunchbang. The Crunchbang port will be as faithful as possible.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rjcalifornia
Ok:

1. Great effort! I always wanted to know how to compile your own distro

2. Crunchbang looks awful. I'm sorry but that looks real awful and just like another Linux distro. Yeah yeah I can 'change' the look but that's not the point. They should at least put some effort in making things smoother and prettier.

3. Although it is the most powerful, robust and reliable OS for Servers, for home users just sucks. Remember the Walmart Linux powered laptop fiasco? Return rate was over 100% and such laptops had a better RAM/Processor than our beautiful powerpc macs. Linux just cannot be as user friendly as Windows/Mac/Solaris

4. Apps. Unless apps can be distributed as stand-alone installers, the Linux you are working on will be a success. Installing an application in Linux is a pain when you don't have prerequisites or something like that. I don't care about installing prerequisites, but sucks when you have to install them.

5. Apps again. Are you gonna provide apps in the distro? Are you going to compile for specific laptop, like ibook G4 compilation or powerbook G4? Are you going to make use of Altivec?
Crunchbang is an acquired taste and was never meant to be a mainstream distro. I personally love the minimalism and use it on all of my machines - but each to their own!

The aim would be to provide a full set of replacements for OSX apps installed by default (Firefox instead of Safari, Mplayer instead of Quicktime etc.) which will hopefully provide similar functionality and improved performance compared to what we use now. I will hopefully dig out my app bundle implementation and write a tool to convert Linux packages to 'app bundles' for easy distribution.

The kernel and all apps would be compiled on a G4 with PPC-specific optimizations applied wherever possible. Unfortunately I lack both the time and the expertise to fork packages and implement Altivec (though many apps already have altivec support built in, it just needs to be configured when building).
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 10:14 AM   #9
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Crunchbang is an acquired taste and was never meant to be a mainstream distro. I personally love the minimalism and use it on all of my machines - but each to their own!
So is it a hipster distro?

I wouldn't say minimal, I would say... low graphics... :/

Quote:
The aim would be to provide a full set of replacements for OSX apps installed by default (Firefox instead of Safari, Mplayer instead of Quicktime etc.) which will hopefully provide similar functionality and improved performance compared to what we use now. I will hopefully dig out my app bundle implementation and write a tool to convert Linux packages to 'app bundles' for easy distribution.
That would be totally awesome. App bundles are great! I'm totally looking forward to your distro!

Quote:
The kernel and all apps would be compiled on a G4 with PPC-specific optimizations applied wherever possible. Unfortunately I lack both the time and the expertise to fork packages and implement Altivec (though many apps already have altivec support built in, it just needs to be configured when building).
I see. It was worth the shot.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 10:34 AM   #10
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The coolest port would be gnash either to OSX or to PowerPC linux
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 10:55 AM   #11
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http://packages.debian.org/wheezy/gnash
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 01:23 PM   #12
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I think the best option would be to target all skills on developing stuff for OS X Tiger and Leopard, keeping them alive. They already have the driver support which I'm quite sure is the trickiest part to implement.

Internet browser is one very critical component and some folks are already doing great job keeping old PPC -machines up-to-date as much as possible (TenFourFox, Camino etc.). LibreOffice I believe still gets new PPC versions.

There are of course Flash and many other techonologies which won't be supported or developed further, situation would not be any different with Linux (even worse I think), especially one made for PPC.

Last edited by Zotaccian; Feb 19, 2013 at 01:30 PM.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 01:26 PM   #13
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Intel CPUs offer superior performance at dramatically reduced power consumption.
UNTRUE!!! Ever heard of a power 7 or the upcoming power 8?
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 01:27 PM   #14
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YellowDog Linux? Gentoo PPC? FreeBSD/PPC? GNU/Darwin? Darwin? Mac OS X (which is a Darwin distribution)?

Just build a custom theme for the window manager, no need to port something.

Quote:
3. Although it is the most powerful, robust and reliable OS for Servers, for home users just sucks. Remember the Walmart Linux powered laptop fiasco? Return rate was over 100% and such laptops had a better RAM/Processor than our beautiful powerpc macs. Linux just cannot be as user friendly as Windows/Mac/Solaris
lol. The problem is that you need psychologists and artists to build a user interface, not physicists and mathematicians. But they obviously build great server operating systems as well as really awesome and 'easy to use' Terminal emulators.

Last edited by Giuly; Feb 19, 2013 at 01:44 PM.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 01:49 PM   #15
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The problem I see is that PPC OSX developers are a dying breed - Linux developers are not.

Quote:
YellowDog Linux? Gentoo PPC? FreeBSD/PPC? GNU/Darwin? Darwin? Mac OS X (which is a Darwin distribution)?

Just build a custom theme for the window manager, no need to port something.
These are all fine, but dump an OSX user in front of one and they'd be quickly lost. It's not as simple as bundling a custom theme - what about all the media files they're used to using? How about the effortless connectivity and interaction with other Apple devices on the network? etc. etc. The point is that a user would want a very insignificant workflow change going from OSX to Linux which in its current state just doesn't happen. All of these services need to be configured and ready to go out of the box.


So I knocked up a quick demo and the results are rather pleasing. The system idles at ~55MB RAM and 4% CPU. Opening up an instance of Firefox on the MacRumors page totals 120MB RAM and a slight increase in CPU usage. Streaming a video from YouTube gives 157MB RAM usage and maxes out the CPU.

There's really nothing special going on here yet, it's just a really fast and light WM with a couple of cheap and nasty themes applied. The nice part is that there's a full compositing manager running, automatic service discovery, global menus, file indexing and a couple of other little tweaks. I am quite impressed with the very early metrics as there should be plenty of room to grow.

Last edited by Wildy; Feb 19, 2013 at 02:48 PM.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 02:30 PM   #16
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The problem I see is that PPC OSX developers are a dying breed - Linux developers are not.

It might have something to do with that.

Of those 2.4%, 2% are G4 (which run Tiger quite well) and G5 (which run Leopard quite well).

Last edited by Giuly; Feb 19, 2013 at 02:45 PM.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 02:45 PM   #17
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What's the source on those graphs - they look useful!

It's not so much to do with performance, than to do with the software available. I would like to use my PowerBook G4 for the duration of my degree until (or perhaps, if!) I graduate. At the moment I simply can't because it is very hard to find scientific/engineering software for PPC Macs - a problem which is non-existent with Linux.

At the end of the day it's basically a matter of how many people are happy with their systems and intend to keep them as they are (I was until I couldn't find engineering software for it), versus how many people are struggling because of the lack of recent software.

There is never going to be a magic performance increase - it's simply about having a decent selection of modern software available in the near future.

The usability of OSX at the moment literally hinges on the development of browsers such as TFF and Camino etc. for many users.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 02:48 PM   #18
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If it runs on GNU/Linux, chances are that it runs under X11 on Mac OS X, if you install the dependencies (and maybe the complete application) from MacPorts.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 02:59 PM   #19
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Not all MacPorts work on PowerPC unfortunately - Debian has a package for each of the major architectures it supports (except for non-free). Many of the apps that I use also bring in some horrendous dependencies - something I'd rather avoid having to build each time I wanted to install something! How many OSX users know how to work a package manager, let alone use ports?

Perhaps the solution is to start bringing the most popular Linux software and bundling it into OSX apps.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 03:39 PM   #20
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Looks good, you should add a cross compiler for the os that is easy to use so that can recompile x86 to ppc.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 04:04 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rabidz7 View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by leman View Post
Intel CPUs offer superior performance at dramatically reduced power consumption.
UNTRUE!!! Ever heard of a power 7 or the upcoming power 8?
AGAIN, you fail to see the distinction between PowerPC and POWER. Two completely different things. Also, did the dramatically reduced power consumption fly right over your head?


Quote:
Originally Posted by rjcalifornia View Post
Ok:
Return rate was over 100%
Impossible.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 04:06 PM   #22
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AGAIN, you fail to see the distinction between PowerPC and POWER. Two completely different things. Also, did the dramatically reduced power consumption fly right over your head?




Impossible.
It is like comparing an intel core to a xeon.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 04:09 PM   #23
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It is like comparing an intel core to a xeon.
No, it isn't. Intel Cores and Xeons are up to date and have a large user base. PowerPCs are outdated, power consuming, and have a small user base.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 04:28 PM   #24
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Impossible.
It was possible. I remember this very vividly. Linux died during that period of years.
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Old Feb 19, 2013, 04:29 PM   #25
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It was possible. I remember this very vividly. Linux died during that period of years.
No, it is physically impossible to have a return rate of over 100%.
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