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Linux on the PowerPC

Network World Fusion

June 12, 2000
Web posted at: 10:19 a.m. EDT (1419 GMT)

(IDG) -- If you're at all familiar with Linux, you know one of the attributes of the open source operating system is its ability to run smoothly and reliably on old hardware, most notably x86 and Pentium-based machines. This has been a boon to network professionals everywhere, letting them give old PCs new life on the network as firewalls, Domain Name System servers, e-mail servers or file servers.

Because of Linux's open source nature, developers around the world have ported the operating system to a variety of hardware platforms. Linux is one of the few operating systems that can be said to work on every kind of hardware, from Macintosh to the Palm, PC server and IBM mainframe.


A popular port of the Linux operating system is the PowerPC version of Linux. The RISC-based PowerPC chips are found on hardware from Apple, Motorola, and on IBM's line of midrange servers.

One of the most popular distributions of Linux for the PowerPC is LinuxPPC. Closely derived from Red Hat, the distribution is developed and maintained by LinuxPPC, a Wisconsin company. According to its Web site, LinuxPPC runs on most G4 and G3 Macintosh systems. If you're not interested in blowing away a perfectly good new Macintosh operating system to run Linux, LinuxPPC also runs on a variety of older Apple hardware, such as the Power Mac 4400 to 9600 models, as well as the Performa 64xx models. It will also work on Apple Workgroup Server 7250, 8550, 9650 and G3.

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A few other well-known Linux distributions that have been ported to PowerPC include TurboLinux, SuSE and Debian. Each of these distributions is a variation on the original Intel-based version of Linux, each respective company maintains.

SuSE and Debian offer a load of configuration tools and are aimed primarily at users looking to replace the Apple operating system with Linux on old Mac hardware. TurboLinux includes several network and server administration tools with its PowerPC distribution and could be considered better suited for setting up as a server for the Web or LAN.

Rock Linux is a lesser known Linux distribution that offers a PowerPC version. Rock Linux is a slimmed-down distribution, although not a "minidistribution" like Floppix.

Rock Linux can be used to set up a firewall or router on a PowerPC machine without a lot of disk space.

MKLinux is another lesser known Linux version with a PowerPC offering. MKLinux is based on the Mach microkernel (which is the core of Apple's FreeBSD-based Mac OS X server operating system) with Linux running on top of the kernel as a "user-mode Mach task." The MKLinux distribution is also sponsored in part by Apple.

Other than Apple and Motorola-based Mac clone hardware, the other major area of development for PowerPC Linux has been with IBM's PowerPC-based RISC System/6000.

IBM recently announced the availability of Yellow Dog Linux on its powerful RS/6000 line of workstations and servers. The RS/6000 normally ships with the AIX operating system, which is IBM's own flavor of Unix. IBM and Terra Soft Solutions (the developer of Yellow Dog Linux) recently announced that they would mutually support IBM RS/6000 B50 entry servers and workstations running Yellow Dog Champion Server 1.1.

Enterprise users can implement Yellow Dog Linux as a powerful Unix alternative to run on RS/6000 hardware. At a cost of only $34, Yellow Dog on the RS/6000 is a good, cost-effective alternative to upgrading or purchasing IBM's own AIX Unix operating system.

Additionally, some work has been done with LinuxPPC on the RS/6000, but there is currently no support available.

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