Tribooting Apple’s Titanium Laptop

sidestory (how i got my laptop)

I recently had the joy of acquiring an Apple Titanium G4 Laptop. This is
kind of interesting in and of itself, because I’m a Linux junkie who
reluctantly uses Windows desktops for client work; a year ago I would
have laughed at you if you had told me I’d be craving an Apple machine.
But the one-two of Apple’s gorgeous notebook design and its release of
OS/X, a consumer-deployed Unix with a gorgeous front end, I was hooked.
I talked my boss into the necessity of porting our company’s software to
OS/X and expensed the purchase. (Hey, I did do the port a week
after I got the box. =) )

I waited on edge for weeks for the laptop to arrive; I had bought it
through the Apple Developer Discount program, so it didn’t really cost
my company very much at all. Unfortunately, that meant that shipping
dates could range up to two months after the order was put in. Finally,
the box came. Having no interest in OS/9, I immediately plopped in the
OS/X CD to install a real operating system. Hurrah! A real laptop!

Urg, sort of.

The first generation DVD drives that Apple decided to slam into these
thin laptops were too thin. So thin that the CDs would grind up
against the roof of the drive and be unable to spin, making a horrendous
WHIZZAWHIZZAWHIZZAWHIZZA at around 100dB. A few coworkers from surrounding
cubes ducked their heads in: “Hey, what’s that sound?”

I had to very sheepishly explain to them that my brand new shiny toy had
shipped broken. Doh! I sent it back the very next day for repair. I didn’t
see it again for a month. So you can imagine how happy I was to finally
get it back: after three months of waiting, I had a functional laptop. =)

installing linux

Last weekend, I went to DEFCON, a computer security convention. A really surprising number of people there had Apple laptops, and a large portion of them were running Linux or OpenBSD on them! I thought “hey, I could do that, too!”…as soon as I got back home, I set off to triboot my computer between OS/X, Linux, and OS/9. (Even though I don’t care for OS/9 much, OS/X can’t play DVDs yet, and a lot of system updates (for the firmware, etc.) are released under OS/9 only.)

I grabbed the Debian PPC ISOs, but the installer was rather unfriendly and
kept puking on me, even when I put in the special boot-options to tell it
to use the OpenFirmware graphics only. Whenever I got to the partition part,
it would tell me I had partitions that were hundreds of gigabytes large.
If I tried to format any partitions, it would crawl, a sector every other
second, through what it claimed to be billions of sectors. I gave up after
five hours and decided to do some more research.

I looked a bit at LinuxPPC, but was told that it’s pretty wildly unstable and uncomfortable. YellowDog 2.0 had been getting some positive vibes from the people I consulted with, so I downloaded the ISO and burned myself an install CD.

Separately, I had been having issues running “Classic” (OS/9) from within
OS/X, and I was told it was a very good idea to have them on separate
partitions. I backed up my handful of interesting data on the box, wiped
my partition table using the disk utility that came with my Titanium’s
“Software Restore” CD, and allocated four partitions: 3Gb for OS/9, 11Gb
for OS/X, 5.5Gb for Linux, and a 200Mb swap partition for Linux. As it turned
out, that was one too few! Yellow Dog Linux wanted an additional 10Mb “boot
partition”. Apple seems to create a whole bevy of little partitions, so it
ended up that my Linux root is on the 11th partition! Crazy. So
you need to allocate five partitions by hand to run the whole setup properly.

I reinstalled OS/9, ran Software Update to update my firmware and the OS,
installed OS/X, ran Software Update a few times, installed my OS/X development
environment and configured my laptop for NIS, and then proceeded to install
Linux. There were some issues with the YDL install, for sure (It died repeatedly
with weird errors when I tried to tell it what NIS domain I was in) and
only supported a text-mode install, but it seemed to generally go alright.

At the end of the install, I made the mistake of choosing to boot MacOS by
default, figuring I’d be presented with a little menu at boot of which
partition (OS/9, OS/X, Linux) I wanted to boot to. I reboot into OS/9. Whoops.

juggling multiple OSes

Incidentally, to get into Open Firmware, reboot, wait for the reboot noise
to finish, then quickly press (in order) Apple-Option-O-F. Many guides
get this wrong and tell you to hold down all four buttons as you are rebooting.
You really have to depress them (in order) right after the reboot to get into
Open Firmware. It really weirded me out that Open Firmware is a Forth
interpreter. Damn it, you’re not supposed to be able to interactively program
your computer at the BIOS level! =) Freaky.

It’s good to memorize what partitions your OSes are on. For me, it was easy.
OS/9 was on partition 9, OS/X on partition 10, and Linux on 11. So in Open
Firmware to boot into OS/9 I’d type boot hd:9,\:tbxi. To boot
into OS/X: boot hd:10,\:tbxi, and to boot into Linux:
boot hd:11,\yaboot. (OS/9 and OS/X use “:tbxi” as their loader,
whereas Linux uses “yaboot“.) I now could boot into any of three operating
systems on my computer! All of them work perfectly! I’ve even got sound under
Linux! (Although sleeping is a little buggy still…)

It gets stranger yet: in OS/X you can run OS/9. It’s called “Classic mode”.
In Linux, you can also run OS/9 – it’s called Mac-On-Linux.
This will let you run MacOS on PowerPC Linux really fast (it’s not
having to emulate anything. It just runs the OS directly!) So you can run
your different OSes inside each other. =) XDarwin lets your run (and compile) X/Windows programs on OS/X, just to keep things interesting. Oh, and then there’s the GNU-Darwin ports collection with several thousand BSD packages for OS/X (and native Darwin). Whee!

Dave’s nifty Tip of the Day: in OS/X, type “>console” as your username at login to get a graphic-free login prompt! =)

More info later: the short of it is that tri-boot’s quite comfortably possible,
and it’s fun to run KDE 2.1 on your Titanium laptop! (And boy is it fast!)
Oh, and OS/X is cool, 95% POSIX-compliant (eck – almost there, guys!), and
has crappy man pages. All hopefully fixed soon, except for the
fsck’ing Alt-Tab issue (linear progression instead of recency stack!). Good
job overall, though!

Later! =)

Author: dweekly

I like to start things. :)