Flight of the Phoenix – Linux on PowerMac G3 and G4

Flight of the Phoenix (1965 dir Robert Aldrich)

Flight of the Phoenix (1965) is a rollicking good adventure yarn about a group of heroic failures whose plane crashes in the desert and they attempt to build a new one from the leftovers. It’s a great film and I highly recommend it, although please don’t bother with the bizarre, homoerotic and Hollyoaks-esque 2004 remake.

Here is some detail about my ongoing quest to bequeath a new lease of life to old, wilderness-bound PowerPC-based Macintosh computers.

Having successfully installed Ubuntu 8.04.1 on a blue-and-white G3 (see video), a few days later it refused to boot either from the internal hard drive or the boot CD. I have three other similar G3s and they all refused to boot from the CD. One of them just sat there, making a metallic flapping sound. I still don’t know why.

In a slight aside, sometimes both the G3s and G4s just refuse to start up. No lights, no action, no nothing. A couple of tips I picked up somewhere are 1) try pulling the clock battery and 2) unplug it a leave it for an unspecified amount of time. Both seem to have succeeded for me on occasion.

So, after an initial success, I couldn’t get any of the G3s to boot from the 8.04.1 CD ROM. So I tried the 6.06 Dapper Drake disk and this installed successfully.

However, when I tried to install gPhoto2 and FFMpeg, it could not find the repositories. I guess it’s old and they’ve all moved. However, the G3 would now boot from the 8.04.1 Hardy Heron alternate install disk and I successfully upgraded the system to 8.04.1.

Linux MintPPC seems to have many successful installations but I couldn’t get it to work.

At this point I bet you’re thinking “I’m sorry, but just remind me why you’re telling me all this.”

It’s a long story, but the upshot is that I have a load of old Macs that are doing nothing and I’d like to put them to work. However, Apple OS X has abandoned them although there is life in the old monkeys yet. It’s not just about Macs though, and I have work for lots of computers. Linux is platform-independent and has some very valuable, although almost invisible and ambiguously documented, resources that can be pressed into service. And, in the spirit of open-source, I’m publishing the information as I go along.

I’d like to use the blue-and-white G3s to capture timelapse images from Canon Powershot cameras and for the G4s to collate those images into movies. Although they do not have the horse-power to play the movies back, they do have the monkey-power to capture, collate and compress the stills into usable files that can either be transferred to another playback device, or uploaded to the internet. To this end, I’m testing which systems will work on these old machines and writing shell scripts. Having dismissed the use of MacPorts on OS X (on pre-Intel machines), the next stage will be to write some scripts and test the performance of Linux-based utilities.


Ubuntu 8.04.1 seems viable on blue-and-white G3s, and I have successfully installed FFMpeg, gPhoto2 and ImageMagick.

Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx seems viable on G4s, and I have successfully installed FFMpeg, gPhoto2 and ImageMagick.

Stay tuned for performance comparisons and some actual code.

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