Linux for the PowerPC Architecture

Copyright Daryl Moulder, June 2000

Machines that Can Run PowerPC Linux

Reasons for Using PowerPC Linux over MacOS

Current PowerPC Distributions

Booting PowerPC Linux

Method 1: BootX

This method is the most common one used on PowerPC Macintoshes with old style firmware (i.e., non G3 Power Macs). Bootx masquerades as a MacOS extension which will reboot with the Linux open firmware settings if the Linux OS is chosen. In the screenshot Linux is chosen by default, but the default can be changed by pressing the tab key.

Another feature of bootx is it allows you to chose a kernel from a number of kernels stored on a Macintosh HFS partition in the Linux Kernels folder stored in the System Folder. If one does not know what type of video is in the machine the No video driver can be selected. The root device is the partition that Linux needs to boot from which is also specified here.

Just like LILO additional kernel arguments can be specified, in this example the video hardware and video settings has been declared.

Method 2: YaBoot

YaBoot is used on machines using the New World ROM (G3 and later). Because I have an old Macintosh I am unable to say much about it or provide a screenshot but if anyone here has used it feel free to say something about it. YaBoot can also be coupled with ybin which can install YaBoot from a Linux partition.

Method 3: Quik

This method is used on non Apple machines that are not Apple clones (CHRP and PReP machines) and old world ROM PowerMacs (i.e., those which use a hardware ROM). Closest equivalent to LILO. The booting mechanism is built into the kernel by setting the open firmware variables.

More About Booting

More information about booting a PowerPC Linux box can be found here.

Advantages and Disadvantages of LinuxPPC


Hardware is standard (on Macintoshes at least) so most things are already configured for the underlying hardware. On installation all that has to be set up is to use pdisk (same functionality as fdisk) or the Apple partitioning software to create a partition for Linux. The partition type that PowerPC Linux uses is A/UX which is the old apple unix type.

Don't have to worry about someone pressing the eject button before the disk is unmounted. ;)

As shown in the Linux PPC boot section the booting for PowerPC Linux is much nicer and allows kernels of any size to be booted from a HFS partition (or /boot in the ext2 partition if using miBoot). I've had repeated trouble with Redhat on a Pentium 75 compressing the kernal to a small enough size with bzip to be booted on start up.


Lower support for closed source software. Just because something is available for Linux doesn't mean that it will run on a non Intel (or Intel compatible) platform.

Examples are:

This is not to say that there is no closed source commercial Linux support for PowerPC Linux; I have Myth2, Realplayer, Netscape and Civilization Call to Power on my hard disk, for example. It's just that due to the lesser amount of PowerPC Linux machines there is little incentive to port software. I believe that this will change in the future as the PowerPC platform becomes more popular.

At the moment there is very little 3D support for PowerPC Linux. The reason for Loki's later games not being ported to PowerPC Linux has been the lack of 3D support for the platform.

Some source code does not compile (e.g., hhexen), either because of the endianess of the processor or because there is some x86-specific machine code included in the program. Thankfully there are very few programs of this nature and most programs that come as source compile cleanly and have a package for them (rpm or dpkg).

Closed Source Programs On Linux PPC

There is some commercial support for PowerPC Linux, including:

Other information about commerical products can be found at Yellowdog's web site.

User Support

Most PowerPC Linux users buy books on Linux which do not have any specific documentation for their platform. Information about PowerPC Linux usually comes from the Internet.

Support for the PowerPC comes from these main sources:

Support can also be received by e-mailing the maintainer of the particular distribution that you are using.

Development of PowerPC Linux