Some weeks ago, my uncle that sells and fixes computers, Isaac, got a pair of old Power Macintosh 9500/180MP from a customer. His customer said that if he fixed one of them, the other would be his as payment. So he kind of fixed one of them and lent me the other, which means that I'm now going to play with both MacOS 8.0 and a Unix-like OS with it.

It came with two PowerPC 604e processors of 180MHz (or so the specs say), 64MB of RAM (where am I going to get more of it?), an ATI graphics card with 2MB of memory, and a 4-speed CD-ROM. It features two SCSI interfaces, an Ethernet adapter, a MacOS 8.0 CD, a keyboard and the (in)famous 1-button mouse from Apple.

It is the first dual-head machine over which I am able to get my greasy pawls. As welcome additionals, it is also the first time I get to play with a non-x86 machine in a System Administrator position (of course, I also use Solaris 2.x with my University's workstations, but that doesn't count, since I'm just a luser there).

The PowerPC machines are actually quite different from their ix86 counterparts. First of all, they don't have a BIOS setup, but you can interface with the hardware before any Operating System gets loaded with Open Firmware, which is written in FORTH. You should be able to get into OF pressing Command-Option-O-F while the machine chimes, or right after it chimes. But, to be honest, I still couldn't see the damned OF prompt, despite my numerous attempts and ways of pressing the combination of keys.

Anyway, the first task to make it work would, obviously, be to install MacOS 8.0 on this machine. Well, this sounds great, but my experience with it is a tiny bit different.

The first of the problems is that the machine doesn't boot while the HD is connected to it. Weird, huh? I agree. If, on the other hand, I disconnect the machine, put the MacOS CD on the CD drive, let MacOS start loading and immediately plug the power connector on the HD, then the machine will boot MacOS and see the HD, partition it and I am able to install MacOS on it. But on the next reboot, I am not able to get things working without disconnecting the power of the HD again.

Conformed to be working with the machine this way, I downloaded a huge load of ISO images for it, including the NetBSD port for PPC, the Debian 2.2r3 port for PPC, LinuxPPC 2000 Q4 and Yellow Dog Linux 2.0. I made sure the images I downloaded all had the right MD5SUMs and even used rsync on the images after I had downloaded them, just to make sure everything got alright.

Well, of all those images, the only one that booted on the Apple was the LinuxPPC 2000 Q4 image, which was quite frustrating. The Debian CDs that I burned (I burned two: one from a US site and another with non-US programs) didn't even boot, including boot floppies generated from them -- quite a shame, since that is, by far, my preferred operating system.

Anyway, back to LinuxPPC. Seeing the machine boot with a framebuffer with that little penguin holding a mug of beer and telling me many things about the hardware that I didn't even know is actually quite refreshing (no pun intended). After the kernel boots, an X installer is started, a little menu appears and things... ...STOP! That's right. After investigating a bit, I discovered that programs are segfaulting consistenly in a reboot, but in different reboots, the applications that segfault are not necessarily the same that segfaulted in previous reboots. This may be a hint that its memory is not OK, although I'm not so sure.

Anyway, I subscribed to the Debian PowerPC mailing list and I have been following it daily, learning a lot of things about PPC in general.

My faith is restored now that Ethan Benson has posted CVS-snapshots of the woody boot floppies on his page AND, with them, I can boot my machine.

I still have those problems with the HD, although its days are counted on this machine: I'll be soon getting a 2GB SCSI HD for it (I hope!), so that I can continue my journey of installing Debian potato/woody (or any other operating system!) on this machine. I can't wait to have the beautiful KDE 2.2, the highly anticipated Mozilla and the amazing qmail running on this machine (things that this machine designers never dreamt of running on this old machine).

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