Linux And Hope For The "Obsolete" Mac


#1

Through my experiments with the Project MacBook Oreo (which didn’t end up Oreo, because I’ve been more interested in having a fully functional computer for this trip to Vietnam), I’ve been able to really thoroughly explore the modern usability of mainstream Linux distros. While the fanciest of distros most often compared to macOS (like Deepin, whether as its own distro or as the desktop environment in a distro like Manjaro) may be too much for older hardware, there are an awful lot of choices. Of the ones I tried about two or three months back, I found Linux Mint to be the best.

I know this will not come to a surprise to many of you and you won’t think this is some grand revelation. People have been putting Linux on Macs for a long time. Indeed, I have been doing it for quite some time. But I always found functionality lacking. Eventually, there was just too many compromises for a Linux machine to be my daily driver. I feel this has now absolutely changed. We’re not quite near “just works” yet, but we’re starting to get close for well understood Machines, like the 2006-2012 or so MacBook line, intel Mac Minis, etc.

Linux Mint 19 Tara 64bit and 32bit just dropped and 64 bit has been installed on my 2008 MacBook White. This MacBook White has 2.4GHz processor with 4GBs of RAM (it can go up to 6GB, I believe, which is still considerable for a “work” computer) with a 60GB SSD. in 2018, no computer should be running an operating system on a mechanical drive. It’s just painful.

I was already impressed with Linux Mint 18.3 Sylvia and how much I could with it. I could do almost everything I needed to do and do it efficiently. There were still a few things which I couldn’t get to run. Some of that had to do with the fact I was running the 32bit version and not the 64bit version, but some of it was issues just inherent in the driver support, which was quite iffy at times. With tweaks, I was able to come to a compromise in regards to issues around graphics and wireless, but both caused me to learn routines which were clearly less than ideal. Wireless would need consistent, manual reconnection, and screen-tearing was an issue outside of old Chrome versions and tweaked VLC.

These issues have largely been resolved in Tara. A new Broadcrom driver has fixed the wireless issues, and a new graphics driver has fixed the issue with the screen tearing. It no longer exists at all, and Chromium, Firefox, and media playback all work flawlessly. Skype, Slack, LINE all work. Mailspring is a great competitor to Apple Mail. LibreOffice went through a big version change and is much better than it was, and is fully compatible with Office and very similar to the iWork group of programs. So far I have duplicated nearly every app I can think of, either by having a Linux version or a substitute, and I have successfully had about four classes I taught using Linux Mint. I’m not as good at GIMP as I am at Photoshop, so it may take practice, but so far I have used it to do basic editing tasks. It even does 1080p video editing in Kdenlive!

At this point, all that remains to the user experience inside the OS is small tweaks. Tara broke functionality with the Traffic Light macOS like window buttons and I need to find a substitute. I still need to install a global menu, but these are tiny issues that really do not affect overall use efficiency. Japanese input works just fine, important given how much writing I do in Japanese and that this is a Japanese keyboard.

So what compromises am I still making? Well, after Linux Kernal 4.14 (we are now on 4.15) I encountered a boot error issue. As the error keeps being confronted boot time slows to a crawl until Linux finally gives up and bypasses it. A similar issue occurs when going from the login screen to the desktop. This is a well known issue, and I’m working through the common fixes. Once at the desktop though, the SSD is just as fast as you would expect, and this doesn’t feel like a 10 year old MacBook at all. It’s perfectly snappy. Linux Mint even has figured out how to do multi-touch and tap gestures on the trackpad. I don’t need to use the physical button, it feels just like my 2012 in practice.

The second compromise is that onboard camera and mic still don’t work. I don’t consider this much of a compromise, because both are of way too low quality for 2018. I have an external 1080p Logitech/Logicool webcam with a bi-directional and rather large microphone. It’s what I have often used for my union meetings to broadcast an entire room to online attendees. It works perfectly. The internal speakers are still in great condition, to my non-audiophile ears (loud and clear, will fill a room), but of course a good set of headphones or external speakers (including bluetooth) would maybe not be remiss.

The screen is a definite compromise. This thing is definitely washed out in comparison to modern vivid displays. Its highest resolution and its pixel density are definitely not comparable to MacBook unibodies let alone anything newer. Compared to a few hundred dollars spent on a cheapo windows laptop? Not bad. For me, editing animation would not be vivid enough, but editing video blogs for YouTube or vacation videos would probably be okay. I wouldn’t want to do any heavy photo editing either, but remember, that’s not the role I needed this computer to play. I have a Mac Pro for that.

The verdict? This is a low-end 2018 laptop at worst. It feels better than that to me and quite comparable to my MacBook Pro 2012 which had a 2.4hz i5. This 2008 MacBook White still feels modern because of a combination of the timeless unity of Apple design (it would look even more modern if it was a 2008 MacBook Black, I think) and the modern look, feel, and functionality of the Linux Mint operating system. For a work and school computer, this is a not just adequate, it’s excellent.

Modern Linux distributions, combined with simple RAM and SSD upgrades bring older Intel Macs into the modern day and will extend the life of these machines considerably. There is absolutely no reason to give your child/teen a modern $2000 MacBook when you can do this. There may be no reason for you to upgrade, I don’t think I will. I think it’s clear that my experiment here in Vietnam has been a success. I will go back to Japan and into my normal teaching regimen with my MacBook White, and if it gets damaged or stolen, I’m out $100 and not $1000.


#2

Good write up. Looks great. Linux desktops on older hardware is coming along very quickly. Some really good stuff being done of late.


#3

Does it still work OK on Kernel 4.14.If so use that till updates fix the problem.Have you tried Debian Linux.Linux Mint used to have their own version of Debian.


#4

4.14 is where the problems started.

4.13, .12, and .10 were working under 18.3, but I had a clean install for Tara and thus lost my kernel archive. I’d have to figure out how to manually install the 4.13 or lower, I guess?

I used Debian way back in 2000 in university, but haven’t used pure Debian in a long time. I’m looking for the best approximation of “Just works” possible, because I’d like to see about using these things in my classroom, but you know I have to pay for it myself because worldwide the state of public ed is what it is and… that’s another topic for another day (or forum).


#5

Pay for what? Since Linux is free :slight_smile:


#6

Kionon…When you boot up there should be options to go back to previous kernel


#7

Only if its still installed. Typically as you upgrade the older kernel packages get removed.


#8

What purana said. As I said I have no archives of previous kernels that avoided the boot issue because they got wiped when I did a fresh install that comes with 4.15.

@purana pay for the polycarbonate MacBooks.


#9

I threw one out. Tried to get Linux running on it and had endless issues. So tossed it. Oops :wink:

You need to find a copy of the older ISO/release that you installed with… and prior to upgrading it - pin the kernel package at the release you want to stick with… it will limit your upgrade path but would enable machine to work like it did. You can also take the working kernel configuration from that kernel, grab latest kernel source and apply that config to the latest one and compile latest kernel to see if that enables the latest kernel to still run okay. This would get very complicated for a newbie - besides no one really compiles kernels these days. Everyone just installs package manager version that comes with the linux distribution as they become available. I can remember downloading the latest kernel, merging my config to the latest kernel source. Waiting for the compile to finish so I could apply it and boot with it. Long time ago now :wink:


#10

Shame. If it was dead, it was dead, but if it was mechanically sound, this makes me sad.


#11

Not a newbie, been using Linux since the late 90s. I can sudo plenty fine, but that’s not really the purpose of this experiment. My 12 year olds are probably not going to learn to compile tarballs.


#12

As far as this is concerned, these are intel PCs. The biggest problem only ever was really understanding how to use the EFI and a bootloader on a Mac with a computer that has firmware rather than a bios.

The real compromise comes when you try to run Linux on a PPC Mac. In some senses its great that you can because you can run a modern operating system with modern software packages and modern security updates. There is always a however though. That is that with PPC Macs your already twice a lepper. You’re running Linux on a Mac and on a PPC computer. The arch has specific issues meaning that your computer is not compatible with other PPC computers from either IBM or Amiga. This means that the general sense is that the software catalogue sucks.

On the other hand, so long as you stay within the realms of Intel, Broadcom, Nvidia and etc you get fairly good Linux support. Moreover, you get the full library from free software repositories that use intel based sources. With a distro such as Ubuntu you don’t even have to compile anything anymore. Or at least if you do its not very often.

Linux is at the stage where it just works and its not that dissimilar to using a Mac on OS X. The file system structure is actually very much the same. You just don’t get the drag and drop functionality of having precompiled packages very often, and most things require an installer.


#13

This is all true. That said, however, there was a time (late 90s, early 00s) where Linux on a standard Intel set up still wasn’t ready for prime time and couldn’t REALLY be used by the average user for average uses. When I was in university, I ran three different computers. One was Debian, and that was my apache server, because my university was silly enough to give us STATIC IPs in the dorms until they caught me hosting my video projects and abusing bandwidth, I had a windows desktop for video editing in Premiere 6.x, and I had a windows laptop for my minimal student needs.

This was long enough ago that bringing a laptop to class was still very rare and many professors wouldn’t allow it. Everyone had some kind of computer, even if it was a desktop back in the dorm, but this was a far cry from All The Students Have MacBooks era which we started living in about 8 or so years ago…

Linux 18 years ago was NOT ready for prime time. Linux today basically is with Ubuntu variants.


#14

I know somewhere that still has a few sitting around, and probably looking to get rid of them. Whether they’re working or not, I’m not sure, but I can always ask.


#15

@iMic Yeah, but probably not worth the shipping to Japan. I can get them in Japan easily enough. They’re not getting any more expensive…


#16

My first Linux installation that I used that I installed myself was Redhat Linux 5.1. Back then Red Hat was the big thing. You would still have to open up a terminal session and manually communicate with your ISP to get onto the internet. There was no stack and dialer for Linux yet.

I’ve been on and off the Linux train ever since. I would say Linux has been usable since the times of Gnome 2 and KDE 3. It just wasn’t common place. Projects like Unity make Linux about as usable as a Mac running OS X.

Redhat 5.1 running Open Step was fun.


#17

Yup, I remember those days, and the first distro I used was also Red Hat, and it was 5.2 I think… After that I tried Mandrake, and I think after that was when I settled on Debian. Later I would use Knoppix until going wholesale into OS X. I’d say Linux in the early to mid 00s was unusable to me for most daily tasks, especially video editing. Cinelerra was the only real option and it was crap. KDEnLive is very competitive with older versions of Premiere, which is fine by me.


#18

I keep forgetting you’re located in Japan. I’ll see if I can rescue them and send them off to good homes then either way, even if it’s just for the whole “feel good” experience of knowing they didn’t end up scrapped.

Also this thread makes me want to experiment with Linux again. I have a 2010 11" MacBook Air kicking around at work, 2GB RAM so not enough to run modern versions of macOS, but sufficient for Elementary. It has excellent hardware support for MacBooks as well, last I checked.


#19

Yeah, and actually I am in Vietnam as well. I settled on this community (well, MacTalk originally) for two reasons that 1) I used to live in Sydney and 2) my experiences with Apple forums catering to Americans was such that they were elitist snobs. You guys weren’t.


#20

It depends what you define as usable. Put mum and dad in front of a word editor and an internet suite using Open Office, and Mozilla/Firefox and Linux has been usable for almost 20 years. Of course if you need to use specialised apps that’s another story. In the last 10years WINE and WINE Skins have come a long way as has virtualisation for the software you absolutely must have and it sure beat out this footage from 1998.

It was around the same time in 1998 that I started playing with Yellow Dog Linux and Open Firmware hacking so that I could boot it. I would say Yellow Dog was an example of a truly unusable operating system back then for desktop purposes.