Got any old iMacs laying around?

Got any old iMacs laying around?

Summary: You know the ones I'm talking about. The candy-colored ones that live forever, even as you're hoping they'll die so you can replace them with something that will run OS X?


You know the ones I'm talking about. The candy-colored ones that live forever, even as you're hoping they'll die so you can replace them with something that will run OS X? A few can be upgraded, but OS X is really made for something a bit, well, snappier. Instead of wishing for them to die, though, why not just install Ubuntu on them?

Ubuntu 8.04.1 is the latest and greatest from Canonical and isn't officially supported on older PowerPC hardware (Canonical has moved to AMD and Intel architectures exclusively). However, a community-supported version is available. The torrent for the text-based installer can be downloaded here. Don't bother with the Live CD version; it exists, but the graphics hardware on most of these machines just isn't up to the task.

My test machine was a 400MHz G3 iMac with 512MB of RAM and a 10.3 GB hard drive. The good news is that it works. The bad news is that it's fairly slow (no kidding, right?). The install only took about 45 minutes (not terrible for this processor), booting into the OS took a couple of minutes, and the rest was fairly smooth. The real value here is that students get an up-to-date web browser capable of running the latest Flash and multimedia applications and have 3.0. In many cases, even running slower than lightning speed, these are all students need. OS 9.1 or 9.2 that's running on on most of these old iMacs simply can't provide these tools.

I'll report back on student impressions once I get a whole lab running. We have a woefully underfunded alternative program that needs a computer lab; looks like they'll be getting some candy-colored Ubuntu-running iMacs.

Topics: Operating Systems, Apple, Hardware, Software

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • interesting

    I'm going to download that torrent when I get home since our firewall blocks all torrent access at work. This might be an option for us to use to possibly sell the equipment we previously thought was so out of date no staff members would buy them for family or friends to use. Thanks, good luck with the new position and keep posting!
  • RE: Got any old iMacs laying around?

    So you want users to move from a slightly outdated OS to a completely useless and nonfunctional outdated OS? I hope the owners of these iMacs are smarter than that.
    Loverock Davidson
    • I wish you were smarter than that

      Useless OS? This kind of rhetoric really is why we can never have a meaningful debate on these forums. I'm a ASP.NET developer, so obviously I'm not anti-Microsoft, but I'm also smart enough to realize that Ubuntu isn't a useless OS. Your comments are though!
      • I am

        Ubuntu is a useless OS. Ask the people that have made the feeble attempt to install it and failed. I have highlighted the many problems with it many times on here.
        Loverock Davidson
        • No such problems here

          I have installed it on three separate real systems, including a laptop, and a virtual machine without any problems whatsoever. The only problem I had was with a USB Linksys wireless adapter which I couldn't get working. The rest of the systems installed all devices automatically during the OS installation process.

          BTW: The Ubuntu installation process rivals that of Vista in simplicity.

          The same arguments you are making have also been levied against Vista and neither are accurate.
          • Right, sure you haven't

            I'm pretty sure you have. Linux doesn't just roll out of the box. It takes a lot of configuration to get the harddrives partitioned, selecting which packages to install, getting it to just boot up, and then spending hours configuring it it if you were lucky enough to get it boot up.

            Now with that being said, what does an article about Macs and linux have to do with Vista? Absolutely nothing. Ah the envy.
            Loverock Davidson
          • You totally miss the point!

            My comments relate to Vista because both Vista and Ubuntu are incredibly easy to install and configure. I am a Windows developer and I enjoy Vista. I believe it's the best PC operating system currently available.

            That being said, it doesn't mean Ubuntu is crap. I'm not really even sure why I'm bothering to answer you though because you don't exactly seem like someone who is capable of carrying on a constructive conversation.
          • Tiggster, welcome to the funhouse...

            ...where shills like Loverock and the absolutely inimitable
            Mike Cox manage to troll anyone foolish enough to think
            "they can't REALLY believe that, can they?" It doesn't matter
            whether they do or don't; they get their jollies from getting
            normal folks' knickers in a knot - which Mike's "MS rep"
            will then sell you a "solution" for.

            Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, tore it up to use for
            dust-rags so my shiny new Apple kit stays that way and
            the older Linux boxes don't go the way of my first/last Dell
            (dust+power supply+power = spectacularly voided
            Jeff Dickey
        • For highlights...

          You have to go to Mike Cox. Sadly, you're not even a pale imitation. Or are you still in recovery from the complete lack of spanking of the EC by Microsoft and all of that. Or is it that you can't work out how to buy an iPhone?
        • Troll?

          You obviously are trolling. I have Ubuntu either directly on or (via Wubi) part of four machines. It works on all of them: 2 Dells, one new HP (dual boot with Vista) and and old HP Laptop.
          Now I am going to put it on my old iMac as well.

          A poor experience on your part does not represent the true state of affairs.
    • Ignore the troll

      Always the same drivel. Is there any way to roundfile this guy's comments?
  • a few years ago

    When I tried to do this a few years ago, obviously with older versions of Ubuntu, I found this to be a painful process. Maybe it is better now, but I wouldn't recommend it for Linux newbies.
  • OS X

    runs just fine on those old iMacs. I ought to know, I was running
    Tiger on a G3/400 grape iMac DV, and Panther on an old G3/333
    lime iMac.

    I tried Linux on both of them. OS X ran better. Much better.

    Oh, and just to forestall in inevitable: Even OS X 10.3.9 is a more
    advanced operating system in terms of usability than the latest
    • Question

      Brought up by an exchange I had earlier with J. M. Galvin: I have an old Power iMac (probably a G3, but I don't feel like looking at the moment) which runs OSX 10.1. Looks like it is your opinion that 10.3, at least, will run just fine on it, but according to Galvin, it's only distributed on DVD (my box doesn't have a DVD drive). How would I go about doing the upgrade? External DVD drive?

      I'm still toying with the idea of BSDing it.
      John L. Ries
      • 10.3 CD

        10.3 comes on CD (10.4 CD's can be had too - just takes about a month to install if you do it from CD)
        • Thanks

          Don't know which way I'm going at this point, but thanks to the Mac fans for your help.
          John L. Ries
    • Don't go bowling with them yet!

      I frequently install 10.3.9 on these (with the 400 CPU / 512 MB RAM - any less is beggining for the beach ball IMO). As long as you don't need software that requires newer they aren't bad at all.

      Never tried any of the *nix builds but one of these with those specs and that OS can do most normal tasks, has full network functionality - and it will have full support for the OS9 dinosaur apps the teachers can't quit using!
    • Cost of OS

      I would love to try OSX on my old iMac. I paid $130 for it with only 10 hours of run time. But how much will the OS cost me? Right now I have OS 9.xx and Microsoft Office ( which I found for $1.99 at Goodwill!)

      I hate to spend more for the OS and programs than the Mac cost!
      That's another reason why I might try the Ubuntu. Does any source sell the slightly older versions of OSX at surplus prices?
      • Why change?

        Other than running newer software, the old OS is fine, really. But your best bet for an old 10.3 might be a friend who wants to help...
        But search for OS 10.3 in Amazon, there are a few in the under $70 area, and a few of the mac places like should have something for around the same price.

        As much as I like Ubuntu, I wasn't very happy with it on these old iMacs, Ubuntu is very much a modern OS and likes good, fast hardware. There are fast Linuxes out there for old hardware, but not much in the way of the PPC you need. You'd be better off getting an old P3 sytem for $50 and throwing Vector Linux on it, than trying most Linuxes on an iMac.
    • Well...

      I find Ubuntu very usable, personally, and since I have no Mac app software of my own, OS X is pretty useless to me, other than Pac the Man X, browsing and email, (does Mac Mail still work? If not you could go Gmail or Thunderbird, I suppose...). At least my 20" iMac doesn't keep reverting to its lowest brightness setting when booted to Kubuntu, as it does with Leopard. And yes, I've tried every fix I can find on the 'net. Thank goodness for rEFIt!

      But I have tried Linux of various types as well on these old iMacs, and I truly agree with you, it's miserable. OS X is the way to go with them.