Recycling that old iMac G3 with Ubuntu

Recycling that old iMac G3 with Ubuntu

In 1998 Apple released what in my opinion, saved the Apple Computer market, they released the iMac.  This computer started a huge change in the computer market and introduced powerful but beautiful machines into our homes and created a fair few, brand new Apple fanboys… and girls.  What a shame they’re 11 years old now and really no use to us now… or are they?

The Rebirth of Cool... again.

I was 10 years old when the iMac was released and I was already a computer nerd so could appreciate a great many things about the iMac that were real game changers.  The first point was obvious.

A computer was always easily identified by two large beige boxes.  One of those boxes would be a large CRT monitor (as flat screen monitors were too expensive and under developed to be the norm) and one would be the actual computer which either sat under the monitor on the desk, or stood as a tower on the floor.  Even now, most desktop computers consist as this tower and monitor style though you’ll find it difficult to find one in beige, in fact, if I gave you a thousand pounds and sent you out into the city to buy a new model beige desktop PC, I’d let you keep the change and the PC if you found one.

The iMac contained the whole computer in one unit, in fact, at first glance most people assumed it to be just a monitor with speakers built in.  At closer inspection though, this monitor had a CD drive on the front of it and ports for the keyboard and mouse to plug into on the sides.  There was no tower.  And this thing was anything but beige.

iMac Flower Shot
This thing was anything but beige.

While Apple claimed that the i in iMac stood for Internet and also I as in the pronoun, the real meaning for this letter was not missed by the design community, the i in iMac stood for Jonathan Ive, the head designer at Apple who as it happens, is now Sir Jonathan Ive after being knighted as part of the Queen’s New Year Honours list and it was Ive’s design that really opened people’s eyes to Apple.

Having a whole machine in one unit wasn’t new to Apple, in fact, the first Apple Macintosh computer was an all in one.  What Ive did was to make the damn thing look good!  iMacs were colourful, rounded, even the mouse was circular, these things looked good.  This was a game changer but one of many.  That sexy looking body caught your attention, now look closer and take a look at what else is new.  I remember the total shock that people had when they realised there was no floppy disk drive.  Apple knew that these things were not going to be needed soon and so did what many were avoiding, they took it out of their computer.  Then they did something big, USB.  Every iMac came with two USB ports with an extra one on your keyboard and that was it, Apple had set the standard.  These computers were great, they didn’t take up as much room as a conventional computer and they didn’t need to be hidden away from your interior designer.

Now of course, we all have a good looking computer, whether you’re running PC or mac.  Hell, my desktop computer is golden, the front of it designed to resemble a classic Nokia mobile phone.  We all learnt a lesson in design with the iMac but it was a daring step, they did look pretty radical and perhaps, after several different versions, the current iMacs on the market aren’t quite as exciting to look at.  But then, times have changed haven’t they, 1998 was fourteen years ago and now it’s 2012.  Well I’ve still got my old iMac, and I don’t want to throw it out.

Bringing the iMac G3 back to life

New iMacs are a very different creature now, they have Intel processors in them just like Windows computers.  Those old original iMacs had PowerPC G3 processors.  These are a very different chip, they run differently, they’re built differently.  Today, you can install Windows on an Apple computer, back then, you couldn’t, the PowerPC chip just isn’t able to run it.  That isn’t because it wasn’t a good chip, it’s because it just runs in a different way than what Windows was made for.  But as things have moved on, now even Apple’s own software won’t run on it either.

The last three versions of Apple’s Mac OS X have been for Intel computers only, Apple turned its back on all those people who had bought computers from them in the past and told them, “if you want to keep up with us, you’ve got to buy a whole new computer.”

My iMac G3 was left with Mac OS X Tiger as it’s final upgrade, after that, it was left to rot, abandoned.  Apple kept making new operating systems: Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion… my iMac got nothing.  People made software for new Apple Operating Systems, Firefox, Microsoft Office… my iMac started gathering dust as I started using newer machines that could run software that it was too old for.

Firefox doesn't get made for old Mac OSX

And why should they make software for it?  There’s no good reason for a software company like Mozilla to bring out it’s brand new Firefox 9 for Mac OS X Tiger or earlier when everyone is using newer computers.  But I’ll tell you something, Firefox 9 can still run on my iMac G3, just as long as it’s running something better than Tiger, it’s just not made by Apple.

There are still modern, up to date operating systems being made that work just fine on the PowerPC architecture and if you’re feeling brave, you should take a look at them because through Linux, you can recycle that old computer that you had given up on and give it a new lease of life!

This weekend gone, I’ve given my iMac a copy of Ubuntu and I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not just running programs that Tiger couldn’t run, it’s running faster!

My iMac G3 Running Firefox 9 on Ubuntu 10.04
My iMac G3 Running Firefox 9 on Ubuntu 10.04

Installing Ubuntu on iMac G3

Installing Ubuntu Linux on these machine is actually pretty straight forward thanks to the Ubuntu Community who see to the release of PowerPC compatible Live CDs for it.  Though there are more up to date versions you can get (and feel free to try them), I chose to use version 10.04 which is the official Long Term Support version.  In other words, the only one that the folks who make Ubuntu feel is as bug free as it should be.

You can download yourself a copy of Ubuntu 10.04 LTS at this here link that will work on your iMac’s Power PC G3 processor.

There is a bug!

Ubuntu won’t work straight off the disk with the iMac G3 as it can’t quite cope with the graphics on board, resulting in a blank screen.  It’s easy to fix though, just make sure that at the first prompt after booting your machine from the CD, you don’t just type “live” like it suggests, type “live video=ofonly” and then hit enter.

This will start Ubuntu in Low Graphics mode.  Once you’re in, double click to install Ubuntu on the hard drive.  Once you’re done, you’ll want to fix that graphics problem properly, it’s easy to do, just create a text file and copy the text found at this little linky into it.  Now save that file at /etc/X11/xorg.conf and reboot your machine.  Done, you can now get installing all your new software like Firefox 9.  Be warned, there’s a few things that won’t want to be installed on a PowerPC chip, like Chrome for instance but you’ll still get a lot more on there then you were able to before.  Happy recycling.


Published byapbarratt

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