What to do with an old G4 Mac

Like most people I hate being told how to spend any of my limited money. Especially in this economy. It seems every time Apple releases a major upgrade to their operating system a bunch of older computers are no longer supported.

Readers will recall I have a G4 Server in excellent condition. Granted I had to replace the CD drive with a DVD drive, but that was the only hardware change I had to make. In order to get the machine up and running I had to investigate what I could legally do with what I had. Someone gave me a copy of OS X 10.4 (the version purchased for the Mac Mini was tailored specifically for that machine). 10.4 works fine with the G4. 10.5 is apparently the newest version which will run on it. Considering we are up to 10.7 now I may see a 10.5 DVD coming my way soon. Regardless… The software which came with 10.4 is very much out of date. Replacing it with modern software will break the operating system. In essence I, or anyone else with a G4, is stuck.

Since there is nothing wrong with the machine itself, the thought was to set it up as a web server and have it do the job for which it was intended. There were some major changes after 10.4 so I investigated the possibilities. Readers can go over past articles at their leisure. Needless to say, there were some good alternatives but none of them were completely satisfying. After reading some newsgroup/usenet articles a couple of months ago I found a couple of suggestions which may have done the trick. I’ll just talk about the one I ended using.

It seems there are a couple of Linux distributions for PPC (G series Macs). The one I went with was Debian 6.0.1 (6.0.2 is out now). The installation was a little different than I expected. There are a couple important parts to keep in mind. To install a server on the machine, choose the expert installation. Otherwise it is fine to choose the normal installation. Second, when setting up the hard drive, leave the APPLE partition untouched and if using the entire hard drive separate the /home partition from the rest. After all that it is just a matter of selecting what is wanted. A server doesn’t need a GUI. Apparently the GUI determines if the installation is a desktop installation.

As an aside, the desktop installation is very good and very fast when up and running. The only difference compared to other Linux installations I can see is the administrator will want to consider if they want to use the default web browser or go with a separate installation of Firefox and Thunderbird.

In the case of a server, the software selection screen is near the end. The standard utilities as well as the server types should be checked. The GUI section should be unchecked. I had to install an ftp server (vsftpd) and configure it manually. There are very few surprises when performing a Debian installation.

The choice of Linux over OS X came down to one thing in my opinion. Can modern and up to date software be installed and run on the system? The answer is an emphatic yes. Since I was already familiar with Linux I knew the procedures for installing and updating the software using apt-get was very easy. Then again for a web server, having modern software is more important than it would be for a print server. Without the GUI there is a smaller load on the CPU and RAM so the machine operates faster. All that’s left is to set up accounts and set up some web pages…

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About the Author


Mike Pfaiffer was President of A.P.P.L.E. and also the president of Digital Civilization magazine, a monthly UNIX magaine. Mike wrote a number of articles for A.P.P.L.E. and sadly passed away 19 July 2013 at age 54. https://passages.winnipegfreepress.com/passage-details/id-205359/Michael_Pfaiffer