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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Xtreme Beige G3 Makeover

I mentioned last week that my MacBook was going in for a new LCD. Well, it went as expected: I got to the Apple Store, they looked at it, and sent it off.

“How long?” I asked, already getting the shakes (it was an hour past lunch time and my sugar was crashing).

“Worst case, five to seven business days,” said the Genius. “We’ll ship it back.”

So my beloved Lapdancer went on to Memphis, and I went to get some lunch and tried to figure out how I was going to spend the next howmanyever days without a laptop. I decided it wasn’t like losing a limb… more like spraining an ankle; really painful, but it would be better in a week. I had some White Pickups stuff on Google Docs, and it worked with Mrs. Fetched’s G4 dualie, but it whined about the outdated Firefox. Then it hit me: I have a beige G3 in the room where DoubleRed sleeps, except that she’s been at her dad’s place for a while, and it has an old Linux on it — maybe I could update that to something more recent. I then wouldn’t have to worry about waiting for Mrs. Fetched to get stuff done, and The Boy and Snippet could use it to access Facebook and not have to bump me off my own laptop. Turned out the last time it had been used much was when Daughter Dearest’s pal from Norway came and wanted a Linux box so he could connect to the cluster under his bed back home… nearly a year and a half ago.

Looking at some of the options, I settled on Xubuntu as it combined at least “community” support for beige Macs and I found a how-to for getting it going. I burned a “live” CD Monday night, knowing it only worked on non-beige boxes, and the G4 dualie did a fine job of booting and displaying. Just for grins, I tried it in the beige box and it got as far as loading the RAMdisk and couldn’t find the CD. I downloaded and burned the “alternate” CD, which doesn’t try to do fancy stuff with graphics until after you have it installed, and found that the G3 wouldn’t even recognize it. I threw up my hands and went to bed.

Yesterday, I suddenly remembered that Daughter Dearest’s G4 PowerBook was laying around waiting for a new hard drive. I thought, why not just boot the live CD on that and use it? FAIL… I got it to boot after several attempts, but couldn’t get it to start the wireless interface. Not much use in having a laptop without wireless, especially when the place you’re using it doesn’t have easy Ethernet connectivity.

Then I remembered… Xubuntu is a Debian derivative, and I net-installed Debian on an ancient NEC laptop many years ago. Why not just net-install the G3? So I went hunting, found some directions, and soon had the beige box chugging away at the DSL and pulling down its packages. I decided to allocate a couple of existing Linux partitions to it, saving my old home directory, and let ’er rip. It ran on past 1 a.m., but that’s when I figured I could finish my end of it in the morning and went to bed.

Beige G3 displaying Xubuntu desktopAnd that’s exactly what I did. I had to copy the kernel and RAMdisk from the /boot directory back to the Mac partition, but that was fairly easy and I soon had it cleanly switching over to Linux. Firefox 3 is rather slow on this computer, mostly for typing, but I can type into a text editor and paste as needed. Snippet used it to check out her Facebook stuff and it did a fine job of pulling down and displaying pictures from her friends. “It’s a little slow,” she said, “but not that bad.” Considering this computer was new in 1998… not bad at all.

With the beige box now providing a reasonable backup for keeping up with my blog-buddies and getting some writing done, I decided to check the repair status of my MacBook. Lo and behold, they got it Monday, fixed it Tuesday, and put it on the plane for Wednesday delivery! It arrived back at the manor around 5 p.m. Apple replaced the LCD (still looked a little fuzzy, but it got better after a couple hours), the top cover, and cleaned the keyboard… it looks (and smells) like a new computer now, even being nearly three years old.

Now to get the PowerBook fixed.


  1. OOoh, ::drools over the geektasticness of it all::

  2. I don't know what you said, but it sure sounded interesting ;).

    Congratulations, though, on resuscitating the dinosaur so that you could use it while your laptop is in for repairs ;).

  3. Nice post you got here. I'd like to read more concerning that theme. Thank you for posting this data.

  4. Hey all! How's this for an update: trying to get rid of an error message, I've got the thing stuck in 800x600x24 instead of the desired 1024x768x16. Ah well, it's only $25 to max out the video RAM and that will likely be easier than restoring the error condition that had it working the way I wanted. :-P

    Maria, too bad you don't have a similar project computer to keep you occupied while you wait for the thaw. ;-)

    Thanks, Wendy. Lots of old hardware out there is still useful, it just needs a little help from time to time.

  5. Wow!! That's a flash-back to Byte Magazine & Jerry Pournelle in 1985/86 .... (substitute Linux for whatever was floating around back then CP/m -> DOS 2.1 ?

    (Joining Maria in a dooling swoon)


  6. Dang… I wish I knew 30 years ago that being a geek would make the women drool! :-D

  7. I can't BELIEVE you didn't know that!

  8. Heehee… I thought it was my good looks, and all this time it was the geekitude… *sigh* Ah, to have it to do all over again.

  9. Congratulations on getting the old box functional, Far. And I'll bet it's nice to have your regular laptop back in your lap! I'm considering a new hard drive for my old Compaq. Lately I've been carrying a 10 year old Sony laptop to work. Slow but it will handle the light duties fairly well.

  10. Hey Boran! Yeah, it's nice to have Lapdancer back. The screen was still fuzzy for a few days, but last night I came back to it and it was clear & sharp all over… just as I'd resolved to call AppleCare to send it back in.

    The Sony should work pretty well with a lightweight OS like what's now on the G3. I suspect the two machines have similar CPU horsepower, although I max'ed out the RAM on the G3 (to 768MB) long ago. You probably have specific software needs (still using Word Perfect?), so you'd have to choose your upgrades carefully though…

  11. When I came home from school this year with my old 1995 model Mac 7500, it was with the understanding that it would go. I wiped the 3 hard disks (totaling less than 1/2 a GB) in it, reinstalled the last OS version I had for it, stuffed it with as much software as I could still had for it, and sent it off to GoodWill. They were happy to have it.


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