Friday, March 16, 2012

Installing Debian Linux on PPC Part IV - Configuring Stuff

[12/13/14: Updated to include information on Debian Jessie]

Once you've gotten past the login screen, you will likely be confronted with this as your desktop:

openbox default desktop

This is Openbox. Now take a minute to let your eyes adjust. I know the visual pizzazz is a bit overwhelming at first. The first thing you may notice is that middle-click brings down a desktop switcher menu and right-click brings down your root menu. The root menu starts off with very few items by default, so the first thing you want to do is add to it. Choose "Terminal emulator" from the root menu, then enter "obmenu".

Now just play with the editor and save changes. Add new items, then fill in the fields for label and execution command (usually the application's name, all lower case). To add a Debian menu with all your applications, install menu-xdg and then select "Reconfigure" from the root menu. Also, here's a nice video tutorial for adding a dynamic applications menu with icons (must have build-essential installed). For further creativity, you can add shortcuts for sleep, logout, restart, and shutdown. Instructions for that are here under "1. Shutdown and reboot with administrative privileges," though it lacks the logout option, which in Openbox is "sudo openbox --exit". That whole guide is a great resource for Openbox in general.

You can further spruce up your desktop by setting a wallpaper with feh and adding "sh ~/.fehbg &" to your autostart file (see Autostart on Login below). You can manage themes, fonts, and icons with LXAppearance, though you still may notice some things missing, like a taskbar, dock, and desktop icons. And that's the beauty of Openbox. You can add all those yourself, like your own favorite taskbar instead of the one handed to you by the Desktop Environment Gods. Or in low memory configurations, you can stick with the root menu, desktop switcher, and Openbox's Exposé-like keyboard shortcuts, because when push comes to shove that's really all you need.

Now the rest:

Monitor Calibration
Swap Command and Control Keys
CPU Frequency Scaling
Speed Tweaks
Lock Screen
Launchers, Docks, and Panels
Desktop Icons
Other Desktop Tools
Playing DVDs
GTK Themes
Shadows & Transparency
Autostart on Login
Clean Caches


If sound isn't working out of the box, there are several steps you can take, and Jessie users have a few additional challenges.

First, install the packages that provide sound utilities:

sudo aptitude install alsa-base alsa-utils

Then run alsamixer in a terminal window. Jessie users, if it fails to open the mixer, try adding "snd-aoa-i2sbus" to /etc/modules and reboot. If it still fails, skip a couple of paragraphs down to the hardware detect bug.

If, on the other hand, alsamixer opens, try unmuting the Master Volume by selecting it and pressing the "m" key, and then turn it up with the up-arrow-key. Unmute the Headphone and Speaker options, though if you have external speakers plugged in, keep the Speaker option muted to disable your internal speakers. Also, if you see a PCM level, turn that up to 75%. I read in an Ubuntu forum that a PCM level above that gives you distortion.

If you're still not getting sound, make sure "snd-powermac" is in your /etc/modules file if you're using an older Mac. Newer PPC Macs like aluminum Powerbooks and G5s use the "snd-aoa" modules. There's more on that at Ubuntu's PowerPCFAQ, including how to fix a bug that blacklists(!) your snd-aoa modules.

Jessie users, if you still can't open alsamixer you're probably suffering from a hardware detect bug in the new kernel that seems to afflict mostly iBooks. Your only choices are to compile new kernel modules (detailed somewhat opaquely in this Ubuntu thread) or boot from Wheezy's 3.2.0-4 kernel that doesn't have the bug. If you upgraded from Wheezy, then you already have the old kernel in your /boot directory and can go to this Ubuntu post detailing how to tell Yaboot to boot into it. If you're on a clean Jessie install, you need to install the old kernel by adding (on one line):

deb wheezy/updates main

to /etc/apt/sources.list, doing a "sudo aptitude update", and then installing "linux-image-3.2.0-4-powerpc" for single processors, "linux-image-3.2.0-4-powerpc-smp" for multiprocessors, or "linux-image-3.2.0-4-powerpc64" for 64 bit processors. This should set the Wheezy kernel as the default boot kernel, so go to the aforementioned Ubuntu post to set your desired default and secondary kernels. After all that, you can comment out the Wheezy line from your sources.list and do another aptitude update. Not ideal, but it did restore sound to my iBook.

I should also mention PulseAudio. Friends don't let friends do PulseAudio. But if you must and you experience stuttering or crackling playback, this looks like a solution. Also, if alsamixer shows PulseAudio is muted after every reboot, you can fix it by installing pavucontrol (a gtk volume control app) and unclicking the mute button under Output Devices.


This section is mostly about Macs with ATI graphics cards since I don't have any experience with Nvidia cards. Go to the Ubuntu PowerPCFAQ for more on Nvidia. Pretty much that entire FAQ applies to Debian, too. The MintPPC forum is also a good resource.

Macs with ATI cards need firmware-linux-nonfree installed for 3D. Wheezy users can stop here and have a 2D accelerated desktop that also delivers excellent video playback performance. If, however, you need 3D acceleration, you can activate KMS with the Yaboot parameters further down in the Jessie section, or if KMS doesn't work well for you, you can try the following non-KMS method. First, downgrade these four mesa packages (they're labeled ubuntu but they work the same on Debian):


Download the .deb files, then do the following two commands:

cd Downloads
sudo dpkg -i *.deb

This assumes the .deb files were downloaded into your ~/Downloads folder and there are no other .deb files in it (the *.deb in the dpkg command means it'll apply to all .deb files in that folder). Then restart, and at the second Yaboot screen enter the following boot parameter to ensure KMS is disabled:

Linux radeon.modeset=0

Now you should have 3D, and you can confirm by installing mesa-utils, then running:

glxinfo | grep render

As long as the output doesn't say Software Rasterizer, you're good. Now lock the mesa packages to prevent them from updating by following these NotFAQ instructions, and make the yaboot parameter permanent by adding the line:

append="radeon.modeset=0" (don't forget the quotes)

to your /etc/yaboot.conf under the sections "initrd=/boot/initrd.img" and "initrd=/boot/initrd.img.old", etc., and tabbed in like the other lines. Finally, run "sudo ybin -v" to activate the Yaboot changes.

Starting with Jessie, KMS (Kernel Mode Setting) is required to use the Radeon driver, so if you're getting 8-bit color, you don't have KMS activated and you're getting kicked back to the (primitive) fbdev driver. You can restore 32-bit color by typing on the second Yaboot screen at boot, "Linux video=radeonfb:1024x768-32" without quotes (**see note at the end of this section), but you'll still be on the fbdev driver and suffering its poor performance. To get the Radeon driver (and 3D) working, you need to disable the radeon framebuffer and activate KMS with a couple of Yaboot parameters. At the second Yaboot screen at boot, enter:

Linux video=radeonfb:off radeon.modeset=1

This should give you radeon acceleration and 3D. Some users report instability with this (KMS on PowerPC is buggy as hell), which they can fix with the additional parameter "radeon.agpmode=-1" (that's a negative 1), which forces PCI mode. I've also seen people suggest turning off the Open Firmware framebuffer with "video=offb:off", so with all these parameters you would type (on one line):

Linux video=radeonfb:off video=offb:off radeon.modeset=1 radeon.agpmode=-1

Hopefully this gets everything working, though you should be aware that suspend doesn't work under KMS on PowerPC and the brightness keys on your laptop may be disabled (I told you it was buggy). Users missing suspend can use hibernate instead. Then make your Yaboot parameters permanent by adding:

append="video=radeonfb:off radeon.modeset=1"

(and any other parameters inside the quotes and separated by spaces) to your /etc/yaboot.conf under the sections "initrd=/boot/initrd.img", "initrd=/boot/initrd.img.old", etc., and tabbed in like the other lines. Then run "sudo ybin -v" after saving changes.

If, however, KMS is still giving you system freezes or even a black screen, you'll be stuck with the fbdev driver and an unaccelerated desktop. I've found running Compton (a compositing manager for shadows and transparency) greatly improves window-dragging performance, though video playback will still be severely limited. You can't use your video player's xv output; you'll have to use the much slower X11 output. If you're streaming Youtube, you'll probably have to go with a lower resolution than you're accustomed to.

**The "Linux" that begins that yaboot parameter refers to your default boot kernel. If you want to boot another kernel, replace "Linux" with whatever calls your alternate kernel. Also, adjust your native screen resolution accordingly.

Monitor Calibration

I've never used hardware calibration, but others report that a Pantone Huey works with Gnome Color Manager. In any event, monitor calibration should look good out of the box, but if things look off there are a couple of software tools to help. You can load .icc files from OS X (found in /Library/ColorSync/Profiles or ~/Library/ColorSync/Profiles) with the help of xcalib. If your iMac or 'Book monitor looks washed out or too cool, you can use Redshift with the -O (capital "o") arg to warm the color temperature from the default 6500, like:

redshift -O 6250

If you like what you see, you can put the command in your autostart file to load on login (see Autostart on Login below).


To get your wireless cards working, you need additional firmware. First generation Airport card users need to install firmware-linux-nonfree, while Airport Extreme users need firmware-b43-installer. There's also firmware-b43legacy-installer, but I'm not clear which cards, if any, require that.

If wireless-tools and wpasupplicant aren't already installed, do that, too. Then install wicd, a simple graphical client to set things up. You will also need your wireless interface, which can be found with "sudo iwconfig". It'll usually be wlan0 or eth1.

Next, launch wicd with "wicd-client". Then in preferences add your wireless interface (as well as your OpenDNS servers I know you're all using 'cause it's good for you). Next, find your network on the list (you may have to click refresh), check the "Automatically connect to this network" box, click the Properties button, check the "Use Encryption" box, choose WPA 1/2 (Passphrase), and enter your password. Click OK and you can connect. At some point a network icon should also appear in your panel's system tray.

If you can't get a stable connection with wicd, there are a couple of options. You can reboot and hope the problem magically fixes itself (this actually works sometimes). You can also disable or uninstall wicd and set a connection up from the command line. Instructions are detailed at Debian's wifi wiki. Basically, the steps are:

sudo chmod 0600 /etc/network/interfaces
wpa_passphrase your-ssid your-passphrase
sudo nano /etc/network/interfaces

and then add the wireless section detailed in the wiki to the interfaces file. Then execute "sudo ifup wlan0" and your connection should be up, and automatically up after reboot. This may be more stable but not very flexible. There are instructions at this Debuntu page to configure wifi roaming, but first generation Airport cards don't seem to work with it.

Also on the subject of first generation Airport cards' shortcomings, they only support WPA + TKIP router security. They don't support WPA + AES, or WPA2 in any configuration.


PBButtonsd takes care of this. To edit the pbbuttonsd config file:

sudo nano /etc/pbbuttonsd.conf

Reading it, it should mostly make sense. The LCD_Brightness and Volume lines are commented out by default, so uncomment them if you want those settings to carry over on restart. Also, if sleep on your machine is broken, don't forget to change the suspend options here to prevent it.

A few more notes. First, aluminum Powerbook users will need to add "i2c-dev" to /etc/modules, then reboot to get your keyboard backlight keys working. Second, you can install laptop-mode-tools to enable pbbuttonsd to spin down your hard drive when on battery, but sometimes the spin down rate is too aggressive and can shorten the lifetime of the drive, so be wary. And third, your screen brightness on reboot or wake from sleep will be determined by the LCD_Brightness setting in pbbuttonsd.conf. Your brightness levels changed by the hotkeys won't be "remembered."

And if your hotkeys still won't work and you're about to go insane, try them in conjunction with the fn key.

Swap Command and Control Keys

You can have your command and control keys behave like a Mac's by swapping them. Create the file .Xmodmap (don't forget the dot) in your home directory with:

nano ~/.Xmodmap

and add the following text:

remove Mod4 = Super_L
remove Control = Control_L
keysym Control_L = Super_L
keysym Super_L = Control_L
add Mod4 = Super_L
add Control = Control_L

After you save it, run the command:

xmodmap ~/.Xmodmap

and if you're satisfied, insert it in your autostart file (see Autostart on Login below). A couple of notes: This will only work in an X session. If you switch to a console, your keys will revert. Also, restarting the mouseemu daemon (like after you change mouseemu's settings) may break this until you rerun "xmodmap ~/.Xmodmap".


To change the tap-to-click setting on your trackpad, you can use, ironically enough, the trackpad command. To turn it off:

sudo trackpad notap

Replace the "notap" with "tap" to turn it on. "man trackpad" gives you all the options. To have your settings carry over after reboot, you can create a startup script with:

sudo nano /etc/init.d/trackpad

and enter these two lines in the new file:

trackpad notap

After saving it, you make it executable like this:

sudo chmod 0755 /etc/init.d/trackpad

and then add it to your boot scripts with:

sudo update-rc.d trackpad defaults

You may see a warning about missing LSB information and overrides, but you can ignore it. See this Debian article about removing the script if you no longer want it.

Also, trackpads on later iBooks and Powerbooks can add multi-touch gestures by setting up the "Synaptics" driver. I wrote a post on this for an Aluminum Powerbook.

CPU Frequency Scaling

For x86 users, CPU frequency scaling is handled by the kernel, but PowerPC users need to install powernowd for this power-saving feature (extending your laptop's battery and possibly quieting your fans). It adjusts to CPU load, so you won't notice any performance slowdowns, and though the defaults work fine, you can edit /etc/default/powernowd to customize (UPDATE: Debian maintainers removed this from their repositories because..., but reader Eric H pointed me to a powernowd.deb file kept here. You can install by downloading it, cd'ing to its current directory, and running "sudo dpkg -i powernowd_1.00-1.1+b1_powerpc.deb").

You can see it working by running:

cat /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpu0/cpufreq/scaling_cur_freq

to display your current CPU frequency, and:

cat /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpu0/cpufreq/scaling_available_frequencies

to list available frequencies.

Speed Tweaks

There are a few speed tweaks you can use to improve application responsiveness. First, as mentioned in Part II - Installing the Base System, you should use the noatime option. It should be in your /etc/fstab file as one of the options on your Linux partition. If it's not there, add it. Not doing so will make your hard drive perform slower than it should. Also, there are a couple of things you can add to your /etc/sysctl.conf file. Open it as sudo with nano or your usual text editor and add the following two lines at the bottom:


The default values are 60 and 100, respectively. Changing them will make your system less likely to swap to disk until it really needs to. I've seen some people recommend a swappiness value of 10 for desktop users, others say 20. If you're running a server, you should probably stick with the defaults, but desktop users will definitely want to lower them.


Now let's edit our fstab file to auto-mount our Mac partitions on startup. First you need to create mount points like this:

sudo mkdir /mnt/MacOS
sudo mkdir /mnt/Media

These commands create new directories in the /mnt directory called MacOS and Media. You can name yours whatever you want, but this is what I have. Then open your fstab file with:

sudo nano /etc/fstab

and add new lines at the end, for each partition you want to mount. In my case, this:

/dev/sda10 /mnt/MacOS hfsplus defaults 0 0
/dev/sda11 /mnt/Media hfsplus defaults 0 0

Put tabs between all the entries, not spaces. You can look up your own partition numbers by running "sudo mac-fdisk -l" (that's -l for list). They're either going to be /dev/hdaN or /dev/sdaN. And if you want read/write access to hfsplus volumes, you need to do a few extra things. First, make sure journaling is turned off on your OS X partition (does not apply to OS 9 partitions). Then install hfsprogs and hfsutils and change "defaults" to "rw,user,defaults" in /etc/fstab for that partition. Finally reboot, or remount the volume if it's already mounted with (on one line):

sudo mount -t hfsplus -o remount,rw,user /dev/sdaN /your/mount/point

If that still won't work you may need to run fsck.hfsplus, so unmount the volume ("sudo umount /your/mount/point"), then run:

sudo fsck.hfsplus -f /dev/sdaN

and then remount with the "rw" and "user" options. One last note, you can write to a journaled OS X volume with the "force" option, not that it's a good idea.


To configure boot options and set which system is the default, you need to backup and then edit /etc/yaboot.conf:

sudo cp /etc/yaboot.conf ~/yaboot-bak.conf
sudo nano /etc/yaboot.conf

Then find the main section with options like "timeout" and "enablecdboot". If you're dual booting OS 9 and you don't see macos= (or macosx= for OS X), then add it yourself with the line:


with yourmacpartition found with "sudo mac-fdisk -l". Subsequently, your MacOS will appear as a boot option alongside Linux. To set the default OS, add the line "defaultos=macosx" or "defaultos=macos". If you add no line, yaboot will automatically boot to Linux after the timeout. And about timeout, if it's too long you can change the value where increments of 10 equal one second. Finally save the file, and this is important, anytime you make changes to yaboot.conf you must run:

sudo ybin -v

for the changes to stick. Run that and you're done.


Some programs require sudo permissions, making you enter your password every time you launch them. This is a security feature, but sometimes an annoying one. For instance, my firewall program, Gufw, requires a password which I don't really find necessary. Fortunately you can create exceptions in your /etc/sudoers file that eliminate the need to enter your password. Just add a line such as this:
dan    icebook=NOPASSWD:/usr/bin/gufw
where "dan" is my username, "icebook" is my hostname, and "/usr/bin/gufw" is the program I want to create an exception for. Commonly people will say to put "ALL" and "ALL" for username and hostname, but that allows anyone in your group, even remotely, to run these commands without a password. Having your specific username and hostname limits it to only you on your machine.

Lock Screen

What do we do with a problem like XScreensaver? Its lock screen is stuck in the '90s, and it's kind of entertaining reading its longtime maintainer stubbornly refusing to change it in bug report threads. But it's still ugly and people actually avoid whole distributions that include it by default. My solution is to not install it (See the beauty of building from the ground up?). Instead, I let DPMS take care of powering off the screen; your screen automatically shuts off after 10 minutes of inactivity unless overridden by a program like XScreensaver. For a lock screen, I use slock, part of the suckless-tools package. I also install xautolock and put the following in my autostart file to activate the lock screen after 30 minutes of inactivity:

xautolock -time 30 -locker "slock" &

Another screen locker with a bit more customization is i3lock. Here's an i3 thread that talks about taking a screenshot, blurring it, and using it as the screen lock image. Cool idea, but read the comments on how to mitigate certain security concerns.

Launchers, Docks, and Panels

If right-clicking the desktop to bring down a root menu with applications isn't your thing, you can add a Quicksilver-like capability with Synapse. Just like Quicksilver, it's an application launcher that does much more, like find and open files, web pages, etc (if the "Startup on login" preference doesn't work for you, you can add "synapse -s" to your autostart file to have it hidden on startup). Kupfer is a similar launcher. And for an ultra-lightweight option, there's dmenu from the suckless-tools package.

As far as docks and panels go, I use LXPanel for a transparent Tiger-like dock. By default it looks like a Windows taskbar, but you can transform it in the panel's preferences. There's also Cairo-dock, a more Leopard-like 3D dock, though it's a bit buggy and overweight in features. For just a task panel and system tray, Tint2 is justifiably popular.

Desktop Icons

If you want to go further in achieving a more Mac-like interface, you can add icons to your desktop. There's the PCManFM or xfdesktop way detailed at this Crunchbang wiki, though they may not be satisfactory. PCManFM's desktop is prone to crashing, and xfdesktop copies your files dragged to the desktop rather than moving them (Why? Just why?).

For an alternative, you can try Rox-filer's pinboard. This will give you icons on your desktop, though they're iconified links; the actual files stay in their original folders. You can also add application launchers by dragging their /usr/share/applications/*.desktop files to the desktop. I wrote all about integrating Rox-filer on your desktop if you're interested.

Other Desktop Tools

So you probably want a few more desktop tools, starting with a system monitor. The best choice is Conky. It's very configurable and you can download other people's conkyrc files to tinker with (link to mine at the bottom of this post). Just be aware, people's commonly-used battery monitor syntax is Intel only, but I posted this solution for PowerPC users.

You don't have Spotlight on your new desktop, but you can get something similar with Tracker. (UPDATE: this uses a lot of CPU, so it's probably not worth it) It's a search indexer that comes with a gui frontend, so install tracker-gui and aptitude will take care of all the dependencies. The command "tracker-needle" launches the search GUI, and "tracker-preferences" launches the preferences (you may need to enter "tracker-control -s" to start indexing).

Another search program, that has the advantage of not constantly indexing your drive, is Searchmonkey. It's a frontend for find and grep and can be quite powerful.

One cool feature OS X users are familiar with is the ability to right-click on a word to bring up a built-in dictionary. Linux users can have this with Artha. An offline dictionary, it runs in the background when you set it as a startup item, and you bring it up by highlighting a word and hitting a hotkey combination. Just make sure to dismiss the window with close and not the quit button.

Playing DVDs

If you want to play commercial DVDs that are copy protected, you need to install libdvdcss2 from the Deb-Multimedia repository. First you want to add the repository to your sources list with:

sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list

and add the single line:

deb wheezy main non-free

Then run the commands:

sudo aptitude update
sudo aptitude install deb-multimedia-keyring
sudo aptitude install libdvdcss2

Ignore the scary language about untrusted packages and complete the install.


You can make your fonts look nicer, especially in a web browser, by creating a ".fonts.conf" file. First, in your home folder:

touch .fonts.conf

to create the file (don't forget the dot in front of the file name, this will make it hidden). Then you want to open the file in a text editor and paste the following inside it:
<?xml version="1.0"?>
<!DOCTYPE fontconfig SYSTEM "fonts.dtd">
 <match target="font" >
  <edit mode="assign" name="autohint" >
 <match target="font" >
  <edit mode="assign" name="hinting" >
 <match target="font" >
  <edit mode="assign" name="hintstyle" >
 <match target="font" >
  <edit mode="assign" name="rgba" >
 <match target="font" >
  <edit mode="assign" name="antialias" >
<match target="font">
   <edit mode="assign" name="lcdfilter">
Then save and logout, and when you login your fonts should look much better.

GTK Themes

If you've noticed GTK3 applications like Transmission and Abiword aren't following the theming you set in LXAppearance, it's because GTK3 applications aren't compatible with GTK2-only themes. To make everything consistent, you have to choose a theme that is available for both GTK2 and GTK3. Zukitwo is one such theme. Make sure you have its required engines installed, then download it and unpack it to your ~/.themes folder and fire up LXAppearance to choose it. This should automatically insert a gtk-3.0 folder inside ~/.config, but if it doesn't you can add it manually like this (single line):

sudo cp -r ~/.themes/Zukitwo/gtk-3.0 ~/.config/gtk-3.0

Now your theme will be consistent across all GTK2 and GTK3 applications. And a Zukitwo Openbox theme is here, too.

There's also the problem of qt apps like VLC defaulting to the ugly Windows '95 theme, and to fix that you can install qt4-qtconfig (libgnome2-common also required though it's not an official dependency, see this bug report for more). Its launch command is "qtconfig", and you can have it set all your qt apps to follow your GTK+ theme or several other choices.

Shadows & Transparency

Want shadows around your windows and menus? You need xcompmgr:

sudo aptitude install xcompmgr

and then add the following lines at the end of your /etc/X11/xorg.conf file (instructions to generate a xorg.conf file are on this page):
Section "Extensions"
    Option "Composite" "Enable"
After restarting X, you can test shadows by entering in a terminal:

xcompmgr -cCf -D1

This will add shadows around windows and menus, but not panels or docks, and also adds fading at its fastest setting which can prevent artifacting around certain popups. Experiment with more settings with "xcompmgr --help".

For Jessie users, there's a much better alternative, actually a fork of a fork, called Compton (no xorg.conf needed). In addition to shadows, you can set window and menu transparency. Run it with "compton -b" (the -b runs it as a daemon) and edit ~/.config/compton.conf with your options (my compton.conf is linked at the bottom of this post).

Autostart on Login

In order to have the above commands (and any others) autostart on login you must add them to an autostart file. Openbox's system-wide autostart file is /etc/xdg/openbox/autostart, but your user autostart is ~/.config/openbox/autostart (in older versions it was, but now it's just autostart). If it's not already there, create it with:

nano ~/.config/openbox/autostart

with a dot before config, and add your text. Mine looks like this:

# swap command and control keys
xmodmap ~/.Xmodmap &

# have rox draw wallpaper and desktop icons
rox --pinboard=MyPinboard &

# display same wallpaper behind Conky
sh ~/.fehbg &

# warms color temperature on my washed-out,
# ancient iBook display
redshift -O 6250 &

# shadows and transparency
compton -b &

# automount external devices to /media
udisks-glue &

# system monitor
conky &

# offline desktop dictionary
artha &

# system tray volume icon
volumeicon &

# run slock after 30 minutes inactivity
xautolock -time 30 -locker "slock" &

# 2s delay ensures tint2 transparency
(sleep 2s && tint2) &

Always add an "&" to the end of every command in this file. Otherwise, programs after it may not run.

Clean Caches

One last thing to do, if you have limited disk space, is to clear your aptitude cache. All .deb packages you download are stored there enabling you to reinstall something without re-downloading it, but they're not essential so you can clear them out with:

sudo aptitude clean

And with that, my to-do list is pretty much exhausted. Here are a few screenshots, the first of Openbox's root menu with an applications menu added, and also Conky at the bottom of the screen:

Openbox Applications Menu

Here's the Synapse launcher in the foreground with Iceweasel and Audacious in the background:

Openbox Synapse Audacious Iceweasel

And here's a more Mac-like interface with PCManFM drawing icons on the desktop and Cairo-dock on the bottom:

Openbox PCManFM Cairo-dock

My GTK theme is FlatStudioLight and my Openbox theme is EasyGray, slightly modded. The icons are Meliae SVG (warning: FlatStudio and SVG icon themes may not be compatible with Jessie GTK3 apps). If you're interested, here's my conkyrc file (for 1024x768 screens), my compton.conf (shadows, background windows transparent, slight menu transparency), my tint2rc (autohide, left side of screen), and two themerc files for EasyGray, one to match the FlatStudioLight GTK theme, and one to match FlatStudioGray.

Next is the final part of this series, "Bugs & Quirks".

Part I - Pre-Installation
Part II - Installing the Base System
Part III - Installing the GUI
Part V - Bugs & Quirks


  1. Very, very cool tutorial, Dan. I've just installed MintPPC 11 on my iBook G3 800mhz (only 384 MB of ram) and everything is running smoothly. Iceweasel is amazing, noticeable faster than TenFourFox on the G3. I guess Linux does the magic. Anyway, i'd like to see how much more i can improve my iBook's performance. You have tried Mint and now you've got a beautiful minimal Debian installation. Did you notice a significative difference of speed and general performance between the two of them? Mint seems to have a lot of pre-installed stuff i won't use. Basically, i want this laptop for the same purposes than you. So what do you think? Should i try Debian?

    And, by the way, what's the name of that Audacious skin? I like it a lot.

  2. You can find the Audacious skin by choosing the View menu, then Interface --> Winamp Classic Interface. I really like Audacious. It's very low on system resources. I tried another player, Exaile, and it was using 30%-40% of my cpu just to play a music file.

    Since MintPPC and what I have are both Debian-based, there shouldn't be much difference in performance between the two systems. Unless you're running low on RAM. If I remember right, MintPPC used about 100 MB of RAM on startup, and my Openbox install uses about 60 MB. Also, if sleep works for you in MintPPC, it might not in Debian. So if you're not bumping up against your RAM limits, maybe stick with MintPPC as long as you're satisfied.

    I was also wowed by Iceweasel's speed. It's a real eye-opener.

  3. Thanks mate... I think i'm going to stick with Mint for now. Everything works fine, including sleep and battery meter, so if there is not a significant difference in performance, i'll stay where i am. Have you tried the new Ubuntu 12 Live CD? They have released a PowerPC version! I'm typing this using Firefox 11 right from the CD on my G4. In case you're interested:

  4. Late post but....

    I also installed MintPPC 11 on my ibook G4 1.07 ghz. Yowsa. Its faster than mintPPC 9. Like lots faster. Midori is gob smackingly fast, feels at times like I am on a dual processor intel macbook.No flash of course but Flashvideoreplacer and Downloadhelper continue to work well in Iceweasel. minitube is kinda buggy though...some videos play smooth, some herk and jerk and then crash minitube.

    I installed viewtube (a greasemonkey script) in midori to get some youtube playback capability. Yes, midori supports scripts....sorta. You have to turn scripts on in the preferences, when you go to a site that has a installabled script it will ask if you want to install. And now, words of caution. Not all scripts work right, and some will crash midori bigtime. They are stored in ~/.local/share/midori/scripts, I usually rm them from the commandline if there is a problem. It uses totem plug in and gtk streamer to play and it works well....sorta. Some videos will choke up halfway through, and go to a blank window. All other videos afterwards are the same. The only fix is to restart the computer, so maybe its a totem problem. Happens I'd say one in every twenty to thirty youtube videos.

    Viewtube has various settings at the top of the player window, you need to keep it on low def mp4 or low def flv for single processor PPC macs. If one setting doesn't work usually the other will. There is also a + setting at the far left, this is a "fake" fullscreen similar to HTML 5 video in Google Chrome.

    Also, you have to install flashblock to prevent Midori from trying to play the WebM file on site. HTML 5 is unwatchable.

    Finally, Fans on my ibook run at full blast above 50 C. Which is anytime you play any video. Doesn't seem to be an easy fix.

  5. BTW: is now
    So /etc/apt/sources.list needs to be updated accordingly.

    Thanks so much for great tutorial!

    - Mr K.

    1. I just updated the post. Thanks.

  6. That is a excelent guide!
    I'm starting a quick version using some of your tips and some others collected over Google.


  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Thanks for the information. Ive installed Debian on my powerbook but my god it gets hot and the fans go full blast just reading the bbc website. Any ideas how to control the fans? thanks!

    1. So is something hogging the CPU? What does running top in a terminal say? If your browser is using 100% CPU and not stopping, you can disable plugins and see if that helps. Your Powerbook shouldn't be getting hot just by reading a webpage, so obviously something's wrong, maybe a runaway process in the background.

      Or if it's just your fans going full blast even when the CPU isn't taxed, there's this:

    2. Dan, Thanks for this guide and the specific PM tips, too. I'd really like to use the section above on CPU Frequency Scaling, but here's what I'm getting in terminal emulator, after downloading the powernowd package:
      root@stp:/home/marlon/Downloads# sudo dpkg -i
      dpkg: error: --install needs at least one package archive file argument

      Type dpkg --help for help about installing and deinstalling packages [*];
      Use `dselect' or `aptitude' for user-friendly package management;
      Type dpkg -Dhelp for a list of dpkg debug flag values;
      Type dpkg --force-help for a list of forcing options;
      Type dpkg-deb --help for help about manipulating *.deb files;

      Options marked [*] produce a lot of output - pipe it through `less' or `more' !

      I'm sure this is an easy obstacle, but can anyone point me in the right direction? Thanks

    3. I probably should have included the filename as part of that command, as in:

      sudo dpkg -i /path/to/file.deb

  9. Excellent tutorial, a big thank you! I'tried almost everything you posted, the only thing I couldn't manage to work is graphic acceleration. Installed non-free firmware and putting <video=radeonfb:off radeon.modeset=1 at yaboot prompt I can get openGL rendering (Gallium 0.4 on ATI R350) but the machine freezes as soon as I open a video. My Mac is a G4 Dual FW800 1,42Ghz, Radeon 9800XT 256Mb, 2Gb Ram, Debian 7.3 Mint PPC. Am I missing something? BTW it's not a deal breaker because the machine runs VERY well even without openGL rendering (software rasterizer)

    1. .EDIT Downgraded Mesa Utils to 7.11 and now openGL rendering works, very nice indeed!

  10. Another option for menu transparency without using Compton is xcompmgr-dana, found at You'll have to configure, compile, and install it, then add the m switch to the autostart file, with the decimal percentage of how opaque you want the menus to be, i.e. -m .86 would be 14% transparency.

    1. I forgot to add that this is only for menu transparency. For window transparency, you would need transset-df, and configure it for EACH window that you want transparent. It's quite a bit of work and hassle, so Compton would be your best bet if you want both menu AND window transparency.