With the Linux version decided upon, it would now need to be installed on the iBook. These Ubuntu based distros are designed to be burned to a CD or DVD as a ‘Live’ disc. This means the host computer boots from optical drive straight into the OS and can be used directly, almost as a trial. Once the user has decided, it can then be installed from the optical media on to the internal hard drive. The system then reboots from the drive and Ubuntu loads up. This is a great format because it really does let a user play with the system, get a feel for it, run some programs, check some websites before committing to install, indeed, committing to erasing the internal drive even.
Live CDs work really well…. unless your optical disc drive doesn’t work! The iBook’s ODD did not work. I had originally downloaded an image and burnt it to the last blank DVD in the house and unfortunately, every time the disc was inserted, it spun up and then down and then was unceremoniously ejected. I had thought that maybe it was because the disc was being created on an Intel Mac, but after testing other pre-recorded discs and double checking the format, the truth was that I was going to need an alternative method.
Disk Utility in Mac OS X is the in-built utility for burning optical discs, partitioning or erasing hard disks, for dealing with disk images and for first aid in the event of a corruption. Disk Utility does have the benefit of being able to erase a drive in a variety of formats. The default is Mac OS (Journaled) which is HFS+, but it can also manage MS-DOS (read/write), NTFS (read only) and ExFAT (read/write). It’s a useful utility, although it could be argued that in the latest iteration of OS X, Disk Utility has suffered from having some options removed, or at least, struggle with images. Luckily, there is a command version too, but on to that later.
Ubuntu images and maybe all Linux distros, are downloaded as .iso images. This is a format that can easily be delivered to a CD or DVD. OS X is certainly able to read an .iso image and burn it CD, but as mentioned earlier, this was not an option.
The obvious option to avoid the optical drive, was to image an external hard drive with the .iso. PowerPC Macs are able to boot from correctly partitioned Firewire drives. The iBook had a Firewire 400 port and fortunately, I had a Firewire drive, a very old Firewire drive that was in use at the same time as the iBook was originally. It was a heavy, mains powered (even no transformer) unit with a noisy fan and a huge 30Gb capacity, built by Formac. It was funny to place my phone on top of it – the phone was about 4 times thinner and certainly required less than a quarter of desk space, and yet it was over twice the capacity, at 64Gb.
The Mac Mini I own has a Firewire 800 port and I had an 800 to 400 cable, so we were in business. PowerPC machines expect an Apple Partition Map partition in order to make a drive bootable. Using Disk Utility, it was easy to set the drive up and then restore the .iso image to the drive.
Only, it didn’t work and in deeper, I had to go…