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Mad With Macintosh


How To Run Linux On An SE/30

Buy Your Unix For 68k Macs and Support the Red Cross! 







Debian or any version of Linux for that matter is NOT EASY to install for the typical Mac user. This is not to slight the Mac user, it is meant to warn the Mac user. I have been using Macs for about eleven years. I worked at Apple. I load Linux onto PeeCee's at work. It took me about 2 months to get it loaded on my SE/30. Because the installer is so crude, you might be bald from pulling your hair out by the time you get it to work. Now if you are familiar with PeeCee's and Linux/Unix, it should be much easier. Also, the colors don't work well on color Macs, there is no floppy support (who cares?) and sometimes the keyboard has to be unplugged and plugged back in to get it going. As I said, the port is brand new while the Intel ports are ten years old. That said, let's get started, shall we?


As you may know, Apple's OS X is a new operating system based on the Unix operating system. It's rock solid, with many enhancements that Unix folk have enjoyed for years - symmetrical multitasking, protected memory, multiprocessing, etc... You may have also heard of Linux, the free version of Unix. Well, Linux has been running on PeeCee's for years. It was just recently ported to the Mac OS thanks to some crafty programmers who were able to reverse engineer the Mac chipset.

There are many versions of Linux that run on Macs, both 68k and PowerMacs. I chose Debian Linux m68k 2.1 because it can be ordered on CD which makes it much easier to install, and it has already been tested on the SE/30, which is the Mac I wanted to install it onto.


What You Need

An 020, 030 or 040 Mac with an FPU and PMMU. See the Debian site for more details on which models work.

You can download the Debian 2.1 Linux files here,


but beware, I have yet to figure out how to load it into a Mac from a hard drive. Yes, this sounds easy enough, but believe me, Linux on a Mac is not easy to install unless you try one of the PowerMac flavors which uses the Red Hat installer. Debian uses something called dselect, which, in my humble opinion, is HORRIBLE.

Anyway, buy the CD's from Chris Lawrence


and you'll be much happier. A portion of the proceeds go to charity too.


How To Install


I won't go into actual procedures here as it would take about 10 pages. The Debian installation files have about 20 read me's anyway. READ THEM ALL! Then READ THEM AGAIN! Then READ THEM AGAIN! Then READ THEM ONE MORE TIME. Sorry for yelling, but you must take your time and be patient if you want to succeed in this project.



You'll need AT LEAST a 100 meg drive if you want to actually DO something with it after you install it. If you just want to learn some simple commands, you can get by with an 80 meg drive for a bare bones install. You must boot the Mac normally before you can boot into Linux, so you need either a drive that has been partitioned into three parts: A Linux native part, a Linux swap part and a Mac OS part. You can do this with Apple HD SC Setup Patch. It will see non Apple drives as well as Apple drives. You can also use Drive Setup Patch, but it only works on some Macs, not all.



You can get by with just 5 megs, which is the smallest amount of ram any 020 or 030 Mac will use (SE/30). The more the better as usual.


CD ROM Drive

As I said earlier, you CAN install it from any SCSI drive after you download Debian, but I haven't been able to accomplish this after about 20 tires and at least 30 hours. I use my trusty Apple CD 300i 2x and it takes FOREVER. What is FOREVER? Well, a full package install of 400 megs took about 16 hours. A bare min install of 40 megs took about 3 hours. Yes, believe it or not. You mileage may vary depending on which Mac and which CD room drive you use.


But Does It Run X Windows?




Even On the SE/30????


Sure! You'll need at least 50 megs just for X Windows, 90 for the different varieties of X Windows. It runs pretty slow on my SE/30, but it sure is cool to show it to my PeeCee's coworkers! The downside of X Windows on this particular version of Linux is that you rarely use it except to launch programs, which you can do from the command line interface anyway. Yes, you get some cool screen savers and games (Doom, Abuse to name a few) but those won't run on the SE/30 anyway. Well, they WILL run, but they will be SOOOOO SLOOOOOW that you could make a cup of coffee in between each screen redraw. I finally stopped loading X Windows on my SE/30 because I can surf the net, terminal into my Mac Plus and do text editing, and programming without X Windows.


X Windows Hidden Gotcha


In this particular version of Debian (2.1 or Slink), there are a couple of goofs on the installer. If you are trying to get X Windows going, you will find that it won't work unless you move some files around and change some settings. Because this version is m68k which means it runs on the Motorola 68xxx chip, there are many different platforms it will run on besides Macs such as Amiga, HMV, Atari and maybe a few others.


First, after reading the readme files, when you are setting up Debian after you install it, you'll need to go to


and change the mouse setting to




you'll need to know how to use vi, the unix text editor. This can be cumbersome to a point-and-click Mac guy. Next, you'll need to save the XF86Config.eg file in /etc/X11. This is where it's supposed to be. Now when you type


it will go into X Windows. It will go into X Windows automatically when you boot up from now on.


Networking into Debian With A Terminal Emulation Program


I hooked up my Mac Plus with a null modem cable and networked into my SE/30 running Debian. This allows me to run apps that reside on the SE/30 via the Mac Plus. Now you can transfer files back and forth between the Debian Mac and whatever computer is connected to it (theoretically, even an old Commodore 64 or Atari 128 will do this if you have the correct software and modem cables.)


I routinely use Hotline or the Linux ftp sites to download Linux apps on my iMac, transfer them to my G3 (because the iMac cannot read 800k discs), then put them on an 800k floppy which goes into the Plus, THEN (whew!) transfer them to the SE/30 over the null modem cable.



What You Need


Any computer dating back to the stone age will work, as long as you have a terminal emulation program for it. Macs use Zterm, Kermit, and many many others.


To transfer a file from the Debian computer to your terminal, just type sz <filename> from the terminal computer (the one connected to the Debian Mac.) The file will be transferred to the predetermined location according to the program you are using on the terminal. This is quite useful because you can download Debian and other Linux applications from the web, then transfer them to your Debian Mac via a terminal connection, then install them. No need for a floppy or CD ROM.

I routinely use Hotline or the Linux ftp sites to download Linux apps on my iMac, transfer them to my G3 (because the iMac cannot read 800k discs), then put them on an 800k floppy which goes into the Plus, THEN (whew!) transfer them to the SE/30 over the null modem cable. This takes forever, but then I don't have a life.



ZTerm download

Zterm How To

Debian HOW-TO's

Debian site





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