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How to Install Debian on Mac mini

CmdrTaco posted more than 9 years ago | from the because-you-can dept.

Debian 527

wikinerd writes "After the hype about Mac mini, a Linux consultant wrote a detailed guide on how to install Debian on Mac mini. The whole procedure takes about an hour, but you will need to erase the hard disk and learn to live without the AirPort Extreme, since it's unsupported. The guide also explains how you can dual-boot with Mac OS X and Debian and gives you ideas on how to set up your partitions."

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Yes, but... (5, Funny)

prattboy (804069) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660057)

Yes, but can you install Windows on it?

Re:Yes, but... (5, Informative)

idobi (820896) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660071)

Yes, You can install Virtual PC

Why ? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660066)

Honestly, who wants to run Linux on a MAC when they are able to run MacOS-X on it. Doesn't make much sense to me.

Re:Why ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660107)

Too true. Linux on PPC is incredibly inferior to Darwin, performance wise. Why people would choose to put a diesel engine from a truck into their Formula-1 vehicles eludes me...

Re:Why ? (4, Informative)

b17bmbr (608864) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660466)

not true at all. my old bondi blue 233mhz/160mb ram runs osx slowly, but yellowdog 3 runs rather well. the only problem is the small hard drive and cd-rom. ppc linux runs rather fast. in fact, my 700mhz G3 ibook dual boots between panther and yellowdog. i use it at school and need the linux partition as os x can't access novell netware servers. now, i'm trying to figure out how to run os x under linux via mac-on-linux. but as for linux/ppc performance, linux wins. as for darwin alone, don't know.

Re:Why ? (1)

gotr00t (563828) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660191)

Some distros of Linux support 64 bit PPC, while Tiger is not out yet. 64 bit support on the application level(photoshop, etc.) for Panther has no performance benefit because the operating system really just breaks the instructions in half.

In terms of user-friendliness, OSX wins hands down, but it is for performance and customizability that ppl will turn to Linux on a mac.

Re:Why ? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660205)

*lol* you really believe the 'customizability' crap on linux eh ?

Re:Why ? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660227)

But the Mac mini doesn't *have* a 64-bit PPC. It's processor is a plain old 32-bit G4, not a G5.

Re:Why ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660278)

Agreed. The breathtaking performance of Gnome and KDE are the bleeding edge of optimization and performance and are a great asset to Linux

Re:Why ? (2, Interesting)

Inconnux (227132) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660229)

why? because some people prefer linux :)

although OSX is 'unix' under the hood, I still cant stand the 'bubbly' backwards interface. Another great reason is to play around with the source code on a different platform. Although I would never buy an apple product, if someone gave me a mac, I would wipe the OS immediately and install linux.

Me? (2, Interesting)

diegocgteleline.es (653730) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660283)

People who cares about having a 100% open source operative system, instead only a part?

Re:Me? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660296)

Who cares about open source operating systems if everything existing on it is a half implementation. 90% of the open source stuff is crap.

Re:Me? (1)

slim (1652) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660352)

90% of the open source stuff is crap

Do you have research to prove it?

What percentage of closed-source software is crap? Remember to include all that shovelware on those rotating stands in Walmart, and the entire contents of every shareware library.

Re:Me? (1)

diegocgteleline.es (653730) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660383)

Who cares about open source operating systems if everything existing on it is a half implementation. 90% of the open source stuff is crap.

Crap? Linux on servers rocks and it's getting better every day on desktops - which is my whole point, i'd rather have a crappy OSS desktop than a propietary one.

What directions is mac os x taking? Are the ones you want, or the ones you're told to like? Some people don't like mac os x and they can't modify the propietary libraries.
What will hapen if apple has to close? (unlikely, but imagine it).There has been some operative systems which have been lost that way, have you ever heard of BeOS? I don't want to depend of propietary products like aqua and cocoa, no matter how good are them, so I'll install linux, thanks.

Don't eat the yellow snow, it's ... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660067)

Frosty piss

This is a Frist Psot by The Pink Syntax. Oh, GNAA, (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660072)

beware, you WILL BE ASSIMILATED muhahahaha

Why? (2, Insightful)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660075)

I guess that's neat and all, but why wouldn't I just install X11 for whatever apps I run that need it, and run everything through OS X?

Re:Why? (3, Insightful)

chrism238 (657741) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660115)

Easy. Because one may have a job developing code that has to tested on a Linux platform.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660153)

Somehow I doubt someone who has her boyfriend installing linux on her Mac mini for her is a hard core linux coder.

Re:Why? (0, Flamebait)

chrism238 (657741) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660268)

Don't try to project *your* lack of a girlfriend on to others!

Re:Why? (1)

CapeMonkey (795733) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660170)

Then why use a Mac Mini? Especially in this case, where the Mac mini is for his girlfriend - granted, she may have to test code on a Linux platform, but it seems silly.

Re:Why? (3, Insightful)

chrism238 (657741) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660206)

... for example, I currently have (and want) only one desktop computer at home, and I use it to share my Linux with my girlfriend's Windows - on the same box. Others may similarly wish to share OSX and Linux - seems an obvious concept to me.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660304)

Rebooting to another OS every time another user sits down at the machine seems like an obvious concept to you?

Seems pretty obviously clumsy to me.

You could at least just run one or the other OS in a VM, so they'd both be available all the time. (not to mention it would probably work out better for hardware support in mini /w debian's case if they just ran OSX with debian in MoM [inaddrany.com] )

Why not? (2, Insightful)

MarkByers (770551) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660362)

Why not use one? Why do you need to find reasons to use one? Haven't you seen a picture of it?

I wouldn't mind ditching my towercase for a Mac Mini, if I knew that all the software I run would work on it.

Re:Why? (5, Insightful)

slux (632202) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660248)

Is it such an absurd concept for you that some people might actually prefer GNU/Linux to OS X for whatever reason? You can't really get *every* Linux application installed so easily under OS X. At minimum, software installation is easier and the apps tend to integrate better on a Linux desktop.

Seriously, could someone explain to me why similar remarks about Windows aren't modded up on stories about x86 hardware? What about all the other proprietary UNIX-like operating systems in addition to OS X. Why doesn't every Linux story have a modded up comment about HP-UX, Solaris, Irix and others asking "why use Linux?". What's so special about OS X? Sure, it's a nice OS but in no way is it equal or better than Linux in every possible aspect and for everyone.

Linux has many things going for it that OS X does not. And even if it didn't, some people would use it just for the freedom [gnu.org] . I personally have an iBook running Ubuntu and my sister is dual booting Fedora & OS X. I also have a friend using debian exclusively on his iBook for many years.

Re:Why? (2, Insightful)

Ianoo (711633) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660292)

What is absurd is that people would buy a Mac Mini to run Linux. Why not just buy a Shuttle XPC instead? By not using OS X, you negate the main factor behind buying a Mac in the first place - and in so doing significantly reduce its value when compared with equivilently priced PC hardware.

Re:Why? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660338)

And what about people who already have a mac mini and now decide to put linux on it, because they simply like linux, because they don't like osx, because they like to play around with their computer?

And what about dual booting? What about people who buy a mac mini and use it with osx but also want to use linux on it for a host of reasons?

Re:Why? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660417)

All the Mac Zealots told us that the Mac Mini hardware had the best price/performance for its tiny form-factor. I don't see how this changes by running a different OS.

Furthermore, there's some applications (like HTPC) where Linux simply has better User Interface options than OS X. (gasp)

Re:Why? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660339)

HA HA HA HAAAAA HAAA!!! You're HILARIOUS!!!! Linux *better* than OS X? In what way? The speed? No. The applications? No. The GUI? HA HA No. The security? No again. Linux is absolutely worthless as an OS compared to OS X. The only reason you would use Linux over OS X is if you were too cheap to pay for your operating system, but the Mini comes with OS X so you are just a zealot, and really cheapness and religious conviction are the only reasons people continue to use Linux any more.

Re:Why? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660384)

And Liberty. If valuing my liberty makes me a zealot, than I'm happy to be a zealot. But really, you're the zealot, worshipping at the church of Jobs.

How confused can you possibly get? (2, Informative)

gotr00t (563828) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660254)

It seems that with the officially supported version of X11, Apple has made it sound like it expands the functionality of OSX so that it is able to run any app from any *NIX platform. However, this is terribly inaccruate.

X11 is a windowing server, nothing more. What Apple is probably talking about is the fact that a lot of graphical *nix apps use X11 library routines to facilitate their graphical interface, and Aqua does not support these calls. Although the presence of X11 on OSX does make porting apps over to OSX easier(e.g. OpenOffice), it is still (usually) nontrivial.

Either way, it does _NOT_ mean that X11 makes OSX binary-compatible with the other *NIX'es.

Re:Why? (4, Insightful)

slim (1652) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660260)

I guess that's neat and all, but why wouldn't I just install X11 for whatever apps I run that need it, and run everything through OS X?

Maybe you just don't get on with the Mac UI. Such people do exist. I understand that if you want focus-follows-mouse in Mac OS X, you either get a compromise where it only works on X apps, or you have to spend $40 on third party virtual desktop software.

Mac Mini is definitely a cuter form factor than anything else out there right now.

I'm tempted to get a Mini just in order to try out Mac OS X, but I'm dubious enough about Mac OS that having the option to replace it with Linux if I don't like it is a selling point for the hardware.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660313)

"Maybe you just don't get on with the Mac UI"

Then don't buy a Mac. Go to PC World, get a beige box put Linux on that where it belongs.

Re:Why? (1, Redundant)

slim (1652) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660392)

"Maybe you just don't get on with the Mac UI"

Then don't buy a Mac. Go to PC World, get a beige box put Linux on that where it belongs.

But I repeat: "Mac Mini is definitely a cuter form factor than anything else out there right now."

We have the opportuntity to run the OS we want, on a box that's not ugly. Is that so hard to understand?

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660487)

What the OS world and Linux fans need now is their own hardware platform so they can stop polluting everyone elses.

You can change the window manager.. (1)

dmouritsendk (321667) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660450)

So why not just make a user for "pure-x11" and make metacity+gnome(or whatever) the default wm/de for that user. You could then log both users in at once, and have get a excuse for using that extremely cool looking user-switching between the two.

Re:Why? (0, Redundant)

Epistax (544591) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660331)

I don't like OS X.

Re:Why? (1)

harlows_monkeys (106428) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660394)

I guess that's neat and all, but why wouldn't I just install X11 for whatever apps I run that need it, and run everything through OS X?

Well, one reason is some programs won't run with Apple's X11. For example, Konqueror gets this error:

Xlib: extension "XInputExtension" missing on display ":1.0".

Failed to get list of devices
For those without a Mac, Xnest also doesn't provide the XInputExtension extension, so you can play around with that, and find out what works and what doesn't. (In fact, the error message I gave above is from a run on Xnest, not on a Mac).

A lot of programs bitch about the lack of XInputExtension, but go ahead and work fine. I don't know why Konqueror can't do that, too, but it doesn't.

Article Text (just incase of slashdotting) (3, Informative)

Jsutton1027w (757650) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660079)


Apple's Mac Mini is something which a lot of Linux users have been waiting for: An inexpensive, readily available PowerPC system in a small, quiet and attractive chassis.

Debian is very popular on Intel i386 compatible systems. Due to the open source nature of the Linux kernel and the Debian operating system, it is possible to build the same software to run on the PowerPC processor found inside the Mac Mini. It's simple to swap your big, noisy old PC for the slim, svelte Mac Mini, and this page aims to show you how to do just this.

Personally, I bought the Mac Mini as a replacement for my girlfriend's aging 1GHz Pentium-III system. Thanks to the portability of Debian and its advanced package management tools, making her new Mac look like her old PC took only an hour or so.


The hardware specification is somewhat less than stellar by 2005 standards, but still perfectly adequate. One can choose between a 1.25GHz or 1.42GHz PowerPC G4, both running with 512K on-chip L2 cache and a 166MHz "MaxBus" front side bus. This is markedly less powerful than contemporary Intel or AMD x86 systems, but for the overwhelming majority of tasks this is more than enough processing ability. If you need more power, you can always stack a few more Minis on top;-)

The advantage of the G4 used in the Mac Mini is that it produces very little heat relative to an x86 processor with comparable computational power, making it ideal for the small space inside the Mac Mini. The G4 used dissipates around 21W at 1.42GHz, and 18.3W at 1.25GHz.

The other hardware in the box is also mature and reliable (or, if you're a glass-half-empty person, cheap and slow). The Mac Mini has an RV280 GPU ("Radeon 9200") with 32MB of dedicated DDR SDRAM. The RV280 doesn't have fancy features such as hardware geometry or lighting transformation, but it's more than adequate for people who aren't interested in playing the latest 3D games. The 3D hardware it does possess is supported by XFree86, which is excellent news.

The system has a single DIMM socket which takes standard PC2700 modules, although it is slightly tricky to gain access to it. The largest available upgrade at present is a 1GB module, but I believe that the Mac Mini will also be certified for use with 2GB modules when they enter production. For the average Linux user, 1GB will be more than adequate. The 256MB Apple supply is far too little for MacOSX.

For heat and noise reasons, Apple have chosen to use a 2.5" (laptop-size) hard drive in the Mac Mini, making end-user upgrades fiddly and expensive. The 40GB or 80GB hard drive supplied is unlikely to be large enough for everyone. Apple appears to be shipping a mix of 4200rpm and 5400rpm units in the 40GB size, but currently all 80GB units are 4200rpm. The 5400rpm drives are apparently faster, presumably due to their shorter head seek times. My unit has an 80GB Toshiba MK8025GAS.

The Mac Mini uses Apple's "Intrepid" north bridge. It appears to be a very compact derivative of the eMac's motherboard design. This diagram illustrates the hardware in the Mac Mini as exactly as I can. Note that the MaxBus and SDRAM are clocked at 166MHz, and the internal optical drive is configured as a slave device on the same ATA-100 bus used by the hard drive. This is a cost-saving measure on Apple's part, as the Intrepid chipset has a second ATA channel that could be used for the optical drive.

The Airport card and Bluetooth modules are mounted on an optional mezzanine card. If your system did not come with either of these options, the mezzanine card will not be present. I am told that the modem is not present on models sold into the educational market.


It's quiet -- very quiet. But not silent. The only noise is the barely audible hum from the hard disk. Thanks to the fluid dynamic bearings, this isn't the annoying high-pitched whine that older 2.5" disks produced. I'm very pernickety about noise, and I find it quite acceptable.

The Mac Mini has a fanless external 85W switch-mode power supply, about half the size of the Mac itself (picture here [slashdot.org] ), moving a major source of heat out of the metal chassis. Combined with the G4 processor's relatively low clock speed, this was presumably key to Apple's thermal design. Having less heat to dissipate means that, while the Mac Mini does have a small cooling fan, it rarely spins up to a high speed. Performing normal office work it is inaudible. The only noise coming out of the Mac Mini is the quiet hum of the hard disk, and even that can spin down automatically when the system is completely idle.

The optical drive is relatively loud when in use. I never really use optical media, so this doesn't bother me. It may bother you.

Inside the Mac Mini

Upgrading the RAM requires opening the case. See this page [smashsworld.com] , where you can download a nice PDF and a video showing how to disassemble the system.

In fact, the PDF is a complete maintenance guide, presumably written for Apple service technicians. If the site above isn't working, you can also download it here [slashdot.org] (22MB PDF).

You'll need a putty/spreading knife, be sure to buy the very thinnest possible. The tool I used is extremely thin and springy and still it left little gouge marks on the base of the chassis.

Please don't attempt to open your Mac unless you're familiar with opening consumer electronics devices. If you break your Mac, you get to keep both halves.

Linux Hardware support

MPC7447A [freescale.com] ("G4") processor with AltivecSupported Apple UniNorth 2 AGP 4X bridgeSupported Apple UniNorth 2 FireWireSupported Apple Intrepid ATA/100 controllerSupported Apple 10/100Mbit ethernet (Sun GEM)Supported NEC PCI USB 2.0 controller (EHCI/OHCI)Supported ATI Radeon 9200Supported Apple Intrepid AudioUnsupported (probably fixed soon) Apple Bluetooth moduleUntested (but should work) Apple 56K V.92 modemUntested (but may work) Apple Airport Extreme (802.11g)Unsupported (fix unlikely, see below)

Do not expect the 802.11g wireless ("Airport Extreme") to work. The Apple Airport Extreme module uses a PCI 802.11g chipset from Broadcom, and there is no open-source driver for this hardware. In the i386 world some people use NDIS wrappers to run the Windows drivers under Linux, but this is not possible on the Mac Mini. No equivalent solution exists for the MacOS drivers. Time to go shopping for a supported USB 802.11g dongle.

I'm not sure about the modem or the optional Bluetooth module, I've not tested either yet.

The audio doesn't appear to be working yet, possibly because the audio driver doesn't recognise the newer chipset as one that it should attempt to drive. I imagine that this will be fixed shortly.

A few odd problems I've discovered:

  • If I plug the firewire port into the firewire port on my PC, it seems to interfere with the PC's power supply. It's like holding down the "reset" button on the PC. This makes it impossible to use "firewire target disk mode" on the Mac Mini. This may turn out to be a problem with the firewire card in my PC; I've not been able to test with another system yet.
  • The "radeon" driver in kernel 2.6.10 cannot reliably drive my 1600x1200 LCD over DVI. The image flickers, as if the timing was wrong. MacOSX can drive this LCD fine on the same hardware, so it appears to be a problem with the "radeon" driver in 2.6.10. The driver in 2.6.9 fares better, but the screen is afflicted with some sort of bizarre technicolour snow. Very annoying. The driver in kernel 2.6.9 can drive my 1280x1024 LCD over DVI without any problems, and I assume it's fine at lower resolutions too. I've not tested 2.6.10 with the 1280x1024 LCD yet.

Installing Debian GNU/Linux

Tools you will require:

  • Apple Mac OS X installation media (comes with the Mac)
  • Internet connection
  • Blank CD-R
  • Weak lemon drink

The following process will erase your Mac's internal hard disk. Any data on it will be lost. Copy anything you value to another computer or onto writable optical media before proceeding.

When you receive your Mac mini from Apple, it will have a single partition for MacOSX which occupies the entire disk. In order to install Debian, you'll need to set aside part of the disk for Debian's filesystem. This process is called "partitioning". When we repartition the disk, any filesystems on it must be reformatted (or "re-initialised" in Apple-speak). If you have any valuable data on your Mac, copy it somewhere safe (preferably another computer) before proceeding.

If you want your Mac to run only Debian, you can skip ahead to burning the installation CD. If you want to dual-boot MacOSX and Debian, read on.

With MacOSX running, insert the gray "MacOSX Install Disc 1" that you received with your Mac. Run the installer from the disc and, when prompted, click the "Restart" button. Your Mac Mini will reboot (bong!) and load the MacOSX installer from the optical disc. If you've nadgered your OSX installation already, just reboot with the disc in the drive and hold down the "C" key on your keyboard -- this will force the Mac's firmware to try to boot from the internal optical drive.

With the installer running, open on the "Installer" menu in the top left of the screen. Choose "Open Disk Utility". You'll now need to tell Disk Utility how to partition the hard disk. I asked for five partitions. Most of these I marked as "Free Space". This is fine, we will re-assign their purpose in the Debian installer. Disk Utility is a little fiddly to use, but persevere and you'll figure it out in the end. A few tips: If you use the mouse to resize a partition below one gigabyte, it starts counting in megabytes instead. This allows you to type in the exact size you want for small partitions. To select a partition which is too small to be visible, click on another partition and use the tab key on the keyboard.

This table shows how I partitioned my 80GB internal disk. I decided to have an 8GB partition which I would format as FAT32. This allows me to easily and reliably share files between OSX and Linux, both of which have good FAT32 support but, at the time of writing, poor or incomplete support for each other's native filesystems.
Partition Type Size Purpose Partition 1Free Space16 MBDebian Bootstrap Partition 2Free Space2 GBDebian swap space Partition 3Free Space44.5 GBDebian root filesystem Partition 4Free Space8 GBShared FAT32 filesystem Partition 5MacOS Extended (Journalled)20 GBMacOSX filesystem

A word of caution: I found that Disk Utility would sometimes "lose" some space, presumably this is a bug in the software. Check that the partition sizes add up to the right amount when you're done resizing them. And remember than an 80 "marketing-gigabyte" disk contains only 74.5 "real-gigabytes". I had to quit and re-start Disk Utility several times before I managed to make it work right. I think the trick was to do the last partition first, then start down from the first one.

Once you're done, click the Partition button, quit Disk Utility, and install MacOSX onto your new partition.

Drink your weak lemon drink now.

Eventually the Mac will reboot into MacOSX so you give all your personal details to Apple and then get on with life in OS X. Your computer now has some empty partitions for Debian to install itself onto.

Next up you'll need a Debian Installation CD.

Debian has several "branches", several of which are in continuous development. New versions of software are uploaded into the unstable branch. After a few weeks without serious bugs being found in unstable, the testing branch accepts these packages. Periodically Debian "freezes" testing and releases it as a new stable branch. A new branch is then created to become the new testing.

I'm going to show you how to install "Sarge", which is the name for the current testing branch. It's not quite the white-knuckle-ride that the unstable branch is, and unlike the stable branch it contains pretty up-to-date software. It's the smart choice.

Here's an outline of the process:

  • Download an ISO image from the Debian web site
  • Burn ISO image to a blank CD-R
  • Reboot into the Debian installer
  • Install the Debian "base system"; this is a minimal Debian system with just enough tools to download and install any additional packages you require
  • Reboot into the Debian base system
  • Select the packages you'd like to use
  • Download and install the packages
  • Build an optimized kernel
  • Enjoy!

Run Safari and go to the Debian Installer [debian.org] page. Here you can download an ISO file, which is a filesystem image ready to be burnt onto a blank CD-R. I downloaded the Release Candidate 2 ("rc2") version of the installer. If a more recent version is available, you may wish to try that instead. There are many different CD images available.

You want one of the "powerpc" images. There are several different sizes available. If you connect to the Internet through your Mac's ethernet port, I'd recommend the businesscard CD image [debian.org] , which is about 110MB. This contains enough to install the base system without any further downloads. If you don't mind downloading a lot, or if you connect to the Internet through the Mac's internal modem, it might be a better idea to download the full CD set [debian.org] instead, as these include a snapshot of the most popular packages. Don't worry that there are 14(!) CDs, they are organised with the most popular software on the low numbered CDs. You can get a working system with just CD 1, I believe. Each full CD is about 650MB.

Once you've got a lovely ISO, you'll want to burn it to CD. You can't just burn it as a file on a CD, the file is itself an image of a CD ("iso9660") filesystem. Open your "Applications" folder, then the "Utilities" folder, and run "Disk Utility" again. Sometimes it feels like this is the only OSX application I ever run. Anyway, from the "Images" menu select "Open". Find your ISO file and open it. Click on the ISO image and then click the "Burn" button on the toolbar. Feed your Mac Mini a blank CD-R and drink some weak lemon drink now.

Before you reboot, you might want to flick through the Sarge installation manual [debian.org] for PowerPC. We're about to start Chapter 5.

Reboot or power on your machine. Before the "bong!", hold down the "C" key. The bootstrap on the Debian CD should load. If you just end up in OS X, try again.

At the "boot:" prompt, just hit enter. The kernel will boot. After a few seconds, the installer will start and you'll be asked a few simple questions. Ideally you would be connected to the Internet through the Mac Mini's ethernet port, in which case you can tell the installer to use "eth0" as the primary network interface.

After downloading the package lists from your local Debian archive, the installer will launch the partitioning tool. We've already partitioned our disk, but we need to use the tool to set the correct partition types. When prompted, choose to "Manually edit the partition table". If you followed my five partition plan earlier, this is what you want to end up with:

  • Don't touch the small Partition #1 at the start of the disk, that contains the partition map itself.
  • Partition #2 (16MB) is for "yaboot", the bootstrap that allows you to boot Linux or MacOS. You want to tell the partitioner to use that partition as a "NewWorld boot partition", and set the bootable flag.
  • Partition #3 (2.0GB) should be used as "swap area".
  • Partition #4 (48.0GB) is your root filesystem, you want to use that as a "ReiserFS journalling file system", format it, and mount it on "/".
  • Partition #5 (8.7GB) is used as a "FAT32 file system", I've mounted mine on "/shared".
  • There is no Partition #6!
  • Partition #7 (21.3GB) is Mac OS X's filesystem. Don't touch it.

When you're done, select "Finish partitioning and write changes to disk". For me, the installer complained that the FAT32 partition "had errors". I think this means that it couldn't format it, presumably because it's missing mkfs.vfat. Don't panic, just continue with the installation -- it's a simple problem to fix later.

Debian will now install a base system. This is a system with enough tools to get started, connect up to the Internet and download any additional software you need. This step takes a few minutes, so why not use this time to enjoy drinking some of your refreshing weak lemon drink.

Eventually your Mac will spit out the Debian installation CD and reboot. Instead of rebooting directly into MacOSX as before, it will now load a bootstrap from which you can hit the letter "L" to boot Linux, or "X" to boot MacOSX. Tap "L" and, at the "boot: prompt, the Enter key.

Debian will boot up and you can now complete your installation. The Sarge installation manual [debian.org] will guide you through the rest of the installation process, which is painless. If you're following along, start at Chapter 7.2.

This article is still incomplete. Check back for future updates. Put the rest of your weak lemon drink in the fridge until I'm done.

If you're in a rush ...

  • If you wish to build your own kernel, here is my kernel .config for 2.6.9 [slashdot.org] , which you may find useful. Building a new kernel is very quick and simple with the Debian tools, just install "kernel-package" and follow the documentation.
  • Once you've installed the base system, you can easily install the same software on your Mac Mini as you use on another Debian system:
    • Use "dpkg --get-selections > selections.txt" on your current system.
    • Copy the "selections.txt" file over to your Mac Mini.
    • Run "dpkg --set-selections " on your Mac Mini, to tell it which packages you want installed.
    • Finally, "apt-get dselect-upgrade" will download and install the packages.
  • Here's my XF86Config-4 [slashdot.org] file. I use a 1280x1024 LCD over DVI.

Buying a Mac Mini?

If you do choose to purchase a Mac Mini and you found this article helpful, please consider purchasing it from Amazon via these links.

Amazon pay me a small proportion of the retail price as a referral fee, which I will spend on biscuits to fuel further late-night tinkering sessions. The price you pay remains the same, and thanks to Apple's clever price fixing, you're unlikely to find a lower price elsewhere.


Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660110)


Re:Article Text (just incase of slashdotting) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660270)

Why do people mod up such blatant karma whoring?

Re:Article Text (just incase of slashdotting) (1)

mshawatmit (825042) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660348)

Back in the real world, when you see people like that, you just laugh them off. Thats exactly what we should do here on slashdot:

Mod karma whores +1 Funny ... and laugh at their inefficient whoring all day long.

Re:Article Text (just incase of slashdotting) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660427)

I bought the Mac Mini as a replacement for my girlfriend's aging 1GHz Pentium-III system.

Can I have her old 1GHz PC??

but why? (1, Redundant)

Coneasfast (690509) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660080)

i'm sure many geeks will find this interesting, but does this have any practical uses?, i mean seriously, who would buy a mac mini just to put on debian?

you could make a mini-itx computer for much less, and put debian on that, not to mention it'll be much more fun :).

Re:but why? (2)

Chairboy (88841) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660147)

Much less? Mac mini is $500, roughly equivalent to a comparable mini-itx.

I have an M10000 Mini-itx mobo in my car, and I know the costs. Your message smacks of 'it's a mac, so it's obviously much more expensive'.

We live in a strange time, with cheap Macs (mini) and iPods (shuffles). We're like one wax seal away from the apocalypse.

Re:but why? (2, Informative)

puetzc (131221) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660273)

I built a mini-ITX computer for my wife about a year ago. My specs were 1) Small and 2) Quiet. I used a Ontonashi fanless case from http://www.scythe-usa.com/cooler/epia.htm [scythe-usa.com] to satisfy #2. The only OS installed is Debian unstable. My total cost was $600-700 without CD burning capability. If the Mac-mini had been on the market, I would never have bothered, and I doubt that I would have worked with Debian either (as much as I like if for my use). The mini, with OS-X would have been easier to support, smaller, and lower cost. I will probably buy a mini for my college bound daugher soon. You could build a mini-ITX for less, but you wouldn't get all of the features in the mini.

Re:but why? (2)

powerlord (28156) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660373)


I've been debating about upgrading my PC since its gotten a bit out of date. In a college dorm room you don't have a lot of space, so I've been looking at mini-ITX cases and all, but the Mac-mini looks like a very good alternative. Its small, fanless (so I can leave it on and work with a silent keyboard without bothering my room-mate too badly), and the price and OS-X are both additional plusses.

OK (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660081)

learn to live without the AirPort Extreme

And iMovie, and iDVD and iTunes and Photoshop and Poser and Bryce and Vue D'Esprit and... wait... why do I want to do this again?

Re:OK (3, Informative)

lspd (566786) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660166)

The biggest disappointment is that sound doesn't work yet. In the Ubuntu forums there are some comments [ubuntuforums.org] on forcing the snd-powermac driver to work with the Mini, but I haven't had any luck with it using Debian's 2.6.9 powerpc kernel.

Re:OK (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660437)

dunno about ubuntu but in debian sid, i just modprobe snd-powermac -v and it works. (Debian 2.6.9 ppc)

WHy would you want to? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660086)

If you really wanted a Debian machine, then if you spend the amount you would on a Mac Mini on x86 hardware, then you can almost get a top of the range box, certainly a 1gb ram, 80gb hdd, 2.8ghz machine is possible with the cost the Mac Mini is at.

So why would you use the same OS, on what is essentially older, and far less impressive hardware, when for the same price you get the same OS, and FAR better hardware?

Please fill me in.

Re:WHy would you want to? (1)

Saint Stephen (19450) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660167)

Because it's ivory-white colored :-)

Macs are for ricers :-)

Re:WHy would you want to? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660194)

The same reason people buy iPods: because it's small, quiet, and sexy.

Yes, you could get a Mini-ITX system or a Shuttle PC. And if you're going to run Debian, that might even be the better option.

But, well. Maybe the style premium was worth the extra money.

Re:WHy would you want to? (1)

owlstead (636356) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660215)


Re:Why would you want to? (2, Insightful)

elendril (15418) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660262)

Maybe because from the price of the mac mini, your x86 hardware will be a bigger, less pretty and probably noiser ? "Better" is quite relative: It all depends on your priorities.

We could debate the interest of using Debian over Mac OS X, but if your really need Debian on a small computer, why not the mac mini ?

Apparently (5, Funny)

Primotech (731340) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660093)

The "because-you-can" department is in overdrive today.

Live without AirPort Extreme? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660095)

Install linux, lose functionality.

Why wasn't Yellow Dog linux used, atleast? Fine, install linux on everything available but atleast use the right damn tool for the job.

Cool, man (1, Funny)

Swampfeet (758961) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660099)

Hey, man, so when can I install Windows 3.1 on my new Sony Vaio that came with XP? Sorta the same deal, isn't it?

Re:Cool, man (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660445)

Nope, it's like: Hey, man, I can install debian on my new Sony Vaio that came with XP.

What! No Airport Extreme! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660100)

Wow, bad wireless support in a Linux Distro? What next? No major vendor games?

Why? (1, Redundant)

ari_j (90255) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660103)

You can build a decent and small Debian box for the same money, and MacOS X in a small package is the main reason for buying the Mini in the first place.

I just ordered a PowerBook. I'm going to run MacOS X on it. If I wanted a laptop running Debian, I already have one. I want something with absolutely perfect support for all the hardware on the machine, but which doesn't hold me back like Windows does. MacOS X is the answer, and I bought a PowerBook to run it.

If I got a Mini, it, too, would run MacOS X. I already have Debian boxes, and I didn't pay $500 just to spend an hour undermining half the benefits of having the machine in the first place.

Remember, a Mac Mini = a Mac, period. (3, Informative)

FunWithHeadlines (644929) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660116)

It's nice to see all the excitement about the Mac Mini, and it is a cool box that is cheap but without cheap parts. But let's remember that a Mac Mini is basically just a Mac in a new box. If you can install Debian onto a Mac Mini, you can do it for any Mac.

Re:Remember, a Mac Mini = a Mac, period. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660192)

Yeah, this 'how-to' consists basically of "download iso, burn cd, boot cd, format & install", once you skip the author's editorializing and advertising his Amazon referral.

Slackware? (-1, Flamebait)

bird603568 (808629) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660128)

If I had to pick a distro it would be slack. Just as a question, why was Debian picked over say gentoo or slack? Debian is soo bloated.

Re:Slackware? (1)

Homology (639438) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660209)

Debian is soo bloated.

This is why I run MSDOS! No bloat and blindingly fast! And by the way, who needs anti-aliased font!?!?!?! That just consumes extremely valuable CPU and memory resources!!!!!

Re:Slackware? (1)

powerlord (28156) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660412)

and sadly enough I have a professor who only browses the web in Lynx.

Re:Slackware? (2, Informative)

faedle (114018) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660245)

Well, for starters: how much do you know about the Mac hardware? Apparently, very little.

Slackware, officially, only supports x86 processors.

The Mac dosen't use an x86 processor.

Debian, on the other hand, does produce a PowerPC Linux distro.

Debian and OSX (5, Informative)

puregen1us (648116) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660140)

The main bonus of Debian has always seemed to me to apt.

I have OSX. I have apt. I just installed fink, and got apt with it. I installed Apple's X11 and I run GNOME in full-screen mode. I like the way it runs with Aqua. The desktop is the same in both. I use LyX a lot, but don't like the Aqua QT version so I use the X11 version with GNOME it works better, but when I click "View DVI" it switches back to Aqua and opens TeXShop because I like that program.

I love that kind of interoperability. I get the best of both worlds. I can apt-get install stuff, and still get nice OSX software running alongside it.

If I did want debian on my powerbook I would install Ubuntu. I has a great install process, has a clean desktop even my parents could use, and runs well. But I wouldn't give up my Airport Extreme card for it.

Re:Debian and OSX (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660244)

Except your parents couldn't use Ubuntu. thanks to the sickening gay/les/mixed raced script-kiddie porn desktop images it comes bundled with.

It has anything but a clean desktop.

Re:Debian and OSX (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660303)

just a wild guess here.. do you, and or your parents, live in Texas?

Why - Because OS X and BSD are not Linux (5, Insightful)

jayloden (806185) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660157)

I can think of a reason right off the top of my head why you might want to install Debian on a Mac. There are plenty of people making comments that this is stupid, but guess what? I like Macs, and I really want a Powerbook, but I'd like Linux on it in addition to OS X for two reasons.

1) I like Linux, and I like to switch it up sometimes - maybe on Tuesdays I dont feel like running OS X
2) When I'm working in an all Linux environment, it's often more convenient to have a full Linux OS to test on, work with, and interface with the rest of the system. YES, OS X has BSD under there, but that's not Linux, as any BSD fan will be quick to point out, and there _is_ a difference between being able to fun some linux apps on your OS, and actually having Linux on your machine.


Re:Why - Because OS X and BSD are not Linux (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660197)

That's right. No need for confusion. You will know when you are running Linux when your machine boots and you are offered a choice of 20 different incompatible GUIs,

Also you will know when you are running Linux when your machine is rebooting itself all the time and is running 20 times slower thanks to KDE/GNOME.

Rebooting itself all the time? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660289)

I wonder why my sparc linux box has a 180 day uptime, then.

Re:Why - Because OS X and BSD are not Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660459)

Um, the thing about Linux/X11 is in fact you have the choice of 20 different COMPATIBLE GUIs - e.g. I can have the minimalism of the Windowmaker WM yet still run KDE and GNOME applications, not just GNUStep ones (as might be the naive assumption given Windowmaker's background).

Debian on PPC (1)

TotoLeFoobar (256317) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660174)

The procedure looks rather similar to installing Linux on an ibook/powerbook: nothing difficult, nice hardware, but not everything is supported (a problem with most laptops anyway, but I wish hardware makers would be more cooperative).

I've been using Debian GNU/Linux on my ibook for two years and I love it (except for the buggy motherboards, but Apple finally fixed that). OSX is perhaps Unix, but it doesn't give me the freedom that Debian GNU/Linux does, nor does it have apt-get :-)

Re:Debian on PPC (1)

faedle (114018) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660220)

Install Fink, and you can have all the apt-get goodness you want.

Re:Debian on PPC (1)

delire (809063) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660322)

yes but to install what? i'd miss all the Debian package goodness..

Re:Debian on PPC (1)

faedle (114018) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660353)

Fink uses the same install database as Debian, for the most part. It even uses the Debian source repository when you do an apt-get source (package). The only thing that is different is it uses a different binary tree for binary packages (which makes sense).

For the most part (and the exceptions are rare), since the package names are the same, you can apt-get install (some-debian-package), and get a nice PowerPC-native Darwin-built binary.

Re:Debian on PPC (1)

delire (809063) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660422)

right! very interesting.

i'd be interested to see the package matchup/difference across native debian and OSX.

that said though, i just can't see any reason to run OSX. the interface is just so horrible and confusing. also being not free, non-portable and all..

benchmarks also seem a bit poor for 3D applications, largely due to the fact that the OS is using the card for fast blitting. albeit 2D, i'd rather be using the card for what i want thanks ;)

What freedom is lacking ? (1)

gorim (700913) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660349)

Just what can you do on Debian PPC that you can't do on OSX ?

It Just Like... (2, Insightful)

Doc Squidly (720087) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660204)

Wouldn't it be like installing Debian on another Mac? Installing Linux on any box with new hardware will require a bit tinkering but, IMHO, it doesn't warrent a story.

*Shakes head, walks away*

keep in mind (2, Informative)

Neuropol (665537) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660208)

currently there is no intrepid audio support.

i can live without bluetooth and the apple modem support, but no audio ...

Yellow Dog (4, Informative)

Phat_Tony (661117) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660249)

Yellow Dog Linux, based on Fedora Core, also supports [yellowdoglinux.com] Mini Mac already, although they don't support Airport Extreme (yet) either.

Re:Yellow Dog (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660406)

Any particular reason that linux distros are having so much trouble with airport extreme? What is the difficulty in doing so?
I've been considering tinkering with linux on my iBook, but not until they get the whole wireless thing down.

question about debian (0, Offtopic)

SQLz (564901) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660266)

Can you 'emerge' stuff on debian?

Re:question about debian (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660329)

I suppose 'apt-get source -b somepackage' would be equivalent?

Re:question about debian (1)

StuartFreeman (624419) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660359)

apt-get will get you a precompiled binary and all of its dependencies, or you can use apt-build to build them from source.

Mezzanine slot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660281)

Is the Mezzanine connector in the Mac Mini the same as the one in rev. A-B iMacs?

Re:Mezzanine slot (1)

keeleysam (792221) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660393)

There is no internal expansion.

Use Ubuntu (Debian) (4, Interesting)

MarkWatson (189759) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660300)

The people at Ubuntu [ubuntu.com] start with Debian and package it for end users. I have Ubuntu on 2 of my 3 Macs (but both are dual boot) and except for having to install IBM's PowerPC Java SDK, it was just about ready to go.

Why run Linux on a Mac? I find that Linux has less to distract me from work. I like to boot OS X to edit video, etc., but for writing (OpenOffice.org) and programming (Eclipse for Java, Python, and C++) there is less fluff on Linux to distract me from my work.

i got an idea (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660306)

why dont they name this article 'how to turn a decently performing computer into an unsupported, open source infested piece of stylish feces'?

Fucking Mac zealots (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11660344)

Every time one of your precious Apple products is mentioned on Slashdot, 5000 of you crawl out of your coffee shops to comment on your perceived stupidity of any modification.

News flash: We know you consider Jobs holy as Christians do the Bible, and any modifications or changes done to the work of Jobs is considered heresy. But let it go -- this is Slashdot after all. If you have a problem with it, go talk on an Apple-specific forum.

Re:Fucking Mac zealots (0, Flamebait)

Inconnux (227132) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660389)

Coffee shops? I would have thought they came out of their 'nature' stores chomping granola wearing sandles and getting into their VW Bugs :p

want linux? (0, Troll)

superatrain (842910) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660368)

Why dont you use apples X server, use fink to apt-get kde, use quartzwm instead of kde, then you end up with a system that can run both linux and mac apps proplerly, kde with real-time transparency, etc.....

Re:want linux? (1)

mrwoody (856093) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660460)

Why dont you use apples X server, use fink to apt-get kde, use quartzwm instead of kde...

... why not just try with an mbox then?

Benchmark (1)

mrwoody (856093) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660407)

Does anyone have any benchmark regarding this toy compared to a normal PC? It would be nice to see what the real ratio quality/price is.

Can anyone explain to me how Slashdot Karma works?

Mac Mini Linux Servers (1)

kaos_ (96522) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660423)

Anyone experimented with running these systems as cluster systems or disposable servers? Would be pretty cool to stack these up.

No 802.11g !!! (1)

mrwoody (856093) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660436)

Do not expect the 802.11g wireless ("Airport Extreme") to work. The Apple Airport Extreme module uses a PCI 802.11g chipset from Broadcom, and there is no open-source driver for this hardware

Well I guess that wouldn't work for me, then.

Great (-1, Troll)

Pan T. Hose (707794) | more than 9 years ago | (#11660464)

We have already managed to get rid of the ugly case [slashdot.org] and now we can also get rid of the ugly OS. Those Macs start to look as an interesting option. But seriously, I love Macs because they represent cheerfulness and lighthearted excitement, they are merry, bright and lively, they have vivid and joyful style. Isn't changing the case to PC ATX and installing Debian on a Mac essentially removing all of its gayness? What's the point?
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