Resurrection

I can’t stand to see an old computer be thrown out. A fact that means that I’ve far too much clutter and plenty of things that are collecting dust in some corner or another. A quick mental audit throws up the following:

In my store room, no-one can hear you scream ...

In my store room, no-one can hear you scream …

And yet I still can’t refuse when someone says: “I’ve replace my desktop / laptop / server do you want the old one ?” To this end, I’m grateful to my Brother-in-Law ( he of the clown ) who, when he replaced his old Mac Book (A1181) asked exactly that. To be fair, he was replacing it because it had slowed to a crawl with OS X, the battery had died (permanent power required) and the optical drive has either been removed or died – possibly both, but not necessarily in that order !

It has also come to pass that my eldest child is just about to finish GCSEs and start on A-Levels, and, with mostly (all!) essay subjects plus a relaxation of the school rules on the use of computers – we had a discussion about giving her a laptop.

The above list of machines are things that I own that are in storage – there are plenty of working, switched on computers around the house – oldest two have desktops, youngest has another old laptop re-purposed to run Ubuntu 14 04 – there is also at least one “communal” Apple laptop and my better half’s and my personal laptops ( a distinction that appears to be completely lost on the kids … ) – because of this, I really don’t feel that buying a new laptop – even for the few hundred pounds that you can pick-up things for from PC World today – is worth it. It’s likely to be kicked around, abused, used and left in a bag in a school locker / shelf / corridor – so something new and shiny isn’t going to be for long. Say what you like about the speed of old computers, but the build quality of them is something else all together – I can use the IBM RS6000 to get things off high shelves by standing on it – I’d like to see you do that with a new Mac Pro trashcanMac Pro Trash Can

So, given the “new” laptop at my disposal, and a new found determination to help everyone see the light about Linux – a solution dawned. A quick survey about user requirements elicited the following:

  1. Word Processing
  2. Music – listening, not composing
  3. Movies – watching, not filming
  4. E-mail
  5. Skype
  6. And the usual suspects of social media … ( Facebook … )

Ok, well there is nothing in the list that should challenge the processor overly, so the plan still looks pretty sound. Ordered a new battery from Amazon for the grand total of £17 and set to work.

One of the inspirations for this has been a recent episode of one of the pod-casts that I listen to – “The Linux Action Show” – they have recently migrated an Apple user from her MacBook pro to Linux – originally on the Mac hardware, but ultimately to a Lenovo Yoga. For them, after several attempts at getting Linux installed – over various flavours – they opted for Antergos – this is actually the distro that I currently have running on my desktop, and thus I (a) have a DVD already burnt and (b) it seems fine to me (!).

It was at this point that I found out that the optical drive didn’t exist … Slightly troublesome and I slid the disk into what turned out to be an empty slot and then spent 5 minutes trying to extract it from the case without an eject mechanism. Fine, stage 2 – put it onto a USB thumb drive – piece of cake – had the image, had the drive done. Hold down the option key to select boot media – nothing to chose from except the hard disk… Methinks – ok, being daft here, no trouble to try a different OS, I have the images so won’t take long – let’s have Fedora 22 on the USB … Still nada …

Right – Google time. All became clear, and I kicked myself for my forgetfulness. The Mac needs to have the EFI adjusted to allow it to boot other operating systems. The tool to do this is called rEFIt – this hasn’t been supported since it forked in 2013, but as the A1181 Mac model range is from 2006 – 2009 I figured that there would be a pretty good chance that the last published version ( thankfully still available for download ) would work. It’s a quick an easy install, although I did carry out the following command at the command line to be sure:

sudo /efi/rEFIt/enable.sh

( This is courtesy of this page – don’t know if it was necessary, but didn’t see the harm in being safe ! )

Ah hah ! Brilliant – I can now see the USB boot device and even select it to boot from ! Will it now install, will it heck …

So, Antergos – nope, Fedora 22 – nope ( although further than Antergos ), Elementary OS – nope, Ubuntu 14 04 – nope …

Urm … Back to Google – unfortunately I can’t seem to find the vague comment that caught my attention about the fact that this model doesn’t have a 64bit EFI – it’s a 64bit chip, but only a 32bit EFI. The common factor until this point was that all of the versions that I had tried were 64bit. So, after a quick scout, the first that came up with a 32bit version was …

(insert drum roll here)

Elementary OS

Right, now we are cooking with gas … sort of … Installed the downloaded 32bit to USB key, tried and … nope.

Ok, so, back to the drawing board – going over the process from the beginning, back to the EFI. Lo and behold:

rEFIt Troubleshooting USB Disks

Note: The following applies not just to USB hard disks, but to any
storage device that is not considered "internal". That includes USB
flash drives, SD cards and other memory cards, as well as hard drives
attached through Firewire or other connections.

Booting Windows or Linux from an external disk is not well-supported
by Apple’s firmware. It may work for you, but if it does not work, 
there is nothing rEFIt can do about it.

So, don’t have an “internal” CD drive so might have hit a problem here … But anyhoo, lets give it a shot. Off I go to find my USB optical drive, plug that in, burn a 32bit Elementary ISO to a DVD-R and give it a go …

Success ! Woo hoo. Boots like swimming through treacle – so I must admit that I was a little concerned about the performance of the OS once it was installed, but actually it turned out fine once it was running off the hard disk rather than over the lousy USB interface the Mac.

I have to say that it looks great. The requirements list has been met:

  1. Word processing – the indomitable LibreOffice is providing this function.
  2. Music – Spotify – through the web-player rather than the client – I’d have liked the client to install, but as a 32bit OS there doesn’t seem to be a package available – I might revisit and see if the source is there and re-compilable, but as the web-player works so well, I don’t really see the point.
  3. Movies – Netflix / iPlayer / 4oD etc. through Google Chrome – ( this was also required for Spotify for the built in Flash ) and also VLC for viewing things that are held on the media NAS – I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of VLC streaming over the WiFi to the laptop, wasn’t something that I was expecting to be so smooth.
  4. E-mail – Thunderbird and, also, the built in Elementary OS Calendar – both of these were synchronised with the Gmail account and this was seamless ( on the client – had to adjust the Google Security Settings to allow for this to actually work )
  5. Skype – well, I installed Skype – fortunately this is mostly used in chat mode, as hardware support for the camera and microphone seems to be non-existent at the moment. Sound out is fine, sound in – doesn’t even seem to have a microphone – one on the bug list …
  6. Social Media – thank goodness for Google Chrome – I don’t have to worry about any clients as the web interface to everything else is only a click away !

So far the laptop seems to have hit the mark – when I went to say “Goodnight” last night it was in active use – and so far there have been no complaints. There are still some things that need to be sorted out – the microphone hardware is one, an other – if this is going to be used for A-level coursework – will be backups, perhaps that will be tied in with synchronisation with the desktop machine – currently a Windows machine, but maybe going to migrate to Linux off the back of this so that the environment can be common on both. At least that will be 64bit !

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