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Installing Debian Etch-and-a-half onto a Powerbook G3 (Wallstreet)

This is the hardware and software I used, since my bay CD Drive was broken. As you can see, I have a lot of handy junk laying around. It helps to live 3 blocks from Micro Center as well.
  • 1x PCMCIA->USB adapter
  • 1x 2GB USB Flash Drive
  • 1x IDE CD/DVD-RW Drive
  • 1x USB -> IDE hard drive enclosure, opened up (to connect the CD Drive)
  • BootX 1.2.2
  • CarbonLib_1.0.4.smi.bin
  • aladdin-expander-6.0.sea.hqx
  • Mac OS 8.1, installed to Mac's HD
  • debian-40r4a-powerpc-netinst.iso, burned to CD
  • Ethernet connection to internet
  • method to transfer files to and from the powerbook (I used a FAT32 formatted CF card in a PCMCIA adapter)

The first step is to get the bootloader installed. I used the BootX bootloader, but for some reason the downloaded .sit files wouldn't expand, except for v1.1.3. I had Stuffit Expander 5, so decided to find an upgrade. I googled around for aladdin-expander-6.0.sea.hqx and got what I needed. However, this required me to download CarbonLib. After that, the .sit files expanded with no problem. The latest BootX at the time of this writing was BootX v.1.2.2.

I placed the BootX App into Control Panels, and the BootX Extension into Extensions.
I tranferred a copy of the /boot/initrd and /boot/vmlinux files from the Etch CD to my Powerbook. I placed initrd.gz and vmlinux in /System Folder/Linux Kernels on my PowerBook. Then I unplugged my PCMCIA cards, rebooted and was presented with the BootX bootloader window. I hit tab to select linux, then I went into Options, and turned SCSI on, and set the ram disk to initrd.gz. I saved the preferences, plugged in both the USB Flash drive and the USB CD Drive to the PCMCIA adapter and booted linux.

I was presented with the Debian installer. Video was a little strange, but I figured I could deal with that later. I had to manually set the CD-ROM device to /dev/sr0 (check the debug console with ALT+F4 for info on your devices if your CD drive isn't autodetected). The ethernet drivers loaded and DHCP assigned an IP, then I partitioned my USB Flash drive (/dev/sda, NOT /dev/hda -> that's MacOS and we need it to boot with BootX). Installation of the core packages took a while with my meager 64MB of RAM.

When installation completed, I opted not to install a bootloader, as I saw reports of issues with quik and the Wallstreet. Instead, I pressed ALT+F4 to open a terminal, and copied /boot/vmlinux and /boot/initrd.img to my web server using netcat. I pressed ALT+F1 to get back to the installer, and let it reboot. I booted into MacOS, and downloaded the ramdisk image and kernel to my Linux Kernels folder, reconfigured BootX for the new kernel, initrd, and root device (/dev/sda), saved the preferences, and rebooted.. voila! A customizable debian has revived this computer. Well, not quite. My PCMCIA-> USB adapter wasn't being registered when the kernel loaded modules from the initial ram disk. So, on my main Linux desktop, I did this, using the initrd.img from the powerbook's copy of Debian.

mkdir /tmp/initrd_ppc/
cd /tmp/initrd_ppc
gunzip < /path/to/ppc/initrd.img | cpio -i --make-directories

Then I plugged in the Flash drive with the Powerbook's Debian on it:

mount /dev/sdb2 /mnt
cp -R /mnt/lib/modules/2.6.18-6-powerpc/kernel/drivers/pcmcia /tmp/initrd_ppc/lib/modules/2.6.18-6-powerpc/kernel/drivers/
cp -R /mnt/lib/modules/2.6.18-6-powerpc/kernel/drivers/usb /tmp/initrd_ppc/lib/modules/2.6.18-6-powerpc/kernel/drivers/

I didn't know what modules I would specifically need, so I just lazily added everything from PCMCIA and added USB core:

echo "rsrc_nonstatic" >> conf/modules
echo "pcmcia_core" >> conf/modules
echo "pcmcia" >> conf/modules
echo "yenta_socket" >> conf/modules
echo "usb_core" >> conf/modules
echo "i82092" >> conf/modules
echo "pd6729" >> conf/modules

Then all I had to do was pack the initrd up again:

find /tmp/initrd_ppc/ | cpio -H newc -o > initrd.cpio
gzip initrd.cpio
mv initrd.cpio.gz initrd-custom.img

Copy initrd-custom.img to the Powerbook's Mac OS partition, have BootX point to it, and you should be able to reboot into Linux. Make sure you pass 'root=/dev/sda2' as kernel arguments (or /dev/whereveryourdebianpartitionis).


PS - I later upgraded to Lenny (current Debian testing) and it went quite well. All i had to do was the standard modification of /etc/apt/sources.list and then a dist-upgrade. Then I just modifed the initrd again. I'm in the process of repurposing the laptop as a videophone and cookie dispenser for my sweet old pit bull mutt while I am at work.


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chicago, il, United States
I'm a software engineer by profession.