Ubuntu Booted

Yesterday, Ubuntu failed to meet our expectations as an operating system for my Mac iBook. A little research showed that indeed the airport and dimmer capacities, among other features, are rendered useless under Ubuntu. As I use these features frequently, their absence was unacceptable. And embarrassingly, I have grown a soft spot in my heart for the beauty of the pop-up doc and the convenience of the “apple” key. Now that I know many of the codes by second nature, changing systems would take some time. (Although I have already converted from the Microsoft system.) It’s not quite an addiction, but something close to it. More like immigrants trying to assimilate. They’re not addicted to their own culture, they just know it innately. Each cell is full of memories and patterns that must be broken in the new surrounding.

Despite my minor love affair with the Mac and its beach ball, I have to admit that free software is definitely more people-friendly. After all, it was created by the people! For instance, one disk and no more than a few questions (like my time zone and name) installed Ubuntu. The terms of service were relatively straight forward and hardly intimidating. Mac installation, on the other hand, required me to read and agree to lengthy terms of service, fill in my name, address and other personal info for “registration”. And it took at least twice as long (at least in my memory) to install. Free software may suggest registering, but it does so in a non-invasive, you-can-still-install-the-software-even-if-you-don’t-register manner. I felt coerced to register by Apple.

Registering my Apple sparked an understanding of how the commercial system works: A company (Apple) creates a product (iBook) that they hope people will like, buy, and create profit for the company. They can’t just rest on hope, however because they’ve invested time, money, and ego into the product. So, they advertise to ensure sales. While advertising can and daily does work wonders for corporate profits, it doesn’t guarantee long-term success.

In comes information grabbing game. Or at least so goes my current theory. I find information grabbing intrusive and at times offensive. Your name and address is standard and bad enough, but my job? Am I married? My hobbies? (Apple didn’t necessarily ask me all these questions, but other companies have.) This info game is multi-fold. Warranty, customer-support, and product-improvement are the innocuous reasons behind the game. More insidious are profile advertising, click here to be on our mailing list, click here to join this contest or (as they do at the Department of Motor Vehicle registration) click here if you do not want to have your info sold. If selling products is the primary cash flow, using information is secondary by a hair.

This is one of many aspects which I appreciate about open source products. Personal information is a limited part of the game. In the corporate world, info-games are a way for a company to break that barrier between producer and consumer. Free-ware doesn’t have those boundaries. The consumer is producer. Moreover, privacy is protected for two reasons: People don’t want to give their info away, so they don’t coerce people to do that; second, there is not power-hungry hierarchical structure eager to collect that info in a free software system. If I am misled on any of these assumptions, let me know!

For now, I am straddling the two worlds: an apple operating system with as many open source software programs installed as is practical.


  1. lefty.crupps

    Sorry that the Linux world didn’t have what you wanted in an operating system, but…. what’s a “pop-doc”? If you just mean the panel with icons… well that can be added with either Gnome (Ubuntu) or KDE (Kubuntu) desktops… With Fink, a lot of Linux software is available on the Mac, so maybe consider that. Lock-in to Apple products is a bit*h though!

    Anyways, what I wanted to say is, Free Software is *NOT* the same as freeware. Free Software is defined by a license that says you, the user, have more rights than the developer. On the other hand, freeware is restricted by its license to what you can do and how, and in my experience is of varying quality and often doesn’t have the community build around it that Free Software has.

  2. Brittany

    Thanks for the comment. I’ve corrected my language to free software. Apparently this is a common mistake: assuming freeware is a shortened form of free software. I found [ this blog post] to have a useful comparison of the two terms.

    Essentially, freeware is freely distributed and free to use, but the source code cannot be manipulated.

    Free Software on the other hand is more like a first amendment freedom: giving the people freedom to manipulate, collaborate, and express themselves through the software. The cost is not necessarily free (ie. A company may request a fee for setting a business up to open source software– but not for the software itself.)

    As I mentioned in the post, I am using Linux software on my apple– I much prefer open source software over apple programs (Foxfire, OpenOffice). I liked Ubuntu for the hour I had it on my computer, ready to explore the new culture. But not having access to the airport was a major problem, as was the inability to use the dimmer keys.

    This whole adventure started because my Mac was “acting up”. I was going to simply reinstall the Mac operating system, but coincidently someone gave me a Ubuntu disk at just the right moment. I had just transferred my files (an arduous project) to another computer. So, I decided to try Ubuntu. After installing it, I realized the airport didn’t work. And we researched it and discovered that indeed, it wasn’t just a flaw in the installation, but the program itself that didn’t recognize it. And so the story continues.

    I’m not ready to research an open source operating system to make sure its compatible with my mac (and built in airport)– as I have successful re-transfered my files back to the computer, which is working much better after reinstalling the system. However, if someone could lead me by the hand to a compatible system, I will certainly use it if (or even before) my Mac system starts failing again.

  3. Sam Rose

    Bummer! I really hoped that it could work for you guys

    I will say that Ubuntu stopped supporting the PPC Mac a while ago. As soon as Apple switched to Intel chips. So all of us PPC users are handicapped in that capacity, with Ubuntu Linux on the Mac.

    There could be a more complete solution, but I am not sure what it might be, and chances are that support will decrease over time no matter what it is. could be an option




    A lot of this died off after 2006, because Open Source operating system projects see the G4 as a dead architecture.

  4. Patrick Anderson


    I agree with you that GNU/Linux (GNU is the entire Operating System, while Linux is the ‘kernel’ – the kernel can be thought of as the engine of a car, while the OS is frame, body, transmission, axles, wheels, accelerator/brake, etc.) is almost, but not quite ready for the general population.

    I’m a 10 year software developer running UBUNTU Hardy Heron and fight with stuff all the time because my 64bit AMD is not as ‘tested’ as the i386 line…

    On a much brighter note, you might want to try which:
    “‘brings the full world of Unix Open Source software to … Mac OS X. We modify Unix software so that it compiles and runs on Mac OS X (“port” it) and make it available for download as a coherent distribution.'”

    It does not replace your OS; it is just an application that runs inside of OS X which makes installation and use of Free Software as easy as from a GNU/Linux distro.

    I’ve never tried it myself (no mac), but it is very mature (starting around 2001 I think), so is probably very stable and safe. Let me know how it goes.

    Your friend in Freedom and Openness,
    Lord (as in Bread Guard) AGNUcius

  5. Sam Rose

    Agree with Patrick. Both Fink,and in some cases Mac Ports, can give you access to many Open Source software applications

  6. Sepp


    maybe it’s too late for this, but reading

    “… not having access to the airport was a major problem, as was the inability to use the dimmer keys.”

    You might weigh the possibility of supplanting the proprietary airport with any one of a number of more open WiFi routers. FON for instance is offering a router for low price in an attempt to create a network of people sharing their connection with others.

    Or perhaps in the US Meraki is more diffused. They provide free WIFI boxes in San Francisco, but might have programs in other areas.

    That could at least handle the problem of sensing airport, although not the dimmer keys.

  7. Josef Davies-Coates

    Ever thought of just using a PC?

    I’ve been using Ubuntu for years now and I love it 🙂

    Add every 6 months it gets better with a new release 🙂
    (with updates coming out all the time)

    Apple use lots of proprietary hardware and like to have complete control over everything and so not so good for open stuff. They also use more toxic chemicals than most.

  8. Ted

    I just came across your site tonight. That is a good looking dog you have. I have a lot of experience in plumbing, computers, electronics repairs, and math. I know enough to be dangerous…:-) I would love to help out and learn more about what you are doing. It sounds really appealing!