Kasperian Moving Parts

kinda like Batman, but with a wife and 3 kids

Kubuntu On A Powerbook


So, in an attempt to get back to hacking/programming again (since I’m definitely not getting it at work), I’ve installed Linux on my Powerbook. Actually, I’d installed SuSE 10 on it the day after I bought the powerbook 5+ months ago, but I’d never really done anything with it–partly because I really wanted to see what OS X was really like (it is REALLY, REALLY cool, but not conducive to feeling like I can start improving things/hacking/programming) and partly because neither the trackpad nor the wireless ethernet worked. But recently, the folks at the Broadcom 43xx Linux Driver project have made GREAT strides in getting the proprietary Broadcom wireless network card working in Linux. And, the kind folks with the kubuntuproject (probably also the core ubuntu project as well, but I much prefer KDE…) have made almost everything work out of the box for Linux running on the Powerbook.

There are a few things that I had to do to get things working as well as I wanted them to. This, then, is some notes on what I’ve done….

First, the trackpad. By default, the latest kubuntu (Dapper Drake, at time of writing) comes with the driver for the apple trackpad. The kernel module for this is “appletouch.” To get it to play nicely with X, I’ve replaced kubuntu’s default section for the Synaptics mouse in /etc/X11/xorg.conf with this:

Section “InputDevice”
Identifier “Synaptics Touchpad”
Driver “synaptics”
Option “SendCoreEvents” “true”
Option “Device” “/dev/input/mice”
Option “Protocol” “auto-dev”
Option “LeftEdge” “0”
Option “RightEdge” “850”
Option “TopEdge” “0”
Option “BottomEdge” “645”
Option “MinSpeed” “0.4”
Option “MaxSpeed” “1”
Option “AccelFactor” “0.04”
Option “FingerLow” “0”
Option “FingerHigh” “30”
Option “MaxTapMove” “20”
Option “MaxTapTime” “100”
Option “HorizScrollDelta” “0”
Option “VertScrollDelta” “30”
Option “SHMConfig” “on”

And to be honest, after getting used to the Synaptics driver, I really do like the vertical and horizontal scrolling it can do, as well as the right-click and middle-click you can do by tapping with two or three fingers. I do really miss OS X’s two-finger scrolling feature, but I think I can get used to this and do just fine. The one thing I still need to spend a little time tweaking is the sensitivity. It seems that I have to tap a little bit harder than I do in OS X to initiate a scroll or a mouse move.

One more mouse-related thing… By default, kubuntu/ubuntu comes with 3 lines in /etc/sysctl.conf that cause the F11 and F12 keys to fire middle/right mouse clicks. I am used to using F11 and F12 for other keybindings, so I’ve commented these out as such:

# Emulate the middle mouse button with F11 and the right with F12.
#dev/mac_hid/mouse_button_emulation = 1
#dev/mac_hid/mouse_button2_keycode = 87
#dev/mac_hid/mouse_button3_keycode = 88

Secondly, those crazy apple keyboards on the powermacs aren’t exactly what you’re used to if you’ve been using x86 Linux for the last 12+ years as I have. It goes “control, alt/option, command (open apple)” on the left side of the space bar. My fingers want to naturally go to the button immediately to the left of the space bar for the “alt” key, and as mentioned, on the apple keyboard, this is the “command” or “open apple” key. So, to map things the way I’m used to working, I have this in a file I’ve called ~/.xmodmap-powermac:

keycode 115 = Meta_L
keycode 116 = Meta_R
clear mod4
clear mod1
add mod1 = Alt_L Meta_L Alt_R Meta_R

I then call “xmodmap ~/.xmodmap-powermac” from either KDE’s Autostart directory or ~/.xsession . This causes both the “alt/option” key and the “open apple/command” key to be treated as the “alt” key in X. Happiness.

Now, on to the wireless network… As stated above, kubuntu nicely comes with the kernel drivers for this to work. But there is a little bit of work that is left for the user, because of legal reasons. In short, you need to use the bcm43xx-fwcutter utility from the broadcom 43xx project page to extract the firmware from Apple’s drivers. Having done this (read that page for the specifics) copy all resultant bcm43xx*.fw files to /lib/firmware. You’ll then need to either reboot (simplest) or reload the bcm43xx kernel module. This will allow the driver to actually use the wireless card.

From there, there’s a little bit of a timing issue around getting the card to associate with an AP and subsequently get connected and DHCP’d onto a wireless LAN. But to sum it up, I’ve added eth0 (the wireless card) to /etc/network/interfaces as so:

auto eth0
iface eth0 inet dhcp
pre-up /home/me/bin/eth0-wireless-pre-up.sh

That tells debian/kubuntu to start the wireless card automatically and how to load it (man interfaces) by running my custom eth0-wireless-pre-up.sh script, which is as follows:

ifconfig eth0 down
ifconfig eth0 up
iwconfig eth0 channel 6
iwconfig eth0 rate 11M
iwconfig eth0 essid MYESSID
sleep 2
iwconfig eth0 key MYKEY
sleep 2

As you can see, the tricks are that you need to limit the rate for the card to 11M, give it your SID, wait for it to associate to your AP, then give it your key (if you have one), and then after that all works, kubuntu will automatically kick off dhcp (dhclient3, to be precise).

So, that gets my wireless card working at boot. But what about suspending/resuming? Well, there’s probably more official ways, but here’s what I’ve done…. I’ve created a file called /etc/apm/scripts.d/vR-apm and symlinked it into the /etc/apm/resume.d/ and /etc/apm/suspend.d/ directories. That file is as follows:

#!/bin/sh -x
# apmd proxy script for vR–custom stuffies
# — from apmd_proxy…
# Here are the possible arguments:
# start – APM daemon has started
# stop – APM daemon is shutting down
# suspend critical – APM system indicates critical suspend (++)
# suspend system – APM system has requested suspend mode
# suspend user – User has requested suspend mode
# standby system – APM system has requested standby mode
# standby user – User has requested standby mode
# resume suspend – System has resumed from suspend mode
# resume standby – System has resumed from standby mode
# resume critical – System has resumed from critical suspend
# change battery – APM system reported low battery
# change power – APM system reported AC/battery change
# change time – APM system reported time change (*)
# change capability – APM system reported config. change (+)
# (*) – APM daemon may be configured to not call these sequences
# (+) – Available if APM kernel supports it.
# (++) – “suspend critical” is never passed to apmd from the kernel,
# so we will never see it here. Scripts that process “resume
# critical” events need to take this into account.

echo “`date`: got here, 1->$1< -, 2->$2< -" >> /tmp/apm-debug.log

case “${1},${2}” in
echo “`date`: doing suspend stuff” >> /tmp/apm-debug.log
ifdown eth0
echo “`date`: doing resume stuff” >> /tmp/apm-debug.log
modprobe -r appletouch
modprobe appletouch
ifup eth0

And with that, my Linux powerbook correctly restarts the wireless network whenever I suspend and resume (which works perfectly well out of the box too, by the way).

Okay, bye.

Author: Jason 'vanRijn' Kasper

My name is Jason 'vanRijn' Kasper. I am the ring leader of the amazing Kasper family. I am unashamedly a Christian Nerd. These are our stories....


  1. Nice,

    I’ve got the same problem whit the trackpad. It is too insensitive, especially using synaptics driver.


  2. Hi:
    I have also tried the latest version of Ubuntu (but with Gnome) and have had the same problem with the trackpad. It barely moves !!! So, I added those bunch of lines but it still isn´t working smoothly. (I´ll try with yours). One other thing, I need to do some small programming on java, but I can´t get it installed. Then, I realised that it will only work on an x86 processor. Do you know if there is another way of installing java on a ppc linux distro ???

  3. Actually, with the settings I’ve listed above, everything is working really, really smoothly–as good if not better than OS X. I’m using a 2.6.17-rc5 kernel currently with alsa upgraded to 1.0.11 (last night–sound stopped working with a recent kubuntu dapper update, grrr). Anyway, just keep plugging at it, fellas. Linux does work REALLY nicely on my powerbook now.

    Let’s see… Java…. I think I got it from somewhere on here: http://www-128.ibm.com/developerworks/linux/library/l-pow-apple.html I know that the only one that I could find for Java was IBM’s PPC jdk.

    HTH!! =:)

  4. Nice site..
    I too have a powerbook g4 15″ running ubuntu linux , the only issues I have with it is the line-in on the assumed ‘mac toonie soundcard’ wont show, and the keyboardbacklights not functioning under linux even if I install and try to configure pbbuttons.

    If you have any ideas,solutions,links or advices please let me know , I’ve been reading the internet over and over again. My Airforce one seems to work thou , out of the box!

  5. Hi Slaske,

    Hmmm. What version of ubuntu are you using? What kernel?

    I just installed SUSE 10.1 ppc on mine this weekend and I’ve been fighting with it ever since. I pulled down and installed kernel and the backlit keyboard finally works in Linux!! The broadcom wireless card works out of the box with and SUSE 10.1 too, including NetworkManager, which is sweet!

    But I cannot for the LIFE of me get the sound to work! I pulled down alsa 1.0.13 and installed it, hoping that would help, but I can’t get it to work.

    What version of alsa are you using?

  6. I am also running Linux on my powerbook (Kubuntu Edgy) and it works very well. The only real inconvenience is that there is no Linux/PPC support for flash.

    Surprised to hear that network manager is working though – I had problems with it and have to use WiFi Radar instead, plus manual editing for WPA networks.

  7. Hi Richard!

    Actually, I have moved on to FC6-ppc, as of a couple of months ago. And I’ve actually never gotten NetworkManager to work with my Powerbook, regardless of distro. Better off just using regular ifup. =:(

    And yeah, I HATE the fact that there is no Flash for Linux-ppc!!!!!!!! =:(

  8. Very useful! By the way, do you know if Ubuntu for Powerpc actually improved anything or just repackaged nicely what is available in Debian for Powerpc? I mean, is there anything that works in Ubuntu and does not in Debian?

  9. Hi Piotr! No, I’m sorry, I don’t honestly know what the differences are between Ubuntu and Debian. My guess is that there’s some sharing, but it seems like Ubuntu has pretty much done things their way and that the divide between Debian and Ubuntu is growing, not shrinking.

  10. Right, I was just wondering if there is really any reason for me to switch from Debian to Ubuntu on my powerbook, ie. is there anything that works on Ubunto that does not on Debian.

  11. Piotr: Don’t know, sorry. =:) I’d say that if everything is working perfectly for you on Debian then no?

  12. That sounds reasonable 🙂 I think I’ll try both if I find time and write about differences. Or maybe somebody already did somewhere?

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