Tuesday, February 13, 2024

One less Un*xy option for 32-bit PowerPC

Most of you still using a Power Mac as a daily or occasional driver are probably either running Linux, Tiger or Leopard, and a minority on OS 9. Despite many distributions no longer shipping 32-bit PPC installs, Gentoo Linux still has specific support along with a few others, as does Adélie Linux if you like musl for breakfast. Still, for server duties, where I come from, you bring on the BSDs. In this blog you've already met my long-suffering NetBSD Macintosh IIci which is still trucking to this day and more recently my also-NetBSD G4 Mac mini (which later needed, effectively, a logic board swap), but I also have a Quadra 605 with a full '040 running NetBSD I use for utility tasks and at one time I ran an intermediate incarnation of gopher.floodgap.com on a Power Macintosh 7300 with a Sonnet G3 running NetBSD too. I stuffed that system full with a gig of RAM and a SATA card and it did very well until I got the current POWER6 server in 2010.

NetBSD has the widest support, continuing to run on most 68Ks and PCI Power Macs to this day (leaving out only the NuBus Power Macs which aren't really supported by much of anything anymore, sadly). However, OpenBSD works fine on New World Macs, and FreeBSD has a very mature 32-bit PowerPC port — or, should I say, soon will have had one, since starting in FreeBSD 15 (13.x is the current release), ARMv6, 32-bit Intel and 32-bit PowerPC support will likely be removed. No new 32-bit support will be added, including for RISC-V.

Even though I have a large number of NetBSD systems, I still like FreeBSD, and one of my remote "island" systems runs it. The differences between BSDs are more subtle than with Linux distributions, but you can still enjoy the different flavours that result, and I even ported a little FreeBSD code to the NetBSD kernel so I could support automatic restarts after a power failure on the G4 mini. The fact that the userland and kernel are better matched together probably makes the BSDs better desktop clients, too, especially since on big-endian we're already used to some packages just not building right, so we don't lose a whole lot by running it. (Usually those are the same packages that wouldn't build on anything but Linux anyway.)

This isn't the end for the G5, which should still be able to run the 64-bit version of FreeBSD, and OpenBSD hasn't voiced any firm plans to cut 32-bit loose. However, NetBSD supports the widest range of Macs, including Macs far older than any Power Mac, and frankly if you want to use a Un*x on a Power Mac and have reasonable confidence it will still be running on it for years to come, it's undeniably the one with the best track record.