Feb 14 2012
I had a gastroscopy today, under anesthetic. After several hours of sleep, when the side-effects were finally gone, I needed to do something and played a bit with Linux and installed Ubuntu 11.10 on my 27″ iMac i5. Not in VMWare Fusion, but on a separate partition. Native. With full 3D support. Standing by to one day fully replace OS X on that machine.
So here are some rough notes about what I did. No guarantees that they will work for you, and certainly no warranty is included. If you kill your machine following those notes, that’s some tough luck for you and you can only hold yourself responsible for it.
There are also other, more detailed guides on the web. Feel free to ask Google if they can find them for you. I know that I did.
First, download and install rEFIt from http://refit.sourceforge.net/. Once rEFIt is installed, open a Terminal window and execute rEFIt’s enable.sh script as superuser. Reboot the Mac. You should now see the rEFIt boot menu on startup.
Back in OS X, launch Disk Utility and resize/shrink your OS X partition and create some free space. I used 216 Gig for this; 200 Gig were supposed to go to Ubuntu, 16 Gig to the swap area.
Get the 64-Bit AMD + Mac ISO image from the Ubuntu website. The URL is http://cdimage.ubuntu.com/releases/11.10/release/.
Burn it on a CD or DVD, restart your Mac and press the Alt/Option key when you hear the system boot sound. The Mac will show the CD as “Windows” – select it and boot from it.
The trickiest part of getting Linux to run properly on an Apple iMac is the “black screen” problem during installation. Apple screwed up the ATI graphics somehow, so that whenever a non-Apple OS boots, it uses the Mini Displayport outlet as its primary display instead of the iMac’s own display. Which is total nonsense, but that’s how the iGods in Cupertino made it.
So you have to options here: Either connect a second display to your Mac (that’s what I actually did) or use the famous nomodeset xforcevesa boot loader parameters before you actually boot Linux.
The problem disappears once you’ve let Ubuntu download and install the proprietary AMD/ATI graphics drivers. But until then, either the second display or those parameters are your friends.
Ubuntu’s installer will ask whether you want to install Ubuntu alongside Mac OS X, wipe out the entire hard disk or if you want to do something different. Since we’re in the “Think Different” business here, we want to do something different and use Ubuntu’s partition editor to create two new partitions.
To do so, make sure that you have selected the free space of the hard disk and then add two new partitions. Like I’ve said before, I’ve added a 200 Gig partition with the mount point “/” and the ext4 file system and the remaining free space went away for the swap area. I also advised gparted to write the boot loader to this new ext4 partition, and NOT to the OS X partition or anywhere else.
The remaining installation is pretty much default. After the mandatory reboot, you can log into Ubuntu, open the System Preferences, select the “Install hardware” tool and there activate the proprietary AMD/ATI drivers. After another reboot, you can now open System Preferences/Display and de-activate the mirroring of the displays and change to proper resolutions.
From here on, you should be able to customize your Ubuntu in any way you like.
Just for the record, over the weekend I have also looked at an alpha version of the forthcoming Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and I’ve tried Fedora 16 and Linux Mint 12. They all worked nice in Virtual Machines, but Ubuntu 12.04 always died quietly when I tried to boot it natively on my Mac and Mint 12 had serious graphics driver issues – all fonts looked somehow scrambled, rendering the system useless. As for Fedora, I never tried to install it natively. I want an OS that understands sudo apt-get out of the box. Hmm.
The most important thing for me here was to see that my system can have a life without the blessings from the fruit logo company. I’m still trying to fix some issues that I have with full screen video playback on the second/external display. I also still need to prove that Ubuntu does not suffer from the same USB problems that I experience under OS X Lion (the random hard disk ejects that I mentioned in my earlier post). If Ubuntu shows the same erratic behavior, then, oh my, it must be a hardware and not a software problem (and I really doubt that it is a hardware issue).
More some time later.
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