Install Linux on an old iMac

Got an old iMac with Mac OS 9 sitting in the bottom of the wardrobe? Here’s how to update it so you can browse the Internet.

What do I need to do this project?

A computer with internet connection and a CD burner.
An iMac with Mac OS 8 or 9.

Your computer must have an HFS or HFS+ formatted hard drive. If Mac OS X has been installed, the original configuration of the machine needs to be restored using either the “Restore” or the “Install” disk.

Your iMac must be fitted with the hard disk originally supplied with the machine. If a larger, third party drive has been fitted, then this has to be removed.

If you try to install Linux on an iMac with a third party hard drive, you will get an error.

Once you have got Linux up and running you can then work out how to install it on a third party drive.

Have you got an iMac with Mac OS 8 or 9 on the original hard disk supplied with the machine?

Then you can proceed with the installation.

Okay I have got an original iMac with Mac OS, what do I have to do now?

Download an “iso” of a disk image and make it into a real CD.

When you have made your Linux install CD, you can put it into the iMac, and boot it in the normal way by holding the “C” key down before the “blong”.

What Linux distro should I get?

If you are familiar with Linux, you can download the PPC version of the Linux distro that you normally use.

What if I have never used Linux before?

Then you can download the PPC version of Ubuntu, which is aimed at beginners.

What if I can’t get PPC Ubuntu to work on my machine? You can try Gentoo linux, which involves a step-by-step procedure.

I tried to install Ubuntu using the CD image I downloaded, but all I got was a black screen. What can I do?

Try a different distro.

What Ubuntu distro should I try?

Always try the latest version first, if you cannot get that to work, go back to an earlier version and so on. It is likely that a very old distro will be worse, so try the new ones first!


I tried to install Ubuntu, but I get a purple screen.

This is normal. You just have to wait a while!

I have tried to install Linux, but now my iMac won’t boot. Why is this?

Your iMac has been fitted with a larger third-party drive which Linux cannot recognize.

What can I do?

Boot the machine from Mac OS install CD, and re-format and re-install Mac OS 9.

Hot tip: Holding down the “opt” or “alt” key before the startup “blong” gives you the option of booting from a specific partition or an external drive. The original Bondi iMac does not have this facility.

If you have a slot-loading iMac, you can boot the machine from a USB flash drive or an external USB hard drive by using this method.

More information:

Install Linux on an iMac