Wrangling Linux Onto An Old White Intel MacBook

Several months ago, I picked up an old MacBook - one of the white plastic body Intel ones (model A1181, with 2GB RAM), running OS X Snow Leopard. I basically got it because I wanted to be a bit more familiar with OS X for my job, and the laptop was less than $100 - even I can cough up a Benjamin every once in a while for a good cause.

The laptop has been fine, but I quickly realized the "lock" Apple has on their ecosystem. The OS X version I had was roughly the Apple equivalent of (I'm estimating) Windows XP, and so was still somewhat useful to me in a general way, but not readily upgradeable and very much out of date if I tried to install any additional software - again, much like Windows XP.

When the hard drive recently failed (this is a ten-year-old piece of hardware after all) I took the opportunity to try and load Linux on it, to give it a bit of extra life - it still has good battery life and the rest of the hardware is otherwise sound.

Replacing the hard drive was surprisingly straightforward, and I was able to get Elementary OS v 0.3 installed, but the video performance was a bit crappy (full screen YouTube videos are out of the question). There were also a few other visual hiccups, which quickly became annoying. 

Unfortunately, Elementary OS does not really allow you to do an in-place upgrade to their newer version (I had hoped this would help with the visual glitches). Allowing the system to install updates did not help, and I could not seem to install newer video drivers directly. At this point I tried to find another Linux distro I could try.

This is where the Apple MacBook boot process reared it's ugly head. Trying to install other flavors of Linux was very difficult; USB booting does not seem to be available on this hardware, and booting from CD/DVD would usually result in this situation

For this reason, I could not seem to install Elementary OS v 0.4 from DVD, or several other 32-bit and 64-bit Linux Distros. I even tried to install Windows 10 32-bit. I tried the "trick" mentioned in the above link, but none of the suggestions worked for me. 

I should mention that the media was being read okay (the MacBook's Superdrive works just fine otherwise), and the media would show up as a boot option when starting with the Option key held down,  it's just that the Apple BIOS (I guess) did not like some of the commonly-used boot schemes. It seems to be "a thing" and not just my bad luck, judging from the comments I saw.

The good news is, I was finally able to use a network install CD of Ubuntu 16.04 - it's available from the "Alternative Downloads" section on the Ubuntu site. It's not a GUI installer, it is text based, but it followed the same basic steps as just about every other Ubuntu-type installer and was easy enough to use.

Being a network installer, it also allowed for some nice customization choices as to the flavor of Ubuntu, desktop environment, installed software, etc. Essentially, one small CD gave me the ability to install over a dozen different versions of Ubuntu.

Everything is now running fine with Kubuntu 16.04 installed, the old dogs learned a new trick (both the Mac and me), and yes, the video issues are gone.  


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