Now a blog about my Android adventure
A story of dual-booting ease
Published on January 6, 2009 By CerebroJD In OS Customization

Like my previous article, this one begins with a hard-drive crash.  A friend of mine has now managed to crash two Apple-supplied hdd's in less than a year.  This time, I told her not to bother with Apple support...  Why pay those Geniuses, when I'm waiting in the wings to try my magic touch on a Mac.

Our first stop was Memory Express, a local computer parts supplier.  We picked up a 320 gig Sata drive for only $85, which seemed to be a reasonable price.  I'm familiar with seagate drives, and I figured it was an acceptable piece of hardware for use in this project.

When my friend first approached me with the task, the consensus was that we were just going to reinstall OSX, and then be done with things.  However, she also had passing familiarity with Ubuntu due to the starving-student effect... ("Whaaaat?  I can get software for free, LEGALLY???")  As a result of this, I figured that there was no way that OSX was going to need all 320 gigs of space, and felt that Ubuntu would make a nice filler.  Also, as an alternate OS, its customizable nature, and large community of support, made it a very enticing choice.

Step One: Slice 'n Dice

Booting to the first OSX install disc (Pushing C at the startup bong) allows us to run the disk partitioner.  From here, I split the main drive into two sections.  The first was a 300 gig slice, partitioned and formatted for the Apple journaling filesystem.  The second slice was the remaining 20 gigs, which I left alone... Ubuntu will deal with that later.

Step Two: OSX Install

Nothing special about this, aside from the fact that it takes forEVER.  Make sure you're installing to your OSX partition, which shouldnt be an issue.  If you're doing this on a (formerly) blank hdd, it should only let you choose the 300 gig parititon during the installation.

Step Three: Ubuntu Install

Now boot to your Ubuntu cd the same way we got to the OSX one... C key during the bong.  Once you're into the Ubuntu live environment, you can select install. A couple steps in, it should ask where you want to install Ubuntu.  You *can* use guided, just make sure that its placing the entirity of Ubuntu on the 20 gig parition (including the swap partition).

Step Four: Sticking Point... rEFIt = Hero!

This was the magic bit for me... the Macbook firmware will NOT let Grub manage all the OS's like you can on a regular PC with multiple OS's.  Instead, it uses its own bootloader to force OSX to take priority over everything.  Fortunately for everyone, its not hard to convince that bootloader to accept a few enhancements.  Installing rEFIt, a tweaked version of Apple's bootloader, makes any multi-boot system on an OSX-based computer a snap.  It auto-detects available operating systems, and displays a list of them when you press C during the Mac-bong at system start.

Step Five: Touchpad Tweaks

"Out of the box", Ubuntu works pretty well on the first (or second) generation Macbook that I was installing this on.  All the essentials work fine; Sound, network, display, etc..  The problem that I ran into was the touchpad.  It technically worked exactly how it was supposed to, but only had one button.  Turns out that there is a HUGE following of Ubuntu/Mac users out there who have found some excellent solutions to this hiccup.  Taking advantage of the multi-touch abilities of the touchpad, there are some interface configuration files you can easily copy-paste into your own configuration.  These enable all kinds of awesome gestures, such as: Two-finger tap = right click, three-finger tap = middle click, two-finger slide = scroll.

Implementing this tweak takes about two lines in the Terminal, as well as the ability to copy-paste.  Even a novice Ubuntu user should have no problems getting tapping and swiping working.  An issue I have found, though, with the large size of the Apple trackpad, is the consistant taps and clicks that my palms generate.  I'm still tweaking my own configuration to avoid this, but I'm sure I'll find a happy-medium.

Step Six: Eye Candy

Well, since this *is* a macbook we're talking about, I had to make sure that I had the prettiest UI around, so I enabled the enhanced visuals from the System->Preferences->Appearance dialog in Ubuntu.  I wanted more!  By default, CompizConfig (the full editor for Compiz/Fuzion special effects) does NOT come installed.  To install it, you need to find it in the Synaptics Package Manager (Settings->Administration->Synaptics) and install it.  I couldnt find it by searching, I had to go look it up under "Miscellaneous - Graphical (Universe)", and its called CompizConfig.  Installing that gets us our effects UI under Settings->Preferences.

Now for themes!  The associated theme manager that works well with CompizFusion is the Emerald manager.  It's located in the same area of Synaptics as CompizConfig was.  Its listed as "Emerald".  Installing this will grant you the ability to use themes, after one small tweak in CompizConfig.  Open CompizConfig and search for "Window Decoration", and click your way into the full dialog.  I replaced what was in the "Command" box with this: "emerald --replace".  To get this fully working, I had to log out of my user, and log back in.  Knowing how Ubuntu works, this is likely not required in all cases...

Once Emerald is installed, browse around online to find themes!  There are plenty out there... I prefer ones with a bit of glass in them, but theres certainly more than just that.

Final Word

Well, having had a few days on Mac/Ubuntu to play around, I can honestly say its a smoother experience than I thought it would be.  The UI looks sharp, the graphics work well, and its a pretty robust platform.  The gestures on the multi-touch pad are excellent, and they allow for easier navigation than with my other (non multitouch) laptop.  I was considering a new purchase of a laptop, but if Ubuntu works this well on older Apple hardware, I might have to see if I can pick up an older Macbook for cheap.  They almost fit into my netbook qualifications! 

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on Jan 06, 2009

Interesting post Justin.  Thanks.

on Jan 06, 2009

Definitely interesting.  It might have inspired me to give something similar a try