Thoughts on Elive and DeEliving my MacBook Pro

UPDATES

January 11, 2011

I’m tired of following Elive. They seemingly keep on obfuscating/deleting/deprecating the links below. Read up the latest update on the matter in my last post on Elive. I took a bit of time to get it posted (got lost in my little own world, I assume).

 

May 30, 2008
The Elive developer is also allowing the first future stable MacTel version to be downloaded free of cost (the link to this posting is now dead). In the meantime, isos can now be downloaded from repositories accessible via http://www.elivecd.org/Download/MacBook> (some of which are also dead now).

I’ve been looking into installing a Libre OS onto my MacBook Pro 2.6 Intel Core Duo late 2006 model. There are multiple projects working on this. As always, the Gnu-Linuxes are farther along than the BSD ones in hardware support. At the moment BSDs lacks iSight, Airport Extreme, and are iffy on sound. They are also experiencing stability issues (on MacBooks). As for out-of-the-box support, Mac laptops are a doozy to configure. You got to make sure you have have CPU frequencing. And apparently, throttling is not the same as frequencing so you need that too, and you need the latest of these because older versions are deprecated. Then you need keyboard mapping support, back lighting, screen dimming, and other fn-key support; So you have to install and/or configure all these individually. Quite the tedious job.

The Debian install guide for my MacBook Pro reads, download this, patch with this and that, and if you want so and so don’t forget that patch, and you need to use at least such and such version kernel but not that new one because sound doesn’t work on it. Even the Ubuntu guide reads like a shopping list for the rich and famous.

Well, it seems someone has seen the light and taken care of most of it. Even the Marillat repository –with “restricted” multimedia– comes enabled. Here comes eLiveCD Elive_0.9-b9_Macbooks (beta), a live CD that demos the Enlightenment desktop and enables a live CD to hard-drive install. Furthermore, Elive is Debian-like, but more than just based on the popular distro, it’s Debian etch stable –customized. It even uses Debian repositories. Thus, Elive betas “should” be closer to release candidates rather than betas. Any instabilities probably come from the Enlightenment desktop repositories, and maybe the Marillat repository (or MacTel specific kernel patches).

Elive is coming close to a stable release. There are a few quirks though; My wireless Atheros card does not work with my test setup –WEP 40/128/bit Hex, though.

Things that do not go down well with me follow. The Elive maintainer will not issue stable releases to the public. That is, he asks for assistance with bug reporting but will not share the result of that debugging process (stable releases) unless you pay him (you should always be able to find stable torrents as here and here too). In fact, my recent email that reported some bugs and also enquired on the inner workings of Elive –went unanswered. Because of this narrowing of the open nature of Gnu-Linux software, I’m conflicted as to whether recommend Elive.

On the one hand –considering the headaches of installing Gnu-Linux onto a MacBook Pro– there’s been a lot of work into Elive and thus you should consider supporting this project monetarily. On the other hand, the apparent restricting of software that by tradition has been transparent and free of cost is unsettling. Furthermore, I find the relicensing of a GPL product (Gnu-Linux) to the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 disturbing, not because this is a “bad” restrictive license but simply because Gnu-Linux software is already licensed under a Libre license, namely GPL.

I’m not even sure if the relicensing is even legal. Despite that “in spirit” both licenses seem alike, the Creative Commons License does not mention committing back –if you should so choose to release contributions/alterations publicly– nor does it prohibit linking against closed software –as the GPL 3 does (last I recall). Furthermore and as I understand it, the CC is associated with literature, whereas GPL software. Both cater to the varying needs that each genre demands, and thus, I’m not sure the use of one product’s license with the other product best serves the needs of the target product –be that software or literature.

On the matter of being stuck with Elive betas and without a stable release, I don’t see why one could not just migrate via updates to the eventual stable Elive release, considering that the Elive beta repository will probably turn into stable repositories. In this sense, you should be able to “get” a stable release for participating in the bug process, even if done so parasitically.

As is apparent by now, installing Elive saves a lot of time spent reading about which software to install for MacBook Pro hardware support (and how to do it) –none of which is specific to Elive. This distro is not different in this respect to other Gnu/Linux distros; It just puts it together into one package, their Live CD. As for the Enlightenment desktop –the desktop user experience Elive pushes– you could only gain stability by uninstalling the unstable Enlightenment E17, leaving the official and stability proven Debian software installed.

Also, if one wanted to benefit from Elive’s MacBook laptop customizations but didn’t like the Elive developmental model and preferred Debian’s, one could theoretically break away from the Elive repositories by uninstalling Elive specific software (the Enlightenment desktop) on a hard-drive install, this after installing Elive. Remember, this should be made possible because Elive is just a customized Debian (as claimed by the Elive developer and verifiable via Elive’s sources.list), and because Debian –with excellent dependency management apt utilities– is so modular (a benefit of using “true Debian” and not simply a “Debian based” distro). Please note that the following procedure on how to uninstall Enlightenment software and recoup a pure Debian OS serves as a only a sketch for those wishing to experiment. The instructions assume a certain degree of competency with apt-get utilities (meaning you know the apt commands, ie., apt-get install, etc.).

Before we start … although I don’t agree with the Elive license, Elive gives us permission to fiddle with it.

Elive is free, you can modify the ISO at your own need as long you fulfill the conditions of the Elive license

The Elive License stipulates, the right to make derivative works. So here we go!

Preliminary Procedure
After updating OS X (firmware update, part and parcel in early 2006 models), installing BootCamp (instructions here) and then rEFIt* (instructions here), defragged (repaired your OS X install via Disk Utility on a booted OS X CD), shrunk your journal disabled OS X partition with GParted (while booted off the Mac Elive CD) or (better yet) just used OS X’s Disk Utility to shrink OS X, and then after having installed Elive onto your hard-drive via the Live CD installer … you should be able to do the following to your hard-drive installed Elive install.

Nitty Gritty Procedure On HD Installed Elive

  • Remove the Enlightenment desktop software with something like “apt-get remove Enlightenment”. It’s probably best to do this in console.
  • Install another desktop of your choice that’ll probably need to be started with the command “startx”.
  • Remove orphaned dependencies and other packages with your favourite corresponding app.
  • Hash (comment off) the Enlightenment repository in sources.list.
  • Please unhash the security line in the sources.list, contrary to Elive advice, and
  • update exclusively to the Debian repository with apt-get update.

This procedure is more tempting to MacBook users than to regular PC users because –as previously mentioned– Elive takes care of the keyboard mapping support, back-lighting, screen dimming, and fn-key support. I’m not sure on the CPU frequencing, and throttling but I assume these are also worry free. I also assume that Elive runs a 32 bit kernel (because sound works). If these features were not enabled, simply install the correct packages (ok, you need to read a little). The other reason this distro is tempting is that Elive provides a Debian live CD, and last I recall the Debian Live project is in its infancy. Yes, there are other Live CDs that are based on Debian, but that’s just it, they are “based” on Debian, they are not Debian or even a customized version of Debian. For instance, Ubuntu is not Debian but a “deviation” in the Debian lineage. This is obvious in that binary compatibility between Ubuntu and it’s father project is diminishing.

Fine Tuning for Battery Life
Check to see if CPU frequency scaling, and throttling and powertop software is installed. Powertop minimizes CPU wakeups. Throttling forces the processor/s to become idle and also lowers their processing power (as in MHz). There are various frequencing options so please read the pertinent Debian article and make a decision as to which solution best serves your needs.

This article has clarified that Elive is really a customized Debian, shown Elive to strive for out-of-box MacBook/Pro compatibility, briefly highlighted its variant license –how it veers away from GPL– how one benefits from the Elive Mac laptop customizations, can uninstall the Enlightenment desktop and end up with a pure Debian install, thus, taking advantage of Elive’s Mac laptops customizations built into their Live CD and opt out of Elive’s narrowing of the Gnu-Linux development model.

Maurice Cepeda

This is licensed under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License. All brands mentioned are properties of their respective owners. By reading this article, the reader forgoes any accountability of the writer. The reading of this article implies acceptance of the above stipulations. The author requires attribution –by full name and URL– and notification of republications.

References
BSD Support Info
AppleMacbook – FreeBSD Wiki
FreeBSD on MacBook (Core Duo and Core 2 Duo models) – Goddess-Gate.com – Le blog 2.0
OpenBSD – Macbook Pro^
How to install NetBSD on an Apple Macbook w/core2duo – NetBSD Wiki

General Gnu-Linux Support Info
http://www.elivecd.org/gb/Download/MacBook/
https://help.ubuntu.com/community/MacBook
https://wiki.ubuntu.com/MacBookPro
https://wiki.ubuntu.com/MacBookPro/Feisty
Mactel: Linux on the MacBook Pro

On CPU Frequencing and Throttling, & Powertop
MacBook – Debian Wiki

Specific MacBook Pro Info, including Wireless
http://wiki.debian.org/MacBookPro
http://madwifi.org/wiki/UserDocs/Distro/Debian/MadWifi
http://madwifi.org/ticket/1001#comment:194
https://wiki.ubuntu.com/MacBookPro/Feisty
https://help.ubuntu.com/community/MacBook
Wireless works on MacBook Pros with MADwifi –probably what’s missing from Elive for the MacBook Pro),
http://snapshots.madwifi.org/madwifi-ng/madwifi-ng-r2360-20070521.tar.gz

MADWifi First Time Manual
http://madwifi.org/wiki/UserDocs/FirstTimeHowTo

Elive Hard-drive Install Guide
http://news.softpedia.com/news/How-to-Install-Elive-Gem-58427.shtml

Debian Stable (etch)
http://www.debian.org/releases/etch/

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Elive and DeEliving my MacBook Pro

  1. Patrick:
    How’s the wireless holding up? Which Airport Extreme card are you using? One of the infamous broadcom based ones or the one of the new Atheros? Which version of Elive are you using?

    Maurice

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