A conspicuous banner at the Terra Soft Solutions web site informs viewers that "PowerPC is not dead". This resonant affirmation of PPC's capacity to endure is meant to address the concerns of consumers that doubt the value PowerPC software in the wake of Apple's stunning x86 about-face.
Those that follow the issue know that the perpetuation of the PowerPC architecture is not really in dispute. With robust POWER processors in all the next generation gaming systems, it is likely that the architecture will be around for years to come. While we will soon see PowerPC consoles on top of our televisions, Apple's migration to x86 creates some questions about the relevance of PowerPC on the desktop.
With POWER supercomputers topping the list and IBM aggressively promoting Linux on POWER, it looks like the Linux PPC server market is starting to heat up. Kai Staats, CEO of Terra Soft Solutions (TSS) and a familiar face in the PPC Linux community believes that there is more than enough demand for PPC server solutions to keep him in business despite Apple's hasty retreat from the market.
TSS is an Apple reseller, best known for Yellow Dog Linux (YDL), it's popular GNU/Linux distribution for the PowerPC platform. Based on Fedora, YDL 4.0.1 is a flexible and intuitive distribution that supports a wide variety of hardware from Apple and IBM.
While broader package selection and community driven development models make non-commercial alternatives like Debian and Gentoo a superior choice for many developers and home consumers, availability of quality services and support as well as pre-installation make YDL a popular pick for schools, government agencies and corporations that utilize PowerPC technology.
The 4.0.1 release features a number of important updates and adds support for the iMac G5 and the Mac mini. I put it to the test to see how it compares to some of my favorite non-commercial distributions. Aside from the excellent hardware support and virtually flawless automated configuration, YDL is relatively unremarkable. Those who are comfortable with Fedora and RPM package management will feel right at home with it. It performs relatively well and it is relatively stable.
The limited availability of YDL RPMs is probably the most prodigious defect. While four CDs may seem like a lot, there are a lot of holes. Firefox is only available via the 'Extras' repository, and libglade for Ruby (which I use heavily for rapid application development) doesn't appear to be available at all. Developers who don't use mainstream languages are out of luck: YDL doesn't come with compilers for Eiffel, C#, Ocaml or Haskell. If you want to use GHC or Mono, for instance, you are probably better of with Debian or Gentoo. While my esoteric development needs may not be indicative of general user needs, it is likely that the needs of most users will not be adequately met by what is available within the limited YDL package ecosystem.You can use TSS's web-based repository interface to find out if YDL has the packages you need.
The boxed set comes with four installation CDs, four source CDs, a 10 page installation quickstart, a cute frisbee-esque thing bearing the YDL logo, and a comprehensive 180 page guide that contains a thorough introduction to KDE, a relatively effective introduction to the command line, and a concise introduction to Linux administration. The guide contains expository comparisons to OS X and Windows that will help users of other operating systems understand the significance of various KDE/Linux features. The most notable deficiency of the user guide is the severe KDE bias and the absence of Gnome documentation. Aside from that, the guide provides good coverage of relevant features.
The distribution comes with YUM for package management. Though YUM has become a standard part of the RedHat Linux distribution, it was originally designed by TSS (and then modified by Duke University) specifically for YDL. YUM has a smaller code base than apt4rpm and features superior dependency handling.
YDL 4.0.1 comes with a few intriguing PowerPC extras, including Mac-On-Linux (MOL), which allows users to run an entire mac environment at near-native speed inside of a window. I was looking forward to trying out MOL with OS X. Unfortunately, MOL doesn't support OS X 10.4, so I was unable to see it in action. Apparently, it doesn't support macs with G5 processors either. It's still worth looking at, and probably quite impressive when it works. Check out this spooky screenshot from the MOL web site. With any luck, MOL support for Tiger will be added soon.
TSS provides a number of services for customers. YDL.net Enhanced members get a pop/imap accessible e-mail account, early access to YDL ISOs and web hosting. Updates appear to be free via YUM.
Also of interest is Terra Soft's Y-HPC, a 64-bit PowerPC GNU/Linux distribution and "cluster construction-management suite" compatible with a wide variety of PowerPC systems, including Apple's Xserve and IBM's JS20. Y-HPC provides users with a complete 64-bit development environment that features IBM's XLF and XLC compilers. Y-HPC natively supports double-precision as well as up to 16GB of RAM and contains complete 32 and 64-bit development tool chains.
Y-HPC comes with a PowerPC port of SystemImager and TSS's unique, user-friendly image management interface called Y-Imager that facilitates visual, node-based cluster construction. Y-HPC also features PPC-64 builds of many popular open source applications.
I still prefer Debian on my desktop, but YDL presents a few compelling benefits, particularly for those who already have extensive experience with RedHat or Fedora. There are also definitely contexts in which Terra Soft's high performance computing solutions are optimal. TSS designed a YDL-based Xserve imaging cluster for deployment on US Navy submarines and provided Boeing with specialized G5 computers for Weapons Systems Officers training programs. Despite the imminent extinction of Apple PPC hardware, we may see renewed interest in TSS as demand for Linux on POWER escalates.
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