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I have a couple old iBooks G3 with 800 MHz, 256MB RAM and a CD drive.

I am looking for suggestions of what would be the best OS to install. The OS should have a modern web browser and be fast.

Chrome OS would be great but I don't think that's an option. I have Debian installed on one of them but it is slow.

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i have tried Slackintosh and Puppy on one of these, no dice. Debian is still your best bet, because ... it works! :) – Molly7244 Nov 30 '09 at 2:37
Have you made any progress towards making your old iBook useful? Please tell: I, certainly, am very interested! – Charles Stewart Jan 18 '10 at 13:31
You can do many things with it as a linux mini server :) Or you can use 10.3.9 Mac os X to use it as a desktop :) – Pitto Jun 22 '11 at 12:44

I would try an Ubuntu PPC build as a starting point an build up what you need from that.

Using the alternate Ubuntu CD's a command line install is straightforward and gives you a basic starting point. You can add whatever you like, depending on what resources you end up having available. Play around with different configurations and check them out using the command line tool free, if you're so inclined.

The base Ubuntu (command line only) uses only 39MB memory (peak), 19MB buffer adjusted. After installing packages to make it all windowy (X, openbox, firefox, etc), it ended up at 446MB peak, 120MB buffer adjusted.

I am not sure how the base PPC build will compare, but I guess they will be close. You could take a look at Crunchbang for some inspiration on creating a lightweight Ubuntu based installation.

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I'd totally go for Linux Mint PPC:

I'd also say that a Debian PPC minimal installation would allow you to set up a very minimal system and will work without much to hassle.

In the end OS X 10.3.9 works really great if you take a little time to find old releases of software. I use it on my blue iMac, 300 MHz overclocked, 512 MB RAM. It works really good for what it is, but it's better for "single tasking", of course.

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er.. from the 'read more' page "Please note that macpup is for PC's and not intended for use on a real "Mac"" – Journeyman Geek Sep 1 '11 at 9:34
Ach! you are right indeed! editing the answer right away – Pitto Sep 11 '11 at 19:40

Give Gentoo a shot. It's geared heavily towards customization and performance.

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No PPC builds for Puppy, doesn't work. – Molly7244 Nov 30 '09 at 2:42
ah lol, whooops. – John T Nov 30 '09 at 3:02
John Thanks for those other suggestions you made, even though they don't work on PPC I may have a use for them in the future. – Vincent Nov 30 '09 at 14:50
Macpup! Macpup is the way ;) – Pitto Jun 22 '11 at 12:41

If you want to stick with OSX then Panther is your best bet. Technically it can handle Tiger, but it will be slower than molasses.

I have also read that Debian works, Molly also states this above in the comments.

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But you can't use the 3. versions of firefox or newer safari, I can't seem to get the older verson of flash to install. It is also slow. – Vincent Nov 30 '09 at 14:49
You need to do a bit of work, but there's no overhead in Tiger that can't be switched off, and the base code has been tightened up, and is somewhat faster. – Charles Stewart Jan 18 '10 at 13:29
Old O.s. need old application to work fast. Of course this means that you will be in the past. And that's indeed true, if you plan to use an old machine. :) The best you can do is set it up at its best. – Pitto Sep 27 '11 at 10:50

Yellow Dog Linux is a distro tailored specifically for the PowerPC platform, so I'd try it first (assuming you're going the Linux route). You can find a full list of PPC distros at

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IIRC, the first live CD for PPC was Ubuntu, though. – Charles Stewart Jan 18 '10 at 13:33

Really fast on an iBook 500 dual USB was OpenBSD.

However, it's rather sparse. If you know what you're up to you will probably be able to make it work fine for you, but mostly we own Macs because they are not like a "server".

I think NetBSD would be better but never managed to install it, even though the iBooks are listed as compatible.

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OS X seems sluggish mostly because of the memory hungry nature of modern OS X applications. If you use applications ported to Cocoa from Linux, where throwing expansive hardware at performance issues is less standard practice, then you can find that the bare bones of OS X aren't as sluggish as you thought.

The key is to be ruthless in rejecting resource hogs: besides applications that are always spinning pizzas, look to eliminate applications that undermine overall performance, such as Mail (often wakes up and swaps its great bulk in), and programs with large resident size (look at output of ps). Some tips:

  1. Using Emacs is probably the best first step you can take: you can use it instead of Terminal, Mail (you'll need to use postfix to deliver your mail to a local folder), as well as most other text editors.

  2. Browser choice is the hard one. There are very lightweight X11 browsers, like Dillo, but they are not fully featured, and switching between X11 and Aqua isn't smooth. Camino is probably the nippiest fully-fledged browser, but given the nature of todays web, even that will seem sluggish on such hardware.
    Try to use a text browser alongside a graphical browser (Emacs has a w3-mode for text browsing) and shut down the graphical browser from time to time.
    The brutal truth is that the modern web browsing experience assumes you have more than 256M: Firefox on Ubuntu is snappier than Firefox on OS X, but even there, its not the best.

  3. Switch off Spotlight!

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