Welcome, uMac!

I have an late-2009 27" iMac that is showing signs of aging.  Although the basic hardware is still pretty beefy by today's standards, my growing frustration with OS X in general is causing me to actively evaluate other options.

Of particular note is the mess that is Finder.  I've never been a fan of OS X finder.  I find it horribly slow, clunky, and generally broken.  I've most-recently noticed that finder has issues when I use OS X to copy large files from server-to-server across my lan.  

I have two NAS devices totaling 10Tb of storage - the fact that Finder interfaces so gracelessly with my linux-based network appliances has been of significant concern.  I've updated OS X relentlessly but continue to be frustrated and disappointed by my apparent inability to successfully accomplish even simple tasks through the Finder.

At one point, I had a windows partition allocated where I boot-camped into win-7 for the purpose of playing games.  Since I acquired a dedicated Windows game machine almost two years past, I've not booted in to Windows on my iMac since.  200Gb of storage lying there. Begging to be noticed and used.

I decided to replace the windows partition on the iMac with a copy of Ubuntu 14.04 desktop.  This was going to be especially challenging since my superdrive ended-up being not so super and died several years ago.

So, I trudged over to the windows box and used a utility called Universal-USB-Installer from pendrivelinux.com.  Once I torrented the Ubuntu iso, I created the boot stick from a 2Gb stick I had collecting dust in a drawer.

I booted my mac holding down the option key to get a list of devices to boot from, and the USB stick was present in the option, so I selected it ... and was rewarded with the standard grub menu - I selected the option to boot (instead of installing) and was presented with...a blank screen.

Some minor research revealed that I needed to add a boot-time option to the configuration - once I added the parameter "nomodeset" to the boot option, I could boot into Ubuntu Linux and see the screen display.

Next, I tested an install and discovered my next hurdle - I didn't have a partition pre-allocated for swap.  While I have hacked my iMac to support 16Mb of (unsupported by Apple, thank you) RAM, I'm pretty sure I'll hit swap once I start doing some serious work.  Time to boot back into OS-X.

The OS-X disk utility program is pretty cool in that it allowed me to select the primary partition upon which OS X itself lives and resize it without losing the data in the partition.  Fellow baby-boomers will recall the days where even looking at a partition table meant the loss of all the data so resizing without data loss is amazing.  I shrunk the partition by a measly 20Gb or so.  Time to boot back into Ubuntu...

Back in Ubuntu, and running through the installation program provided by the USB bootware, I noticed something else cool - that the Ubuntu installed pre-allocated the /boot partition from the available blank partition leaving me with only having to explicitly mark the remaining partition space as dedicated swap.

Note:  I forgot to mention this - but when I started the installer, I selected the option to manually configure the installation options.  No one in their right mind should do otherwise imo.

I decided to plow through the install and went ahead and clicked through the installation screens.  Eventually, since I also selected the options to load the alternative software during install, it completed successfully and invited me to restart the machine.

I rebooted the iMac (holding down the option key) and when I selected the "windows" partition (as indicated by the boot manager) I was presented with a rather ugly screen reading "partition not bootable" or "operating system not found" or something similarly dire.

The system went into default boot (no option key) and I was presented with the grub menu from the iMac's hard drive.  Eyes narrowed in a squint.  Huh?  I also had the option to boot into either a 32- or 64-bit OS-X...

I selected the default (remembering to add the "nomodeset" to the boot configuration option - more on this in a sec) - and was rewarded with the Ubuntu login screen.  Cool! 

I logged in and, yup - I'm running Ubuntu 14.04 on my iMac....err...my uMac!

the Splash screen on my new uMac!

the Splash screen on my new uMac!

I edited the grub boot default file to permanently add the "nomodeset" option (instructions) so that I wouldn't have to deal with that annoying editor again.  Now it was time to see if I could boot back into OS-X...

If you've done any research on dual-booting your Mac with Ubuntu, you've stumbled onto sage advice concerning an application called rEFIT.  Apple, in their infinite wisdom, made their boot manager compatible only with windows because... I really don't know why... whatever... So, most people recommend this boot loader rEFIT as an alternative boot manager.

When I checked out the link, I saw that development was halted on the app - and had been forked and renamed.  I jumped to the new link but I was pretty unimpressed with what I saw there so I just decided to ignore the whole rEFIT issue for the time.  Like how you turn up your radio when your car starts making a funny noise.

So, booting out of Ubuntu, I power cycled the mac and held down the option key to see my boot devices - one of which (windows) was no longer working.  I selected the original OS X partition from the list and, voila!, it booted back to OS-X!

tl;dr:  default boot:  ubuntu, option-key boot: OS-X

Since I plan on using Ubuntu as the primary operating system on my uMac, I don't have a problem with grub taking over the Apple boot loader in the EFI partition.  So discard the whole rEFIT alternative boot-manger thingy...

Also, nice to note, all of my mounted devices:

  • apple OS X main partition
  • mini drive (from my mac mini days)
  • WD USB drive for time machine
  • Nexus 7 tablet
  • android-based motorola phone

are all available to me and pre-mounted so that if there are files I need, I can just open their respective folders and grab them.

Interestingly, the only device Ubuntu couldn't open that was attached to my uMac was my iPhone - Ubuntu reported it as a locked device.  I'm sure if I unlocked it, I could access it.  If I wanted or needed to.

I would have probably deleted my OS-X partition but I still use an amazing piece of software, available only on the mac, called OmniGraffle (link, shout-out: you guys rock!).  I'll keep OS-X around for the time being just for it.

Oh, and finally, if you're wondering why I didn't do this in a VM, it's simply because I think VMs are a huge waste of resources.   Plus the world needs fewer reasons to run Windows.

Ok - that's about it for now... hope you enjoyed the story!