Posts Tagged PowerPC

Syncthing for Linux PPC

I spend way too much time trying to get software not officially support on PowerPC computers running. My latest project is Syncthing. Started in 2013 by Jakob Borg, Syncthing is promoted as an “opensource alternative to proprietary decentralized file sharing services” [1]. The biggest competitor is BitTorrent’s Sync application. The premise for both applications is the same. You pick a folder on your computer or mobile device you want to share to device or user. The application generates cryptographic identifiers that are shared and used for securing traffic. With BitTorrent Sync the identifiers are shared when you start the process of sharing a folder. For Syncthing they are shared when connecting devices together. In the end the result of secure end-to-end communication is accomplished by both applications, jus the roads are a little different.

I’ve been using BTSync for the past year as a way to keep a copy of a KeePass file synced between my computers and my Nexus 5. My KeePass file is something I don’t want to keep up on a service like Google Drive since the cloud is outside of my control. LastPass is a great service, but again, passwords are stored in the cloud and I like control.

The developers of Syncthing are doing a great job of updating the product and releasing versions for the major desktop platforms. Third-party developers have also stepped up and adapted Syncthing to run on Android and support for iOS looks to be on the roadmap [2]. One missing platform, however, is Linux on PPC. I know the market share of for PPC systems is microscopic even if you factor in IBM’s Power line of servers, some of Synology’s NAS products, and the Air Force’s PS3 cluster [3]. That is why I’m still surprised that BitTorrent released a Sync client for Linux PPC until April 2015 [4].

Enough back-story, here is how I got Syncthing running.
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Modern Wireless for PowerPC Macs

Recently I took the opportunity to upgrade my home server from a heavily upgraded 2001 Quicksilver PowerMac G4 to a PowerMac G5. With that I took the opportunity to reinstall OS X 10.5 on the Quicksilver and turn it into web browsing station for when I’m in the basement working on projects. The main limitation I had with this was network connectivity. I could have run a network cable from the 1st floor office through the basement to the work area, like I did for the living room, but thought it was a little overkill. With the basement ceiling have interlocking tiles I also didn’t want to fight with them. The next logical conclusion was wireless, but that had its own challenges. The G4 PowerMacs never officially supported wireless above 802.11b.

Today 802.11b has two major disadvantages compared to every other wireless standard used: it is slow at only 11Mbps theoretical throughput and only the only encryption it supports is WEP. While 11Mbps of bandwidth is enough for simple surfing the WEP security is a big problem. The security protocol can be easily cracked using only a few MB of passively collected data and 5 seconds of compute time. Seriously:

So using an original Apple Airport card was out of the question. I could have created a separate wireless network off my DD-WRT router that used WEP and isolated the traffic from the house, but I felt that was still too much of a security risk. Instead I started looking into PCI or USB wireless cards that still worked with PPC OS X. I was surprised to find that may be multiple products that worked. Turns out Realtek made drivers for many of the RTL81XX series wireless chips going back to OS X 10.4 PPC. So all I had to do was find a wireless adapter with one of those chipsets and I would be set. Searching turned up dozens of results and I chose to go with a Bolse BO-N1557 USB adapter. The unit was small, built on the RLT8192CU chipset, and supported 2.4GHz 802.11n and therefore WPA2 encryption.

$15 and 3 days later I received the adapter and got to installing it. Years ago I had purchased a USB 2.0 PCI card during the CompUSA closeout and was happy to see it was plug & play in the PowerMac. It only made since to plug the USB adapter into the USB card rather than the USB 1.1 ports. Installing the drivers was easy and straightforward with no major issues.

The only challenge with using Bolse card was the configuration. It looked like Apple never allowed third party manufacturers to tie into the wireless features of OS X. That meant the wireless card showed up as a wired network connection to OS X and the Realtek driver utility had to be used to configure connections to wireless networks. The process wasn’t as smooth or hassle free as the built in OS X process, but was doable.

So there you go, if you have an old PPC Mac and you want to add some modern wireless connectivity, check out the dozens of wireless adapters built on the Realtek RTL8192CU chipset.

Fun Fact: Internally the original Apple Airport cards were WaveLan Silver/Gold PC Cards only without the built-in antennas. In fact, you could take a WaveLan card, plug it into the Airport slot of a PowerMac or PowerBook and it would show up just like an original. You couldn’t close the case because the card stuck out too far, but you at least had wireless connectivity. The WaveLan cards were also used in the original Airport base stations before Apple swapped over to Airport cards.

Have fun.

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Homemade NAS Box Redux

In 2012 I took my old PowerMac G4, slapped in a SATA card, some hard drives, and turned it into a server for storing media and computer backups. Then in 2013 I upgraded my MacBookPro to OS X 10.9 and lost the ability to do Time Machine backups to AFP shares from OS X 10.5. What to do, what to do? Solution: turn the PowerMac into a true server by running Linux. The results? Totally awesome.

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Homemade NAS Box

So back in 2008 I started on a project to build a media/storage server. The whole thing was for a senior capstone project with lots of research, hours of configuring/testing, and finally presenting. Using Windows Home Server and FreeNAS I showed the pros and cons of each. Unfortunately I lived on campus so setting up a real server was frowned upon. Instead, everything was simulated using Windows Virtual Server running on my now gaming PC.

This year I thought it was time to finally build a physical media server and move all of my music, videos, and old documents off my PCs. The original plan was to build a server using a mini-ITX motherboard with 4 SATA ports, and 3x 2 terabyte hard drives in a RAID 5 configuration, stuffed inside the smallest case possible. The system, in theory, would sit behind my TV and share everything out using FreeNAS.

Unfortunately, those plans have not worked out so now I’m falling back on an alternative. Why not take an old computer I already have and turn it into the storage I want?
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Fun with GIMP

While at work this past week and was helping a user figure out how to measure something in an image. We both knew Adobe’s Photoshop a measure tool built in, but that software is hundreds of dollars and overkill for the users purpose. I then thought of GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It had many of the same features of Photoshop and was free. All of this eventually led to me going back home this week and playing around with GIMP… Again…

For what it is, GIMP is a great application: a complete image editing program with the ability to rival Adobe Photoshop. On top of that GIMP is free, open source, and available for many different operating systems. Personally, I have one issue with the current version of GIMP. Because I use OS X on my PowerBook GIMP has to be rendered in X11. That wouldn’t be a big problem if it wasn’t for the fact GIMP breaks the toolbox, image window, and layers/channel/paths into individual windows. The File, Edit, View menus also exist within the main window, which breaks the OS X GUI standards for having a unified menu bar at the stop of the screen. See the example of what I’m talking about below.

Screenshot of GIMP on OS X

Some would argue that OS X is the primary problem because its interface does not follow conventions used by other operating systems. While that may be true I do not want to get into the debate of the reasoning behind interface design. That’s something like the people at Ubuntu are thinking about as they decide which corner of a window the Exit button is placed. Rather, I would like to look at the three options available for Mac users who want to use GIMP and help with a few of the annoyances.
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