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Desktops (Apple) Linux

Ask Slashdot: What's the Fastest Linux Distro for an Old Macbook 7,1? 248

Long-time Slashdot reader gr8gatzby writes: I have an old beautiful mint condition white Macbook 7,1 with a 2.4Ghz Core 2 Duo and 5GB RAM. Apple cut off the upgrade path of this model at 10.6.8, while a modern-day version of any browser requires at least 10.9 these days, and as a result my browsing is limited to Chrome version 49.0.2623.112.

So this leaves me with Linux. What is the fastest, most efficient and powerful distro for a Mac of this vintage?

It's been nearly eight years since its release, so leave your best thoughts in the comments. What's the best Linux distro for an old Macbook 7,1?
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Ask Slashdot: What's the Fastest Linux Distro for an Old Macbook 7,1?

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  • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @07:09AM (#55971153) Journal

    I found arch worked well on very old machines, but even so the main thing is to use a lightweight desktop environment or not. I use FVWM which isn't to everyone's tastes, but I like it on machines of all sizes including fast ones.

    But you won't like unity on that machine I expect.

    Oh also, replace any spining disks with flash.

    • evilwm http://www.usenix.org.uk/conte... [usenix.org.uk] and/or ratpoison. Both provide great usability. If you spend all day in a GUI or text environment, you really should learn these.

    • The only current desktop environment I would disrecommend is GNOME and stuff that uses Gnome's display parts (ie, Cinnamon). Unless you have a fast efficient GPU, it's really sluggish even on 2017 hardware.

      XFCE works indistinguishably from a high-end machine on a slow SoC with 2GB ram, unless loaded with bloated programs. Without a browser, you'd need to really try to make a dent, a single browser with 10 tabs can bog the machine down single-handedly :/

      First gen RasPi (256MB) shipped with LXDE; at this po

    • Window Maker is still a thing.

      • Hell, fvwm is still a thing. But personally, I'd probably run lxde. You get all the basic functionality one expects from a modern gui, but it's still plenty lightweight.

    • I completely agree with the parent. The kernel is pretty small on any distribution compared to the specs you provided. The chrome on the GUI is going to take a lot more resources in many cases and present a load on the graphics in some cases. I run Xubuntu (Ubuntu with XFCE) on a laptop with lesser specs and it flies with sub-15 second boot times and sub second app launches for web bowsers and other basic apps.

      Buy an SSD if you donâ(TM)t already have one. Anything will do and it will make a huge di

    • I have an old Dell Vostro with a Core i7 860 @ 2.80 Ghz, 8 gig of ram, and spinning rust as my everyday machine. I run OpenSuSE Leap 42.3 with the KDE Plasma 8.6 desktop which is probably the most functional and customisable desktop out there ( i.e. not a lightweight ). I find the performance perfectly acceptable except when starting up, but an upgrade to an SSD would fix that. Throw leap on your Macbook, tweak KDE to look and work like IOS and enjoy it for years.
    • Building your own car can be more efficient than buying one from the dealership, but it requires a lot more more effort to pull off
  • by BellyJelly ( 3772777 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @07:21AM (#55971179)
    The fastest would be something minimal like puppy linux, but I don't think you really want something that ugly on your beloved macbook. Linux Mint Mate Edition will work fine, with a reasonably attractive and conventional UI.
    • Slackware (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Slackware is generally the fastest Linux distro, since it is a 'cut the crap' kind of distro. It only has what is necessary. It feels orders of magnitude faster than Ubuntu for example.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        I'd argue that Gentoo is far faster than Slackware. You get to compile everything for your particular CPU (in this case all the extra instructions a Core 2 Duo has compared to a generic x86), can build a kernel with just the hooks for the hardware you actually have, and build packages without things you don't need that only serves to gobble up memory and run extra code.
        Binary distros, no matter how "light" they are, are going to be compiled to run on anything, with quite liberal guesses for what a user mig

        • While you're right, the difference in performance between the more generic compiles and a tuned compile on the particular hardware OP is asking about are so small as to be negligible. While I appreciate Gentoo, in particular in desktop type environments the amount of work required to set it up is just not rewarded by any appreciable improvements in performance or stability, and with Gentoo in particular I have found that you need to stay on top of maintenance and updates pretty religiously or you're going t

  • by carlhaagen ( 1021273 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @07:27AM (#55971193)
    I'm not sure why you think it's "capped" to 10.6 - that's just the version that was current at the release of your Macbook model. It will happily install and run El Capitan (10.11), and that's bound to be a more compatible and pleasant desktop experience than putting anything Linux on it.
    • by Halo1 ( 136547 )

      It can even run macOS 10.13 (High Sierra) [everymac.com] (the current latest version).

      • It can even run macOS 10.13 (High Sierra) [everymac.com] (the current latest version).

        Yep it will indeed However you can't install 10.13 directly on a system with 10.6.8 you need to be on 10.8 or later but you can got to 10.11 and then to 10.13 Check out https://support.apple.com/en-a... [apple.com] for the link to download 10.11.6 from the appstore for free.

        • Of course you can DIRECTLY install 10.13 (read: fresh installation), or any other compatible version, but you can't UPDATE a 10.6 installation to 10.13. In my opinion doing a single fresh install is a lot faster and tidier than jumping through several intermediate updates to land where you want.
    • I'm not sure why you think it's "capped" to 10.6 - that's just the version that was current at the release of your Macbook model. It will happily install and run El Capitan (10.11), and that's bound to be a more compatible and pleasant desktop experience than putting anything Linux on it.

      Well. Any upgrade to Linux would still be an upgrade ;)

      • Yeah because 2018 is finally The Year, right? Tired song ;) Don't get me wrong, I use linux for the desktop in my line of work, and it gets the job done, but it's just not the same polished desktop experience that macOS is, even by a stretch.
      • From OS X 10.6.8 to Linux, no.

        I'm working on Linux in my daytime job, it is light years behind OS X. Not as bad as Winwos bottom line, but pretty close to run me nuts.

        • From OS X 10.6.8 to Linux, no.

          I'm working on Linux in my daytime job, it is light years behind OS X. Not as bad as Winwos bottom line, but pretty close to run me nuts.

          I work on both Linux and OS X professionally. We always try to get the new recruits to volunteer for the OS X maintenance, but within a few weeks, they like rest of us, refuse to touch it unless they absolutely have to. An there is so much more that needs to be fixed on OS X because Apple routinely breaks APIs with their upgrades, so we need to constantly test beta releases to see what they have broken this time. Of course being professionals we also support older OS X versions than Apple does.

          • Yeah,
            that is a pain.
            I only _use_ my Macs, I don't develop for them. All my private development on my Macs for myself is done in Java, like all my professional development is in the Java eco system.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      that's bound to be a more compatible and pleasant desktop experience than putting anything Linux on it.

      That's a bold statement. It's bound to be a more pleasant desktop experience for someone whose preferred desktop experience is MacOS, but fundamentally it's a matter of personal preference. I, for example, would immediately (regardless of distro) would but the i3 tiling window manager on the thing, because that's what I like, and it happens to fit well with the way I work. Generally I install Linux with i3 and XFCE for the desktop-style utilities in the situations where I want them. There is simply no

    • I recently sent an old Mac Book 7,1 to my mother-in-law. Ram upgraded to 6gb, solid state drive and OS X 10.10. It works great for light browsing, email and FaceTime.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 21, 2018 @07:27AM (#55971195)

    Posting AC for obvious reasons :)

  • by lkcl ( 517947 ) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Sunday January 21, 2018 @07:41AM (#55971221) Homepage

    2.4ghz with 5GB of RAM is insanely quick, and an insane amount of RAM. it's only the fact that modern OSes are so stuffed with eye candy, adware and freeware that you've been hood-winked into BELIEVING that the OS *is* the computer. the only thing that will make a HUGE difference to speed is if you get yourself a GOOD SSD. by that i mean one with an Intel chipset i.e. not the 3700 series which is made *by* intel but using a shitty consumer-grade controller IC from Marvell. you want an S3500 or basically hunt around for anything that has "Intel Power-loss Protection". see here for full details http://lkcl.net/reports/ssd_an... [lkcl.net]

    the actual OS doesn't techincally matter, none of them will make a blind bit of difference, you have such a fast machine, you might as well pick one that will make your life easiee.

    all apps will work perfectly fine as long as you don't do what i do which is try to run qemu, two web browsers, 3D Graphics Editors, videos, IRC, 2D CAD Packages *and* try to compile the linux kernel all at the same time. this tends to bring even a machine with 16GB of 2400mhz DDR4 RAM to its knees. don't do it :) keep an eye on things, but libreoffice and a few tabs open in browsers should be fine.

    your main concern is web browsers, which is one application, and you should try to keep the size of the window to the minimum that you can tolerate. i manage fine with chromium running at around 1024x800 and underneath that firefox with 200 tabs open ar around 1024x700 or so (i use a 3000 x 1600 resolution laptop screen).

    someone else here suggested fvwm2: i too love it, because the startup time is well under half a second. for everyone else i recommend XFCE as it's based on the older gnome2 infrastructure so does well at auto-detecting drives and so on. the other desktop i love and thoroughly recommend for end-users is Trinity Desktop.

    the only other thing i recommend is that you NOT install systemd as it actually slows boot times DOWN (as well as making your life geneerally hell). you can either install debian and then install sysvinit, which will "disable systemd but still leave it hanging around like a bad smell" or you can go the whole hog, add http://angband.pl/deban [angband.pl] and actually get rid of it entirely, going back to udisk2, policykit, consolekit and other packages that debian's developers rather foolishly removed.

    bottom line is, the threshold for "good enough computing" was crossed many many years ago, and it's only the marketing teams DELIBERATELY making the proprietary OSes do more so that your machine APPEARS so slow that you feel you HAVE to buy a new one... you see where that's going? anyway, welcome to the freedom that comes with being able to choose your own OS, you're one of the few people that actually has control of their computing hardware back, now.

    • I fully agree with "picking one that will make your life easier", meaning he should stick with OS X / macOS by simply updating to a current version. The original author is suffering the misunderstanding that he cannot update to anything beyond what was on the laptop when he bought it 8 years ago.
      • by DeBaas ( 470886 )

        That upgrade in Apples world means buying a new OS.
        Years ago in our household we had one Apple that had the same issue, just a few years old and the only way to be able to run a recent browser was buying a new OS.
        I installed Linux on it, and we were able to use the that laptop for years. Oh and not everyone likes MacOS better than Linux. I personally prefer a Mate or Cinnamon desktop any day over MacOS.

        • No, it doesn't mean *buying* a new OS at all - Apple made OS X / macOS free of charge about 10 years ago, and you can download any version you want directly from them without cost or registration. If you want a physical copy that will obviously cost you a small spot of cash ($25, believe).
        • by j-beda ( 85386 )

          That upgrade in Apples world means buying a new OS.
          Years ago in our household we had one Apple that had the same issue, just a few years old and the only way to be able to run a recent browser was buying a new OS.

          Yeah, that was a problem for a while - Apple was charging $20 for 10.7 as I recall. Later versions we all free. However, even if the machine in question will not do an upgrade jump from 10.6 to 10.13, Apple provides a free download for 10.11 here: https://support.apple.com/en-u... [apple.com] and one can upgrade for free from 10.11 to 10.13. With the proper firmware updates, this machine seems to be able to do "Internet Recovery", so one should be able to install or update it even with a bare drive and no OS installed.

    • 2.4ghz with 5GB of RAM is insanely quick, and an insane amount of RAM. it's only the fact that modern OSes are so stuffed with eye candy, adware and freeware that you've been hood-winked into BELIEVING that the OS *is* the computer.

      5GB was a lot of RAM for a laptop, but now it's anemic and it's only a lot of RAM for a phone. Anything less than 16GB might as well just go home and shoot itself. Just loading one game can regularly use 4GB or more. Or one large image. Editing a decent-resolution video will rapidly use more than 5GB. Running multiple components of an office suite can easily eat up your 5GB.

      5GB is not a lot of RAM any more. Even if the OSes weren't using more and more RAM, the data sets we're working on have grown to that p

      • 5GB was a lot of RAM for a laptop, but now it's anemic and it's only a lot of RAM for a phone. Anything less than 16GB might as well just go home and shoot itself. Just loading one game can regularly use 4GB or more. Or one large image. Editing a decent-resolution video will rapidly use more than 5GB. Running multiple components of an office suite can easily eat up your 5GB.

        5GB is not a lot of RAM any more. Even if the OSes weren't using more and more RAM, the data sets we're working on have grown to that p

        • But even for compiling, you'd have a hard job finding a job for which 5GB isn't enough memory.

          Ha! What about Android? Is 50GB enough memory? But seriously, my browser sometimes uses more than 4GB. It's not difficult to imagine exhausting 5GB as a regular user any more. It's a bit obscene, but it's just how it is.

          • The computer uses as much RAM as you have available, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work fine with less. I'm using Ubuntu Mate on my laptop with 8GB, and at the moment only require 4GB, even though the machine hasn't been rebooted for 10 days. (That's 3GB used by Firefox, and 1GB used by the desktop environment, syncthing, evince, etc. Technically, 3GB of the "available" space is used for caching, but you can do without that if needed).

            I guess the conclusion is that the main hog is the web browser; limi
            • I guess the conclusion is that the main hog is the web browser; limit the number of tabs you keep open, and 5GB should be fine. Go old-school and disable tabbed browsing completely (using bookmarks for things you want to revisit, and browsing the internet sequentially instead of in parallel), and 5GB should be plenty.

              So 5GB should be plenty as long as I websurf like it's 1999? That's a typically dumb argument to make on Slashdot.

      • What world are you living in? Linux software hasnâ(TM)t ballooned so much that 5GB of RAM is anemic. 5GB should be plenty for even the heaviest Linux distributions.

        Also, I donâ(TM)t think the sata sets, outside of web pages, have really increased that much either. Iâ(TM)ve been able to run on 4GB of RAM for a decade.
    • My work machine is a Core2Duo running at 3GHz with 4GB RAM and an ancient HDD with Win10 on it. The thing is slow, but not unusable. I mean it's pretty frustrating and sluggish, but not unusable. You just have to be patient, much like you would with an OAP.
  • Just kidding, of course.

    But if you want to try, here it is, Slackware 7.1 [slackware.com]

    • by jmccue ( 834797 )

      I am not be kidding. If that system is Intel, Slackware 14.2 will work great. I use it on a 2 core 4 gig memory machine and it is very fast.

      I have noticed LibraOffice 5.2 (since 5.0 came out) is sluggish. Outside of that, I would not notice anything on my machine.

  • Most distribs should run decently with that hardware.
  • I am not sure if they run on that specific hardware.

  • Why not consider running one of the BSDs on it? OpenBSD will cruise and you will have a very secure laptop.
  • You have a dual-core 64-bit processor there, I believe. I would try ElementaryOS or Linux Mint KDE first.

    Of course if you REALLY want fastest, then you will need a distribution that has no desktop environment and simply drops you to a command prompt after installation --- that would be something like Ubuntu server, CentOS 7, or a minimal install of SuSE or Debian.

    The biggest worry (IMO) with the old hardware is Spectre/Meltdown;l security risks which will likely never have a hardware/firmware-level mi

  • There are many... (Score:3, Informative)

    by wap3com ( 4614065 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @08:33AM (#55971405)
    I use distrowatch.com see what is hot.

    MX-Linux [https://mxlinux.org/]

    Dedoimedo [dedimedo.com] ranked it #1 XFCE for 2017.

    Up to date with Firefox ESR, Thunderbird, LibreOffice
    1.2g ISO

    Requires CD/DVD [or system that boots USB]
    i486 or AMD and above
    512 MB Ram
    5GB free disk space
    UEFI or BIOS
  • by Walter White ( 1573805 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @08:43AM (#55971445)

    I agree with others who have suggested upgrading the HDD to an SSD. That makes a huge difference even for a machine that may not fully support the fastest SATA speeds. According to this web page (if I have correctly identified the H/W) https://everymac.com/systems/a... [everymac.com] this Mac can hold up to 8GB RAM. If it presently has 5 GB, it is presently populated with a 1GB stick and a 4GB stick. I would try to match the 4GB stick and bump the RAM to 8GB.

    With this H/W you can reasonably run any Linux distro so the choice comes down to choosing a distro and desktop suitable for a new user. Ubuntu and Mint are both good candidates for easy installation. I would avoid Ubuntu 17.10 as it has a *lot* of new stuff like Wayland by default and a return to Gnome from Unity. 16.04 would be a good choice and it's an LTS version meaning it will be supported for a long time.

    For a desktop I would consider XFCE or Mate. Both are fairly functional without being too bloated. Some people like the default Unity desktop on Ubuntu which was originally targeted at netbooks. I cannot comment on KDE because I don't use it but there are those that like it a lot and report that it is not a resource hog. Someone mentioned fvwm2. That was my window manager of choice 20 years ago when I ran Linux on a 486 with 4 MB RAM and a few GB of disk drive. I recommend a full blown modern desktop environment for ease of use for a new user. The nice thing about Linux is that you can install and test drive any of these desktops and choose the one to try from the login screen.

    • by j-beda ( 85386 )

      According to the linked website, this machine supports 16GB, as well as the latest version of macOS, 10.13 (as well as 10.6, 10.7, 10.8, 10.9, 10.10, 10.11, and 10.12).

      Install Linux if one wants, but upgrading to the latest version of macOS is probably a "simpler" way of addressing the "out of date browsers" issue.

      • You are correct. I read "... but third-parties have determined that it actually supports 8 GB of RAM" Had I continued reading I would have seen "... and 16 GB of RAM running OS X 10.7.5 "Lion" or higher and the latest EFI update."

        I agree that if it can run the current version of MacOS that would be the preferred solution.

  • So this leaves me with Linux.

    Or one of the BSDs... Maybe, even Solaris will work...

    What is the fastest, most efficient and powerful distro

    What is "the fastest"? The same program, with the same input will produce the same output in the same time under the same conditions...

    The other terms — "efficient" and "powerful" — are even more vague.

    The usual advice is: pick, what the person you'll be asking questions uses...

  • macOS High Sierra (Score:5, Informative)

    by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @09:37AM (#55971631)

    https://everymac.com/systems/a... [everymac.com]

    Apple officially supports a maximum of 4 GB of RAM, but third-parties have determined that it actually supports 8 GB of RAM running Mac OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" and 16 GB of RAM running OS X 10.7.5 "Lion" or higher and the latest EFI update.

    Pre-Installed MacOS: X 10.6.3
    Maximum MacOS: Current

    So update EFI, upgrade RAM to 16GB, swap HDD for SSD and install the latest macOS.

    Problem solved.

    • So update EFI, upgrade RAM to 16GB, swap HDD for SSD and install the latest macOS.

      This is the best answer and really should be +5. The only issue is, looking on Ebay it's a $100 laptop. Is it really worth putting a couple hundred dollars of new parts into it? Personally I would upgrade the OS and leave it at that.

    • A few caveats:

      This system can run the last version of OS X 10.10 "Yosemite" and OS X 10.11 "El Capitan," although advanced feature support is minimal (Mac-to-Mac AirDrop is supported). When running Mac OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" it is not supported booting in 64-bit mode. It is capable of running macOS Sierra (10.12) as well, although the Universal Clipboard, Auto Unlock, and Apple Pay features are not supported. Finally, this model is capable of running macOS High Sierra (10.13), and it supports HEVC (High-E

  • I agree with others here that the DE is the more resource hungry consideration than the distro. I use Debian + i3wm on my MBP 5,1 and it's faster than any Apple OS that ever ran on it. I know that i3wm is probably the main reason for that, if I installed gnome3 (which i'm not entirely against) I expect It would be quite a lot slower. i3wm is the most friendly of the tiling window managers if you wanted to go down that route, once you do you tend not to go back.
  • I will second the other commenters who suggest to install Slackware. According to your Mac's specs, they are plentiful for running 14.2 or -current.

    In Slackware64-current you can have the latest and greatest GNU/Linux software. Kernel 4.14.4, the latest Plasma 5, the latest iterations of MATE and Cinnamon, Firefox 58, Chromium 63.0.3239.132, LibreOffice 5.4.4...

    If possible I would increase the RAM but that's not really necessary if you plan to limit yourself to light browsing or text editing.

    Use Slackware;

  • If you ask THIS group "what distro is best for (anything)" within a few hours you're going to get at least one suggestion for every distro known to mankind.

    People are going to tend to suggest what works best for them. You haven't provided enough context of what you want to use it for, or how you want it to work for you, or what you're comfortable with, to even begin to weed out the extreme suggestions.

    My rule of thumb on asking for advice for computer purchases or OS installs is "If you ask for advice, and

  • by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @11:13AM (#55972027)

    That machine is plenty beefy enough to run any full-monty linux with heavy desktop.

    Example of old would be my Thinkpad T-41 running Debian with xfce,

  • Windows 10 (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Kinda funny how a Microsoft os would work and be supported on a Mac that Apple no longer supports.

  • Solus is entirely independent (not a derivative of Debian or Red Hat etc.) and compiled to maximise speed (using the same improvements used by Intel for their Clear Linux).
  • elementary OS (Score:3, Informative)

    by discowriter ( 4085659 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @02:32PM (#55973069)
    I think you should look for a replacement, not the fastest distro. elementary OS is Linux and looks like macOS. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
  • Those spec's aren't too bad, I've just replaced an aging X300 with a T420s, as the softer parts have been giving out (screen bezel, speaker covers, etc.). The X300 uses an ultra-low-voltage processor at 1.2ghz, pretty anemic, had 4 GB RAM in it. I used/use Gentoo. With not much more than setting some USE flags, able to strip it of all the freedesktop stuff (consolekit, policykit, dbus, systemd, pulseaudio, etc.); have Fluxbox for the windows manager, wpa_gui + cbatticon in the tray and that is really quite
  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @03:38PM (#55973461)

    Linux From Scratch would be by far the fastest and most efficient thing you could put on there. http://www.linuxfromscratch.or... [linuxfromscratch.org] It's also the most powerful in terms of customisation.

    That was an easy one to answer. Give us something harder next time, like a requirement to do something useful with your OS :-)

  • by wayward_son ( 146338 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @06:09PM (#55974335)

    The MacBook 7,1 WILL run High Sierra. This is probably your best bet.

    https://everymac.com/systems/apple/macbook/specs/macbook-core-2-duo-2.4-white-13-polycarbonate-unibody-mid-2010-specs.html

    If you really want to run Linux, you've got enough power to run whatever you want. Kubuntu or KDE Neon would give you a nice balance of functionality and performance. I'm running Kubuntu on a MacBook 3,1 which has the garbage GMA x3100 video and it is running just fine.

    The big issue with the MacBook 7,1 is trying to get the proprietary nvidia drivers to work with EFI boot. Otherwise, you are stuck with nouveau, and nouveau sucks.

  • by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @06:30PM (#55974415) Journal
    Bodhi Linux http://www.bodhilinux.com/ [bodhilinux.com]
    Read about the ISO images.
    http://www.bodhilinux.com/w/se... [bodhilinux.com]
    A 64bit operating system is supported.
    Need a 32bit release with no PAE extension?
    Thats supported with the Legacy 32bit release.
  • I tried various Linux, but lots of stuff were just too slow. :(

  • Have a look at antiX, choice of light desktops and definitely put in an SSD
    http://antix.mepis.org/index.p... [mepis.org]
    even goes well on my old MSI Wind

  • I have a 2010 6,1 running the current MacOS and the current web browsers. I need to swap the hard drive for an SSD, and RAM is limited to 8GB, but otherwise it works well. It is easy to install current MacOS versions on any Mac: Clone a bootable backup, with Carbon Copy Cloner for instance, boot from that backup on your old laptop, and clone it to the internal drive.

  • Pardon my lack of knowledge; but, it's possible to install Linux on a Mac (but not Windows)? And the same with BSD? Holy smokes - when'd that happen!?

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