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I have a dual G5 tower that I've decommissioned here at home for desktop usage. What free server alternatives could I install on it?

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

You didn't really mention what you were intending to do with the system as a server. Video streaming? File serving?

What clients are you using? Macs have some services that work well with other Macs, so you could do some basic services right from a regular 10.x OS X installation and have some interoperability with other Macs as clients.

If you're serving just files, a basic web server, etc. or have a reason not to use OS X anymore you can install Debian or YellowDog Linux.

This question really depends on what you're familiar with for configuring and administrating, and what you're aiming to serve with the system.

I have a decommissioned G5 Mac and I configured it as a family computer for my son (4 years old) because it's relatively simple for him to use and with enough memory he can use it to watch DVD's and play basic flash games. His sister (17) steals the keyboard for typing papers in OpenOffice/NeoOffice and some online research tasks. Either way I could set the system to also be a web server and print server with the basic OS X installed on it if I wanted to.

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Hey Bart, thanks for the comment. I haven't actually thought of a specific use for it yet, but possibly a web server / file server. The thing I'm most concerned about is the heat and power that it consumes in my office. I'm not sure I want it running all day. However, I was curious as I want to learn more about nix serving, what other OSes would work on this platform. Thanks! – kylehayes Nov 6 '09 at 23:22
The G5 may work best with just straight OS X. If you're curious about administrating Linux systems that's fine too, but for power saving and occasional use OS X will be integrated with the hardware so you can tell it to wake and sleep at certain times, shut down power to the drives, etc...Linux is getting better, but it's got a learning curve and nothing will be as well integrated with a Mac than OS X. If you want a Linux server you're better off getting an inexpensive PC with low power use to experiment with, in my opinion. – Bart Silverstrim Nov 7 '09 at 0:10
Second idea, you can look up white boxes online and put together for a few hundred bucks a perfectly usable VMWare ESXi system (free hypervisor) and experiment with multiple servers virtualized at will. Yes, costs more than the G5, but for your purposes it may provide a better experience in the end. Good luck! – Bart Silverstrim Nov 7 '09 at 0:11
I ended up leaving OS X on the box and putting it in my garage on our network. Working great so far! I actually already do my tinkering on a Linux server at SliceHost and am pretty familiar with that already. I think it will be best for simple maintenance to keep OS X on the G5. I'm not concerned about resources on the box since it has 2.5 GB of RAM and running only OS X and a few server apps is not going to tie it down. Thanks, Bart for your detailed pragmatic answers. – kylehayes Nov 8 '09 at 17:32
@kylehayes: Glad it helped :-) For my case my son loves having a computer to learn on and an older Mac has found a second life for that. People that like tinkering are free to install different OS's on the Mac, but in my opinion part of the premium pricing on the Mac is having OS X with its tight integration with the hardware, so why fight it unless there's a specific reason to do so? Good luck with your new network addition :-) – Bart Silverstrim Nov 8 '09 at 23:32

I've had good experiences with Debian on PPC hardware (or anywhere else, for that matter). FreeBSD should also run on that box; running a BSD is great fun too.

I'd stay away from running Mac OS X as a server unless you need something that doesn't run on a proper UNIX (like FileMaker Server); the filesystem is horrendous and overall performance is rather poor, in my experience.

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this is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks! – kylehayes Nov 6 '09 at 22:24
What's wrong with the filesystem? – Amok Nov 6 '09 at 23:27
I've not heard any problems with HFS+. It even defragments certain files on the fly...unless you had goofiness with extended attributes? Or the goofy way it stores those abhorrent "dot files" on non-hfs filesystems like Windows shares. Ugh. But that's an OS issue, not HFS. – Bart Silverstrim Nov 7 '09 at 0:13
+1; Debian is the way to go. – Lee B Nov 7 '09 at 0:37
HFS+: I - repeatedly - had corruption problems, some rendering the computer unbootable, on powerfails. This goes from 10.4 right up to 10.6. Interestingly, things seem to become worse; I don't remember any such problems on 10.3. Maybe unsafe optimizations; it seems to become faster, or rather less dog-slow. Also, it's not a real UNIX FS - there are no proper hard-link semantics, sync() is more advisory than mandatory... This is not a religious point, NTFS is not a UNIX FS either and is a good FS, but then again, MS are not trying to run a UNIX on it. – Bernd Haug Nov 7 '09 at 11:18

Yellow-dog Linux perhaps?

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A few years ago I used Gentoo on my G5 tower and it worked fairly well. You can also install whatever server software you want on OS X client or Darwin and use that as the server OS.

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What do you mean by OS X client or Darwin? – kylehayes Nov 6 '09 at 21:58
The G5 came with Mac OS X and you can use that as a base to install whatever you want to make it a server. You can also use Darwin, which is the Unix part of Mac OS X and has ISOs available for the 10.4 version. – Amok Nov 6 '09 at 23:25

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