Creating a minimal Leopard installation

A forum post at Macrumors outlines a procedure for generating a minimal Leopard installtion. I will have 16 GB of flash memory space for both the operating system and the photos. I want to shed anything inessential.

There is also Xslimmer, which purports to remove unnecessary files. I have a license from a MacUpdate Promo a couple of years back, so I’ll give it a try.

feh won’t be it

So, I got feh to work. I don’t have the iMac G4, yet, so I used an old 733 MHz G4 PowerMac as a test system. The feh compile took over three hours.

feh truly has many options, including for retrieving images via http. This would be handy for giving the frame to my folks halfway around the world, while I can update the picture set locally and have the frame update pictures automatically, in real time.

What killed it for me was that it doesn’t allow for transitions. I would like my pictures to cross-fade. Maybe a Ken Burns transition would be nice.

Not sure, what I’ll use. It could just be the built-in screen saver.

By dominikushoffmann Posted in Software

feh as a potential picture presentation application

During my research at the beginning of this project I came across a lot of descriptions of turning an old Wintel laptop into a digital picture frame. Those approaches most often installed some sort of Linux distribution on those systems. Most notably, they typically use feh. feh presents pictures on the screen and is configured and run from the command line, only. While for some this may be a non-starter, for me this is precisely its most important feature. Because the picture frame will lack keyboard and mouse, it will require a convenient method for configuring and updating it. If I can do so with a simple ssh connection, so much the better.

There a couple of hurdles to installing feh. While it is included in most current Linux distribution, it isn’t in Mac OS X. The source code is available from the feh website, but I decided I didn’t want to have to hunt down all the libraries a build-from-source installation of feh requires. Instead, I turned to Fink, which aids in automatically resolving library dependences upon installation of open-source packages. It turned out that feh is a package that Fink is familiar with, which makes installation a lot simpler.

To use Fink, one needs the Apple Developer Tools installed. For Leopard it is Xcode 3.1.3, because it provides a compiler, which does not ship with Mac OS X. To get it, one needs an Apple Developer Connection (ADC) account, which is basically a free login to the ADC website. To register, one does not have to join of a specific developer program.

I still don’t have the iMac I purchased on eBay. However, for testing purposes and preparation, I decided to use my old PowerMac G4, which runs Mac OS X Leopard. Once I had installed Xcode, I installed Fink from source. This took over four hours, although those not that patient can install a pre-compiled binary, which can also be found on the Fink website.

With Fink and Xcode installed, I can install feh. There is some added difficulty in that feh is part of a package the Fink Project calls “unstable.” Therefore, there is an additional, time-consuming, procedure for preparing for the installation, described in the Fink FAQ. Once I am done with that, I can hopefully copy only the compiled feh code over to the SSD drive on the iMac.

Ditching the hard drive for flash memory

The frame is supposed to use as little power as possible and run quiet. This means that I have to ditch the hard drive, which might be close to crashing, anyway, given that this computer is around eight years old.

I specifically selected the September 2003 update of the iMac G4 line, because with it came, for the first time, USB 2.0. I will explore  booting this unit from a 16 GB flash USB drive. For that USB 1.1 would just not have done. While officially supported only after the introduction of the Intel Macs, booting from a USB volume is possible with some G4 Macs. At Mac OS X Hints I found a post on booting a PowerPC Mac from USB.

If this doesn’t work, there is still the possibility of using a SSD in place of the hard drive. Not needing 64 GB of storage and not wanting to spend that much money, I looked for alternatives. eBay is full of adapters that allow connecting flash memory cards to IDE interfaces. The iMac uses a 3.5-in drive with a 40-pin connector. The eBay search term was “IDE flash adapter.” I opted for one that has a female 40-pin header connector at a right angle to the adapter’s circuit board. This will allow mounting it parallel to the iMac’s motherboard.

IDE to CF Adapter

IDE to CF Adapter

I ended up with one for use with CompactFlash cards. While these are, at the same capacity, more expensive than SDHC, they are essentially already an IDE SSD, which is why there are next to no other components necessary on the adapter. Adapters that accommodate SDHC cards require a lot of extra interface logic between the IDE bus and the flash memory card.

The adapter cost me $3.66. A 16 GB CompactFlash card cost me $22.99, also on eBay. The adapter card has a four-pin header connector for hooking up power. This is the same type as is used for floppy drives in the Wintel world. I therefore also purchased an adapter cable converting between a Molex hard drive power connector and a floppy drive power connector, for $1.99. What remains to be seen is, whether the IDE adapter allows me to use the full 16 GB of the CompactFlash card.

Molex hard drive to floppy drive power cable

16 GB should be enough to install Mac OS X Leopard and have plenty of room left for pictures.

Purchasing the computer

There are many people out there who show how to turn an old laptop into a digital picture frame. I am neither familiar enough with Windows nor with Linux to really want to dig into either deeply enough to attempt such an undertaking with a Wintel laptop. Being a Mac guy, I set out to find a cheap Apple laptop or flat-screen desktop computer.

I ended up purchasing a 17″ iMac G4 on eBay, the one with resemblance to Pixar’s Luxo Jr.:

Apple iMac G4

The Apple iMac G4.

At $87 it was within my budget.

iFixit links to an Apple service manual that shows how to open it up and take it apart. This will be necessary, as I will want to run my digital picture frame with as few components of the original computer as possible. I am currently waiting for the iMac to arrive here.

Next, I’ll write about some of the small accessories I gathered for my project.

P.S.: I am beginning to wonder, whether I should rip this beauty apart. On the date of the original posting of this post the iMac G4 happened to be 10 years old.