Exploring the Mactel Underground: Installing OS x86

Last week, while tuning into This Week in Tech hosted by the charismatic Leo Laporte, I learned that Leo had turned down a copy of OS x86 from some audacious youngsters. Personally, I find such youngsters quite fascinating—they keep me employed as their educator. So, when one of them mentioned their plan to install OS x86 on a Dell, I was intrigued and agreed to join their adventure at a secret location.

Prepare to dive into the less glamorous side of Mac enthusiasts’ world. Apple might be slightly agitated by these developments, but die-hard fans know that whatever Apple unveils next will surpass the current makeshift setups. Join me as I recount the hurdles we encountered and our final outcomes. Venture further if you’re up for it.

A friend had already downloaded the OS x86 version circulating on Bittorrent, specifically the VMWare image from “Curtis.” However, we intended to run it directly, bypassing VMWare, following a guide we found on 360hacker.net. The guide was somewhat vague, costing us precious time. We began by inserting a DVD containing the .bz2 file into a PowerMac G5 tower and connected an 80 GB external USB drive.

After extracting the contents twice, we isolated the necessary file for our method—ignoring the rest meant for VMWare. The OS X image was a hefty 6 GB, too large for our FAT32 formatted drive, a common stumbling block for those transitioning from Windows.

Our next logical step was less obvious at the moment. Ideally, we should have reformatted the drive to NTFS on a PC and transferred the file via a network between the Dell and Mac. Instead, we initially chose to format it as a UNIX volume, which led to failure. After realizing HFS+ was incompatible with Ubuntu, we formatted the drive to NTFS on the PC, only to find out Macs can only read NTFS. Frustrated but enlightened, we finally managed to transfer the 6 GB file over the network to the external drive. However, the individual who was supposed to bring the Ubuntu live CD forgot it, leading us to download the ISO during a brunch break.

Once we had the Ubuntu Live CD, things started looking up. Ubuntu impressed me with its seamless operation, a first in my experience with Linux distributions.

The external drive was immediately recognized, and we accessed the image file without a hitch, ready to proceed.

Unfortunately, we hit another snag. None of us remembered how to handle spaces in command lines within the Terminal, preventing us from navigating to our image file. After renaming the volume on Windows, we finally accessed the file via Terminal and began the process of copying the image to the Dell’s hard drive. Despite our efforts, we faced repeated ‘Permission Denied’ errors. The drive, a Seagate with Fedora installed, was locked, blocking all our attempts to write over it. After several failed attempts with floppy-based methods, a suggestion to use tools from Seagate proved to be the solution we needed.

With everything finally in place, the DD command worked its magic in just eight minutes. We eagerly rebooted the system, greeted by the familiar grey Apple logo. However, the system hung.


Wei is a dedicated writer for TUAW, bringing readers the latest insights and updates on all things Apple. With a keen eye for detail and a love for technology, Wei covers everything from the newest iPhone releases to the latest macOS updates. His articles are a go-to source for Apple enthusiasts who want to stay informed about their favorite gadgets, including the iPad, Apple Watch, and MacBook. Wei’s clear and engaging writing style makes complex tech topics accessible to everyone.