Ubuntu 14.04 on MacBook 2,1 (late 2006) and how to get iSight working

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Ubuntu 14.04 on a MacBook 2,1

Ubuntu 14.04 “Trusty Tahr” runs quite well on my MacBook 2,1 from late 2006. Now that security support from Apple is (silently) ended for Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard”, installing Ubuntu is a good choice if you want the latest software, want to stay secure and don’t rely on Mac-specific programs. (It is possible to dual-boot or keep one of the OSes on an external FireWire hard drive you can boot from if you want to have both. Or you could upgrade to Mac OS X 10.7 “Lion” to get security support from Apple a while longer, but lose Rosetta and FrontRow.)

I initially ran Ubuntu 12.04, the previous long term support (LTS) version, but Ubuntu 14.04 is faster and leaner and comes with more up-to-date programs. If you are thinking of using Ubuntu on your MacBook, use the newest LTS. There is a new version of Ubuntu every six months, but personally, I prefer staying on the long term support version that comes out every two years. This gives me stability and security and I don’t need to upgrade or reinstall that often. The LTS release is supported for five years, so even after the next LTS is out, you have some time before needing to upgrade.

Ubuntu 14.04 comes with all the newest programs and everything “just works”. All the hardware on the MacBook works fine out of the box, except the internal iSight camera, the internal microphone and the fans. Apple doesn’t supply drivers for their fans for Linux or Windows, which means that although you can run Windows or Linux on the machine, the fans are either off or on at full speed. This makes the machine more noisy when not running Mac OS X and also shortens the battery life. The solution is to install macfanctl. You can find it in the Ubuntu software centre.

To get the webcam working, I found some tips in an old how-to on the Ubuntu MacTel support wiki, but the page was somewhat hard to understand and I had to do some additional thinking and experimenting to get it working. So I thought I’d share the solution here:
1. Step one was to get the iSight firmware from a machine/disk with Mac OS 10.6.8 Snow Leopard installed. You have to go to /system/Library/Extensions/ and find IOUSBFamily.kext. Then ctrl-click (or right-click) on it and select “Show contents”. Then navigate to the Contents folder within it, and to the PlugIns folder within it and ctrl-click on AppleUSBVideoSupport.kext and select “Show contents” again. Then navigate into the Contents folder and into the MacOS folder and copy the file “AppleUSBVideoSupport” to a USB memory stick.
2. Open a Terminal and write “sudo apt-get install isight-firmware-tools” and hit enter and write your password and hit enter again. You need to install this program to extract the parts of the firmware file that Ubuntu will use and place it where it should be. Don’t close the Terminal window yet, you will need it later.
3. Insert your USB memory stick and copy the “AppleUSBVideoSupport” to your home folder.
4. In the Terminal, write “sudo ift-extract -a /home/yourusername/AppleUSBVideoSupport” (with the name of your user in stead of “yourusername”) and hit enter. (You might have to write your password again.) If everything works fine, you will get notified that isight.fw have been added to /lib/firmware. Now restart, and you can enjoy using your iSight webcam and internal microphone with Skype or Cheese or whatever program you like.

There is also another minor annoyance in Ubuntu for me: the Norwegian Macintosh keyboard layout does not correspond to the physical Norwegian Macintosh keyboards on one key, which makes it impossible to write apostrophes. All other glyphs and modifiers work fine. My solution is to use the Norwegian [PC] keyboard layout and remap the right command key (called the right Win key) to Alt-Gr with the Keyboard system settings panel (as shown above).

Update as of 28th August 2019: I got a message through my contact page that the above procedure to get iSight working also works with Debian. Since Ubuntu is downstream from Debian, that seems natural, but it was nice to hear from someone that has actually done it with success.

6 Responses

  1. Hello, I am so, so glad to find someone else who uses Ubuntu or a derivative with a 2006 Macbook!
    I have the highest end black Macbook, and cannot help but feel that I paid 2000 euro for a scam of a computer; I am referring to the sudden switch in processor type from “Intel Core Duo” to Intel Core 2 Duo” and the subsequent discontinuation of all updates for the machine after “Snow Leopard”, when all of the other Macbooks with the “Core 2 Duo” processors received every new OS and, most importantly, security update, while we were left in the dust.
    I literally cannot bring my 2006 Blackbook to work and use it if it is running Snow Leopard, because it is considered “insecure and chronically lacking in proper security protocol compatibiity”.
    Ubuntu (and the derivative I have chosen personally, Linux Mint), have been a miraculous reserection for these machines. Can you imagine, just 6 months after paying 2000 euro, with the arrival of the new Mac OS that it was no longer compatible with, the same machine was being sold for 150 euro? I will never buy another Apple product in my life.

    All bitterness aside, your tutorial on the iSight was most helpful. I used CarbonCopyCloner to make an exact copy of my Mac OS X hard disk and so I had the remaining files needed to set about making the iSight work. In my case, I am using Linux Mint 17, and I find that several things are missing; Bluetooth appears not to exist, though this computer is Bluetooth equipped, and this worked in the previous Linux Mint 16 “out of the box”. Another, much more pressing issue is that of the fans. I have had a look at the PPA of the organisation that claims to support Intel Macs and enables fan control, but their site and builds are so outdated I am worried they will not work. Do you have a suggestion or further instructions how to deal with this issue? I really do not want to suffer a meltdown!
    It appears that despite the issues with the batteries and some other little bits, this model of Macbook is the computer equivalent of the Mercedes W140 or the Volvo 240. It goes on… and on… and on… and on…
    It has been very difficult to find any sort of support for our specific Macbook year (it is called internally by Apple “Macbook 1,1”), as the computer is more than 6 years old, and it is pretty unusual for any home computer (at least in America) for more than *deep sigh of disgust* 3.5 years. And that is pushing it. I see very little specific support for any OS since Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope, so if you can provide any source of support, some sort of forum, I would be thrilled. I love this machine, it’s black colour and the slight bit of pleasure I take in confusing Apple Store staff completely when I bring it in and they look at the interface and seriously have no clue.
    When I saw you were having troubles with the keyboard layout, I had hoped I could help you by suggesting you try between the “Apple Laptop” and “Apple Macbook/Macbook Pro” layouts and also taking a look in the keyboard control panel at shifting the “Windows” key (which in our case the Apple key) to the CNTRL key, so essential in Ubuntu… unfortunately I cannot help with the Norwegian issues, as I am not a Norwegian speaker (a shame as I am a polyglot and translate for a living).

    Any help (or hjelpe!) you can enlighten me with regarding the Bluetooth and especially the fans would be amazing. I do not wish to leave my email in this public comment, but I believe as the site’s admin, you can read the email I added along with my comment. You are to date the only blog writer who has acknowleged running Trusty Tahr on our sleek little brat of a machine (that is kind of how I think of mine), so mye gratulasjoner are in order! Takk sa mye!

    I also have my own tech blog where I post a variety of tutorials for Windows, Linux and Android (note the copious absence of a certain fruit 😉 http://blyat.tumblr.com, been quite a while since I’ve written anything, I’m kept chronically busy with school, travel, and following current events. Please do send me an email and we’ll see what we can do to better fix these beasts 🙂

    • Hi there,

      Really bad luck with the Core Duo MacBook! Mine is actually not the Core Duo, but the slightly newer late 2006 MacBook 2,1 with a Core 2 Duo, so I could have updated to Lion (but not anything newer) and gotten some more months of support. But I like Ubuntu and I don’t like Lion, so I thought I would give Ubuntu a try. I used Ubuntu on the MacBook as my main machine for about two months. Just a few weeks after writing that blog post, I decided to sell the MacBook, and last week I did, so I am no longer using it with Ubuntu.

      For me, the bluetooth worked out of the box with my mouse, but I had some trouble connecting to a wireless keyboard. I never really looked into it properly, but I have had the same issue with that keyboard later on other computers.

      The fan issue was quite annoying. The noise when the fan ran at full speed was very unpleasant and it seemed a bit dangerous that the machine would not cool down until it was very hot. I wasn’t able to find a fix for that, just heard that it was because Apple haven’t released drivers for the fans in their machines.

      I was looking into some power saving tips listed here: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Kernel/PowerManagement/PowerSavingTweaks , but didn’t really get going with any of them before deciding to sell the MacBook.

      You probably know of these places, but in case you don’t, here are some links to places with more information about Ubuntu on intel Macs: https://help.ubuntu.com/community/MactelSupportTeam/AppleIntelInstallation , https://help.ubuntu.com/community/MacBook , https://wiki.ubuntu.com/MactelSupportTeam/CommunityHelpPages , http://mac.linux.be/ Most of it is a bit old, but there might be some useful information hidden in there anyway.

      Best of luck with your MacBook! Sorry I can’t be of more help. 🙁

    • Thank you! Definitely good news. Also nice to get to know a new site with lots of useful information for an Ubuntu noob like myself… 🙂

  2. Hi, I was wondering, what flavour of Ubuntu 14.04 did you install, i386, 64bit, or Mac 64bit ?, I have the same MacBook 2,1, and I would love to know. I’m also bothered by the lack of support, wich is getting pretty nasty lately, all new software asks for the 10.7 osX minium, wich I can’t install.