Installing Linux on my Apple TV

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I have an Apple TV with the unofficial (from Apple’s point-of-view) XBMC add-on, but it is still running inside the Apple-provided system. Well, I recently inadvertently OK’ed an Apple TV update which of course broke the XBMC installation, I would have to install it all over again.

This is when I decided to take the “logical” step and replace the Apple TV system (some version of Mac OS X) with Linux since I was not using it anyway. Also, I always had to start XBMC via the Apple-provided system — in Linux I would be able to start XBMC directly.

I basically followed the steps from these notes on wiki.eple.us. Currently the newest Apple TV update (needed in the Boot EFI extraction stage) seems to be:
http://mesu.apple.com/data/OS/061-7495.20100210.TAVfr/2Z694-6013-013.dmg

There were some minor errors in the documented steps, which are easily identified while doing them. Unfortunately I have already forgotten what they were :) Also be careful with the dd commands so that you don’t overwrite your harddrive instead of the USB stick! One should never blindly copy-and-paste super-user commands (i.e. running as root or prefixed with sudo).

The only problem I really had was getting XBMC to start after installing Ubuntu. I incorrectly diagnosed the problem as related to X and the Nvidia driver. In fact it turned out that XBMC was missing a library and was leaving crash-logs where this information could be easily found! After realising this, it was easily remedied by installing the missing library.

Otherwise the process was time-consuming but not hard. However it is still not for the faint-of-heart, you could be messing up your Apple TV :) Anyway, I’ve had my Ubuntu+XBMC system running now for a few weeks, and it works very nicely!

Posted by Mats Sjöberg.