Howto: Ubuntu 16.04 on MacBook 7,1 Air

At work we had an untouched MacBook Air lying around as no one dared to get nearby MacOS. It drives me crazy to see unused hardware, thus, I freed this lost soul by installing Ubuntu on it. So far it’s a surprisingly pleasant journey:

Installation guide

This brief guide is based on my experience with a MacBook 7,1 (MacBook Air 11” Early 2015).

  • Plug in an USB stick with Ubuntu (16.04) installed on it
  • Hold the ALT key while booting the Mac
  • After 15 seconds you can choose to boot from USB (“EFI”)
  • Install Ubuntu, I did not need to do any customization here

No WLAN on MacBook 7,1 with Ubuntu

After booting into the newly installed Ubuntu you might notice that there is no WLAN adapter available. I fixed this by installing the following by using a temporary USB ethernet adapter, but before in “Try Ubuntu” I was able to install it without any internet connection.

sudo apt install bcmwl-kernel-source

  • Your WIFI should work now!

What works out of the box?

  • The functional keys on your keyboard for backlit and volumne
  • Bluetooth & Sound

What does not work out of the box?

  • The brightness control (by brightness keys) – fixed, see below
  • 0% brightness after coming back from suspend – fixed, see below
  • If you have issues I did not mention here, this blog might provide a solution
  • left click – see below

How to left click on a Mac with Ubuntu?

  • On MacOS: Ctrl+click = left click
  • on Ubuntu: two-finger-touch = left click
    • you might need to activate touch-to-click for this in the mouse settings

Fix brightness control on MacBook Air with Ubuntu

When you hit the brightness keys and you can see the brightness bar changing but not the brightness itself the following fix should help you:

  • To make sure you have a Intel graphics card the following should return “intel_backlight”

    ls /sys/class/backlight

  • If  this is the case, update the following grub configuration to:

    GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash acpi_backlight=vendor"

  • Finish by updating grub and rebooting, the backlight control should then be fixed!

    sudo update-grub && sudo reboot

If your display’s brightness still doesn’t respond no worries, just follow the next section’s tasks.

Fix brightness after coming back from suspend

After waking up, you’ll find your brightness on 0%, turning it up to 90% keeps it dark, only 95+% works. This is a driver issue. A workaround (+fix) can be installed with:

  • sudo apt install git

  • git clone git:// && cd mba6x_bl

  • make && sudo make install

    Ignore the following SSL error:

    SSL error:02001002:system library:fopen:No such file or directory: bss_file.c:175
    - SSL error:2006D080:BIO routines:BIO_new_file:no such file: bss_file.c:178
    sign-file: certs/signing_key.pem: No such file or directory

  • sudo depmod -a && sudo modprobe mba6x_bl

  • Ignore the following error

    modprobe: FATAL: Module mba6x_bl not found in directory /lib/modules/4.4.0-38-generic

  • Finish with:

    sudo update-initramfs -u -k all
    sudo insmod /lib/modules/$(uname -r)/extra/mba6x_bl.ko

Now your brightness control should work again after suspending, for your current session you might need to re-login (this was not necessary for me, though).

Great tools which help thinking
Simple instructions to use PGP on Ubuntu

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