As the kids are getting older they are starting to get on the computer more and more. This, combined with the fact that ideally I’d like to keep them off my machine as much as possible, prompted me to try and revive and old laptop I had sitting in a drawer this weekend.
The machine in question is a Toshiba Satellite A10 circa 2002, with an Intel P4 2.4GHz and a massive 256MB RAM. It’s running Windows XP Pro and when I turned it on it was so slow it was basically unusable. I decided to try two things, firstly to clean up XP so that I could at least reboot the machine without waiting 10mins and secondly to try and get off Windows by using a lightweight Linux distro.
I had installed Linux once before a few years ago on an old desktop. In that case I installed Xbuntu because it was supposed to be a lighter weight version of Ubuntu. I played around with it for a while but in the end decided that it was really no better or faster than Windows XP that I was running at the time. After investigating this option again the general consensus seemed to be that there was no way this would run on 256MB RAM so I moved on.
This time a quick Google turned up a few articles and blogs turned up a few different recommendations (See here) so I decided to try a few of these out.
This really sounded promising. According to their site lubuntu is a “faster, more lightweight and energy saving variant of Ubuntu”. It’s a shame that after several attempts I couldn’t actually get it run or even install. Disappointing considering it was a 572MB download.
After downloading the bootable CD and running it the menu gives you option to either “try without installing” or “install”, neither of which I could get to work. The “try” option loaded up a desktop but then any attempt to click on or open anything resulted in the screen freezing. The “install” option made impressive installing type noises before just hanging on a blue screen with a little timer icon. I probably tried both these options three or four times each before I gave up.
This was a full operating system on a 30MB download LiveCD. I downloaded the CD, booted it up and it worked straight away. No problems. Got on my wireless network easily and downloaded a few additional applications by following the detailed instructions on the SliTaz website. Something like this really has to be seen to be believed.
One thing I couldn’t do was install Flash. I followed the instructions carefully and downloaded it but it didn’t seem to install in the right place to get it working. Unfortunate. I really wanted this as a lot of the kids websites are flash based and I wanted them to be able to get on the laptop without complaining that half their favourite sites don’t work.
This also looked really interesting. A 133MB download LiveCD similar to SliTaz. I had some trouble with this one as well. At first it seemed to have a lot of trouble identifying the drivers for my screen on the Toshiba laptop. Puppy Linux would boot up and seemingly work fine for a few seconds or minutes before throwing me out to a command prompt with instructions to run a an “xorgwizard”. I ran this wizard a few times, entering in my LCD screen dimensions and other specs and this didn’t seem to help at all.
I left this alone for a few hours and after I came back, I ran the “xordwizard” again and it worked perfectly. I honestly have no idea what I did differently. As far as I can recall I chose exactly the same settings as I did before. Once up and running Puppy Linux is brilliant. Very user friendly, a lot of great applications already installed including Firefox and Flash and it detected my wireless network fine.
To be honest with all the hype in the tech world about Linux I thought it would be a whole lot easier than this to setup. If my experience is anything to go by then all of these operating systems have a long, long way to go before they hit the mainstream (if ever).
Having said that though, once up and running they are completely fine for my needs and probably 90% of the general user population out there. In a world where base model computers are shipping with 4GB RAM so they can run Windows it’s definitely food for thought to consider that an alternative operating system like Puppy Linux can run off a CD on half of 256MB RAM.