Linux Distros for dinosaurs

The Palm Beach County Linux User Group ran an InstallFest on Software Freedom Day, which was September 26 this year. The most successful marketing effort was to other computer user groups in the county, and several people from the Boca Raton Computer Society, in the south part of the county, and the PCRams, in the north part of the county, showed up. But a few of them brought some really old laptop computers which, amazingly, still worked! Unfortunately, I didn’t have any distros we could put on machines that old. The lowest memory one that I had on hand was XUbuntu, which requires at least 36MB of RAM. I think one of the laptops had 8MB of RAM, and another didn’t even have 1MB.

The dust has settled now, and I’ve been looking for something that will make an older machine more than just a print server. (I also happen to have an old Compaq which has only 32MB of RAM, so the search is somewhat self-serving). I came up with 5 possibilities (from combing through a search of minimalist distros on

  • DeLi Linux (from the website): a Linux Distribution for old computers, from 486 to Pentium MMX 166 or so. It’s focused on desktop usage. It includes email clients, graphical web browser, an office package with word processor and spreadsheet, and so on. A full install, including XOrg and development tools, needs not more than 350 MB of harddisk space.
  • University Linux (from the website): easily installed on almost any PC having 8 MBytes of free drive space and at least 8 MBytes of RAM. No hard disk partitioning is needed: University Linux can be placed on any DOS, Windows 3.1, Win98/95 or Windows ME machine without modification. With University Linux you can quickly create a dedicated TCP/IP server for your entire PC network.
  • SmoothWall Express (from the website): intended for use by anyone from a home user to a systems administrator. It can run on almost any PC from a 486 upwards, which becomes a dedicated firewall appliance (the SmoothWall box).
  • Freesco (from the website): Minimum install requires a 386sx 16 with 8mb of ram. 16+mb of ram is recommended for enabling servers. Basically turns an old machine into a fancy router.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be trying them out on my Compaq. I don’t have anything older to test them out on, but I may be able to hook up with another guinea pig! 🙂

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