Archive for the ‘micro distros’ Category.

Frankenfest followup

We sorted a lot of stuff that day. A lot of people unloaded a lot of electronics.  About a third of it went to recycling (there is a recycling station near us that takes electronics).  We built three awesome systems, and the rest was divvied up among whoever wanted it.  Most of it ended up in my Mom’s garage.  She had been ecstatic as we hauled things out of her garage that morning.  We brought back about 2 to 3 times as much as we took.

She only said, “That’s going to be gone when the guests arrive (for Christmas)?”  We nodded solemnly.

The next day and over the next couple weekends, my Dad and I tested parts, sorted the box of RAM chips a friend donated to the cause, and put together another 6 working systems.  He got pretty good at installing Linux on them.  We used LinuxMint until we got down to the really low resource systems (Pentium II’s).  We put 20+GB hard drives on those, upped the RAM as much as we could (usually 256+MB), and put MacPup on them.  They were beautiful. 🙂

My brother arrived for Christmas, and during one of my days off, we put together another 4 systems, all with MacPup on them.  Unfortunately, my brother couldn’t get the case back on the last system, so it’s still waiting for me. 😉  After Christmas, my dad took them all to a local school, to eventually be given to students and families in need.  The teacher in charge of it had never heard of Linux and was eager to see it and learn more about it.  My dad, of course, was eager to tell her about it.  It sounds like another Linux fan has been born.

My mom is happier:  the garage only has as much computer parts in it now as it did before the Frankenfest. My dad collected a few more computers, waiting for the next call from the local school.  One of them is a laptop.  He installed Ubuntu on it and showed it off to me.  We decided to upgrade the RAM to 1GB and put Ubuntu 8.04 on it instead of the older version he had.  He spends as much time on it now, learning about Ubuntu, as he does on his Mac.  He is so happy with it he decided to put Ubuntu on another machine to give to a 90 year old friend in need of a computer.  So I helped him customize it to make it easier for his friend, and to strip out all the things that a novice is better off not messing around with.

I’m thinking Linux advocates should consider Frankenfests: get the cast off machines, put together working systems with Linux on them, and give them away!  If you have an idea of who it’s going to, you can customize it to be as full or as stripped as it needs to be.  I think most people will be like my dad, and become fans, too!

More on Deli Linux

I have long since given away my test machine that was running Deli Linux on it, but a friend at the local Linux User Group has installed it on an old Sony laptop, and is chronicling the process at More importantly, she wants to actually use the distro, so there is a lot on the page about what works, changes that will get things working (such as sound, and recognizing USB drives), as well as details about which programs are available and work, and how to get other programs to compile.

DeLi redux

I wrote about this six months ago (here). I took out the modem on the old machine I had installed Deli on, and put in an Ethernet card. Since a new version of Deli had come out I decided to try it out again from scratch.

The install went pretty much the same as the last time, but this time I tried to configure the local network during the delisetup part (after installation). The delisetup command (at the command prompt after logging in) goes to a text-based setup. (Note: if you try to go straight to a gui interface (by typing startx) without doing the setup, it gives a group of white terminals on an icewm interface; but closing the terminals closes the gui interface). The setup categories are:

  • Keyboard
  • Language
  • Setup LILO – the Linux Loader
  • Setup PPP – Needs data from your Internet Service Provider
  • Setup local Network
  • Printer Setup
  • Setup Tiny X Server
  • Setup Window Manager
  • Install additional software packages
  • Set up your Mail system (with masqmail)
  • Select servicesto run at boot

I went through the Setup for local Network. The first screen says you can always go back and make changes by typing netconfig (it says that, but it lies: typing netconfig gets an error message that there is no such command). Then it wants a hostname and domain name. There are instructions with screenshots at the wiki on the Deli site. After the hostname and domain name, you choose between using a static IP, DHCP, or loopback. I tried both static IP and DHCP, but somehow ultimately ended up with loopback. Choosing DHCP will take you through a probe for an Ethernet card. The message I got was “A networking card using com20020.o module has been detected.” Great, but it wouldn’t connect to the network.

I tried “ifconfig” instead of “netconfig” and it showed, despite the Network configuration done in delisetup:

Link encap:Local Loopback

inet addr: Mask:


After looking at a bunch of config files, going through delisetup several times, and editing the /etc/rc.d/net file, I checked the ethernet card and put it in another slot. But the browser is still giving the error: “dns can’t find” I think it’s stuck in loopback purgatory, and I don’t have the right incantations to get it out.

On the other hand, it is still a nice, fast distro, even on this old dinosaur, and not that difficult to install, as long as you’re not trying to connect to the Internet.

DeLi Linux!

Awright! Got it up and running ! (The DeLi homepage is here)

The install was pretty straightforward, text based. There is a nice installation instruction page on the DeLi wiki. It pretty much recognized everything (at least as far as I can see right now). At the bottom of the Instruction page, it says,

  • After the packages are installed remove the CD-ROM (the disk, not the drive itself) and press CRTL+ALT+DEL to boot into your new DeLi Linux system
  • Log in as root with the password you chose before. Now you can run delisetup to configure your system.

Uh huh, delisetup. Well, that’s where xconfig resides, which is what you need to get a graphical user interface. So I took a deep breath, and tried to gingerly step into the xconfig section of delisetup. It actually wasn’t that bad, even though I had very little information about the monitor and video card (other than the fact that it is not a separate card, and the system is circa 1997). I went back and forth a couple times, trying to make sure I got it right, held my breath again and finished the setup. It took me back to the command prompt.

I stared at it for awhile trying to remember the command to start Xwindows. Checked my cheatsheet card, looked for my pocket Linux book (which, now that I recall, my son borrowed, so it’s probably buried under a pile of God knows what), gave up and decided to go back to book reviews. As I was scanning the Mandrakelinux Discovery 10.1 book I was working on, I happened to spot an entry about entering a command if the graphical version was not displaying: “startx.” Good grief. How could I not remember that? Bingo, we’ve got graphics now!

I poked around a bit, but couldn’t find a utility to set up users, so I’m in there as “root” (normally not a good thing) until I change the settings via the command line interface.

Bottom line: Hey, it works on a 1997 Compaq with 32MB of memory: I don’t think I was really testing its limits! During the install process it asked about using the free space on the disk (which has Windows98 on it, and had over 1GB of free space). On reboot, it actually booted into Win98 because I wasn’t there to choose Linux from the bootloader at startup. Overall,

  • Ease of install = medium
  • Knowledge required = some knowledge, or a Linux reference, will be really helpful
  • Features = limited, but acceptable (this is for low memory machines, after all!)

More Dinosaur Linux options!

As I started unpacking the downloads to try one out, I went back to the sites from the last post to get install instructions, and came across some links for more distros:

  • BasicLinux: There is a DOS version that boots from DOS and requires only 3MB of RAM, and a floppy disk version (requires 2 disks) that requires 12 MB of RAM.
  • Giotto: This is no longer “supported”, but is available from its ftp download site. Development stopped in 2004, and moved to a newer distro, Ariane, which works on newer machines. Giotto, however, requires only a 486 processor and 16 MB of RAM. It looks like it requires some knowledge or experience, so I’d recommend checking out the Introduction and Installation files on the site (also available in the Docs2 folder).
  • AlfaLinux: A slackware version that runs on 486 machines with 8 MB of RAM (12 MB recommended. The basic caveat here is that Slackware is not for novices!

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! 🙂