One week at 100Mhz: Paradigm shifts

I’ve noticed a side effect since I started relying on this 100Mhz machine for day-to-day use, and it’s having a trickle-down effect on some of my other, long-standing opinions and projects.

First, I have admitted that I am struck by how much I can get done with a machine running at this slow a speed and with such bottom-of-the-barrel specifications. But the flip side of that is that I am also impressed with how much of the workload is easily and efficiently managed by this array of console applications.

Which makes me look askance at two things: First, the Thinkpad that I ordinarily use for these tasks; and second, Ubuntu GTK1.2 Remix.

I’ll explain. This machine has an 800×600 screen. The Thinkpad also has an 800×600 screen, but as a general rule it’s quite crowded. I rely a lot on Alt-Tab switching between Sylpheed, Zim, Osmo and so forth, as well as the music player, file manager and maybe even Leafpad.

And it’s rare that I browse the Internet on that machine. I have chopped down Firefox to managable size or used Kazehakase on it in the past, but the video card is nothing special, and generally speaking it has a hard time keeping up.

On the other hand, this machine can surf the Web with elinks, manage e-mail with alpine, arrange files with mc, post to this blog with Charm … you know what I mean. And you can probably see where I’m going with it.

I’m considering moving that entire system to an Awesome installation using terminal programs, rather than sticking with GTK2-based stuff. And at 550Mhz, it’s a comparative screamer to this one. Just thinking about the relative speed throws me into a reverie. Awesome 2.3.4, plus cplay with the mplayer hack, plus mc, alpine, elinks, calcurse, the Terminus font, transparent urxvt terminals, Charm and an editor. …

And the flip side of that (can you have three flip sides?) is that I am realizing that the GTK1.2 remix of Ubuntu might have been a step toward a dead end.

After all, almost nothing in the way of software on that machine is receiving updates — the bulk is no longer maintained or even developed, because of course, GTK1.2 is so far gone into obsoletia. That’s part of the reason it works, but it also means there’s nothing there that will get better.

(Part of that was by design, by the way. I knew full well that I wouldn’t, for example, have to release updates to that ISO if no software ever received any real attention. I am heartless, am I not? :twisted: )

On the other hand, the same core system with Awesome, plus the array of console applications I have mentioned, would be a far greater and more powerful system for low, low-end machines. If I can get the same kinds of things done on a true Pentium with only 16Mb of memory, anything bracketed by that ISO would probably perform even better by foregoing an outdated toolkit and relying on a tiled window manager and terminal applications.

And it would give an exceptionally old computer — like this one — the alternative of working strictly from the tty and losing no function at all. A few terminal windows would keep the same system alive and working at the same level (albeit a little … differently) as it would in the graphical mode.

So what’s that all mean? Is there an Ubuntu Awesome-Plus-Console-Apps-Plus-Terminus-Font Remix in the future? I don’t know. I might be taking on another project that I just don’t have the time to properly manage. So if you beat me to it, I won’t be offended.

But yes, I’ll probably give it a try. We’ll see. :)

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11 Responses to “One week at 100Mhz: Paradigm shifts”

  1. 1 colonelcrayon 2009/02/25 at 11:05 AM

    I have had the same experience. CLI apps are insanely fast on a more modern machine. And they are often more useful :)

  2. 2 johnraff 2009/02/25 at 1:19 PM

    Sounds good – modern, powerful cli apps make an attractive option for an old machine.
    Looking forward to it. :)

  3. 3 Sertse 2009/02/25 at 4:12 PM

    “Is there an Ubuntu Awesome-Plus-Console-Apps-Plus-Terminus-Font Remix in the future?”

    You may remember INX (, the distro/remix where you got the script installer for your GTK 1.2 Remix from. INX itself is console only Ubuntu + apps + friendliness. :)

  4. 4 tycho 2009/02/25 at 11:57 PM

    I’ve often thought about putting together an ubuntu remix with Awesome as the default window manager, as well as common console apps installed by default: (mutt, mcabber, irssi, etc.) If you’re serious about this project I’d be willing to help for sure. :)


  5. 5 Luca 2009/02/26 at 12:19 AM

    Sounds sweet, can’t wait to see it!

  6. 6 holger 2009/02/26 at 1:10 AM

    Inspired by your “One week at 100Mhz” experiment I am currently putting together a console-only fallback-system for my old iMac G3 (which has Gentoo installed as my main distro). Doing so, I have just come across a fantastic tool for (console app) window management without X:

    *cue drumroll* *cue lights* ====> dvtm <==== *cue applause* *cue quote from the project’s website (* — “dvtm brings the concept of tiling window management, popularized by X11-window managers like dwm to the console. As a console window manager it tries to make it easy to work with multiple console based programs like vim, mutt, cmus or irssi.”

    For a hardcore X11-with-a-tiling-wm user like me, dvtm is obviously console heaven. The first attempt at compiling dvtm “out of the box” went smoothly, and at the moment of writing this I am succesfully “test-driving” five commandline applications (htop, elinks, calcurse, raggle and mutt) inside of dvtm (which is currently running inside of screen, with screen itself being part of the abovementioned work-in-progress Ubuntu commandline installation into which I chrooted from Gentoo for setup purposes) on one and the same monitor. The next step will be to finetune dvtm to my dwm/wmii/awesome keybindings, and then to give the console a try and see how far it takes me.


  1. 1 One week at 100Mhz: X-less and not a hiccup « Motho ke motho ka botho Trackback on 2009/02/26 at 11:11 PM
  2. 2 Demoted, in the wake of epiphanies « Motho ke motho ka botho Trackback on 2009/04/14 at 11:02 PM
  3. 3 Putting the Pentium back to work « Motho ke motho ka botho Trackback on 2009/08/03 at 9:38 AM
  4. 4 A puzzle that doesn’t need solved « Motho ke motho ka botho Trackback on 2009/12/17 at 10:47 PM
  5. 5 fbterm on a 150Mhz Pentium MMX, 32Mb « Motho ke motho ka botho Trackback on 2010/07/05 at 9:07 AM

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Some recent desktops

May 6, 2011
Musca 0.9.24 on Crux Linux
150Mhz Pentium 96Mb 8Gb CF

May 14, 2011
IceWM 1.2.37 and Arch Linux
L2300 core duo 3Gb 320Gb

Some recent games

Apr. 21, 2011
Oolite on Xubuntu 11.04
L2300 core duo 3Gb 320Gb

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