This might sound strange, but I generally don’t endorse the floppy distros that are still available here and there on the Internet, and as a general rule, still work fine. I don’t hold any prejudice toward them, but I find that they’re out of date, intended for specific hardware arrangements, or just a bit too … personalized.
I can vouch for two or three as possibilities though, if you’re working with hardware that is terrifically old, or extremely underpowered. Usually these are offered as solutions to machines with very, very little memory (4Mb or 8Mb) , and if that’s the case they will probably be lifesavers.
muLinux is mentioned quite often as a possibility for older machines, and actually, if you have a working CD drive, this might be a better solution for you.
I had to use the ISO version of muLinux 14.0 because the installer scripts packaged in the floppy version wouldn’t run for me on an Arch-based system. The ISO version was no disappointment though, and technically you’ll probably get more in that 68Mb than you would from floppy after floppy.
muLinux has several versions with an array of add-ons that will get you closer to what you want the machine to do. Everything is text-driven from the startup, but there is support for an early graphical desktop, and the console system has a lot of software that you’ll probably find useful. Once it’s up and running, it can clone itself to a hard drive, and if you cross your fingers, it will boot up into a native system.
It’s still rather old though, with the 2.0.36 kernel and gcc 220.127.116.11. If you install it you might have some luck bringing everything up to current, but that might be a huge, uphill task.
For a strictly floppy-based distro, BasicLinux is a good example. One floppy boots the system, and the other is a compressed file tree. Memory use is trivial, with only about 4Mb or so taken up.
Amazingly this also has a graphical desktop that will give you JWM and a few utilities, to include (of all things) a slideshow presentation tool (works great on this machine, too). So if you really want to score some geek points, you can boot this up on the dual-core laptop in your office, and give the budget report on the overhead projector with BasicLinux.
It’s still quite a bit out of date though, so it’s usefulness beyond budget meetings, troubleshooting or data recovery is shaky … and considering that much has changed in file systems and hardware, a 2.2.26 kernel might not be able to get to that hard drive like you want.
On the other hand, this one has strong PCMCIA support, so if you’re riding the information wave on an old NE2000 network card, like I am, then this will be great for checking e-mail or looking up technical specifications.
Probably the one floppy distro that I would consider keeping around is blueflops, and it’s for that same reason — hardware support. Another two-floppy adventure, this one lists quite a few network cards as options, particularly for desktops. And since blueflops has the 2.6.18-ck1 kernel, I would almost consider using that as a jumping-off point for upgrading to a current kernel. Almost.
blueflops says it will run on an i386 with 8Mb and swap, and I’ve tried it on machines with only 16Mb and gotten fair results. The software list isn’t as long as some of the others, but it will probably get you online and from there, you can decide on your direction.
For my own part, I have had much better luck getting older machines running with customized, transplanted systems built with newer software, than by bending someone else’s floppy-based system to my will. There’s no reason not to try these things though, since it could possibly be what keeps a machine out of a landfill. And hey, maybe a current, up-to-date floppy-based distro can be my next project. …