Archive for the 'Crux Linux' Category

Looking over Crux again

It’s been a while since I installed Crux on any machine in the house, and even longer since I put it on anything faster than about 150Mhz.

Just for old time’s sake, and to make sure I hadn’t lost my touch, and to see what would happen, I put it on the 2.5Ghz Celeron the other day, and did some system updates overnight. The end result:

That’s an 8-year-old machine jumping from Grub to the X desktop in just over 9 seconds. I don’t underconfigure my systems, so everything is working there — sound, network and what have you.

I also didn’t overconfigure it: CFLAGS are only -O2 and the recommended settings for a Pentium 4 Celeron, as per the Gentoo wiki.

So why so fast? No good reason … except for the one I mentioned a while ago, when I made the same pitch.

If you recall a speed jump when you moved from something gluttonous and bloated, like Ubuntu, to something sparse and clean, like Arch … well, you’ll see the same improvement when you move to something skeletal and streamlined.

To illustrate the point:

The same system, same hardware, same filesystem, but more than 20 seconds for Arch to start just to the console — and that’s with the network daemon backgrounded so it doesn’t hang while it contacts the router.

Of course, the day-to-day speed improvement comes at the cost of building up a system from scratch (more or less), and like a lot of my Crux systems, this one quickly went southward when I started tweaking it.

Plus, it took me two or three attempts just to get the kernel working, and another one or two to get the graphics system functional.

Personally, I consider that to be a good thing — I’ve learned a lot from Crux, and I can always stand to learn some more. I learn my making mistakes and figuring out how to solve them, or at least circumvent them.

So while I don’t use this much for faster, heavier machines, I still rely on it — sometimes too much — for low-end hardware and extra slow systems.

Because if it can trim Grub-to-X to under 10 seconds at 2.5Ghz, imagine what it can do for 150Mhz. :twisted:

P.S.: Sorry about the sideways videos. I thought YouTube let you rotate a video after posting it, but it appears that I am wrong. :|

A comfortable arrangement: Musca and screen

I’ve mentioned a few times in the past that there is a clear advantage to nesting window managers and/or terminal multiplexers on the same “desktop.”

Oftentimes that’s just because they work better together. For example, meshing dvtm and screen gives you the chance to keep three or four applications in a block, in one window. Neither by itself can do that, really.

Lately I find myself doing the same thing in Musca on the Mebius, where I have individual programs assigned to the Mod4 key plus a number.

Mod4 plus 9 triggers screen, which opens all the same programs in the places I expect them, same as on my terminal-only systems. And I still have the option to open things individually, if that’s what I’m after.

It might sound odd, but the real reason for that is screen’s copy-and-paste sequence. After you get used to moving text around with screen, the old way of click-and-drag is rather cumbersome.

Plus, I spend most of my time in screen, so I can usually work the keystrokes faster than reminding myself how to bounce between applications in Musca, all the while clicking and dragging.

So there it is again: something else that’s easier done via keyboard than by mouse. The list keeps growing. … :)

First time in a long time

A rather large change took place here over the last day or two: For the first time in a couple of years, no machine in the house is running Crux.

It’s true. I’ve backed up the year-old system on this Pentium and begun transferring everything to Debian.

Why? Partly for a change of pace, but partly because I fell flat four or five times in a row getting Crux 2.7 installed.

A half-dozen non-booting kernels, two or three applications with missing libraries, and I’m a bit weary of trying to keep up with configuration changes.

Of course, the hardware only makes things more complicated. Each attempt needs a swap of the CF card, and each failure requires a swap back.

At this point I’m willing to experiment with something that doesn’t require as much maintenance. Debian is always satisfying, and even if it is a little slower, it should take less effort … and time.

So … where to next? ;)

A comparison of text-based browsers

Enough mamby-pamby housekeeping posts. It’s time to put some meat on the table.

I’m going to borrow an idea for a post from persea, who suggested taking a look at the running weight of several browsers — specifically text-only browsers — for a comparison.

Because in the same way that all graphical browsers are not equal, all text-based browsers are not equal. And if you are working on a machine with little overhead, that can be important.

Like everything else I discuss here, your preference for one particular program or another is paramount. My goal is not to prosletyze, but rather to take a somewhat-unbiased snaphot, for educational purposes.

Our guinea pigs today come in six flavors, and some of these hearken back so far into the history of online computing that I swear it’s 1988 again:

elinks links
lynx netrik
retawq w3m

I’m concerned strictly with text-based interfaces here, so things like links2 and the image support patch for w3m are out of the contest. Sorry, wait for the next contest. ;)

Our judges today will be the python memory script from summer a year ago. Because this is all done in the name of science, of course. :twisted:

Let’s get started. First, elinks, by virtue of starting with an E. This is done in alphabetical order, you know.

I should say up front that elinks is what I prefer on a day to day basis, and if that skews the results or my presentation, I’ll apologize up front.

But my perspective on the issue says I shouldn’t have to. I like elinks because it pushes hard to mimic the features and behavior of run-of-the-mill graphical browsers.

So it has tabs, an on-board download manager, a replete bookmarking and history system, more options than you can shake a stick at, and a vicious array of configuration settings.

So yes, I’m partial to the first on one the list, but that’s just life. To be fair, it’s a bit heavy and can be quite sluggish at times.

It’s a tradeoff for me though: Yes, it can take a while longer to load a page. But I get more goodies with elinks than with some other browsers.

Next up is links — straight links, with no added fillips. I built this one myself, stripping out things like support for X11, Javascript and so forth.

elinks and links are obvious cousins; even the menus and line-drawing options are the same. I’ve never tried to cram the options or settings for one into the system of the other, and I doubt it would work.

On the other hand, learning one is easy if you know the other, and considering that links recoups some speed when compared with its relative, it might be worth learning one, to know both.

links has a few other progeny you should be aware of: links-hacked drags some features into the links corpus, while links2 is an offshoot that makes the leap to graphical arenas. Albeit framebuffer driven and somewhat basic.

Next is lynx, which is an obvious pun but a clever name. Lynx does a lot of the things elinks does, and does a fairly quick and clean job doing it.

I found only one options page and it is very easy to navigate. In fact, one of the things I liked best about lynx was it’s flat approach to configuration. Everything is right there, and easy to control.

That being said, lynx probably has the most configuration options at the command line of all the six listed here. Looking over the --help list, it seems like just about anything can be turned on or off … even turning things on or off.

Number Four on the list is netrik, and one I admit I hadn’t used before today. netrik is very light and very sparse, and many of the features or frills that others have, netrik seems to avoid.

Which is most likely a good thing, because the ultimate feel of netrik is more of a pager and less of a browser. (Bonus points for using the names of three pagers in a sentence about pagers.)

If you’re not into pagers or think I’m talking about the beepy thing on your belt, you might have a hard time understanding that. Let me put it into different terms.

If you can imagine a browser that just spits out the text of a page and lets to step through the information little by little … that’s what netrik feels like.

Funny: It sounds like something Apple would bundle up in their latest gadget, fete as a major innovation and win kudos from fanboys everywhere. Oh wait, they already did that.

retawq is next, and probably the best thing I can mention about retawq is that it is so small and so light that one of my favorite distributions that I don’t use — ttylinux — keeps it on board as its sole application.

retawq is a speed demon even when compared to the other five in this list, and while it doesn’t do a lot of the fun stuff (or necessary stuff) that most people probably want, it’s hard to find something to complain about.

You can see in the screenshot that retawq, like netrik, stumbles a little when it comes to specialized characters, but it doesn’t impede the main function — getting in and around the web.

So personally I’m willing to forgive that teeny speck of inconsistency and rank this one alongside its predecessor as a very very light solution to the task.

Last but not least is w3m, and with this entry we’re back among top-rung feature-filled text-based browser applications. w3m comes by default in a lot of Linux distributions.

And for that reason, is usually (in my experience anyway) the one text-based browser everyone seems to know about. The sad part of that popularity is people are usually trying to fix something when they’re using it.

So it sometimes rides the ignominy of a failed X session, or comes to the rescue when something video-ish goes kaput. And it might be that it bears a little of the ill-will of those adventures.

Be that as it may, w3m makes it easy to browse — and this time I mean browse, not just page — in an easy fashion. A simple combination of arrow and tab keys will have you surfing in no time.

And with that, this quick rundown is finished. I can tell you a lot more about elinks (and probably, by extension links) than the others; if you’re more familiar with one of the other four, please share.

Now for the moment of truth: How they size up against one another. Just to be clear:

  • The host machine was this one, with a custom installation of Crux 2.6,
  • w3m and lynx were the default versions built from the Crux ports repository,
  • elinks was a custom version bumped to the prerelease beta,
  • I adjusted the Pkgfile for links to remove graphic support, and
  • retawq and netrik were converted from AUR PKGBUILDs.

Here’s what our judge had to say about the experience:

 Private  +   Shared  =  RAM used	Program 

104.0 KiB +  35.5 KiB = 139.5 KiB	init
160.0 KiB +  20.5 KiB = 180.5 KiB	dhcpcd
476.0 KiB + 128.5 KiB = 604.5 KiB	retawq
540.0 KiB +  93.0 KiB = 633.0 KiB	netrik
356.0 KiB + 280.5 KiB = 636.5 KiB	udevd (3)
752.0 KiB + 205.0 KiB = 957.0 KiB	screen-4.0.3 (2)
844.0 KiB + 178.0 KiB =   1.0 MiB	ssh
  1.5 MiB + 100.5 KiB =   1.6 MiB	links
  1.6 MiB + 178.0 KiB =   1.8 MiB	w3m
  2.1 MiB + 141.5 KiB =   2.2 MiB	elinks
  2.0 MiB + 172.5 KiB =   2.2 MiB	lynx
  3.1 MiB + 998.0 KiB =   4.1 MiB	bash (10)
                         15.9 MiB

 Private  +   Shared  =  RAM used	Program 

retawq is the clear winner when it comes to running with a light profile, although it’s keeping ahead of netrik only by a tiny fragment.

Meanwhile, the four browsers with more options and features are definitely riding higher on the list than those two. links and w3m have the middle ground for a megabyte-and-a-half plus-or-minus.

And the two I would probably suggest, just by virtue of usability and familiarity take the upper end of the spectrum, with a massive 2.2Mb consumed, for one page of the Web.

Speed is relative, but at 120Mhz, there is a distinct difference between the pace of retawq versus the pace of elinks. Particularly with larger, heavier pages like Wikipedia, where elinks can take a minute or two to render a single entry.

So as you might imagine, memory profile tends to mirror speed and performance, in my opinion.

And there you have it. My advice would probably be to keep a high-end browser and a low-end browser on hand, and use a tool suited to the job.

That decision should of course be tempered against the hardware you’re using.

And now, purely as torture for anyone who has read this far, I give you the obvious and clear winner over all others in this category:

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the worst possible browsing experience with a minimum of resources:

curl | dehtml -p -s | less

Happy surfing. :mrgreen:

Just for fun: A three-part home media system

It’s a new year, so here’s something fun. I’m going to show you one screenshot, and then another, and then tell you what’s going on. First, this really boring console shot.

Nothing special there. mplayer is running. So is alsaequal; that’s probably unusual enough to note. I keep it on every system I have, just as a way to compensate for the sound qualities of the room.

Next, the Toshiba Satellite J12 bequeathed to me for a song, as I mentioned yesterday. You might recognize it; it’s famous on the Internet. :roll:

What’s worth mentioning is the fact that these are not the same computer — the console image you see there wasn’t taken on the Satellite.

It was taken from a machine that predates it by about 10 years, and is networked into the larger one. mplayer is running on the big one, but it’s being controlled from the small one.

Which means all of the interaction — audio control, position, subtitles, color control … everything — is piped back and forth across the network from the big machine to the little, and vice-versa.

But the video output goes to the Satellite’s screen. :twisted:

And there’s one more thing here that I can’t show you, because there’s nothing really to see. The DVD rip itself — the actual video file — isn’t on the Satellite.

No, it’s being served across the network by still another machine — and this one is almost as old as the control system.

But with an oversize drive and a fast network card, it can serve video data over a wireless connection, which is played on the larger machine, which is controlled by the oldest computer in the house.

(This is the part where I apologize for the post the other day, suggesting that screen and mplayer have a difficult time working together. They did, but the problem appears to have vanished with a fresh installation. My mistake. Sorry about that. :oops: )

More importantly, that means this is another possible use for an out-of-date or ancient computer: as a front-end for a larger one.

And most importantly — to me, anyway — is that the entire circuit, from controller to server to display, runs without the need for Xorg.

You only need framebuffer support on one machine — the display computer, and that one can be as powerful or as not-powerful as you like.

Considering I used to play the same DVD rips on a machine that was running at 550Mhz with only 4Mb of video memory, that’s not saying much. ;)

Here’s a little detail, machine by machine.

Controller: This only needs ssh access to the main machine. I run this with Crux i586 on the second tty of a 120Mhz Pentium, and ssh into the display machine. I also have the Terminus font installed, but that’s neither here nor there.

Networking hardware is an ancient pcnet-driven PCMCIA card, and that’s more than enough since the traffic in and out of this machine is negligible.

Server: A server system can be and do a lot of things, but for my purposes Debian is perfect, and easy to set up too. I put everything in the home directory of a privileged user, and serve that directory as an nfs share.

The network connection is a ralink PCMCIA wireless card, which was rather quirky to arrange, but gets good upload and download speeds, and so is best suited for this situation. Best of all, the power draw is less than a light bulb, it takes up almost no space, and has a battery backup in times of need. ;)

Display: This machine is the winner this time, chosen for its large (to me, anyway) screen, clear display and speedy network access. I using the wired Intel PRO/100 connection because I have a five-meter network cable, and I like the fast access speeds.

This machine needs the most in the way of software, because this is where most of the action happens. To wit:

  • Framebuffer access. If you’re using a modern distro you probably already have this. If you’re using a very old computer, it might be a little tricky to get working.
  • mplayer and codecs, if your conscience allows. I should mention that keeps a codecs package in its repository.
  • ssh daemon. Remember dropbear is considerably lighter than some other ssh suites. And remember Remy’s ssh dialog, if your connections are stacking up.
  • nfs client access. If you prefer samba or another service, you’re on your own. :|
  • alsa or another audio subsystem, of course. Unless you can read lips, I guess. … ;)

I also include screen and a few ancillary programs, like alsaequal, mc, htop and moc. They’re all useful on the odd chance, or for playing music if video isn’t required.

I mentioned networking equipment for all of these, because that’s where your bottleneck is. I am confident my 133Mhz Pentium can actually serve up those files in plenty of time for the Celeron M.

But if I have a slow wireless card in it, or if there is network pressure from other machines, things start to stutter. So be aware: Skipping playback, in my experience, is probably because of network speed.

(Those new Blue Ray DVDs ripped at 1080p or whatever are going to be tricky. Even my core duo has trouble with those, and that’s if they’re on the local drive. :shock: :| )

That’s all for the hardware I’m using. There are a couple of minor points that should probably be addressed, in way of configuration. First of all, it’s useful to know a few of mplayer’s flags, like …

  • -zoom, to expand or contract the output,
  • -fs, to push the size to full screen, which paints the outlying areas black, as opposed to leaving leftover text on the fringes,
  • -x and -y, to manually force the dimensions of the output,
  • -vf scale=x:y, to scale the output instead, or
  • -aspect x:y, to force an aspect, and
  • -vo, to force a video driver, although with nothing else on the machine, mplayer (in the default Arch version) jumps straight to the framebuffer.

In my case, this is what my ~/.mplayer/config file looks like.


The -3 in the vf line throws the y dimension out to a proportionate depth. I think. I can’t find the documentation on it, but I’ve had it around forever and it seems to work. I know, I know: Google is my friend. …

That’s not the last though. This little trick is this coup de grace:

setterm -cursor off -blank 0

Because even with mplayer’s -fs flag, the cursor on a tty screen will blink by itself, in the middle of the screen. Sometimes. But more importantly, -blank sets the default video timeout for the terminal to zero — meaning, never.

Otherwise, after about 20 minutes, your screen will go dark and you’ll have to get up and walk over to the keyboard, and press a key to get the image back. And we can’t have that, now can we? :mrgreen:

That’s all. Let me know if you can get this working with something in the handheld department, because that might be where the fun lies.

I have heard of people connecting to home networks with Sharp Zauruses (Zaurii?) or Toshiba Libretto minicomputers. Something that small … well, it’s practically a remote control. ;)

Just don’t fight over it. :mrgreen:

P.S.: I should mention, if you are more keen on forcing the video into Xorg instead of the framebuffer, to try the xinit command with DISPLAY=0:1 and your mplayer command. And to remember xset s off, which should stop screen blanking. Beyond that though, you’re on your own. … :)

Twenty-ten: The picks of the litter

Two-thousand-and-ten is almost over. I’ve done more than my share of distro-hopping this year, and not because of a fickle character, but because of a curious streak.

This year's judge and jury.

That curiosity is bent toward very low-end computers though, and it’s not enough to me to just show a pretty desktop at 150Mhz if the overall experience feels like your head is being pressed through a bowl of mashed potatoes.

To that end, some distributions stick out in my mind more than others this year, as good options for low-end machines. A few more I tried are just good options, for any kind of machine.

And some I mention because they are ingrained in my lifestyle now. Maybe I didn’t discover them this year, but in 2010, they became essential to my workflow.

So I have a few end-of-year “notes.” These are not awards so much as recommendations, since I am hardly qualified to award anybody anything. :|

The wake-up call: KolibriOS. In a world of multi-DVD distros, of thousand-dollar operating systems in a half-dozen flavors, of operating systems that require multiple processors and double-digit gigabytes of memory to use, KolibriOS hits you like a ball-peen hammer squarely in the forehead.

KolibriOS: Pocket-sized powerhouse.

It’s hard not to find something to like about a full-featured desktop replete with games, applications, hardware tools and even networking support that sits in a meager 1.44Mb of space.

And thus it’s hard not to include it in a list of things to love about 2010, considering that KolibriOS in its latest rendition is a stern lesson in software design and how to put together a truly ultralight desktop.

Granted, this is minimalism to the nth degree, lightweight to the point that you can’t conceivably pit this against any other “modern” desktop without feeling almost foolish.

But let’s be frank: Why is lightweight and conservative software such a crusade — in Linux and in other operating systems — when KolibriOS stands as such a stark counterpoint?

Why does the search for a lightweight operating system begin and end with racks and racks of desktop environments, window managers and alternative desktops, and page after page of lighter upon lighter applications, toolsets and support libraries?

Why is it such a carnival to say out loud, “I have a machine that dates back a decade, but still works great and I’d like to find modern software that will run on it”?

I’ll let you decide, but deep down I think we all know that software demands push hardware upgrades, and upgrades in turn allow for bigger, fatter software. In that way, everybody makes money.

It’s a vicious circle, but it’s hard to reach any other conclusion when I can hold up a decades-old floppy with a complete operating system on it. It’s not for lack of skill or ability or time or even desire.

KolibriOS is proof that it’s possible. Just as much as it is proof that perhaps everyone else is going about things the wrong way. Probably so they can take your money. :evil:

A chicken in every pot: Slitaz base. I’d love to say that I have a Slitaz CD perched at the ready, any time I need to jump into a live environment on any machine in the house.

But that would be a half-truth, since I don’t use the standard Slitaz ISO to do that. I stick to the base version.

Slitaz base: What it looks like inside your computer, with the lights turned off.

You won’t like it. You’ll be dropped at the command line without a stitch of help from a mouse or a pointer, and feel rather cold and naked and alone. Welcome to the underbelly of your computer.

But you’ll get there on a meager 12Mb of RAM or less, meaning that this disc can get almost anything with a working CD drive up and running and with a minimum of resources. It’s amazing.

And what you do from there is up to you. Install Slitaz, or use that hovering OS to transfer files across a USB port (or entire operating systems), or repair or recover a dying hard drive.

True, there are other distros that offer these same tools on bigger and better and more complete CDs, but the resources they will demand and the time it will take to get them moving is likewise bigger. And not necessarily better.

So for a lightweight tool that I keep coming back to, and for a full-featured console environment that will fit inside a sliver of memory, it’s tough to beat the Slitaz base version. I can think of no higher praise. :|

Knight in shining armor: Clonezilla. Clonezilla is crack for the distro hopper.

Clonezilla: So yummy, it should be illegal.

Clonezilla is going to eat your life away in small pockets, leaving you with dozens of archived systems, waiting on an external hard drive.

Clonezilla will save your life, when calamity strikes.

Clonezilla makes it too easy to backup and restore entire systems, and isn’t afraid of anything.

Clonezilla turns on a dime, needs less than the average memory available to a Pentium III to get started, and even comes in a i486 flavor, for weirdos like me.

Clonezilla boots from USB, boots to memory, boots to anything with a keyboard and an LCD attached, and won’t quit until you tell it to.

And what it does is free up your life to think about other things. New things. Fresh things. Knowing full well all the time that you can always go back to your old way of thinking.

Technically it’s not an operating system, so you can throw stones if you want. But if you’ve tried it, and you know it, you won’t make that big of a noise if I include it here. You’re a believer. You know you are. :twisted:

Tried and true: DSL. When I peel away the frustration and dismay, I have to admit a solemn reverence for a distro that manages so many convolutions in setting up this computer, and doing it so well, and being about a year or two out of development.

DSL, even at this late date, does things for ancient hardware that my best efforts still can’t. Maybe I’m just not well educated enough (no CS degree on my resume, pal). I am more than willing to admit my ignorance.

DSL: The ghost of Christmases past.

But the 60 seconds it takes this 5-plus-year-old distro to start, configure and announce its presence with authority are more than enough to spellbind me. Audio, video, network and peripherals, all moving at a good clip and with no sense of weariness.

It’s almost infuriating. I’ve been inside and out of the machine, probed its inner recesses and researched everything I can think of in terms of arranging and configuring. And an out-of-service, 50Mb distro beats me, with one hand tied behind its back.

Touche, sirs. For that, a small tip of the hat. I wish I could do as well, left to my own devices. :(

Service with a smile: Debian Lenny. I haven’t mentioned it much, but the Debian server I built to run at 133Mhz has convinced me to keep an otherwise superfluous computer and a network card I thought unworking. And that’s saying something.

Debian: The magical stuff that binds us all together.

Given the chance, Debian will perform back flips at the snap of a finger, and provided you don’t overwhelm a machine — of any architecture — you’re more or less assured of top-shelf performance.

Even so, combining a 13-year-old 133Mhz Pentium with only 32Mb, a RaLink-based PCMCIA network card and a gift-from-god 120Gb 5400rpm hard drive sounds like a recipe for disaster.

But like the rug that pulls the room together, Lenny makes it all work as a file server and torrent slave … with only a small bump in software for complete and perfect usability. No hiccups, no flukes, no spotty hardware performance.

And with uptimes in double-digit days, it shows no sign of stopping. You want a reason not to throw out an old machine? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Debian Lenny.

Not for the faint of heart: Crux 2.7. Source-based distros are not for everybody. That should go without saying.

But of the ones I’ve tried, Crux — and most recently in its 2.7 version for the i586 — is by far my favorite.

Crux 2.7 i586: You too can be an Internet hero.

Linux From Scratch is educational, but becomes esoteric for me. Gentoo seems overcomplicated, when compared with Crux’s spartan arrangement. Of the others … well, I should probably look a little more before saying anything.

Suffice to say that Crux has just enough automation by default to keep it from becoming obtuse. But it also skimps on a lot of other points, which keeps you on your toes.

I mentioned the other day that I learned more about Linux from a 450Mhz K6-2 running Crux than I ever did with any more powerful machine. That’s very true.

But you could probably substitute almost any hardware for that rotten little K6-2, and still learn heaps and mounds more than what Ubuntu or other distros have to offer.

I’m no expert, and your way is always the right way. But if your goal is to figure out what makes your hardware tick, I can think of no better suggestion than Crux.

And best of all, I can guarantee with 99 percent assurance, that any speed improvement you might remember if you moved to Arch from Ubuntu, you will see again if you move from Arch to Crux. Believe you me. :shock:

Up and coming: ConnochaetOS. It’s probably not fair for me to highlight a distro so recent in my mind, because there is an observation bias that can’t be avoided.

But let’s be honest. I have a half-dozen computers I’ve used in the past year, and the majority of those predated the Pentium II. What do I really want out of life? An Arch Linux for i586s. dried up more than a year ago, but the DeLi Linux project morphed into the latest i586 effort built on Arch. And I am 100 percent on board with that.

ConnochaetOS: A promising future on the playing field.

Any Arch veteran who has an old machine in the house is going to wipe a tear from her eye if there’s a living, breathing version of i586 Arch out there. Time saved in compiling is the first reason.

Simple ease of use, a minimal starting point and an easy-peasy configuration system are others, and are all hallmarks of Arch proper. All three of those are gold to an antique computer enthusiast.

So while there might be a curse attached to i586 renditions of Arch Linux, I’m hoping ConnochaetOS can ride it out, in part with its history as DeLi Linux, but in part because it’s got what Arch users are used to.

My fingers are crossed for this one.

Big toys for big boys: Linux Mint Debian. What I’ve mentioned thus far all has the potential — if not the promise — of running on extremely low-end machines. Pentiums. Maybe even i486s.

But if you were born after 1992 and you think a single-core machine is sluggish, then your idea of “antique” is quite different from mine.

No matter: I have one more candidate for you, and this one should run on anything from a Pentium 4 up, and suffer no setbacks at all.

And heck, you can even strip the machine down to (a no doubt frightening) 256Mb and still get plenty of use out of it. Put in those hours at Free Geek, because your reward will no doubt perform with Linux Mint Debian.

LMDE: All of the flavor, none of the fat.

Distros like this one should put fear into the hearts of big-name projects like Ubuntu or Fedora or OpenSUSE. Why? Because all the flash (dare I say “Flash”? :lol: ), all the glitter and all the goodies are instantly available for us peons suffering with leftover machines.

How can LMD be doing things so right, and all the others be doing things so … not right? I don’t know.

But spend a week with LMD and you’ll probably never walk back to Ubuntu. And you’ll probably never walk into another computer reseller either, because the machine you use now (I feel safe in saying) is powerful enough to run it.

And Mint’s reputation for making Ubuntu even easier … ? Well, what can I say. Back in August I dropped Mint into a neighbor’s Celeron, with the hopes that it would be easier and cleaner to manage than — but just as speedy as — Arch.

And it ran without a complaint — no, really: without a stitch of attention from me — for three full months. What do you make of that? :D

P.S.: Get yourself some floppies. What is life without floppies?! :mrgreen:

(All right. You asked for it, you got it. :evil: )

For now, 2.6 is fine

It’s been about a month since the release of Crux 2.7, and technically I still have two machines I haven’t upgraded.

Or maybe I should say one and a half. Half because the Mebius is usually bouncing between operating systems, off in la-la land, testing a wild and bizarre distro du jour.

So yes, I do have a backup Crux 2.6 system written as an image file, and when I want that system to work as I like it, I write it back and do what I need to do.

But it’s already out of date, since back releases of Crux don’t get much in the way of updates. And that means the machine I rely on most is dreadfully stagnant.

But let’s be honest for a second: A meager 80Mb of memory, a lowly 100Mbit PCMCIA network card and probably three or four gigabytes of open space. Nothing critical there, that’s for sure.

And all of the hardware is so old, it hasn’t seen attention in the kernel for years. Honestly, I don’t feel like a target demographic.

Furthermore, if it’s not broke, why fix it? Short of system underpinnings and maybe an odd utility or two, there’s not much I have in the way of installed software that will get updated very often.

On top of that, building a new system would be a little bit of a pain … and maybe this is why I am really so hesitant.

Back when I had the Celeron in the house it was the surrogate for the CF card while I installed Crux. Running the CF card to the adapter to a USB enclosure didn’t work. I don’t know why.

But it means that I would have to replace the CF card in the Mebius, build the new system in an emulator, boot the Mebius to a live environment (thanks, Slitaz Base), write out the system across USB, reverse the drive arrangement again, and then troubleshoot.

Once more, for emphasis: And then troubleshoot. :roll:

That might be just a little more intermediary steps than I like. If I can commandeer another, faster mid-grade IDE-driven machine, I might go for it, but for now, 2.6 is just fine.

I think. … :|

Another winner: ConnochaetOS at 150Mhz, 32Mb

I know, I’ve said this before but … I think I’m in love.

Just about the only downside to working with a source-based distro on a machine as old as … well, as old as the last century, is the fact that almost everything requires a large amount of time, a large amount of discipline and a meticulous attention to detail.

I’m not trying to flatter myself, I’m actually grieving over the effort in putting Crux — as I like it — on a 586 machine when ConnochaetOS does such a great job with almost no effort at all.

And honestly, as someone who migrated from Ubuntu to Arch to Crux, this is my ideal answer to the issue of running a lightweight system on a terrifically out-of-date machine.

I’ve wanted Arch to run on sub-Pentium IIs for years now, and I rejoice everyone puts together a i586 branch. Lowarch led the pack a while back, followed by a few independent efforts, and most recently the dearly departed

So yes, this may be just the latest in a long string of attempts to keep an i586-based version of Arch moving. And yes, this may be just the latest in my long string of excited attempts to keep my i586 machine moving with Arch.

But this comes off the slow dissipation of the DeLi Linux project, and might be able to carry momentum for a while. There are a lot of factors at work though. :(

Regardless, it’s still very exciting to watch a 150Mhz machine come to life and dash through the Arch startup sequence. The thrill of that might always outlast an Arch-for-i586 project.

I should mention a few caveats.

First, as best I can tell ConnochaetOS is still in its early stages. The package list is very sparse. Installing from the ISO is going to give you Fluxbox and a few options, and not much more. No vim. No emacs. Only nano. :shock:

So if you’re looking for the entire Arch Linux suite plus AUR …well, it’s not quite ready yet. Of course, with Arch, you’re only a few moments away from building whatever package you want, and stepping slowly through dependencies that way.

(Note that you’ll have to download the Arch PKGBUILD and install files from the Arch website, then edit the PKGBUILD to allow the i586 architecture to build. And even then it might need some tightening up.)

Next, I should mention that I installed to a virtual machine and copied across USB with dd, as is the case for most of the distros I test these days. I have a feeling that the ConnochaetOS ISO would boot alright, but I saw no reason to tempt fate. It’s just as easy the other way, and probably faster.

Finally, performance is very nearly what I get from Crux, with a few small concessions. I carve up rc.conf and inittab as a matter of course, and as you can see, I went through the work of building Musca and dmenu-xft, just because.

Occasionally though, I get some rough spots where ConnochaetOS seems to be dragging through something. I am accustomed to using my Crux build of Musca so I have a feel for its relative speed, and at times ConnochaetOS seems to be thinking very, very hard about something very, very important. :???:

Of course that wouldn’t be any different from any other machine that I’ve seen run both Crux and Arch though: Crux is a good step faster than Arch for me, and probably because so much of it is whittled down to nothing.

So I don’t fault ConnochaetOS for inheriting the (infinitesimally minor) shortcoming of its progenitor. Because on the whole, this is really great stuff.

It found my network card, configured it and connected to my wireless network without prodding — and without wireless-tools (which is possible with an orinoco-cs-driven card. Believe it or not). :shock:

It managed to make the transition between the emulator and the actual system without losing track of the hard drive, although I did hope for that when I picked the /dev/kernel drive assignment option at installation.

Video-wise, I did have to build my own xorg.conf file and adjust it to avoid the fbdev and trident drivers, and go with vesa. And I need to check to see if this will handle the tridentfb module, like could.

In the sound department … I’m going to take my time, mostly because alsa-lib is in the repos, but alsa-utils isn’t. And there are a few other things I’d like to be in place before I force it to sing.

What I’ve personally built I’ll put out there on the Internet somewhere, and if you want to use it to get your own system up and running, be my guest. And I see that the ConnochaetOS team is soliciting software suggestions, within criteria.

In the mean time, I’m interested in playing with this a little more, and maybe even merging this with the carcass of, which might have a few useful packages that ConnochaetOS, at this point, doesn’t.

Sound crazy? It might. All in the name of science, of course. :roll:

Old hardware a handicap? Au contraire!

I spat out my metaphorical coffee this morning, when I read this line, in regard to a 1.7Ghz Athlon with 256Mb and a 60Gb hard drive.

A machine that underpowered (mainly the ram size) will be a serious handicap when learning Linux. … All your choices will be driven by the limited ram. Even so, your time will be wasted waiting for even the lightweight applications you chose to do simple things.

Whoa, waitaminute. A 1.7Ghz machine with a healthy 256Mb will be a handicap to learning Linux? A handicap? Even when armed with lightweight applications?

I have to disagree, but before I do that, I have to ask a small question: What is meant by “learning Linux?”

Because if “learning Linux” is navigating through the latest rendition of Gnome, with spinning desktops and fancy eye doodads and a quadraphonic Blaupunkt, then yeah, sure, I almost agree.

Of course, that doesn’t take into account that all the way up to Ubuntu 8.10, I was playtesting Gnome desktops on a 1Ghz machine with a measly 512Mb in it. A 1.7Ghz machine with half of that would still have been at least usable … until 10.04, anyway.

But if you’re talking about learning Linux — I mean really getting down and dirty with it, and not just trying to figure out which Compiz plugin is your favorite — then my money says there’s no better solution than something hopelessly underpowered.

Why? Simply because a low-power, underachiever machine is unforgiving. It is restrained by hardware and time and you will know immediately if you’ve done something wrong on a machine with no real muscle to it.

Make a mistake on a dual-core machine, and yes, you’ll know about it. Leave off a kernel boot flag or misconfigure /etc/inittab, and yes, things will become frazzled.

But you don’t make the same mistake twice on a low-end machine because it’s considerably painful when you do. You learn your lessons the first time, when you scramble your filesystem or misconfigure Grub. Because recovering takes longer and you have time to consider the weight of your actions.

Of course, you’re free to approach the beast from any direction, and if you want to tackle a new operating system with a machine that requires its own zip code and power substation, you are free to do so.

But I can also say that I learned a lot more about Linux from a wildly unpredictable 100Mhz machine, and even more from a rancid little K6-2, than I ever did from a dual core Thinkpad. I enjoy having it, but I don’t count it among my educational treasures.

Old machine a handicap? Quite the opposite, thank you. :twisted:

Back to Debian, at 133Mhz and 32Mb

By most accounts I am a fairly patient person. I do, however, occasionally get tired of repeating the same tasks, troubleshooting the same problems and performing the same acrobatics.

So after a second and third try at putting Crux 2.7 on the Pentium, and getting a perfect system … except this time for a lack of any network — I decided to go the short route.

I’ll admit that my first stop after Crux was to try the same stunt with Slitaz, console-only. And it worked well except for some reason, it too was having network problems.

I am willing to blame my router at this point, but just for a final troubleshooting effort, I used the Debian netboot CD and got a fully working system this morning.

I even went one step further and got my mysterious RT61-based PCMCIA card to link up nicely, with the firmware-ralink package out of Lenny-non-free installed.

The only other issue I have with using Debian on a Pentium, as a torrent slave and file host, is that rtorrent in Lenny is stuck at version 0.7.9 or something.

That’s pretty far back. I don’t think that even supports DHT. No matter, a quick surf and I came across this page which described a fairly simple way to bump rtorrent up to 0.8.6.

And with that and mc and htop and screen, along with the required nfs-kernel-server and dropbear packages (openssh-server seems to imply X11 stuff, which I would prefer avoid), the machine is more or less complete.

It’s not a picture-perfect replica of the machine I usually configure, and it takes a little longer to boot, but it sure took a lot less time to wrangle. Sometimes that’s a bonus. :)


Visit the Wiki!

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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