Category Archives: Crux Linux

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But it’s already out of date, since back releases of Crux don’t get much in the way of updates.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 archlinux-i586.org.

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 archlinux-i586.org 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 archlinux-i586.org, 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. :)

A preliminary attempt: Crux 2.7 i586

My free time has been brief in the past few weeks, but I’ve managed to give the Crux ISO for i586 a turn or two.

The initial Crux 2.7 release included a strong suggestion to avoid upgrading, but I don’t recall now if that meant using the upgrade option on the ISO, or simply pointing the ports files at the 2.7 repository and upgrading manually.

For me this was the first time I had actively tried an upgrade as opposed to a clean installation. I got into that habit with Ubuntu, and for me that’s still the best way.

This time I used the 133Mhz Pentium, which is droning away with kernel 2.6.35.1, downloading torrents and living out its days as an in-house network host.

I have the added complication of needing to yank the drive any time I do any real work with it, so in my case I used a flashed image of the drive, mounted it from an emulated machine, followed the upgrade option on the 2.7 ISO, and crossed my fingers when I replanted it in the host.

Results were mixed. Most of the software seemed to install correctly, and I didn’t run into any of the issues that were mentioned with the 2.7 release note.

But oddly, the host machine — the X60s running Arch Linux — can’t recognize the correct size of the drive (120Gb), and keeps spitting out disk errors because the machine is reporting impossible locations on the drive.

The true host though, the Pentium, doesn’t care (how’s that for ironic?). So I end up wrangling with the drive anyway to get the results I want.

As a consequence I have a feeling things don’t really take in the way I wanted them too. And this is the “easy” machine really — the 120Mhz machine with no USB drive and no CDROM … now that’s going to be a challenge — so I don’t mind rebuilding from scratch.

Lesson learned … is … I don’t know. I have a feeling with a traditional system (in other words, one that didn’t require technical acrobatics to get the system working) the ISO upgrade option would be okay.

But things are never that easy at my house. And usually I only have myself to blame for that. :)

I must work harder: DSL at 150Mhz, 32Mb

This is not the first time I have used Damn Small Linux on the Mebius. Since June or so, when I bought it, I’ve used DSL as a sort of backup or interloper distro, usually for the purpose of installing others across USB.

But in fairness, I made a point of installing it directly to the hard drive, and the lesson learned is: I must work harder.

Usually any number of well-meaning but late-to-the-party visitors suggest DSL when I talk about distros that will work at 150Mhz, with 32Mb on board. It’s the obvious pick.

Probably in the same way any number of well-meaning but again late-to-the-party visitors will suggest Slitaz or Tiny Core or Puppy Linux or Debian. And I say thank you for the suggestions, but I’ve been down those roads.

There are no surprises with DSL. It’s been around as long, if not longer, than I can remember. I am only half saddened that it’s not actively developed any longer, since it’s just as usable now as it ever has been.

To be fair to DSL and to be fair to some of the other distros I’ve looked at lately, DSL did need a little prodding to get into fully usable condition.

Installation went fine, although I used only one “gigantic” 512Mb partition for both the system and home, and a teeny little 128Mb for swap. And a vast wilderness of about 7Gb beyond, unallocated.

The screen needed a little bit of tweaking, but the xsetup.sh script does all the work for you, so there wasn’t anything difficult in getting it to jump to the right size and right dimensions.

In total, the system uses only about 16 of the 29Mb available, which gives lots of space for applications or frills. Programs start snappy, with no swapping or lag, as I have had in the past with other systems.

Network is a little bit of a stumbling point for me; the wireless cards I usually rely on — and which I am sure have worked in the past — don’t seem to respond.

Wired ones however, for example ne2000-based cards, work great. If I string a cable to the router, it’s a champion in the true sense of the word.

Wireless is a bit tricky for some reason, in the 4.4.10 release. For the record, I’ve tried orinoco, rt61 and ath5k-based cards, with no luck. No major loss though; my router is only about a meter from the computer.

No, the real kick in the teeth is sound. Not only does DSL find the ISA sound card in this machine, but it configures it properly, sets the volume, and has it up and running even before the desktop appears. (I can hear a little speaker hiss when it comes online.)

And miracle of miracles: Playback is smooth and clean. No stuttering, no skipping, no lag — I’m using the same audio files that were more or less unplayable at any speed below 200Mhz with Crux, archlinux-i586, Debian. …

So obviously I’m doing something wrong. I have managed to wade through the jungle of setting up featherweight, custom-built desktops, and I can get sound working on a minimum of resources.

But DSL is still miles ahead of me in the grand scale of things. My own versions sound like someone singing through spinning fan blades. DSL sounds like the real deal (disregarding that speaker hiss I mentioned … that’s just a fact of 14-year-old laptop speakers :roll: ).

So I can’t pat myself on the back just yet. If I can get things working right, in the same way DSL can, I’ll consider myself vaguely successful. But until that day … I will work harder. :D

Looking forward to Crux 2.7

The world doesn’t need me saying it, but I suppose it’s worth mentioning that Crux 2.7 is out.

Crux is still my favorite distro, with three of the four machines I have — all of them i586’s — running it. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s worth trying at least once.

What I’m really looking forward to this time is the bootable USB image, since it should mean that I don’t need the acrobatics I was performing six months ago, with the traditional ISO.

In any case, as soon as an i586 version is ready, and as soon as I have the few hours it takes to experiment, I’ll give some sort of note on how things go. ;)