Here and there, where I can, I have come across some workable distros that will run on a 150Mhz Pentium with only 32Mb of memory. It’s a rarity though, and even more unusual to find one that will boot and install, in that small a space.
In fact, more than ever it seems the issue I have to confront is not a lack of processor speed or even hard drive speed, but simply memory overhead. That’s my limiting factor.
I get around it by installing from a live CD to a virtual machine, and then writing that image to the host drive with dd. (dd is quickly becoming another of my favorite tools.)
That was the case with Bonzai Linux, which I am reaching way, waaay back into the past to show off.
“Show off” is kind of an overstatement though. Unless you’re an old-school KDE fan or someone who also has a very low-end machine to resurrect, this is a bit plain.
As I understand it, this was one of the earliest efforts to put a complete graphical desktop on a bootable ISO, dates back as far as 2003, and is using Debian Woody as its backbone in the final release. I could be wrong on any one (or all) of those points though.
And while it couldn’t install straightaway from the ISO, it had no problem with the bait-and-switch installation style, and actually booted on the Mebius.
After that, I had a nifty full-color, proper resolution KDE 3.1 desktop, floppy access, graphical file managers, browsers, etc. Kernel is 2.4.20, and the entire business had no problem fitting into a 1Gb drive space.
On the other hand, a kernel that old lacked some of the modules I am accustomed to seeing in the 2.6.3x series, and sound was also an issue. And the screenshot you see above is much nicer than what I was actually seeing on the screen — bad artifacts, fractured dialog boxes, mouse trails and so forth. … :(
But it worked. It booted on 32Mb, gave a full graphical desktop in that distinct KDE style, and while definitely not perfect, it’s one of the “winners” in recent days.
So you can, if you have to, reach all the way back six or seven years in the history of Linux desktops, and occasionally come up with a working machine. Just more proof that old applications don’t die. :)