Category Archives: Ubuntu

Three mediocre attempts

In the space of a few hours this morning I managed to put two or three more distros through the proverbial 150Mhz meat grinder. Results were mixed this time.

Sadly, my rush to install Alpine Linux on my Mebius failed catastrophically, with neither the CD booting nor an emulated system written across USB (in this fashion).

It’s not a kernel panic, it’s a full stop, with no boot action or CD access … sometimes for as long as 20 minutes, or until I get tired of waiting. No juice.

I’m not sure why. If I had to guess, I would suspect some sort of hardware conflict, even though I was fairly certain that I read on the site that Alpine was i586-friendly.

After all a lot of embedded machines are 586-based … or so I had thought. I have a tendency to imagine things though, so perhaps I dreamed I saw “5-8-6” on the site. 😯

It could be almost anything though, and I have too many distros to check to chase after nonbooting CDs for one or another. C’est la vie, I suppose I should say. Or perhaps, “Not everything works every time.

And that would be very true.

V7/x86 was another somewhat fruitless effort, although this one was picked strictly out of curiosity and education, not out of any hope of actually adopting it as a working distro.

Really, a Unix 7 port for the PC is worth looking at, even if it’s probably not practical as a full and daily operating system. (Says the person who uses a Pentium for everyday tasks. … Yes, the irony isn’t lost on me. 🙄 )

This time both the floppy versions and emulated systems proved too knuckle-whitening. The floppies wouldn’t boot, and the CD image in Qemu seemed to want a partition arrangement I couldn’t satisfy.

(If someone can cue me in on a “type 114” partition, like the installation file suggests, I would appreciate it. I’ll try the ptdisk utility too, at some point. 😉 )

I suppose I could break down and burn a CD of the installation ISO and possibly get it going that way, but I think I’ll wait a little bit. After all, it was only done as a lark, in the name of science.

And curiously, some knob put together a GTK1.2-only version of Ubuntu Linux a few years ago, and I thought I should run it through its paces at 150Mhz.

Out of fairness, I am particularly harsh. 👿 After all, this is amateurish, incomplete and impractical really, even if it did work (mostly) on the first try.

Thirty-two megabytes of memory is probably too little to be functional for this; running more than one application at a time causes swapping and slowdowns.

On top of that, the processor is probably too slow for the core Ubuntu workload. Even after a fresh boot, the system is sluggish to start programs and slow to read from disk.

And on top of that, there is the issue of the trident driver, which doesn’t work well with that video card. The vesa driver worked fine though, which is why you get a screenshot at all.

Screen redraws are slow though, and programs take four or five seconds longer than natural to open. Closing them causes hiccups too, while X adjusts itself to the sudden change.

Networking was up on the first attempt with an orinoco-driven wireless card though, which is the way things should be. And I guess there is a somewhat usable array of programs here.

It definitely could use some refinement though, and considering even just the kernel is a couple of years old, while most of the software is two or three or five years older than that. At least.

So yeah, it worked, much of it without heavy configuration, but it’s still just a curiosity. Not really useful. 👿

And that’s about all. I have a short list of other distros to try, as well as some that are aimed at faster, newer machines again. Stay tuned. 🙂


No joke: A full Gnome desktop on 105Mb

Careful, this might make you spit out your breakfast cereal.

That’s a fully updated installation of Linux Mint Debian, after a cold boot and with nothing else running. No special tricks or shortcuts. Clean and default.

Amazing. This puts it within striking range of Pentium III machines, in terms of memory. Or at least machines with 128 or maybe 192Mb, like this one did. I almost wish I still had that computer, just so I could try it out.

True, you can get smaller desktops with very sparse installations, in other distros as well. But this comes with all the bells and whistles, from the word go.

If you haven’t played with Mint’s version of Debian yet, you really owe it to yourself to give it at least one short attempt. And if you’ve got a Pentium III lying around with about 128Mb in it, tell me how it works. How, not if. 😉

A retro retro desktop facelift

Now that everything is up and online and business is more or less back to normal, I realized I had gotten a little tired of looking at this …

And instead decided to put this together.


Well that’s a giant leap forward. 🙄 Nothing like swirling together a vague tribute to an IceBuntu desktop, which was itself a vague tribute to the old Feisty Fawn desktop. Yeah, I’m really going out on a limb there.

Ah well. I’ve never suggested I was particularly avant-garde. My interest lies with resurrecting the hardware, not designing the desktops. 😐

On the other hand, I see now that ConnochaetOS has IceWM and a few other additions in its repository; I may see how this behaves at 150Mhz. Probably not good, but worth checking. Science! :mrgreen:

Xorg or Wayland: Color me disinterested

I laughed uproariously when the news filtered down to me, that Ubuntu was shifting its carcass toward Wayland, as opposed to the ancient monolith Xorg.

The rationale, as I understand it, goes mostly hand-in-hand with the press for Ubuntu to become something less than a desktop, and more of a clicky buttony thingy that hooks into Facebookendsterwitterspace.

That’s fine. It’ll be interesting to watch, but you know what? I think I will sit this one out.

Not for any dislike of Ubuntu, or distrust for the direction it is moving. You might call me old-fashioned, if only because the clicky buttony thingy doesn’t really turn me on. I’ll take a traditional desktop, any day.

Of course, if I had an interest beyond the computers of the last century, I might be willing to just try it out. Might be.

But ay, there’s the rub: Whether Ubuntu uses Xorg or Wayland or a day-old ham sandwich to project its graphical interface is hardly any interest of mine.

I learned a long time ago that I could move closer to my goals by omitting X altogether. When I jettisoned the aging, bloated crowbait, life suddenly turned beautiful.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Stepping away from X made everything better, and I heartily recommend it.

I’ll be honest, I still use it from time to time. I do have machines that predate contemporary framebuffer support, and in those situations, a very sparse version of Xorg is what saves it from giant-size block letters smeared across the LCD. 😯

But I won’t pretend to care much if Xorg’s 25-year legacy is slowly and painfully extracted from Ubuntu or Fedora or Distro X. And oh yes, it will be painful … for someone, somewhere you can bet it will be painful.

No pain for me though. I will be the one on the sidelines, with the look of zen on my face, wondering what the big deal is. :mrgreen:

Not everything works, every time

Not everything works like I expect it to. Even with top-end, full-featured distros, I sometimes run into difficulties I can’t explain or just didn’t predict.

For example, I used to be enamored with Brasero. On a day-to-day basis I rely on Recorder, which is a much more expedient program, but if I’m in Ubuntu (which was the case the other day), Brasero usually satisfies.

Except this time, with 10.10, every time I tried to copy from audio disc to audio disc using my USB DVDRW, the program halted. No error message, no warning report … just poof, and it was gone.

Which was strange to me, even though I am accustomed to things acting funny on the machines I cobble together. But this was Ubuntu, this was “just works.” I must be doing something wrong, I thought.

I tried starting it from the terminal emulator, in hopes of getting some more information. And that’s when it complained that cdrdao wasn’t installed.

I am a patient and generous person, so I installed cdrdao from the terminal. But Brasero still complained that it wasn’t available.

At that point, I figured there were more options than just Brasero. Long ago, Gnomebaker was Ubuntu’s weapon of choice, and installing that took only a few seconds.

But in this case, Gnomebaker wanted to take an hour to convert an entire CD to digital files, before burning the copy. An hour seemed like a very long time. 😦

So as a troubleshooting measure, and because I couldn’t find a speed setting for the conversion process in Gnomebaker, I installed Sound Juicer (also a past Ubuntu golden child), and extracted the tracks to flac format in six minutes.

My adventure wasn’t over though. For some reason, I couldn’t add the audio tracks to Brasero, and when I did manage to force-feed it the flac files, it wouldn’t sort them unless I dragged them one-by-one into place.

There were 55 audio tracks. I don’t think so.

Back to Gnomebaker. Added the files. One-button sort the files. And then … Gnomebaker defaulted to a 21-minute CD (who has those?!) and spat out an error message again.

So finally, after about 15 minutes of backtracking and error trapping, I managed to get the CD burnt. It definitely was a lot more of a harangue than I anticipated, just to duplicate an audio CD.

But experiences like this are the exception for me, not the rule. This isn’t so much a critique of Ubuntu or Linux, as just a note that things don’t always go as planned. And that can happen to anybody, with any operating system. 🙂

VICE 2.2 on Ubuntu 10.10

This is embarrassing because I’m a full month behind the times on this one. But I managed to scrape together an hour or two today, and test VICE 2.2 on Ubuntu 10.10.

And of course, the ancient how-to works fine.

The creepy error that was happening in 10.04 is still around, but luckily the fix is still very easy. Building the GnomeUI version (which is really just a GTK2 version) went cleanly.

One last thing: If checkinstall gives problems, stick with sudo make install. It works fine.

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. 😈