Category Archives: Puppy Linux

A Debian victory for the $15 Laptop

I’ve been toying with removing Debian Etch from the $15 Laptop — the 1999 Compaq Armada 7770dmt with a 233 MHz Pentium II MMX processor and 64 MB of RAM. When most computer users — even those partial to Linux — talk about “old” hardware, they mean either things in the 1 GHz range, even 3 GHz single-core CPU computers with 512 MB of RAM.

For me, a 1.2 GHz Celeron laptop with 1 GB of RAM is good enough to run just about any Linux distribution out there. And my main Windows machine at the office — a 3 GHz Pentium 4 with 512 MB of RAM is way more than adequate for desktop use.

As far as the 233 MHz Compaq laptop goes, I’m probably going to bump up the RAM from the current 64 MB to the maximum of 144 MB, but that’s pretty much besides the point.

When I first got this laptop (yep, it cost me $15, though I had to shell out $10 for the CD-ROM drive on eBay) I ran into a lot of luck, because it wasonly supposed to have 32 MB of RAM but had double that. It wasn’t supposed to have a hard drive, but not only was the hard-drive casing intact, but there was a 3 GB drive inside it. It was loaded with Windows 98 but wouldn’t boot. Once I had the CD drive (the incoluded floppy drive doesn’t work, and I could get another one for $10, but I really don’t need it), I was able to run Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux from live CDs.

At first I loaded Windows 2000 just to see how it ran. Win 2K ran alright, but I’m not in this to run Windows. I had pretty good luck with both Puppy and DSL, but Damn Small Linux is really the more suited of the two for a computer with 64 MB of RAM.

Anyhow, I eventually wanted to try Debian Etch on the Compaq. I’ve done at least four installs of Debian on this computer, but my first began was the “standard” install, which means no X. After that, I added X and Fluxbox, plus all the apps I though I’d need. ROX-filer, AbiWord, Leafpad, Dillo, Lynx, Elinks, Sylpheed (which didn’t work), MtPaint for image editing, and eventually even Iceweasel (aka Debian’s renamed Firefox).

I was able to actually get work done on the laptop, which can connect to the outside world only through the Orinoco WaveLAN Silver 802.11b wireless PCMCIA card I had previously bought for This Old Mac (aka my 1996 Powerbook 1400cs). And since the PCMCIA slot in the much-better $0 Laptop (Gateway Solo 1450) is inoperable (“busted” is the technical term), the wireless card has remained in the Compaq, which has no Ethernet port or USB capability (though it does have a serial port, parallel printer port, built-in telephone modem and a power supply fully enclosed in the case — yes, a 120-volt power cord plugs right into the back). They made these Compaq’s well — this one still runs great.

Anyhow, my “roll-your-own-X” Debian install did OK. The display was a bit slow in Abiword, but I had everything running fairly well. Just not well enough.

Since then, I spent quite a bit of time testing DSL 4.0 on the Compaq. Damn Small Linux runs great on this thing, that much I can tell you. And I even ran Puppy 2.13 for a couple of days this week.

But I always had Debian on the hard drive. Just not the original Debian. I had wiped the drive and experimented with Debian Etch and the Xfce desktop install (desktop=xfce as a boot parameter in the installer) as well as Slackware 12.0 without KDE (Xfce and Fluxbox).

Well, Slackware without KDE means you don’t even get an office suite, and I still had barely any disk space on the 3 GB drive. (I know, I just need to get a bigger drive … I know.)

So I went back to Debian Etch, again the Xfce desktop. Surprisingly, this install includes the full OpenOffice suite and I still have about a full GB of space left on the hard drive. I have a separate /home partition with 800 MB in it, and a root partition with 2 GB, with about 150 MB left. The rest of the space is swap — about 120 MB.

And while on the Gateway laptop (1.2 GHz Celeron CPU) I cannot detect a performance difference between the Xfce and Fluxbox window managers, on this 233 MHz CPU, there’s quite a difference. I was about to give up on Etch altogether when I decided to again install AbiWord (I tried Ted … again … but the RTF word processor still doesn’t work, at least in any Etch install I’ve had), as well as Fluxbox.

Fluxbox makes it a lot snappier. I still have all the Xfce apps, including Thunar, Mousepad and the great Xfmedia.

In fact, I finally got sound working tonight. I don’t think it’ll survive a reoot, so I’ll have to run this line on startup, but for today it did work:

# modprobe sb io=0×220 irq=5 dma=1 mpu_io=0×330

I can’t run alsamixer, but I can play an MP3 in Xfmedia, and it sounds great even on the built-in speakers on this 9-year-old laptop.

I didn’t think I could get sound working in Debian Etch, but since I did, Etch will definitely live to fight another day on this laptop.

Before I close out this entry, let men emphasize that the Xfce install of Debian is a quirky distro, to be sure. It’s nowhere near as complete as Ubuntu’s Xfce variant, Xubuntu.

Etch in its Xfce incarnation includes the full OpenOffice suite, but not Abiword or Gnumeric (which would be good substitutes). There’s no Synaptic or Update Manager, so I’ve been doing what Debian aficionados always tell me to do: use Aptitude. I was running aptitude in a terminal for awhile, but it’s much easier to just run it at the command line:

# aptitude update
# aptitude upgrade
# aptitude install abiword

Yep, just like apt-get and apt-get install, but Aptitude is supposed to do an even better job with dependencies and it keeps track of your changes to the system, should there be any problem.

And if this entry appears on this Blogger blog, it means that the lightweight Dillo browser actually works with the blogging interface — a great thing because Dillo is very, very fast.

Note: I did save a copy of this as text in case Dillo and Blogger aren’t exactly cooperating.

Further note: Dillo and Blogger weren’t exactly getting along, so I completed this post with Iceweasel.

Final note: The fact that Debian Etch — a modern, up-to-date Linux distribution — can run so well in 233 MHz of CPU and 64 MB of RAM is something truly to behold. Again, my thanks to everybody at the Debian Project, past and present, for all they’ve done for the rest of us.

Post-final note: If Debian continues to perform so well, I just might blog the SCALE 6x convention with this 1999-vintage laptop.

Positively the last note: I’ve had trouble with Iceweasel and anything on Google for which I have to log in, so I just cut the fat and posted this to Click. And in case I only mentioned it once above, Fluxbox is really flying on this setup. And since the 1999 Compaq with Debian Etch and Movable Type 4.0 are playing nicely, I think this laptop is definitely going to SCALE 6x.

Sorry, just one more note: Look for a SCALE 6x feature on Click in the days ahead.

gOS may not have a GUI network-configuration utility … but it does have Gparted

And I am using gOS’ version of Gparted to partition the hard drive on which I will eventually install gOS. I haven’t yet used the Gparted from a Ubuntu-derived live CD, since I have Puppy for that purpose. But since the version of Gparted on the last few versions of Puppy Linux have taken up to a half-hour to read the partition table, I’ve since turned to the Gparted and Partition Magic live CDs to do my partitioning.

But since this is gOS test, I figured I’d use it’s version of Gparted. It’s as lousy at reading the partition table in a timely manner as the version in Puppy. Has nobody but me noticed this? It makes Gparted all but unusable.

Not that commercial applications don’t have soul-killing bugs in them, but Gparted has been screwed up for so long now, won’t anybody fix it already? It’s the same thing as the Ted word processor in Debian. I’ve checked — all the dependencies are there. But you can neither open nor create a file in Ted. The RTF word processing app works fine in Damn Small Linux (where it’s the main WP app) and in Puppy (where it is an easily-added package). But it’s useless in Debian. Like Gparted in … just about everything.

But the bright side is that I discovered the Gparted and Partition Magic live CDs. I heard that development on PM is going to cease, and that would be a very bad thing, indeed. Hopefully somebody else will take up the mantle and either continue Partition Magic or start their own live CD focused on partitioning hard drives. That’s the beauty of open source: out of the ashes, a new project can always arise.

Anyhow, I deleted all the partitions from my drive, and I’m waiting the <em>next</em> half-hour for Gparted to scan the drive again so I can create new ones.

P.S. Even though Gparted takes so long to scan the drive, it makes changes to the partitions as quickly as it ever did.

Zenwalk Live 4.8

I’m a sucker for a Linux or BSD distro with a live CD. Even if you can’t do an install directly from the disc, at least you can figure out whether the damn thing will boot and how your hardware will react when it does.

One of my favorites, ZenWalk, just released Zenwalk 4.8 Live. Both Zenwalk and Vector — the top Xfce-based, Slackware-derived distributions — are very good, but I like the way Zenwalk looks and works just that much better. I was dismayed when Zenwalk 4.6 wouldn’t install properly on the $0 Laptop (the Gateway Solo 1450). Slackware 12 and Vector Standard 5.8 wouldn’t run once installed  either (I think I need to pass some boot parameters … which means I’ll either have to figure out how to do it in LILO or try to do it in GRUB), so it’s more than likely something that begins in Slackware that the other distros don’t clear up. I have my money on PCMCIA or SCSI services, and it is worth a try.

Anyhow, whether or not an Xfce-based Slack-derived distro can really “save” really old hardware remains an open question. One thing I do know, however, is PCs that do “OK” with standard distros like Ubuntu really do fly with Zenwalk or Vector (and more so with Puppy and Damn Small Linux, but that’s another story).

Before I continue, let me remind you about Zenwalk Live’s root password (you’ll need it if you want to do any configuration in the very-well-thought-out ZenPanel app):

ZenLive

And yes, it is case-sensitive (as are all Linux passwords).

Right now, in the live CD environment, I expect more speed from Zenwalk, but I don’t want to make a full judgment until I’ve done a complete install.

One thing (and it’s a big one) that Zenwalk does have going for it is the Net-Pkg package manager. It makes dealing with packages that much easier. And overall, Zenwalk’s ZenPanel is better in just about every way than Vector’s VASM tool.

And if you want to run Slackware but don’t want KDE — and want easier package management, you should test both Zenwalk and Vector before making any decisions on a permanent install. For me, the relative lack of time between releases for both distros — and what looks like the abandonment of updates for the older versions — gives me pause. Nothing a separate /home partition couldn’t cure, but I prefer the ability to stay up to date as long as possible without a full reinstallation of the operating system. (This is an area in which Debian and Ubuntu excel.)

Another thing before I go: Slackware, Vector and Zenwalk all run exceptionally well with the Fluxbox window manager. It’s included in the initial installs of Slack and Vector (the latter doing it the best, I think) and is readily available in the Zenwalk repositories. With Fluxbox, you get a lot more speed, and if Xfce doesn’t give you the level of performance you seek on an older box, any of these distros just might do what you need with this lightweight window manager.

I conquer the fan

I finally did get my fan under control in Puppy Linux. It involved modprobe commands for both the fan and thermal modules (I configured them to start on boot) and getting a cron job running to check CPU temperature at 5-minute intervals and turn the fan on or off depending on temperature.

I’m working on writing the whole thing up. But first I want to thank the Gateway Solo 1450 owners and Puppy Linux users whose expertise I drew on to get it done.

Even with the cron job running, I think the fan runs less under Debian and Ubuntu. There must be a different set of parameters for determining fan status. Perhaps cron’s check every 5 minutes of the CPU temperature is a much longer interval than those other systems use. I’ll have to look into it.

Another thing I’ll be looking into is what my “trigger” points for the fan are. I currently have it set to start at 50 C and stop at 40 C. Maybe I can shift those numbers a bit to have the fan run less but still keep the CPU at an acceptable temperature.

While I’m giddy as shit at being able to run Puppy without the fan blasting the whole session, I’m still not as satisfied as I would be if it were managed as well as Debian does in EVERY Linux distro I use. But at least I can take what I learned in Puppy and try it in other distros that don’t control the fan on this laptop. I’d love for this to work in BSD, too, but who am I kidding? I’ll have to try my shell scripts and modprobe commands in BSD and see what happens. Probably nothing.

thing bothers me, though. If I were running a fanless PC, this wouldn’t be a problem. It makes me want to build a fanless mini-ITX VIA box with parts from the Damn Small Linux Store or Logic Supply. And why can’t their be a fanless laptop? If only I had enough skill, time and crazy-in-the-headness to build my own laptop. (I know this one has a fan, but I’d do it sans fan.

Still, I’ve got the fan saga, more on the Debian Live CDs, my problems with image editing and IPTC info and more in the near future.

I conquer the fan

I finally did get my fan under control in Puppy Linux. It involved modprobe commands for both the fan and thermal modules (I configured them to start on boot) and getting a cron job running to check CPU temperature at 5-minute intervals and turn the fan on or off depending on temperature.

I’m working on writing the whole thing up. But first I want to thank the Gateway Solo 1450 owners and Puppy Linux users whose expertise I drew on to get it done.

Even with the cron job running, I think the fan runs less under Debian and Ubuntu. There must be a different set of parameters for determining fan status. Perhaps cron’s check every 5 minutes of the CPU temperature is a much longer interval than those other systems use. I’ll have to look into it.

Another thing I’ll be looking into is what my “trigger” points for the fan are. I currently have it set to start at 50 C and stop at 40 C. Maybe I can shift those numbers a bit to have the fan run less but still keep the CPU at an acceptable temperature.

While I’m giddy as shit at being able to run Puppy without the fan blasting the whole session, I’m still not as satisfied as I would be if it were managed as well as Debian does in EVERY Linux distro I use. But at least I can take what I learned in Puppy and try it in other distros that don’t control the fan on this laptop. I’d love for this to work in BSD, too, but who am I kidding? I’ll have to try my shell scripts and modprobe commands in BSD and see what happens. Probably nothing.

One thing bothers me, though. If I were running a fanless PC, this wouldn’t be a problem. It makes me want to build a fanless mini-ITX VIA box with parts from the Damn Small Linux Store or Logic Supply. And why can’t their be a fanless laptop? If only I had enough skill, time and crazy-in-the-headness to build my own laptop. (I know this one has a fan, but I’d do it sans fan.

Still, I’ve got the fan saga, more on the Debian Live CDs, my problems with image editing and IPTC info and more in the near future.

The modprobe squad

During Debian Etch’s boot sequence, I noticed a couple of things happening while the ACPI modules were loading.

Two words flashed by:

Fan
Thermal

Could these be the key to my problems with the Gateway Solo 1450′s noisy, always-on fan with distros that are NOT Debian Etch, Ubuntu (WITHOUT the latest kernel) and CentOS 5?

What if I opened a root terminal and did the following:

# modprobe fan
# modprobe thermal

Could that be enough to stop my noisy-fan problem? That would be too easy.

In other news, Puppy flies on the Gateway. Damn Small Linux runs, but barely. I haven’t been able to get the X configuration right. And I have to disable scsi while booting. I’m not sure if I can boot with PCMCIA either. Strange, for sure. Slackware-derived distros also die in the SCSI process.

The modprobe squad

During Debian Etch’s boot sequence, I noticed a couple of things happening while the ACPI modules were loading.

Two words flashed by:

Fan
Thermal

Could these be the key to my problems with the Gateway Solo 1450′s noisy, always-on fan with distros that are NOT Debian Etch, Ubuntu (WITHOUT the latest kernel) and CentOS 5?

What if I opened a root terminal and did the following:

# modprobe fan
# modprobe thermal

Could that be enough to stop my noisy-fan problem? That would be too easy.

In other news, Puppy flies on the Gateway. Damn Small Linux runs, but barely. I haven’t been able to get the X configuration right. And I have to disable scsi while booting. I’m not sure if I can boot with PCMCIA either. Strange, for sure. Slackware-derived distros also die in the SCSI process.

OpenSUSE 10.3 and Fedora 7 live CDs

I know what you’re saying, “Why not try Fedora 8?” Well, I already had Fedora 7 burned, so I figure I’d try it.

This is all specific to the Gateway Solo 1450 laptop, so here’s the quick analysis on how they booted:

Neither managed the fan (big detriment). CentOS 5 does control this fan, and that makes me think that newer Linux kernels have abandoned this laptop’s ACPI fan control. I also say this because the newest Ubuntu 7.10 kernel has this same problem. If I boot with the slightly older kernel, I have no problem — and a mostly silent fan. I’m worried about what’s going to happen in a year of so when most distros start using these newer kernels.

It probably means I’m going to have to start modifying and compiling my own kernels.

Anyway, Fedora 7 didn’t have any panels or menus. What are you supposed to do with it? I didn’t linger long enough to find out.

OpenSUSE 10.3 looks nice. I like the green. My static IP configured OK. It took a bit longer to do — there are more screens to go through, but I had networking and was able to launch a few apps. OpenSUSE has a strange menu arrangement. you click on the lower panel and get a smallish menu with about five apps. You can click a button for more, and then a bunch come up. It looks a lot different than the usual GNOME menu. I won’t say I don’t like it just yet.

If the fan had fallen silent, I would be thinking about installing openSUSE, but since that didn’t happen, I won’t.

In other news, I tried to run cron jobs to control the fan in Puppy, Damn Small Linux and FreeSBIE. I am not geek enough for this. I think the solution lies at the kernel level, but what the hell do I know?

FreeSBIE — the FreeBSD-based live CD

I returned to FreeSBIE today. I haven’t reviewed it so well in the past because it’s a bit kludgy. But now that I have many more months of Linux (and X Window System) experience I can approach FreeSBIE and at least get it running.

I forgot that by default, FreeSBIE boots to a shell, not the gui.

To start X, just type this at he prompt:

startx

Or … you can use the following cheat codes BEFORE booting into FreeSBIE:

freesbie.xfce4
freesbie.flux

… and you will boot into one of those two window managers. Ideally, FreeSBIE should automatically boot into a GUI, with a shell being an option, and at the very least there should be a message on the screen telling the user to type “startx” to get the window manager going. I say this because the “documentation” with FreeSBIE consists of an HTML document that comes up automatically … only after you are in X.

Since I don’t use a dynamic IP at this location, I had to set up my own static IP. Usually there’s a GUI or script to help you out. Even Slackware has such a script.

Not FreeSBIE. I had to do it at the command line. It was just that little bit different from Linux, given the difference between BSD and Linux. But it wasn’t above my skill level:

My Ethernet interface, usually eth0 in Linux, is called fxp0 in FreeSBIE/FreeBSD.
(My comments are in italic and parenthesis — do NOT type them in. Bold is for emphasis.)

I opened a terminal:

$ su
(No root password necessary in FreeSBIE; I get the # prompt immediately.)

# ifconfig fxp0 10.10.10.8 netmask 255.255.255.0 broadcast 10.10.10.255
(Use your own static IP info on the numbers above in bold.)

# route add default 10.10.10.1
(Note: don’t use route add default gw, like in Linux — gw is not needed. As above, enter your own router/gateway address)

I also set up my name servers in /etc/resolv.conf (I used vi because I knew it would be there. You can also use nano in FreeSBIE. Use any text editor you wish in its place:

# vi /etc/resolv.conf

once in the file, I added these lines:

nameserver 192.9.200.4
nameserver 192.9.200.2

(as always, add your own search domain and name server IPs, then save and close the file; you should now be ready to start Firefox and begin browsing the Web.)

Anyway, now I was able to use FreeSBIE. It’s pretty fast. Not as fast as Puppy Linux or Damn Small Linux, but good enough.

FreeSBIE doesn’t benefit from the same kind of compression as most Linux live CDs, and as such, there are far fewer applications available. But between Firefox, Thunderbird, Vim, nano and AbiWord, there was enough for me to get around.

I had no idea how to do a cron job to get the noisy fan in my Gateway Solo 1450 laptop to turn off, and since running FreeSBIE I’ve struck out in a bunch of Linux distros as well when it comes to managing this fan. I’ve discovered that Debian Etch, Ubuntu (not the latest kernel but the older one in the current 7.10 version) and CentOS 5 (aka Red Hat) all are able to manage this fan automatically.

Thus, if I had a desktop computer that could run FreeBSD, I’d be racing to install it right now and see how it runs.

I’d probably be better off figuring out how to get Puppy’s ACPI fan control working. All the solutions thus far look a little daunting.

Did I mention that the fan is loud? Really loud.