Damn Small Linux

I have been thinking about teaching my kids how to use eToys. To do this, it would be best if they each had their own box and so I have been looking for cheap laptops. I found two Thinkpad T20's for $100 on Craigslist in various states of repair and bought them. I have worked on T20's in the past and so I know their idiosyncrasies well.

One of the idiosyncrasies is getting X Windows to work. I first installed Ubuntu and everything worked but at a glacial pace. The T20 only has a 700Mhz CPU after all. But even at 700Mhz X Windows should fly. The real problems are 1) Gnome is a system hog and 2) this machine only has 128Mb. (It still feels weird that 128Mb is not much RAM. I remember very well Carnegie Mellon University's 3M machines which were to have 1 million bytes of memory, 1 million pixels on screen, and 1 million instructions per second!) So I installed Xubuntu. And this time the pace was faster but only by a smidge. And boot time was still many minutes in duration. Application switching could take a minute.

Searching for a smaller Linux distribution I came across Damn Small Linux and installed that. Well, installed is the wrong word as I first ran it from the LiveCD. It booted the T20 within seconds. X worked. Internet worked. Everything worked. And worked fast. This was a truly usable system on a T20.

The down side, and this is something I am still fighting with, is that it is not a true Debian distribution. It has its own packaging and distribution system. DSL's author had to make significant changes to the Debian core to make a workable distribution that fit on a business-card CD. DSL is intended to be a system for recovering a broken box. I understand this and the understand the impact the changes would have on DSL's ability to use existing Debian packages. However, the impact is only for a few classes of packages. Most POSIX and GTK applications will run fine. I wish the time and effort put into building the packaging system had been used to allow for the installation of standard Debian packages instead.

Before I wrestle too much longer with DSL I need to get Squeak installed. Wish me luck.

1 comment:

Andrew Gilmartin said...

I am still working out the Squeak on Linux issues. DSL is great but it is a 2.4 kernel, uses GTK1 and uses homegrown packaging. After trying several other distributions I am thinking of abandoning Linux and just installing Windows 2000. In part, with Windows I can run LEGO Digital Designer and the other LDraw tools easily. Also, I have a big Linux box sitting in the corner and so perhaps just going with VNC is the better option. (I have no issues installing and running Squeak on this box running Ubuntu.) As you can tell by these ramblings, I am still not satisfied with my solution.