[sf-lug] distro advice, please

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Mon Nov 19 14:22:14 PST 2007

Quoting Christian Einfeldt (einfeldt at gmail.com):

> Does it seem reasonable for us to do an install on a Dell Inspiron 4000 with
> 128 MB of RAM and a 10 GB hd during the course of tonight's LUG?
> I have such a notebook that a friend has given me to install Linux on, and
> so I am thinking that maybe we could just give a shot at installing Vector
> on it tonight.  Does that seem reasonable and feasible?
> Is there another small distro that someone would recommend?  Puppy's GUI
> seems to unprofessional, and Damn Small really requires CLI knowledge,
> IMHO.  So that kind of leaves Vector, AFAIK.

Um, no.

That leaves essentially _any_ Linux distribution for x86, that doesn't
have too bloated an installer (check system requirements), where
you're willing to do work at the end of installation to prune down the
startup configuration and select an appropriate window manager, and
where the distro is installable from compatible media.

It "leaves", in short, some hundreds of current distributions.  All you
need is to be willing and able to do the configuration work.

The customer machines at The CoffeeNet, which novice computer users
happily used all day long during the second half of the 1990s were (if
memory serves) Pentium 150 boxes with 32 MB RAM running an fvwm desktop
with the tkgoodstuff buttonbar based on Red Hat Linux 4.x.  Getting good
performance from that sort of commodity box required _not_ going with
distro defaults.

And that is what I seem to keep reminding people:  If you are installing
onto low-spec hardware, it is, in general, much smarter to install a
general-purpose distribution and pare down its runtime configuration to 
what you actually require and is actually appropriate to the hardware,
than it is to install only tiny distributions that can never do much.
The job is not done when the installer finishes -- especially on old,
low-end hardware.

Christian, you'll please note that I'm speaking differently to you than
if you were a novice.  (As a person installing Linux for other people,
and who's spoken to me of plans for prepping old computers with Linux
for people elsewhere, you are not a novice.)  I hope you know how to
look at the process table and figure out what you _want_ and have reason
to run.  I hope you know how to disable startup processes.  I hope you
know how to change a system, or a user, to a different and less
resource-wasting window manager.  If not, I submit that it's very much
in your interest to learn, if you're going to install Linux for other
people, especially onto low-spec hardware.

Here's someone's notes from Dec. 2001 about Debian on an Inspiron 4000
(and no, I'm not specifically recommending Debian):
(Note the Lucent LT winmodem.)

Other write-ups can be found here:

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