[sf-lug] Volunteer InstallFest (Dec 15th) / low-spec hardware

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu Nov 22 11:33:33 PST 2007

Quoting Michael Paoli (Michael.Paoli at cal.berkeley.edu):

> Current stable Debian distribution on i386 hardware:
> "You must have at least 48MB of memory and 500MB of hard disk space"*

This makes sense though I'm taken by surprise that the bare minimum has
risen to 48MB RAM:  Not so long ago (as Michael says further down), you 
could slide through with 4MB, using the installer for Debian 2.1 "slink".  
See: http://www.waldner.priv.at/stuff/debian-low-mem-installation.html

> ... and I think the "i386" may need to be >=i486 if I recall correctly
> (due to somewhat more recent (as of several years ago?) changes in gcc
> and the linux.org supported kernels).

Possible.  Fortunately, in 2007, a functioning true 386/386sx would be
about as rare as that IBM Personal Computer XT was in 1999-2000.  ;->

> > The fact is, only experienced Linux users can get much satisfaction from
> > Linux on low-spec hardware, regardless of distribution (though giving
> > them a limited, non-mainstream distro like Puppy Linux will compound the
> > problem).  Novices will tend to experience frustration, and to blame
> > Linux.  Personally, I think that's a bad idea.
> *Relatively* true.  It probably depends much more on the experiences and
> expectations of the user.  If they've never seen - or more notably used
> - a windowing GUI operating system, and certainly aren't expecting some
> touchy-feeley-GUI user-friendly operating system and applications (e.g.
> they've been living in a cave, or analogous environment), and if
> they're not going to be instantly and majorly disenthralled upon seeing
> one for the first time and understanding or learning that their
> hardware just isn't capable of that - or much of that ... well,
> basically, if their expectations are low to none, they may do fine
> without a much to significantly more loaded installation.  

So, yeah, if the user's experience up to this point has been MS-DOS 6.2
with WordPerfect 4.2 and Telix on a 286 -- sure, migrating him to a 486
with 48MB RAM running console-mode Slackware with LaTeX and minicom
might be just fine after mild initial bewilderment -- if all the world's
486es haven't yet died from wear and old age.  And penurious graphical
users can learn to make do with a Pentium 233 with 64MB running the
Icewm window manager, Abiword for word processing, Gnumeric spreadsheet,
Seyon or minicom for BBSing / dialup terminal use, Dillo for (some) Web
browsing, and so on -- if their setups have been carefully pared down --
but they'll still keep running into limits, and finding out the hard way
that OpenOffice.org, The GIMP, and probably even Firefox 2.x / Konqueror
are just no-go.

> Part of it will also depend upon what support they'll be able to
> easily get - and from where.  

And that "support" would be almost entirely from the small core of Linux
oldtimers from the early and mid-1990s -- not Canonical, Ltd., not
DesktopLinux.com and similar "Linux help" online forums, and not even
most LUG mailing lists in 2007.  Which means scanty and, well, not
likely to happen.

> Of course, also, worthy of consideration, if what's being tossed out on
> the streets or generally given away for free, is much higher spec
> hardware than what one might otherwise be installing onto, in many
> cases it may make much more sense to get some of these free discards,
> and install onto that - rather than do installation(s) on much older
> and lower spec hardware [...].

To be sure.  My first question is always "How much RAM?" -- or at least
it used to be before I figured out that the people asked either didn't
know or made bad guesses under the mistaken impression that a guess is
more useful than "Sorry, I don't know."

It being 2007, anything under 256MB is low-spec, and is going to be a
limited machine.  That's just the way it is.

More information about the sf-lug mailing list