Thursday, May 21, 2009

Waiting for 2010 #7: Resurrect an Old PC with Live CDs of Various Linux Flavors

My first personal computer was a Hewlett Packard Pavilion purchased in late 1997, running Windows 95. To fully use the two USB 1.0 ports (inconveniently located in the rear of the tower), the PC was upgraded to Windows 98 around the year 2000. It was finally taken offline around 2006, while still in good word processing/decent Diablo II condition. In late 2008, after 11 years of faithful service, the hardware stopped recognizing the hard disk drive (and thus the operating system), effectively rendering the PC useless. My best guess is that the master boot record (MBR) was somehow corrupted. Paradoxically, when removed from the tower, the 6 GB hard drive works well as a USB-connected external drive on other computers. In any case, the MBR seems impossible to fix to work with the HP PC ever again.

On May 20, 2009, this 11 year old PC was reborn as a Live CD-bootable Linux machine, at least for the flavors that are compatible with very minimal (minimal!) requirements: A 233 mHz Pentium 1 (not Pentium 2!) with 96 MB of RAM. I attempted to use three flavors thus far, with hopefully more to try in the days to come:

1. Knoppix will not boot. Well, it will boot - sort of - as the platform will only show a movable mouse cursor and a black background. It's pretty useless with the HP.

2. Damn Small Linux works damn well, and it shuts down cleanly. It is called "Damn Small Linux" because the OS and all the programs of this Live CD total 50 MB in size. Needless to say, DSL doesn't have the flashiest graphic user interface. There are lots of card games included.

3. VectorLinux Light has slightly better graphics than DSL, and it includes a clone of the arcade classic Galaga. It has a sloppy-looking shutdown, but since there's no hard disk drive to worry about, simply pressing the off button isn't much of an issue.

4. I am downloading U-lite Ubuntu as I type this. I can't wait to try it out; hopefully, it won't be another Knoppix.

5. Addendum: I am now burning a U-lite Live CD, while downloading the Sugar ISO.

6. Update (4:30 AM): U-lite is a horrendously slow load, Sugar on a Stick doesn't work, Puppy Linux is fantastic (especially the Rubik's Cube 3D game), ...

7. Feather Linux (based on Knoppix, apparently) is decent, ...

8. and, unfortunately, antiX won't boot at all.

Virtually all of the useful Linux flavors have a word processing application, a PDF reader, and a Web browser. Since there is no working hard disk drive, the HP will have to rely on the obsolete floppy disk drive. There is a chance that the USB ports will work with some of the Linux OSes, and that would be a good thing.

By the way, you can see what the HP's monitor looks like by watching the end of the second season finale of Lost, in the scene with the polar Portuguese speakers who work for Penelope Widmore, after Desmond turned the Swan station's fail-safe key. ::boom:: LOST

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