Thursday, March 10, 2011

Puppy Linux — could it replace Debian on my oldest hardware?

I’ve run Puppy Linux before. Many times. I started with Puppy 2.13 and still remember that release very, very fondly.

I have half an entry (not yet published) on the Lenny to Squeeze upgrade for my Compaq Armada 7770dmt laptop — a 1999 throwback with Pentium II MMX at 233 MHz, 144 MB of RAM and a 3 GB hard drive. I’ve written dozens of articles about this laptop, and I’ve run everything from OpenBSD and TinyCore to Slackware and Debian Lenny and now Squeeze on it.

I did the Lenny-to-Squeeze upgrade by the book (the release notes, that is), and everything went perfectly well. I can’t get the new Grub to work, but it’s still chainloading to grub-legacy, so I can stick with that if need be. Maybe a full reinstall would fix this non-problem if it bothered me more than it does (which is “very little”).

But my Xfce environment on the laptop isn’t ideal. If any machine was made for a low-spec live distribution like Puppy or TinyCore, this Compaq laptop is that computer.

I’ve run Puppy on it before, and successfully. I think I have an 8 GB hard drive in my laptop boneyard (if only I can find it …), and that would make things much more comfortable with any OS. And with Puppy I’ll be able to boot in the live environment and use the entire hard drive for swap and storage. I could have the traditional pup_save plus some “open” space that could be accessed from other live environments such as TinyCore.

Debian Lenny and now Squeeze have been great on this platform, but I think it’ll perform better with something like Puppy that has all the apps on the CD, everything set up, and old-hardware performance as a guiding principle.

Since Puppy and TinyCore are live CDs, I can try this out before I commit to replacing Debian on this particular computer (Squeeze is sticking on my main laptop, the Lenovo G555, which I’m using right now, by the way).

To that end I’ve burned CDs of Lucid Puppy, Wary and Quirky (there are more official Puppys/Puppies than ever).

And if I can dig up that elusive 8 GB IDE laptop drive, I will probably pull the older 3 GB drive from the Compaq and keep it so I can go back to Debian Squeeze by swapping it back into the drive case (tough, that Compaq is).

The next day: I loaded up Quirky and Wary — two of the latest Pups. As in the past, loading a live environment — even a Puppy environment — from CD on a 12-year-old laptop can take more than a little time. I was unsuccessful with the Xorg driver while running Wary, and a reboot to use the Vesa driver was successful in getting an 800×600 display,

Even though my Orninco Wavelan Silver PCMCIA 802.11b wireless card has worked in the past with Puppy (and works now with Debian Squeeze), I couldn’t load up the orinoco_cs driver and get it to recognize the NIC. Not good.

And the Wary desktop wasn’t all that fast. It was certainly no faster than Debian Squeeze, even with my minimal Xfce desktop that’s generally considered slower than the window manager in Puppy/Wary (the name of which escapes me at present).

I booted back into Debian Squeeze, started X from the console (no GDM/XDM on this install) and am now using Iceweasel to revise this entry. It’s going rather well, I would say.

And I haven’t yet reinstalled the Opera web browser, which brings an added measure of speed to this aging platform.

If you already forgot what you read up top, we’re talking a 233 MHz CPU and only 144 MB of RAM. My long-gone desktop Pentium II system has a 333 MHz CPU and 256 MB of RAM. You can find systems like this (desktops) in half the garages in the U.S., long ago removed from service but neither junked nor recycled. You can pluck one of them out of virtual (and literal) obscurity, load up either a live CD like Puppy or TinyCore, or in my case install Debian, and have a nice, working machine.

I can easily see using this Compaq for writing, “light” web use … and writing. That’s pretty much what I do anyway.