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desktop linux for an OLD laptop

  • Laptops
  • Linux
Last response: in Open Source Software
March 12, 2008 2:44:55 AM

I know i've heard about how there are about 10^9 - 1 different distributions of linux that are supposed to be really good on older hardware (e.g. xubuntu, DSL, etc), but I was wondering if you guys have actually had any experiences with any of these?

My mom's friend just bought a laptop for cheap ( PIII 1Ghz, 256MB SDRAM ), and she needed some help setting up networking on this thing, and when I checked it out i noticed it has Win98 loaded on it, and I was hoping I could suggest a good version of linux for her to try since win98 is horribly unstable (at least every experience I've ever had with it) and horribly insecure (again based on my experiences).

The only problem was that while I was using ubuntu 7.10 to check her laptop, it ran SLOOOOOOOOWLLLLLY. I know part of that is due to the live disk, but think it would be only marginally better if it were actually installed on that machine. I think if I can find something for her that will run at least as fast as win98 does on that laptop (it runs pretty fast, surprisingly enough), that might be a good alternative for her.

I don't want to force linux on this lady or anything, but I would like to show her an alternative to win98 that won't run much slower on this old hardware (she isn't in much position to buy more ram for the machine, or to buy a copy of winxp).

Thanks in advance for any suggestions you guys may have.


P.S. if you could let me know what your experiences were on these different distros (i.e. how easy to use, and how responsive they are on older hardware), I'd really appreciate it.

P.P.S. In retrospect, the above post sounds really lazy, but i don't have a lot of time to try out a bunch of different distros because I have at most about 2 days with this laptop (that and I don't think i can remember all the different distros i've heard about). So, I guess i'd just like to try out a couple of different distros (based on your recommendations) and see how they work out. Thanks

edited to add the P.P.S.

More about : desktop linux laptop

a b 5 Linux
March 12, 2008 9:15:58 AM

Xubuntu would be well worth a look at. Failing that DSL is an interesting little distro to play with.

Xubuntu - Runs faster for the same HW than straight ubuntu, low WM overhead, package selection wide and varied although best to stay with GTK applications.

DSL - Fast and light (you could even run it from a RAM disk if you wanted!). Package system a little behind Ubuntu but if you are happy to just set and forget a good option. You could certainly set up something very much like the Eee PC type experience with an old laptop.
March 12, 2008 9:06:50 PM

Thanks, audiovoodoo, I'll look into DSL and xubuntu.

Related resources
March 12, 2008 11:21:13 PM

I have Ubuntu installed on my Think Pad X23 (833mhz 256mb RAM) and it runs moderately good. It's not sure fast, but it works. I had Xubuntu on there, but found it a hassle with running WINE and few other programs. Went to Ubuntu after that and found it only used about 10MB more ram :S The big issue I found on these older laptops is the GUI enhancements (read "Eye Candy") really pulls them apart. One of these days I'm gonna learn how to strip down Ubuntu to the bare essentials (Or maybe start with JeOS Ubuntu and add a Gui...)...
March 13, 2008 5:26:36 AM

I noticed a whole world of difference between the ubuntu and xubuntu liveCDs though. I mean it was INSANE. I could actually move the mouse around and open several instances of firefox and not have it slow down in xubuntu, but in ubuntu, I felt like i had just got caught in a vat of molasses.

As i understand it, I think the most slimmed down you could go on a system like that would be if you used a window manager without a full fledged desktop environment. So basically if you used openbox or fvwm, that would be as much as you could slim down the system, but you would have to configure everything by hand (which is good if you want that kind of control, but not good if you don't like having to manually add borders to your windows for resizing).

Also, out of curiosity, how come running WINE on xubuntu was any different from running it on Ubuntu?



edit: the above xubuntu/ubuntu live disk comparison was with respect to this lady's laptop. Obviously a more powerful machine would result in almost identical performance between the two disks (i.e. fast performance).
March 13, 2008 10:41:25 AM

The issue with WINE on Xubuntu was it didn't handle the WINE font's correctly and half the menus wouldn't load. I then installed the Ubuntu Desktop packages (hence removing xubuntu's packages) and it worked perfect from there on.

The things that really needed trimmed are a few common applications. Firefox chews a good 40-50MB with a few windows open. I had to ditch aMSN and go back to Pidgin simply because Pidgin used 1/4 the memory. When you've only got 256mb ram and booting to desktop uses 130mb, you've gotta keep all the mb's you can :D 

OT: My laptop is currently sitting on the kitchen table updating to Ubuntu 8.04 Alpha 6 :D 
a b 5 Linux
March 13, 2008 11:06:40 AM

I'm fairly certain you could have fixed that with core fonts rather than changing the package but that really is an initial guess. Anything really worth looking at on 8.04?
March 13, 2008 9:03:04 PM

Firefox 3? ;)  Actually i think PulseAudio is going to be awesome. I have been hoping for something like that in pretty much every OS that i use ever since i heard about that feature (program specific volume control, that is) being a part of vista (and I know that it was originally a part of BeOS before MS copied that idea). The reason why i think that feature is going to be so awesome is because I like to play online games and use a VoIP client like teamspeak to coordinate with my team mates, but at the same time i like listening to my music in the background. So, an option like this is very useful because i'd then be able to set my music to an acceptable volume and set teamspeak to a reasonable volume so i can hear my team mates over my music, which is much better than the current choice of having all my volume controls tied together.

Of course, I suppose it could also be said that neither of these two options make Hardy Heron that special since Fedora has had pulse audio since its last release, and everyone and their mom can download the FF3 beta from mozilla's website.

I have also heard a little bit about "upstart" (some process starting feature) and "preload" ( a superfetch-like feature ), but in all honesty i don't know what to make of either of those two things.


P.S. just for clarity's sake, i don't believe the last 2 features i mentioned are actually going into Hardy Heron, I think they are just new programs that have become buzzwords lately.
March 14, 2008 1:04:26 AM

@audiovoodoo: I could have mucked around with fonts and looked at things like that, but I found Xubuntu that bit clunky anyway. I feel more at home now with that warm fuzzy feeling of having gnome running the show.

@Zorak: Hardy has Ndiswrapper incorporated into the administration menu now, making it easier to get those wireless drivers running.

You can now Encrypt & Sign files/folders on the fly now with just a right click... Pulse Audio will be cool. I look forward to using it myself, since I'm currently doing the same things as yourself with games, music and VoIP.

I don't think Hardy will be anything spectacular over Gutsy, but it's definately more polished and a few new features makes things that little easier.

One thing, don't run "update-manager -d" at the moment to upgrade your 7.10... There is something up with the libc6 and it totally causes havok. Mate of mine bricked his main machine last night and I bricked my laptop :p  All apart of the Alpha experience :D  Will do a proper install tonight from flash drive.
a b 5 Linux
March 14, 2008 8:17:40 AM

I bet the Windows product managers just look at Ubuntu and cry. Every six months they deliver improvements to speed, security, ease of use and configurability. They then cry even harder as they see the derivaties deliver the same on the same cycle...

Could anybody remind me again why I was made to read MS project management books the last time I worked in software? I think the Ubuntu team should be giving tutorials to MS on how to get product out the door.
March 15, 2008 4:11:32 AM

@Audiovoodoo well spoken, sir! I think it's pretty damn amazing what open source is able to do. Granted, there are some people being paid to do this kind of work, so we can't exactly use the "this awesome system was made completely by hobbyists" argument, but I think this shows the power of open source for sure. If we all have access to code, we can make improvements on relatively tight schedules and advance further than we'd have thought possible all while not constantly reinventing the wheel.

@Knightrous, thanks for showing all the nifty new features. I actually haven't updated my main tower from Feisty yet ;D and I actually plan on migrating this box to gentoo as soon as I get the chance (but i might try 8.04 on my laptop). For me, reinstalling the OS every six months is a bit too disruptive for my tastes (and i've always heard to avoid distro upgrade - as opposed to clean install - like the plague since there have been so many horror stories). I do think it is nice to have constant improvements between versions on a short schedule that allows me to then reap large benefits when I finally do reinstall (typically on a yearly basis).

A side note about updating to a new version of an OS vs clean install: NOBODY that i have seen has gotten this quite right yet, and in my experience, a clean install is a nice way to remove a lot of the cruft that builds up over time. Then again, this is purely based on my years of experience with windows.

March 18, 2008 12:09:31 AM

@Zorak: I found out the hardware about the "upgrade-manager -d" method, but recovered my files via liveCD. When I did a fresh install, I added some wisdom and made my /root & /home directories on seperate partitions, so now when I do a fresh install, I just install it into /root partition (after formating it), and tell the setup where to find /home (Which doesn't get formatted).

I wrote this little guide a few months back.

I also agree that a fresh install helps. Linux is nothing as bad as windows in regards to crude build up, but I do find that because I always experiment with new programs, which I get rid of later, botch up when experimenting, I end up with a lot of broken things floating around (Like my install of Planeshift that is sitting in my /opt directory, instead of in my /games directory...) Also a fresh install gives all those modified config files a clean start to make things smoother :D 
March 18, 2008 3:42:46 AM

I will certainly agree with you on that last part about the config files. I, too, have my /home on a separate partition all together, which is helpful, but not the be all end all way to ensure things go smoothly. I find that you will still have all the .* files and folders left for configuration purposes that you will have to sift through to see which are still useful (like .bashrc), but others may not be so useful if programs are completely updated (or change names in the case of gaim - which incidentally i still use over pidgin b/c i am to lazy to install pidgin on this feisty box ;)  )

It is nice, however, that if you hose the root directory, at least you don't lose any pictures or music you may have saved on your /home


P.S. A friend of mine actually recommended to me that when installing a linux system its a good idea to have separate partitions for /boot /var / /home and swap. swap /home and / are all for obvious reasons, but he recommended the separate /var in case a rogue process begins to run amok, it won't completely fill your / partition, only the space you set aside for /var which makes pretty good sense to me. /boot i do for the multi-boot, although I don't know if it makes much difference since grub likes to install itself where the windows MBR is anyways.
May 14, 2008 5:16:54 AM

I would take a little look at Wolvix.
May 14, 2008 8:43:52 AM

Thanks for the suggestion. The lady that I mentioned at the beginning of the thread decided to just stay win the copy of win98 that was already on that laptop. As much as I wanted to cry and beg her not to do that, I felt it really wasn't my place to be dictating what software she would use (i.e. have her use linux), and I felt that upgrading her to win2k on that machine would probably be more than the poor laptop could stomach.

I think i may, however, just try wolvix out for kicks.

June 5, 2008 2:46:36 PM

Zorak said:
I think it's pretty damn amazing what open source is able to do.

a b 5 Linux
June 5, 2008 7:04:49 PM

Don't forget that open source is not just a Linux thing. Plenty of GPL software for Windows to get people interested. I've converted a few people to Open Office over the last couple of years that I'd never be able to sell Linux to as a solution.
June 5, 2008 7:40:30 PM

audiovoodoo said:
Don't forget that open source is not just a Linux thing. Plenty of GPL software for Windows to get people interested. I've converted a few people to Open Office over the last couple of years that I'd never be able to sell Linux to as a solution.

I use Open Office.. Does everything that I need and more..
June 8, 2008 8:47:07 PM

Heh, yeah i know there is open source for windows (and mac osx) as well. I just prefer using linux :p . But when I am in windows I use OpenOffice and pidgin and firefox. Actually Mozilla browser was my first introduction to open source software: my cousin showed it to me and explained superficially to me about open source to which i responded "Doesn't that make it less stable then?". I continued using IE for a couple of years until about 2004 when IE wouldn't work with a site i needed to access for school, so I was recommended to open it in Firefox. That re-introduction to open source was a much better one for me (this was FF 1.0 at the time), and I vowed never to go back to IE. A month or so later, my friend (who knows way more about linux than me) showed me gaim and I tried it and promptly abandoned my pirated copy of Dead-Aim. It just felt a lot nice to not have AOL crap everywhere without paying to remove it all and still use AIM. About a month after that I went out and bought "Fedora Core 2 for Dummies" and started my interest in alternative OSes to windows and macOS (and FOSS).

a b 5 Linux
June 9, 2008 4:20:18 AM

audiovoodoo said:
Don't forget that open source is not just a Linux thing. Plenty of GPL software for Windows to get people interested. I've converted a few people to Open Office over the last couple of years that I'd never be able to sell Linux to as a solution.

Thank goodness that a bunch of *nix open-source things got ported to Windows. I have to use a (very nice) Q6600 workstation with 8 GB RAM at work but unfortunately it runs Windows XP x(86_)64. Fortunately, I have admin access and can install whatever I need, just not a new OS. If I had to use the typical Windows software stack to do my work, it would be much harder and more expensive than using OSS. For example, the text editor in Windows (Notepad) is almost impossible to use for anything but very basic usage as it lacks any formatting tools except line wrap on/off but but Notepad++ is a pretty decent GPL editor. One thing I do hope for is that mingw gets ported for 64 bits as a 32-bit *nix app port to Windows is nice, but for things like GNU R and Octave, a 64-bit version is sorely needed.

There are many other niggles with using Windows as the GUI is funky, but there are generally ways to make it a little more tolerable. Enabling file extension showing is one big one. MS PowerShell and the TweakUI powertool (not OSS by any stretch) and Deskmon (is OSS) are a must for anybody who is used to using an X11 *nix setup but has to work with Windows as Windows has a darn-near useless terminal by default, cannot do focus-follows-mouse as in X11, and does not have multiple desktops. PowerShell is about a 2.5 on a scale of 1-to-bash but it's much better than cmd.exe. I'm still looking for a decent file manager for Windows but haven't turned up much that isn't payware or crapware.
June 9, 2008 5:24:12 PM

Just out of curiousity, couldn't you use andLinux on your windows installation and then have all your favorite Linux apps running natively along side windows? I think if you are allowed to install that, it would allow you to install and use even more of your favorite Linux apps without having to worry about whether or not there is a Windows port for software X. Also, notepad++ ? When i had to do programming in windows for one of my classes I decided to dl the windows port of gvim and it worked like a charm ;) 

a b 5 Linux
June 10, 2008 2:41:14 AM

Zorak said:
Just out of curiousity, couldn't you use andLinux on your windows installation and then have all your favorite Linux apps running natively along side windows? I think if you are allowed to install that, it would allow you to install and use even more of your favorite Linux apps without having to worry about whether or not there is a Windows port for software X. Also, notepad++ ? When i had to do programming in windows for one of my classes I decided to dl the windows port of gvim and it worked like a charm ;) 


Yes, I could run VMware or andLinux on my box, but RAM and CPU cycles are at a premium as the box is running MATLAB on big data sets. Yes, there is MATLAB for Linux as well, but Linux scares the IT people as well as the guy paying the bills, so all of the computers run "familiar" Windows XP. I have tried to run Octave on that machine, but the only Octave for Windows is 32-bit and that is a no-go due to working set sizes of ~5 GB. I use notepad++ for coding/scripting as I prefer a GUI editor to a CLI one for syntax highlighting- on Linux I use Kate or gedit. I would otherwise use GNU Nano, and there a Win32 port for that as well.
June 10, 2008 8:21:01 AM

I understand. It is unfortunate that you don't have the full freedoms to configure your work system, but I suppose since the company is paying for the box and the work, they get to tell you which programs you can use. Also, gvim is the graphical version of vim and can function much like a version of notepad that is WAAAY better complete with standard windows bindings and cut/paste mouse support and all that jazz OR you can disable windows bindings and use gvim in much the same way that you might normally use vim from the CLI. It supports syntax highlighting in a number of different languages, as well window splitting and it seems that they just added support for tabs similar to firefox. Far be it for me to dictate what editor you use to do your work (we all ought to work with the tools that we are most efficient with / prefer), but I just wanted to point out that gvim is a really good editor and is definitely worth trying out in windows (in linux I use vim over gvim).

Just for clarity's sake in case i managed to confuse you a bit above: vim is CLI only
gvim is the graphical port of vim and will work on windows/linux and maybe macs?


edit: PS. I realize now that the final thought above sounds a tad condescending. I was only trying to clarify the earlier rambling i did in that huge blob above the final thought, so I apologize if I came off in a mean tone!
June 16, 2008 7:31:15 AM

Actually I had forgotten all about cygwin, but the last time I used it, it did something evil to my windows XP installation. So, I don't think i'll be trusting that badboy ever again. However, if MU_Engineer can make cygwin behave that might be a good option for him.

a b 5 Linux
June 16, 2008 12:18:28 PM

I've never seen it misbehave, my friends and I have been using it for almost 10 years.

GL :)