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  1. #1
    Just Joined!
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Augustana College

    New superlight distro - recycling old pc's

    Hey all, I'm looking for anyone with experience building/rebuilding Linux distros for advice. I'm planning to build a new distro (read: mod an existing distro) with a few specific goals:

    Must be responsive on old hardware - the idea is to acheive a system that can run at roughly the same speed as Win98 on old P2's (a fresh Win98 install, I mean, I know Windoze tends to atrophy over time)

    Must be highly effective for office work (including MS Office compatible, this will be a problem) and web browsing (capable of 'properly' displaying modern, dynamic websites). The idea is to turn old computers into productive machines and, games aside, office and internet are a huge percent of computer usage.

    Must be easy to use and configure, even if the user has no clue what they're doing. Since this would be used mainly on computers donated to schools, shelters, etc., it must be simple enough that the average grade-schooler would be able to use it without getting frustrated.

    Must be stable and secure. From my experience with Linux, this should be the easiest goal to acheive ;D

    Here's my plan: Take an old version of Slackware, and update some of the libraries. Install Abiword and an early version of OpenOffice (I know, OO might not work too well. Is there anything *light*, functional, and fully compatible with MS Office?), and the Galeon web browser (I'll need the gnome libs for this). Now, run xfce (it's light, intuitive, and attractive).
    I'll make sure to support (and use by default) Reiserfs to speed up disk access. Also, I think I'll end up writing some of my own graphical configuration tools and an installer to make the thing easy to use.

    Now, does anyone have any advice? Are there better ways to go about this? Where am I going to run into the most problems? I'm not afraid of time; I know this will take forever, but I'm planning to make it an honors project - it'll be all I do for a 3-credit, term-long college class and I'm starting way early (as in, a year and a half early).

  2. #2
    Linux Engineer psic's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Ljubljana, Slovenia
    Sounds like you're on a good path, I would probably recommend DSL or the new DSL-N (Damn Small Linux Not), I run DSL on a P2 300 MHz machine with 128 Mb's of ram, it's installed on a 1 GB disk and works excellent (better than newly installed Win9. Abiword is a must, though I think you could also use Firefox for the web browsing (I've not tried Galeon, though on the above mentioned comp, firefox works fine, both in DSL and in Win9. OpenOffice is a tough one, I think if you really need Office compatability, it will be hard to do without. One thing you could do to speed it up is to compile it by hand, though this will take more than a day in my experience. Xfce is a good idea (use it myself), though I think IceWM might be even better, it's a bit lighter and quicker and feels a tad more like Win98 (no offense intended).

    Now that I mention compiling by hand, perhaps you could look into Gentoo? It's designed for newer machines and it would really take a long time to install and configure, but the end result would be very positive (speed-wise, of course). One other distro which comes to mind is Vector (the standard edition, not the 'SOHO'). It's made with older machines in mind, by default it is one of the fastest booting distros around, and it's based on Slack.

    Whatever you decide on, good luck with your project!

  3. #3
    I recommend Arch Linux for old computers (in fact, I recommend it for all desktop computers).

    If you're willing to sacrifice the ease of use of a desktop environment (KDE, GNOME, XFCE) then you could use just a window manager such as Fluxbox or Openbox. I run Openbox because it's very lightweight (though not as lightweight as ratpoison, ion3 or wmii) and is nice to use.

    There's a thread on the Arch Linux forums about 'Light and Fast Applications' which I guess is what you're interested in:

    Basically, they recommend:
    - Abiword: Much faster than OO Writer, compatible with the Microsoft Word format and has more word processing features than you'd ever use.
    - Gnumeric: A lot faster than OO Calc, compatible with the Microsoft Excel format.

    However, Arch Linux is recommended for competant users and since you said you'd be giving this product to schools, this may be a problem.

    Whilst Arch Linux doesn't support graphical configuration tools, there are some available in the repositories.

    You should check out each viable distro and see which you think would be best.

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  5. #4
    Just Joined!
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Augustana College
    Thanks for the replies. Psic, I've used Vector before and had problems configuring it (for example, on many versions of Vector changing the /etc/lilo.conf file has absolutely no effect on the bootloader), but it is such a great os for old computers that it's hard to pass up. I figure since it's a slack derivative I might try making mine another slack derivative.

    You're right -- I personally prefer xfce, but ice is lighter and most people would find it more familiar. Edit: xfce lighter? or better for the requirements? TomX's LnF page rates xfce higher. Maybe I'll offer a couple different "look & feel" options.

    Oh, and TomX, thanks a mil for that link, it's a VERY useful page

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