Hand-Me-Down Linux: The Notebook Edition - InformationWeek

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9/26/2007
03:33 PM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Hand-Me-Down Linux: The Notebook Edition

Not long ago I blogged about fitting Linux onto an older system and giving it to someone who doesn't need the latest model of PC. This week, I tried it with a notebook that's about seven or eight years old. Windows XP barely ran. Linux gave it a new lease on life.

Not long ago I blogged about fitting Linux onto an older system and giving it to someone who doesn't need the latest model of PC. This week, I tried it with a notebook that's about seven or eight years old. Windows XP barely ran. Linux gave it a new lease on life.

Here's how it happened. A friend of mine did a closet-cleaning and found he had a Dell Inspiron 7000 notebook -- a 333 Mhz Pentium II (!) with 256MB RAM and an 18GB HD. At some point he'd installed Windows XP on it and it ran, but just barely. The system itself was in fine cosmetic shape; it had been barely used, and at some point he'd picked up another notebook and more or less forgotten about this one. (Yes, forgotten. The tales I could tell... )

Did I want it? Heck yes; he didn't have to ask twice! I took it home and called a friend whom I'd had in mind since I set eyes on the notebook. She lives at home, where she has a PC of her own, but spends weekends at her fiance's house. When she's there, she tries to get writing done (since it's hard for her to accomplish anything during the week), and she didn't like having to knock her husband-to-be off his computer to do that. All she needed was a portable machine that could do The Basics: Web surfing, word processing, e-mail (actually, not even that; she used a Gmail account), and MP3 playback if possible. If all else failed she was contemplating financing a whole new machine, but she was living on a tight budget as it was, and still paying off her student loans.

At first I considered loading Ubuntu onto the notebook, but then I decided to try something even more modest -- something which would suit the scope of her needs even better. To that end, I downloaded the latest edition of Puppy Linux and installed it.

The setup process worked perfectly the first time, and it even recognized the vintage 2001 Orinoco wireless card I'd gotten with the notebook as a bonus freebie. Puppy's designed to be used by beginners and folks who are not technically savvy, so there are handy wizards to set up everything from the X server to the networking. I did as much of that work as I could ahead of time so she wouldn't have to, but even so the total amount of time I spent setting the machine up probably didn't exceed an hour or so.

There were a few things I had to do by hand, like configure the AbiWord dictionary (there isn't one installed by default) and do a quick step-through for how to do things like mount a USB drive. It's also definitely not a speed demon: just playing an MP3 used up a good 30-40% of the available CPU. But it works, and it works well enough now that it can be used for the things she needs.

I've said before that Linux is already a success, and every time I sit down to do something like this, I see the proof.

(Footnote: I used the most recent public release of Puppy Linux, 2.17, for her system. There's a 3.0 beta in release now, but I thought I'd wait for it to go final before offering to get her upgraded. I plan on writing a little about it once it drops in final form, since I have a real fondness for that particular distribution.)

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