Archive for March 4th, 2005

Building a text-based Linux or FreeBSD box

I am thiking to start an experiment soon. Install Slackware or FreeBSD on an old machine. The machine is an AMD K6-2 400 Mhz with 64 MBs of RAM and 1.7 GB hdd.

The idea would be to not install X at all in it, or at least install X with only Fluxbox in it and a few very lightweight GTK 1.2 or tcl/tk, fltk, Fox or Athena-widget apps. Unfortunately, running modern DEs or apps require at least 128 MBs of RAM. If you have less than 128 MB of RAM it would be a really ugly experience overall with Gnome/KDE/XFce (I run Arch Linux and Gnome on a PII-333/128 laptop and boy it’s slow and swaps like hell even if most services are disabled).

Sure, a 400 Mhz machine is able to run X and even run Gnome 2.10 pretty well. However, not with only 64 MBs of RAM and 1.7 GB disk. For really old machines, I am sure that a command-line/Curses interface should be adequate.

There are many nice text-mode apps that would be able to offer a useful computing experience. Besides, the best unix apps, are all text-mode anyway.
For example, the setup would have 5 virtual screens:
1: the main work console
2: eLinks or w3m for web browsing
3. Pine for email
4. CenterICQ for 5 of the most popular IM protocols
5. a curses interface for mp3 playback playing on the background

It wouldn’t be a great experience in terms of “modern experience”, but it should be usable and I would like to taste it for a day or two.

The reason I want to do that, is because such an interface/setup is the only thing one can do if he owns a machine that’s less than 133 Mhz, has 32 MBs of RAM or less, and has less than 1 GB of disk. I am sure there are some honchos who would say that “I am running X with icewm on a P75 just fine”, but let’s be real here. Linux and its apps are not as lightweight as they used to be in 1996 and this kind of setup I described above might be the only realistic chance for some people in developing countries (that choose to not pirate Win95).

I am aware of the DamnSmallLinux btw, but its developer told me that his goal is filesize, not the ability to run on old computers.