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Hogarth judge

February 2018



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Internet King

Linux on an antient laptop

I have recently repaired a quite ancient (Pentium III) laptop that I had lying around. I want to get it working, it has a brand new, 80 gig hard drive in it, and I want to have it around and connected, if only to serve as yet another place to stow data too valuable to delete but too infrequently used to keep.

I want to use Linux on it - my Windows XP install disks that worked well were destroyed in an unfortunate accident a while ago, and my backups are crufty OEM disks that will fill the system with crud that will have to be painfully extracted by hand. The system reads that it was "designed for Windows 98", and XP barely and painfully runs on it.

The Linux distribution that I have handiest - an equally ancient full set of Red Hat 7.3 on CDs - installs and runs like a top like it, but it does not recognize at all the Linksys 4.0 chipset wireless card that is the easiest way to connect it to our house network. I've looked at various sites that purport to instruct in making this work, but it all involves:

  • installing all of that programming language stuff and source code I've no use for; and

  • recompiling the kernel and other arcana that breaks my fragile little mind.

I also have an old Siemens/Speedstream wireless connector dingus that connects via a standard USB cable, which would also be quite serviceable; but even less information is available for that gadget, and is equally headbreaking.

What I would like is a distribution that:

  • Detects and enables the wireless card during the installation process, without any interventions on my part other than saying "Yes! Do it!"

  • Will support the software I will need to make the system useful, incl. StarOffice 4.2 and Corel PhotoPaint 9.0

Any helpful suggestions are eagerly awaited.


You can try Fedora. Go here and select one of the gnome Live CD or DVD downloads. You can burn that to a CD or DVD, boot from it on your laptop and try it out without having to install it.

You can do the same with Ubuntu. I've only tried it from a physical CD, so I don't know how well this does or does not work.

Ubuntu or (better) Xubuntu should just work. A recent Fedora should work okay out the box too. I believe both are available as live CDs, so you can try it out.

Xubuntu is based on XFCE and expressly aims to be a lighter-weight environment.

PIII is no problem. The main thing is absolutely as much memory as fits in the beast.
As for StarOffice 4.2 ... OpenOffice is a fat bastard, but should read and write old StarOffice files perfectly.

PhotoPaint 9 appears to almost work okay. Make sure you're set up to use the latest available version of Wine. (I realise this is not ideal convenience, but it's in heavy development and keeping it up to date pays off.)
I downloaded Kubuntu, am giving that a try - mostly because I prefer KDE as my desktop. The most difficult part seems to be to burn a working install disk from the .iso; a few had errors, so I turned the speed down to as slow as possible.

Fedora Core full installs seem to come only on DVD images now, which puts them beyond the reach of the system I'm installing it on.

Am going to try to install it shortly; the live disk is painfully slow on this machine, and takes about 15 minutes to boot.
Yeah, I had a PIII like that ;-) Armada M300, first model. 192MB memory. narnee has it now, though she's moved up to something better and I should get it back for torturing. I installed standard Ubuntu on it, though Xubuntu would be just the thing. KDE is a bit fat for it - you really really don't want KDE in less than 256MB, and 512MB for comfort.
FWIW, there is also a utility called ndiswrapper that is supposed to enable PCMCIA wireless drivers that exist only in Windows to work in Linux.

The system has 256 k of memory, which appears to be good enough for the version of KDE supplied with Red Hat 7.3. This remains the smoothest and fullest featured install - hard disk space is the only luxury in this machine - so I may revert to it if it can be made to connect with ndiswrapper.