We bought a new computer earlier this year, and I finally embraced Vista. Having started back in the early eighties with an Eagle2 and grown up streamlining and tinkering with my config.sys and autoexec.bat it took me a while to get used to Vista’s ‘user simple’ vision but after a few months I’ve got used to it just working. It is Windows, it does what I and over 90% of the rest of the world expect it to do when we expect it to do it. So that is great…
But what do you do with the old computer? The old XP machine contained some essential files and documents and they were all dutifully transferred to the new machine. The hard-drive was then stripped from the old case, reformatted, and turned into an external back-up drive courtesy of a cable from Rosewill. The chassis was destined to be turned out onto the street one Friday morning and collected by our local recycling contractor. However, after a month of collecting dust in the corner of my study waiting for me to finally say that the end had come, it came to me that this was no different than the old Eagle2 and could still be used.
The machine has a Pentium 4 CPU running at 2.8GHz and 512MB of RAM which after 5 years of daily use and the clutter of MS Windows had become a bit slow to boot and a bit clunky around the edges, especially when compared to the sleek new Vista machine. I’d already started using the hard-drive as a backup device and didn’t fancy reinstalling Windows XP even if I could find the install disc and serial numbers so it was time to explore what legally free operating systems are available. I’d seen and used Unix and Linux in various positions before but was still strictly a novice when it came to configuring and installing systems. For all my years of designing and developing software I still consider myself a confident novice when it comes to hardware and installing operating systems so whatever I did had to be friendly, easy to use, and had to run from a ‘Live’ CD. Since the longterm plan is to take the ‘thin-machine’ into my workshop and use it as a reference tool and entertainment center while working on projects it also had to be able to perform the following with the minimal setup skills that I had:
- Play the BBC’s streaming radio stations.
- Play Hulu television shows and movies.
- Give me stable and secure blogging and websurfing platform.
So in short order I’ve tried the following:
- Damn Small Linux – This was the proof-of-concept to show that the machine would boot off a Live-CD.
- Knoppix 5.3 Maxi edition – Just to see how much free software you could get on a distro.
- Ubuntu Hardy Heron – To try another ‘mainstream’ flavour.
- Puppy Linux 4 – Dingo – To see if it was a friendly as it claimed.
After a week or so of playing with the various versions (It was playing although Laura did wonder about my sanity after several late night sessions of me hammering away at a command line with a keyboard balanced on my lap while I looked at “how-to” guides on the Vista machine while simultaneously trying to put them into practice on the Linux box) I have decided to stick with Puppy for the tasks described above since it was the easiest for a novice like me to work with. I loved Damn Small Linux for its clarity of purpose and will be keeping a copy on hand for disaster recovery and more technical playing. Knoppix Maxi contained too much to take in, and fiddling with it was not all that intuitive. Ubuntu was very well supported, and worked well but it just wasn’t quite as intuitive to work with as Puppy Linux although this is as much a comment about my novice skills as it is about any of the mentioned operating systems!
So this post came from my Puppy system, and now I’ve just got to decide if I will re-purpose another old drive to make this a permanent install or if I’ll keep it as a ‘Live’ system with just a few settings backed up on USB… Now if the motherboard was a little newer I could put the whole system onto a thumbdrive and boot from USB, now there’s a thought!