Linux on an old Laptop

For some micro code development I wanted a simple serial terminal on another machine; something like Teraterm or Hyperterminal, but not windoze. I’ve had far too much trouble in the past with windoze and serial comms, and I want it to run USB to serial cables without fighting with stupid drivers.

I have a couple of spare Toshiba Tecra-8100 laptops and thought there must be a basic Linux distro that would do the job. I downloaded the latest Ubuntu Desktop 11.10 (overkill) and Puppy Linux.

These laptops have 256MB RAM and 800MHz CPUs so they should run something; but they won’t boot from USB. First CD in was Ubuntu 11.10. As expected, it took ages to install, ran slowly but everything worked, even the PCMCIA wifi card.

My first contact with Unity; Holy Crap, that had to go. It’s probably good for a first time home PC user but it’s a mystery to me. In the process of removing unity in favor of KDE or a command line I ended up with no desktop and no network, so no way to install KDE. Bugger it, enough time wasted on that.

Next up was Puppy Linux. It was quick enough to boot and ran fine from the CD, so I decided I would install it to the HDD. Thinking I could run the installer and have it erase the HDD and do a fresh install with boot manager………..NO…… It will install beside whatever you already have there and then gives a message suggesting you should do something about a boot manager to make it go. That’s pretty F…ing useless. You can get around this with command line magic and fdisk if you know what you’re doing or have a day or two to spare.

I think I’ll see if there’s a Kubuntu 11.10 and try that. I’m reasonably familiar with Kubuntu and don’t have any real problems with it.

The other option would be to try Puppy Linux and a CF card replacing the internal HDD. Puppy Linux would run quicker than Kubuntu but I don’t need lightning speed at the expense of simple usability.

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