I have finally got Linux installed on the old laptop, and am now able to blog from anywhere in the house – at the moment, I am comfortably ensconced on the sofa.
Having all but given up on the idea, after having so many failures, I discovered Puppy Linux. This runs on just 94 Meg of RAM, making it ideal for my machine with its 128 megs. Of course, there are other small-footprint distros; but for me they proved pretty useless, since in no case had anybody bothered to translate the installation menus from the original Geek. Happily, this is not so with Puppy, which deserves some sort of Plain English award for the clarity of its installation instructions and Help menus. Thus I was able to get everything installed and running in about an hour. And my laptop fairly zips along now; using it with WinXP was a pain – every operation took ages. Using Puppy, however, there’s no great difference in speed between this laptop and the desktop machine. It’s fractionally slower loading webpages, but that’s all I’ve noticed so far.
I’ve not found out how to network the laptop with my Windows desktop and printer; it will pick up and display the Shared Folder on next door’s PC (which shares my wireless network) but won’t recognise my PC. But I’m sure that’s something I’ll work out eventually. For the time being I’m just pleased to be able to surf, email and blog from the comfort and warmth of my sofa!

I got the PC started up this morning – then, when I went looking for a file on the 2nd hard drive, which I keep for backup – couldn’t find it. The drive, that is. It wasn’t showing up in the BIOS setup either, even after I’d checked all the cabling. But I can feel it spinning.
Which probably means that the drive is kaput – it’s getting power. But it feels very hot, which is not a good sign; it’s a Maxtor, which apparently has a reputation for overheating. It’s also a very old drive, which I’d actually marked as “damaged?” at some point in the dim past for reasons that now escape me. I’ll try changing the cable or just hanging the drive outside the case to keep it cool, but I don’t hold out much hope.
Luckily, I’ve been obsessive about backing up over the last fortnight, so my important stuff is safe.

Another current techie woe of mine is about installing Linux on the laptop. I haven’t managed it so far. Yesterday, the spanking new Ubuntu cd arrived. I looked at the sleeve; it says I need at least 384 meg of RAM to run the Live CD. Which at least explains why I couldn’t get it it run on my laptop with it’s measly 128 meg.
So, I went looking for some another Linux distro. I had only two specifications: 1) it should be able to run on an older system with little RAM; 2) it shouldn’t require a degree-level knowledge of Unix command-line codes.
Fluxbuntu seemed to fit; the nice website and the slick blurb convinced me to download the .iso and burn it onto a CD. Installation started well, with the hard drive formatted and partitioned; then it stalled – it couldn’t load the base kernel files from the CD. I tried again with another CD and got the same response.
So, I went looking again. Damm Small Linux attracted this time; only 48 meg and runs off a pen drive! I download the zip file unzipped it to my flash pen drive and prepared to try it on the laptop. But – I’d forgotten that without an OS, the machine won’t recognise USB devices!
So – next up was Xubuntu – a lightweight version of Ubuntu that promises to run on systems with 128 meg or less of RAM. So, I once more downloaded and burned. Installation went very smoothly – for the first 40 minutes. It began loading program files from the CD, then the screen went blank, with just a blinking cursor. Thinking that this might be part of the installation process, I went and did something else for 20 minutes. But nothing had changed when I returned. I rebooted, started the whole installation all over again. And exactly the same thing happened.
So I’m feeling a bit po’d with Linux at the mo. Its fans keep telling me how much better it is than Windoze, but I had no problems whatsoever at all in installing WinXP Pro onto the laptop, and getting it to run basic browser, email and word-processing programs. It could even run a heavyweight astrology program without complaining. OK, it ran terribly slowly. But it worked as advertised.
I’m reminded of the time, a decade or so ago, when Microsoft came out with an educational program for pre-schoolers. It was a complete failure, largely because the enthusiastic young programmers who produced it hadn’t bothered to get any input from education experts; not all that far from kidhood themselves, they produced a program that appealed to them, rather than something that was of actual use to real children.
Linux, I think, is probably around that same stage of development. With the exception of Ubuntu (which is almost certainly being given some heavy nudges in the right direction by its commercial sponsor), most Linux distros seem to be aimed at other Linux enthusiasts, rather than the average computer user. She doesn’t want to spend days fiddling with code and hardware to get something to run; she just wants to switch on and go. That’s why Windoze is so popular.

But never fear – I haven’t given up completely on Linux. I’m now downloading the .iso version of Damm Small Linux. I’ll see how that goes.

ETA: Well, I’ve just tried installing DSL. I got totally lost in the geek’s orgasm that was purporting to be an install menu (WTF is HDA????) and hit con+alt+del; and now my laptop is frozen halfway through the shutdown process. I cannot switch it off at all. So I’ve unplugged it and I’m waiting for the battery to run down.
And tomorrow I shall reinstall WinXP.