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An aside about the Toshiba Libretto

Posted 2006.10.23 0.00 in Computers/Internet/Technology

As I do my series of posts about Linux and the Libretto, I realize I might be making it sound like it’s some kind of modern marvel that I’m able to run a GUI linux distribution on such an ‘old’ and ‘slow’ computer.

I should point out that the only reason this seems like a big deal today, isn’t the fact that it is possible – it’s the fact that I’m getting it to work at speeds that aren’t too slow, compared to today’s machines.

My main machine is an iMac Core Duo, with two 1.83 GHz processors, 1.5GB of RAM, and 200MB of hard drive space. I run the machine with dual-heads, my main display is a 19″ DVI LCD, my secondary is the iMac’s 17″ widescreen LCD. This is what I’m used to now. Compare that to the Libretto’s 166MHz Pentium processor, 64MB of RAM, and 7″ mini SVGA display.

In the past though, when the Libretto was new and current, it was astounding. In fact, the Libretto was my main desktop workstation at the office. I have the full docking station, so I had a full size screen, keyboard and mouse, a 100BaseT ethernet card, printer and serial port, all set up at work. My Libretto fit in my purse, so when I got to work, I’d just set it in the docking station and turn it on. It auto-configured and ran like a full desktop system.

At the end of the day, I turned it off and slipped it in my purse, and took my whole ‘office’ with me! I could compute in restaurants, at home in the backyard, wherever. On the 6 GB hard drive, I had Windows 95 and RedHat Linux. In Linux, I kept a complete duplicate of our main file and program server from work. It was my development box for years. I would go to a friend’s cottage, and lay on the sofa and build applications for work.

We even used it as a portable fileserver, to do demos at client locations. I’d have an ethernet cable coming out of my purse, and the fileserver humming along in there. Back in the day, it was amazing.

After I dropped Windows completely and switched to Macintosh, I installed the X-windows gui on the Libretto, and ran it with that for a while. Eventually though it was just too slow and in those days, Linux was not as far along as it is now. So the Libretto was shelved for a while, then spent the past year at the office running a sad little DOS task that wasn’t Y2K compliant, so had to remain on an isolated computer with the date set wrong.

My wonderful Libretto 100
My wonderful Libretto, shown next to a soda can for scale.

Linux on my Toshiba Libretto 100CT – i

Posted 2006.10.22 0.00 in Computers/Internet/Technology

Recently, I blew the dust off an old sub-mini laptop, and decided to fire it up and make it useful again. It’s a Toshiba Libretto, model 100CT. This ‘laptop’ was made in 1998 I think. I bought it as a factory refurb, probably in 1999. It’s just bigger than a VHS cassette box. It has a 7″ SVGA screen, a keyboard that you can touchtype on if you practice a bit, a Pentium MMX 166MHz processor, and a maximum of 64MB of Ram. It takes normal laptop hard drives. If you saw it, you might think it was an oversize PDA but it’s not. It’s a real computer.

I’ve had it running Linux before, RedHat 7 I believe, with the X desktop gui. However, that was then, this is now. What seemed like acceptable performance back then is now grindingly slow today. In order to get a Linux GUI running in any way that would be acceptable, I needed a small, light Linux, that had low overhead requirements.

Don’t get me wrong, command-line linux is great. I spend most of my time in a terminal window, and that’s always damn fast. The problem is, I also like surfing while I work, so I want a graphical browser, which means I need a GUI.

My first thought of course was Ubuntu, or more specifcically, Xubuntu. Xubuntu is a lighter version, based around the XFCE Desktop environment. It’s designed to work better on older or low-end machines. So I installed it and gave it a whirl.

Xubuntu worked fairly well, and has the benefits of being a very modern, actively developed distribution. It has all the technological and philosophical benefits of Ubuntu. However…it was still slow as molasses as a GUI solution for my old Libretto.

While reading a website with some Ubuntu tutorials, I found a mention of Damn Small Linux – a distro designed for systems with limited RAM and older slower resources.

Damn Small Linux is a mostly modern linux distro, that was designed to fit a complete usable GUI Desktop Linux onto a 50MB mini CD. It’s ideal for older systems, mini-systems, embedded systems, and so on.

Now, one of the problems with the Libretto is it’s so small, it has very limited options in certain ways. No built-in floppy drive. No CD drive. It has a proprietary external PCMCIA floppy that it can boot from, but mostly the only boot option is the internal hard drive. So to try out the Damn Small Linux CD, I had to make a new hard drive partition, copy the DSL iso file onto that partition, and then use grub to boot from the partition as if it were a CD. Anyhow, it worked and I gave it a try. I liked it. There’d be some minor issues, but it looked to be about 90% perfect.

In the next installment, I’ll cover how I got Damn Small Linux installed on its own hard drive; how I screwed it up and broke the My-DSL tools that managed all the customizations and personalizations; and how I solved most of those problems and got things 99% perfect.