Slacker Puppy

One of my hobbies, I guess, is extending the usable lifespan of my first PC.  This is a vintage 1998 Hewlett Packard Pavilion 8260 with maxed out RAM (384MB) and a Pentium II clocked at 266 MHz.  It has run Windows 98 for most of its existence, and over the last half dozen years or so, I’ve installed some “lightweight” Linux distros on it too just to see how they shake out on that hardware.

The first to be tried was Fluxbuntu.  Then Xubuntu, then LXDE on Xubuntu (before Lubuntu really existed).  I also tried running Damn Small Linux on that, but I couldn’t get a network connection to work so I didn’t bother with that.

Lately, I had packed away that computer.  But I brought it out again because I just can’t leave an old piece of tech alone.  And I also needed an actual installation of Windows 98 for something.  But I left it set up and decided to update my LXDE/Xubuntu installation – which was Xubuntu 10.04.  Well, Xubuntu 10.04 is no longer supported, so no more updates, no more repositories and no more networked package management.  I have a snazzy little USB wireless adapter that I wanted to install drivers for, and that turned out to be impossible, so it was time to nuke and pave.

So I got to thinking about lightweight distros again, and I immediately thought of Puppy Linux.  I have come to love using Lucid Puppy on my netbook, and it runs very smoothly and very fast off of its SD card.  That’s one of Puppy’s strengths compared with other distros.

So I downloaded another version of Puppy and gave that a try.  This time I downloaded a version based on Slackware, called Slacko.  For those who don’t know, Slackware is the oldest Linux distribution that is still actively maintained.  Actual Slackware is too hard for a guy like me to configure and use, but Puppy Linux does things the way I like – with English readable GUI elements.

I first tried out Slacko on a USB flash drive that I had decided to sacrifice.  Protip: Don’t ever buy anything branded “Hipstreet” from Walmart.  Fucking garbage.  Anyway, I liked Slacko and found it to be even more appealing and polished than Lucid Puppy when I had first tried that.  So I booted the HP8260 and began tinkering with the settings.

I was relieved to see that Slacko detected my wireless USB adapter right away, and connecting was hassle free.  Other setup options were easy to find and make, and very soon, I had things customized the way I wanted them.  Now I was ready to install.

Puppy has a “Universal Installer” which gives options for any kind of installation you could want.  ALl the way from minimal (or Frugal) unstall to an SD card or flash drive to full install like a regular Linux distro on an internal or external HD, or even a floppy or a SCSI drive.

So I clicked my way through and chose to install on the previously-formatted-for-Xubuntu 10GB hard drive.  This took about 30 minutes, and oddly the screen showed no status message or window.  And it’s a good thing I had the sense to know I needed to install the GRUB4DOS bootloader, because that wasn’t automatic too and I have two hard drives inside that machine.  The first one contains Windows 98.

I rebooted and waited.  But something had gone wrong.  I don’t remember what the specific error message was, but I googled it.  And I found out that when Puppy installs itself to a hard drive partition, it doesn’t automatically reformat it first.  So all of the old Xubuntu files were still on there and had fucked up the installation somehow.  Great.

So I rebooted and went through the installation process again.  And this time before I installed, I used GParted to format that 10GB hard drive.  That did the trick.  Once I rebooted, I was met with a fresh installation of Slacko on the hard drive.  And as I used it, I noticed right away how fast it operated compared to when I had run it off a CD before.  And I can report that it is the fastest Linux distro that I have ever run on my first computer.

So aside from a bit of confusion over whether the installer would reformat, It was a good experience.  Were I ever to rely on that computer again for certain tasks, I dare say I would find it usable!