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Flonix on my old Thinkpad 600

One of the things about working some place for about 5 years is you acquire a number of things. One thing is mobile phones — I think I have about 10 (have to live up to the “PhoneBoy” name I guess :) , the other is laptops — four of them to be exact. The oldest laptop I have is a Thinkpad 600. An enemic box by today’s standards, it has a Pentium 233mmx processor, 160mb of RAM (I believe it started out with 96mb of RAM when I got it), an 800×600 LCD display, and a small (4 or 6gb) hard drive that’s been swapped out more times than I remember.

In any case, trying to run any modern Windows OS on this hardware is an exercise in waiting… and waiting… and waiting. Windows 98 could run on this hardware, but I’m trying not to use Windows, and if I remember, Windows 98 on this hardware was also an exercise in waiting. All I need on this machine is basic web browsing capabilities — something Linux is more than adequate for.

As I mentioned yesterday, I started exploring bootable Linux CDs. There are definately quite a number of these distributions out there. The problem is: most of them employ top-heavy GUIs that would be as slow as Windows on this hardware. Furthermore, they contain a lot of software that’s just not needed. There are a number of bootable Linux distributions that are pared down quite a bit and contain just the basics.

Damn Small Linux (DSL), at around 50mb, is one of the smallest of the bootable CD variety distributions. It’s worth noting there are distros that will boot off of floppy disks (one to a few, depending on needed functionality), but the intent is to boot off CD — this laptop doesn’t have a floppy. The main problem with DSL is: no Mozilla, or specifically no Mozilla Firebird. Mozilla Firebird is a big app and some might argue too “bloated” to run on old hardware. DSL includes the Dillo browser, which from the Dillo Website sounds impressive enough given the size, but there is no substitute for Firebird.

Someone on Slashdot mentioned Flonix, which is a DSL-like distribution that has Firebird. Optionally, you can add Flash and Java if you are so inclined. If you have a recent enough computer and a USB Flash Memory drive, you can even boot off of USB. Sold American. Downloaded it, burned to CD, and shoved it in my Thinkpad 600. It worked, sort of.

Flonix gives you two different X servers: the “frame buffer” server and the Xvesa server, which you can choose at startup. The “frame buffer” server worked okay, except it thought my resolution was 1024×768 and doesn’t provide a way to change the resolution. The Xvesa server would come up, but had a weird green tinge to it and illegible text. Damn Neomagic chipset.

After some googling, I figured out how to coerce the Neomagic Framebuffer driver to present the correct resolution. When booting, I must type the following:

knoppix vga=788

Not terribly intuitive I know, but it works and I’m not complaining. The hard drive stays spun down since it’s basically not needed (everything’s either in RAM or on CD, and the CD only spins when you load up something new). I can basically leave this system on at all times. It’d be even nicer if the damned battery still worked, then it’d be an ultra battery efficient web browser. :)

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