The everyday ramblings of an everyday geek.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Ubuntu - part 2

I was so impressed by my little foray into the world of Live CD Ubuntu that I dug out an old PC to play on it 'for real'. The beast is a PIII 533, with a whopping 64MB RAM, a DVD drive and a 10GB hard disk! There was a time, lets call it the mid 90's, when I would have ripped somebody's arm off just to look at this machine, now its just a white box that can run Windows 98 pretty well. Perhaps, what is most surprising is that this computer was still in service just 6 months ago, as the email / web browser for Beany's mom!

A quick play in Windows 98 revealed that this computer was in perfect working order, but I'd forgotten how slow computing was back in the 90s. I seem to remember that the computer I was using when Windows 98 came out was a PII 333, with 32 MB RAM and at the time I thought that was a speed demon. But, really it was slow, even for the silly little things like email, web browsing and logging on, everything took a lot longer. In short, I was eager to see what a modern OS could to to this Windows addled PC.

Installation was less than a breeze and couldn't have been completed by anyone who had less than a good to fair working knowledge of MS-DOS. For some reason Ubuntu partitioner crashed. The only way I could get Ubuntu to install was use fdisk to complete clear the partition table and then restart the installation... that's a bit scary for a novice to attempt, and would probably be enough to put most people off. However, once I'd got past that, the rest of the install went fine, and the process completed in a little under an hour.

Now one thing was abundantly clear from the default installation on a 5 year old computer... it was slow. Everything worked flawlessly, it didn't even blip, but the hard drive was paging like its life depended on it. Ubuntu, with GNOME/KDE needs RAM and lots of it. 64MB is not even close to enough, but once the paging had stopped and the current application was encased nicely in some good ol'fashioned 133MHz SD-RAM it actually performed pretty well, so I figured I'd run a stripped down install, and use icewm instead of GNOME - still slow, well as slow as Windows 98.

Modern OSs are really clever, secure, user friendly, but they come at a price RAM. The beast's CPU was definitely good enough, but it really needs at least 256MB to stand a chance against a modern OS. With a new iPod and PowerBook batteries much higher on my list of priorities it may be a little while before I fire up the beast again.

I did get to have a better play with Ubuntu whilst all this was going on, and I'm still very impressed. Synaptic is very cool, and means that I might let my dad try and install applications with it, but its still too complicated for Beany's mom. The problem with it is that its still a linux installation tool. You can still see the nuts and bolts. It would be much better if it seperated GUI apps away from CLI, libraries and drivers so that people wouldn't be scared away. Other than that I would have no fear in setting up a box for email, web and OOo providing it had the RAM in the first place... Linux has really come along way in a very short time.

Our e-mail domain has now changed from to Please update your address books.


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