Lightweight Linux reader statistics

Now that I've been blogging here for about six months, it is interesting to see what kind of readers I have found according to StatCounter's free counter and statistics service.

At the moment the blog has about 170-180 readers every day. Most of them find their way here by googling "lightweight linux" or some other keywords.

The most popular web browser are Firefox 3.0 (52 %), Firefox 2.0 (8 %), Internet Explorer (8 %) and Opera (8 %). Some readers use more lightweight browsers like Dillo (0.4 %) or Opera (0.4 %). Someone has even used iPhone (0.4) for reading Lightweight Linux!

Not everyone is using Linux as the following statistics show. First column gives the number of visitors out of 500 last visitors, the second column is the percentage.










Someone has even used SunOS - cool!

The screen resolution tells also something about the age of the hardware used. About 25 % of my readers use the nowadays rather limiting resolution of 1024 x 768. Some of the readers are still using a 800 x 600 resolution. It seems at least they are really looking for information about using Linux on an old computer. What kind of hardware do You use for reading Lightweight Linux?

CrunchEee 8.10 Release Candidate 1

CrunchBang is only number 99 in the Distrowatch ranking but it has lot of dedicated users. CrunchBang is based on Ubuntu but it is designed to be more lightweight which of course can be seen in the default applications used by the distro. Ubuntu's GNOME has been replaced by much lighter and simpler Openbox. Desktop applications use GTK+. In addition, CrunchBang provides all the necessary multimedia codecs out of the box.

Even if CrunchBang has not been designed to be used on old computers, many users have reported it to be lightweight enough for older boxes. It certainly is worth a try if you want to have all the multimedia applications easily installed in an Ubuntu-like system running on reasonably recent hardware. But remember that the project does not guarantee anything at all:
CrunchBang Linux is not recommended for anyone needing a stable system or anyone who is not comfortable running into occasional, even frequent breakage. CrunchBang Linux could possibly make your computer go CRUNCH! BANG!

There is also a brand new CrunchEee edition which is certainly interesting if you are one of the happy owners of a new Eee PC. It is not yet finished but it is already available as a release candidate version. Another version of the distro is the CrunchBang Lite edition. The download links for the standard CrunchBang can be found here.

New GeexBox beta

GeexBoX is a nice system that can be used for turning an old computer into a media center. The project has just released a new beta of the coming stable release 1.2. The system boots from CD so it is easy to try it on any old Pentium class II computer with at least 400 MHz CPU and 64 MB RAM.

The ISO image has grown to huge 19 Mb download, but you should be able to download it in some 30 seconds with a decent broadband connection.

Downloads available for 32 bit and 64 bit architectures and even PowerPC from here.

If you have succeeded in turning an old computer into a usable media center, please share your experience in the comment box!

Kernel in a Nutshell

Compiling the Kernel is in a way a rite of initiation for advanced Linux users. Compiling the kernel has not been necessary in all these years I've used Linux but I've done it a few times just to see if I can compile and run my own kernel or not.

By the way, I succeeded :-)

If you want to try compiling your own kernel, I suggest you to read Greg Kroah-Hartman's Linux Kernel in a Nutshell. The book is published by O'Reilly but it is also available as a free download from the author's web page. The book covers everything you need to know in order to configure, compile and run your own very special kernel.

Download the kernel source and try your own kernel! You might not get any more performance out of your box but using the own kernel certainly adds to the geek factor of using Linux.

A Zen beta for Christmas

Zenwalk is a Slackware based distribution that is an excellent for old computers.

The new 5.4 is approaching release candidate status and the first beta was just released. The project is waiting for the XFCE 4.6 to be released before finishing the Zenwalk 5.4 release that will have the biggest changelog ever in the history of Zenwalk.

New features include:

- Kernel with gspca (supports many USB webcams)
- XFCE 4.6 (beta2, already very stable)
- Faster boot (tunned init scripts, with realtime I/O scheduler)
- PAM authentication has been added to the system
- Wicd is becoming the main network configuration tool
- Improved suspend/hibernate, with XFCE Power Manager
- new Netpkg with orphan dependencies and "offline operation" support
- New Zenpanel with integrated Disk Manager, Wifi and Wired Network Manager
- Gksu keyring based desktop granting system
- New artwork
- Many new applications

See the release notes for more information and links to downloads.

Sidux 2008-04 released

In case you have nothing more interesting to do during the holiday season, you might like to test the new release of Sidux.

Sidux is a distribution based on Debian Sid. It requires a CPU of at least Pentium II class, but otherwise the requirements are not too demanding:

Intel Pentium pro/ Pentium II
AMD K7 Athlon (not K5/ K6)
VIA C3-2 (Nehemiah, not C3 Samuel or Ezra)/ C7
any x86-64/ EM64T capable CPU or newer; the full i686 command set is required.
≥192 MB RAM, ≥ 512 MB RAM for liveapt.
VGA graphics card capable of at least 640x480 pixel resolution.
optical disk drive or USB media.
≥3 GB HDD space, ≥10 GB recommended.

Merry Christmas from Finland!

Vector Linux 6.0 RC1

Vector Linux is a great distribution for old computers. I myself use it for my daily computing: browsing the web, email, write my papers and student essays with Abiword. At the moment it is my preferred distro to be used on a P1000 - it just works and even provides all the multimedia codecs I need.

The project has just released a new release candidate version of the distribution: 6.0 RC1 was announced yesterday. The release candidate uses a new graphical installer so that even the text mode phobiacs can now install Vector without experiencing fear, uncertainty and doubt. The default Window manager is Xfce4 and LXDE is provided as an alternative choice. All the media codecs and flash are installed by default which means that all the web and other media content is available out of the box.

Download the ISO from here and md5sum for the image here.

Lightweight Linux - Linux is great for old computers and environment!

Linux runs on old computers, doesn't it? Many people have heard or read that also old computers can run Linux. This is true, but you should not expect to be able to run newest multimedia programs or play 3D games on old hardware. If you just want to read and send email, write a book, browse the Internet, learn to program, or maybe write a book with your computer, read on. Only your imagination can limit the uses of old hardware or modern hardware with low specifications.

Save your money for better uses. You don't have to buy a new computer just to update the operating system. Even computers one can get free or buy for a few euros or dollars can be used to run a modern desktop with lightweight software. Everyone living in the industrial world can afford a used computer for running a free operating system. Thus Linux helps to cross the digital chasm between those who can afford to participate in the modern computerized world and those who cannot.

If your computer is not older than ten years, it definitely can be used as a Linux desktop. You can either use a distribution specifically tailored for older hardware or you can use almost any modern distribution and customize the installation for your needs. You might have to hack some configuration files with a text editor and forget using the latest GNOME or KDE. You might have to install the distribution of your choice in text mode. You might need some help in tweaking your system to run as smoothly as possible.

You can also help to save our environment by using your old computer or by using recycled hardware. Even if the power consumption of old computers can be relatively high compared to modern computers, using an old computer saves energy that is spent for producing the computer and its components.

Nowadays, computers that have very low power consumption (less than 10 W) are also available for public. This usually means their specifications are rather low on modern standards. Thus information on this site could equally well be used for building a usable desktop on such a box. Using low specs or recycled hardware is truly green computing, a part of modern and sustainable way of living.

Only you can decide, whether to install Linux on an old computer or to recycle it. Even if you have another, modern desktop computer, you could use the old one with Linux. You could use this as a learning experience: you will learn a lot about how the operating system works. This knowledge can be useful, and learning is always fun!

If you want to run a modern system with an old computer, you have to compensate some of the missing GHz and megabytes with your own brains. You have to know what you are doing. You have to know what you want your computer to do. Only so you can build a system that is ideal for your needs and your hardware.

This means you have to be ready to learn something about Linux and how it works. It is not rocket science, it is something everyone can do. If you are willing to learn, you can realize the full power of Linux.

We are lucky to have a lot of free documentation. There are even many good introductions to Linux. Most of them are published by The Linux Documentation Project. I suggest you first familiarize yourself with the site just to see what kind of documentation there is. Depending on what you already know, select some of the guides where you can learn at least something new. Just remember: learning is fun and knowledge is power!

There is no need to use an old version of Linux as long as you choose the distribution wisely. You can either install a lightweight distro that is designed for old and limited hardware or you can use an ordinary but lightweight distribution like Slackware, Debian or Arch to build your own custom desktop using only a lightweight window manager and other lightweight applications.

To get started, read my top 10 of lightweight Linux distributions.

ZevenOS 1.0 released!

Project ZevenOS has finally released the stable 1.0 of the distribution. The web page is mostly in German, but it is of course not a problem for anyone who uses Linux :-)

ZevenOS is designed to be fast and simple with a touch of BeOS. The kernel version is 2.6.24. Applications include Abiword, Gnumeric, Audacious, QuodLibet, mplayer, Mousepad, Medit and many more.

The system requirements are on the low end of the spectrum:

* Pentium 500 MHZ
* 192 MB RAM
* 3 GB hard disk space
* 16 MB Graphics card

Got to try it!

Tiny Core Linux is a new ultralight distro

Tiny Core Linux is a new ultralight Linux distribution that packs everything one needs for browsing the web in 10 Mb. From the web page of the distro:
Tiny Core Linux is a very small (10 MB) minimal Linux Desktop. It is based on Linux 2.6 kernel, Busybox, Tiny X, Fltk, and Jwm. The core runs entirely in ram and boots very quickly.

It is not a complete desktop nor is all hardware completely supported. It represents only the core needed to boot into a very minimal X desktop typically with wired internet access.
The distro has a discussion forum and an own small wiki.

The Economist recommends netbooks with Linux

It is always a pleasure to see mainstream publications advocate free software.

This time the widely read The Economist recommends netbooks with Linux. Furthermore, the author of the article sees no point in installing Windows instead of Linux:

Yet increasing the specification only makes sense for people who want to run (and to pay for) Windows and specific Windows-based applications. The extra hardware and software costs start to push the price of a netbook towards that of a standard laptop, which will invariably be better because it has a bigger processor and superior graphics. For many users, the basic, free software shipped with a netbook will be quite enough.

Great window manager for old computers: JWM

Joe's Window Manager (JWM) is yet another lightweight window manager that is excellent for those using Linux with an old computer. Several lightweight distributions use it as the window manager. At least SliTaz, Puppy Linux and Damn Small Linux all use JWM.

JWM can very easily be used with any other distribution if the hardware is not fast enough for running a modern desktop environment with all the bells and whistles. Unlike some other lightweight window managers, JWM includes a panel with start menu for starting applications, a pager for changing the virtual desktops, a taskbar and a clock. So there is no need for an external panel for making the window manager usable. The look is pretty classical and reminds me of the systems I used in the nineties, except that those operating systems did not support any virtual desktops!

The default look of JWM is not especially pretty. But a nice wallpaper (I use feh for setting a wallpaper) can do miracles. In addition, I have tweaked the configuration file in order to make the font used for menus smaller and turned the outline mode on for moving and resizing windows.

To tweak the configuration file, copy it from /etc/system.jwmrc to ~/.jwmrc. Edit it with any editor you like and save it after doing the necessary changes. In my system there was one absolutely necessary change to make: I had to change the original rxvt for xterm in order to be able to start a terminal session from the JWM menu. You'll find a lot more information about the configuration settings in Joe Wingbermuehle's web page.

The wallpaper can be downloaded from from here.

What is your favourite lightweight window manager to be used with an old computer running Linux?

New Releases

There are several recent distribution releases that are interesting for anyone who is using or intends to use Linux on an old computer:

Back up!

Make backups.

I have several times mentioned the Gentoo Wiki as a great source of information for users of other distributions. It used to be a great handbook whenever I wanted to tweak some lightweight window manager or was trying to do some other obscure things with my desktop.

Unfortunately, the administrator of the Wiki did not consider the information valuable enough to be backed up:

Gentoo-Wiki recently had it's database lost; this is the rewrite of the site. Please visit the Main Page to see how you can help.

For me, the Gentoo Wiki was the only reason why I even considered installing and using Gentoo. For some months, I actually used Gentoo as my main desktop. The fate of this wiki makes me wonder, if I should ever participate in collaborative writing efforts if the platform is not collectively and reliably backed up. I don't care if you lose all of your own data, but losing collectively written documentation means the administrator and the project did not value the documentation at all.

Some links:

Pekwm theme collection

I just found a very nice collection of pekwm theme files in Adrinux blog. Most of the blog is by the way written in Italian.

The theme used is Leopard. Wallpaper can be downloaded here.

Edit.: correct link for wallpaper :-)

Pekwm is an excellent window manager for old computers

I like to test new window managers every now and then. I decided to dedicate my desktop to pekwm this week.

I had never tried pekwm before. In fact, I am not even sure if I had ever heard about it before. This very lightweight window manager has been a most pleasant surprise for me. Even my old Pentium III (1.0 GHz with 256 Mb) has no difficulties in providing a very usable desktop with this window manager.

You can find many nice themes for pekwm in Just download the theme and unpack it to ~/.pekwm/themes. Right-click the root window and select Pekwm, Themes to change the theme.

The clock shown is the classic xclock and the dock is wbar. Wbar is still in beta stage but already pretty useful piece of software.

More information about installing and tweaking pekwm can be found in the Ubuntu forum and in Urukrama's weblog.

Light-monitor provides lightweight system monitoring

This is probably the first time that I recommend an application I have installed from the source code. Light-monitor is a lightweight system monitor that is very suitable for those who use Linux with an old computer. It is light on the system resources and depends only on X and Xft.

The Light-monitor was extremely easy to compile with Vector Linux. I just downloaded the .tgz package, untarred it (tar xvf light-monitor-v1.7.tgz), and compiled with make and make install. Of course, you need to have gcc installed on your system to compile the C source.

Light-monitor can be seen in the bottom of the screen. On the right side, the OS X -like dock is wbar.

Ten more Linux discussion forums

My series of listings of Linux discussion forums continues with ten more discussion forums. This time the forums are for more or less specialized or esoteric distributions.

See also the first two parts of the listing if you are looking for discussion regarding some other distribution (here and here).
  1. Crunchbang
  2. gOS
  3. Midnight BSD
  4. Wolvix
  5. Clonezilla
  6. GParted
  7. Geexbox
  8. Slax
  9. Foresight
  10. Crux for PPC

Linux on P100 with 16 Mb

K. Mandla has succeeded in something I thought would be impossible: he has installed Crux on a P100 with 16 Mb RAM. Read his Success! IceWM 1.2.36 and Xorg 7.3 at 100Mhz/16Mb and the later Some minor improvents if you want to boldly install Linux where no Penguin has lived before.

When I bought my Toshiba laptop in 1997 it came with 8 Mb of RAM but late I upgraded it to the maximum of 40 Mb. 8 Mb were just not enough for Netscape and Windows95. I have not used the computer for some time, but I might return to it some day. I think the last OS I ínstalled on it was Minix3. Or maybe Slackware 11.0? When I get back to Helsinki, I just have to try something new with my trustworthy laptop.

How to find Linux applications

Not only newbies have often difficulties in finding the right application for a certain task. I usually browse in several different software catalogues to find some interesting application for something I need to get done.

Here are my favourite Linux software catalogues:
After I find something of interest, I install the software using the package management of the distribution. I compile the software only when there is no package available for the distro I happen to be using. If you are using one of the more popular distributions, there should be no need to compile anything from sources.

A good rule to remember is: if you don't know how to compile some application from sources, you probably should not even try to compile it.

Dillo 2.0 released!

Dillo is one of the lightest web browsers and especially useful if you have to - or want to - use Linux with an old computer. For some time, it seemed like the project was forgotten or at least there seemed to be no progress in the form of new releases. Quite surprisingly, I noticed that new Dillo 2.0 is available in the download section of the project.

As there was no package available for Vector Linux or Slackware, I first installed fltk2 after which installing Dillo from the source code presented no problems. The magical words ./configure, make, su, make install were needed for compiling and installing the browser.

Dillo is not the fanciest web browser available but it is really lightweight and good enough for simple web pages. I'm looking forward to the next release!

New edition 6.4 of Linux From Scratch

The project Linux From Scratch has released a new version of the book that helps you to build your own Linux using only sources. From the release notes:

The Linux From Scratch community is pleased to announce the release of LFS Version 6.4. This release includes numerous changes to LFS-6.3 (including update to Linux-, GCC-4.3.2, Glibc-2.8) and security fixes. It also includes a large amount of editorial work on the explanatory material throughout the book, improving both the clarity and accuracy of the text.
You can read the book online or download the current stable version here.

Ttylinux is a distribution for 486s with 8 mb

Quite accidentally, I found the homepage for ttylinux. Ttylinux is a minimalistic Linux distribution that should run on just about any old computer you still have somewhere. Once the system is installed, the memory requirement is reduced to about 8-10 Mb. This can be reduced by installing a minimalistic custom kernel by hand. With a minimal 2.4.x kernel configuration, for example, the memory usage can be cut to about 5-6 Mb.

The minimal requirements are really low:
  • 486SX processor or better
  • 5 MB of RAM
  • 8 MB for hard disk installation
  • modem or ISDN card for Internet dial-out)
The download presents no problems even for those who still use dial-up connection as the size of the ISO image is only 4.3 Mb.

Ttylinux is not meant for novice users, but if you are an experienced user you might like to try building a custom system based on this minimalistic distribution.

Lighter Blog From Now On

I decided to get rid of Digg, Bloggapedia, Blogcatalog and Reddit. It seems my readers do not use those services, at least I rarely got any visitors through them. They only made downloading Lightweight Linux slower and probably did not create any value for my readers. After all, this blog should be readable also with old computers - so it was only logical to trim down some clutter.

Linux From Scratch

Linux From Scratch is a "distribution" I've always wanted to try but never had time to build a system of my own. A couple of years ago, I used Gentoo for a few months as my main desktop. At that time it was a bit too much for my skills and I had difficulties in keeping a usable system together.

Linux From Scratch would be even more hard core solution. But the documentation is excellent and I think I might have enough time some weekend to build my own minimal system from the sources. But it is another thing to have a minimal system and a usable system installed in an old computer I would have for this experiment. A usable desktop would take some more evenings and a couple of weeks reading Beyond Linux from Scratch.

You can read the documentation for building your own system online. There is also a LiveCD available to be used as the host system when building LFS.

More (Mostly) Linux Discussion Forums

And here follow ten more discussion forums for mostly different Linux distributions but also for OpenSolaris and BSDs. As a general rule, I would say that if the forum for a certain distribution is not active, I would not recommend the distribution for a complete newbie.

Newbies should probably choose some of the more mainstream distributions even when installing Linux on an old computer. After some experience with installing and using Linux, it is much easier to solve to possible problems presented by some niche distributions.
  1. Sabayon
  2. TinyME
  3. Absolute
  4. Frugalware
  5. Fluxbuntu
  6. LinuxConsole
  7. Ultimate Edition
  8. OpenSolaris
  9. OpenGEU
  10. BSDnexus (all BSDs)
See also my previous posting that lists 27 different Linux and BSD discussion forums. If I missed your distribution's discussion forum, just send a comment in the comment box.

Linux (and BSD) Discussion Forums - Right Forum for Right Distribution

Linux discussion forums exist for practically every distribution. They are a useful source of information both for newbies and more experienced users.

Many newbies don't realize they should probably send their questions to the relevant discussion forum instead of posting only to the Ubuntu Forum's discussions for other distributions. Usually the more knowledgeable users can be found in the right forum.

The following is a pretty random selection of the discussion forums for the most important distributions.
  1. for general Linux discussion.
  2. Ubuntu
  3. Debian
  4. openSUSE
  5. Mint
  6. Fedora
  7. PCLinuxOS
  8. Mandriva
  9. CentOS
  10. Damn Small Linux
  11. Slackware (
  12. Slackware
  13. Zenwalk
  14. Vector Linux
  15. Dreamlinux
  16. Mepis
  17. Elive
  18. Arch
  19. Gentoo
  20. Foresight
  21. DeLi
  22. Slitaz
  23. Sidux
  24. (BSD)
  25. PC-BSD
  26. DesktopBSD
  27. Puppy Linux
Edit: Because of popular demand, I added the forum for Puppy Linux!

Elive Development Release

Elive is another interesting distribution that has just released an unstable development release you can download and try without installing it on a hard drive. If you are interested in trying Enlightenment without installing it, this is a natural choice for you.

Elive is based on Debian. Its minimal requirements are very minimal: a 100 Mhz CPU and 64 MB of RAM. To be honest, the minimum recommended hardware is 300 Mhz and 128 Mb of RAM. Still, nothing fancy is needed for running Elive.

TinyMe 2008.1 Beta Release

TinyMe is a lightweight remaster of PCLinuxOS. The project has just released a beta version of the forthcoming stable release 2008.1. Now you have a great chance to help building a lightweight Linux distribution that is extremely well suited for old computers. See the release announcement for more information.

An Enlightened Experience: E17

It's been some time since I've used Enlightenment on a regular basis. I used some months E16 as my main desktop and was very happy with it. For some reason I cannot anymore remember I moved to some other desktop or some window manager in my continuing search for the perfect desktop experience.

For the first time I installed E17 that still is in development. But what an experience it is! It looks nicer than ever, the eye candy is not disturbing but adds value to the user experience. I even like the way Enlightenment is configured when first run. After I learned how to turn off the desktop icons I was extremely happy with Enlightenment.

One of the features I like is the way users can download and install new themes and wallpapers. Even the animated wallpapers don't disturb me, the just look great. At the moment Enlightenment seems to be the prettiest desktop available. Furthermore, it is usable and it's got all the functionality I want my desktop environment to have. And it is lightweight enough for my 1.99 GHz CPU.

If you like KDE4's looks but otherwise it is not up to your standards, you might like this one. It is still prerelease, but it seems to be a lot more stable and usable than KDE4 is at the moment. Of course window managers like Openbox can be tweaked to look great, too, but Enlightenment looks perfect out of the box. You don't need to spend hours looking for pretty themes and installing third party panels and other plugins to make a lightweight window manager as usable as Enlightenment is.

It's good to be back!

About Blogging

I started this blog in the early summer 2008. I have not been able to post anything worth reading every day, not even every week. I suppose it happens to most bloggers who blog as a hobby, not as professional authors. In addition, my studies of economics and business are even more time consuming I imagined.

During the last week, I have noticed I can move most of my short notices about interesting new distributions or sites to Delicious. It certainly is a better platform for this kind of short notes. I warmly recommend you to subscribe my notes in Delicious, if you are a registered user. You'll find the necessary links in the column to the right.

Now that I decided to post in this blog, I might as well remind you of another blog worth reading if you are interested in using Linux on old computers: Linux Distribution testing - on old computers.

New Puppy Release

Puppy Linux 4.1.1 has been released. It is a bugfix release of 4.1 See the release notes for more information regarding this distro that fits under a 95 MB file.

Lightweight Linux in Delicious

I decided to start blogging my links in Delicious. My latest additions to Delicious can be found in the column to the right. You might like to add me to your network if you are interested in lightweight Linux distributions, lightweight applications or using Linux with old computers.

Openbox is a Lightweight Window Manager

Openbox is one of the more popular lightweight window managers. It can be used as a standalone solution or as a component of the LXDE, the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment. The default look of Openbox is rather minimalistic, but it is a good basis for building a custom desktop.

The default look of openSUSE's openbox

Fortunately, the internet is full of resources and tutorials for customizing the look and feel of Openbox. Here are some of the more informative pages I've found:

Themes for Openbox can of course be found in the usual sources. See, for example, the following:

Can you recommend some other sites?

Free Linux Documentation

Today I present you with two more early posts combined in one. Also the following lines are most probably lines unread by 99 % of my readers.

If you want to run a modern system with an old computer you have to compensate some of the missing GHz and megabytes with your own brains. You have to know what you are doing. You have to know what you want your computer to do. Only so you can build a system that is ideal for your needs and your hardware.

This means you have to be ready to learn something about Linux and how it works. It is not rocket science, it is something everyone can do. If you are willing to learn you can realize the full power of Linux.

We are lucky to have a lot of free documentation. There are even many good introductions to Linux. Most of them are published by The Linux Documentation Project. I suggest you first familiarize yourself with the site just to see what kind of documentation there is. Depending on what you already know, select some of the guides where you can learn at least something new. If you are relatively new to Linux, you might start with Gareth Anderson's GNU/Linux Command-Line Tools Summary or Machtelt Garrels' Introduction to Linux - A Hands on Guide

TLDP is not the only free source of information online. The Linux Cookbook has been one of my favourite Linux books since years. Michael Stutz has released the first edition of the book as an HTML edition. Even if it is already several years old, it is very helpful for those willing to work on the command line. In this book, the reader learns about basic command line operations, process management, text processing, customizing the shell prompt, analyzing text, finding text and files and a lot more.

If you want build a custom system and not use some lightweight distribution, you have to study a bit more. One of the sites I have found most useful, is the Gentoo wiki. It has been most helpful also at times when I have used some other distribution. For example, if you want to learn how to customize some lightweight window manager you will probably find all the best tips and tricks there. One good example is the page for tweaking Openbox window manager. Most of the information here can be used with just about any distribution.

Other tips are probably more obvious: If you are using any Debian based distribution, for example Ubuntu, you should study the Debian reference. It has been translated into many languages. Slackware Linux Essentials - The Official Guide To Slackware Linux is similarly useful for those who use a distribution based on Slackware, for example Zenwalk or Vector Linux.

If you read the fine manuals, you will be able to solve most of your problems. If not, you can always ask for help in the Internet forums or IRC channels. But if you have done your homework the others will respect you more and be more helpful than in the case you never bothered to read any documentation. But as you are now reading my blog, you most probably are clever enough to read some official documentation!

Reasons for Using an Old Computer and Linux

When I started my blog, I wrote a few posts about why people should consider using an old computer. I suppose most of my readers have not followed the blog from its humble beginnings. The following might, however, still be worth reading.

Linux runs on old computers, doesn't it? Many people have heard or read that also old computers can run Linux. This is true, but you should not expect to be able to run newest multimedia programs or play 3D games on old hardware. If you just want to read and send email, write a book, browse the Internet, learn to program, or maybe write a book with your computer, read on. Only your imagination can limit the uses of old hardware or modern hardware with low specifications.

Save your money for better uses. You don't have to buy a new computer just to update the operating system. Even computers one can get free or buy for a few euros or dollars can be used to run a modern desktop with lightweight software. Everyone living in the industrial world can afford a used computer for running a free operating system. Thus Linux helps to cross the digital chasm between those who can afford to participate in the modern computerized world and those who cannot.

If your computer is not older than ten years, it definitely can be used as a Linux desktop. You can either use a distribution specifically tailored for older hardware or you can use almost any modern distribution and customize the installation for your needs. You might have to hack some configuration files with a text editor and forget using the latest GNOME or KDE. Use OpenBox or WindowMaker instead. You might even have to install the distribution of your choice in text mode. You might need some help in tweaking your system to run as smoothly as possible.

But it can be done. And you can do it, too!

You can also help to save our environment by using your old computer or by using recycled hardware. Nowadays, computers that have very low power consumption (less than 10 W) are also available. This usually means that their specifications are rather low on modern standards. Information on this site could equally well be used for building a usable desktop on such a box. Using low specs or recycled hardware is truly green computing, a part of modern and sustainable way of living.

Modern low end computers are often used for running Linux. Ultraportable laptops known as netbooks often come with a preinstalled Linux system. Users of this kind of computers can also benefit from reading this blog.

Only you can decide, whether to install Linux on an old computer or to recycle the hardware. Even if you have another, modern desktop computer, you could use the old one with Linux. You could use this as a learning experience: you will learn a lot about how the operating system works. This knowledge can be useful, and learning is always fun!

More WindowMaker Themes

I have found some more very nice themes for WindowMaker. If you like to use WindowMaker as the window manager you should visit Jess Anderson's site Themes for Window Maker. At the moment I'm using the theme Bavarian Road. It's a nice rather grey theme, very easy for my eyes and has nothing that would disturb me while I write.


For information about installing WindowMaker themes, see the end of my previous post on WindowMaker: WindowMaker Themes

Customize Conky

Lifehacker has published a nice tutorial on customizing conky, see Customize Conky for Ambient Linux Productivity. Another tutorial for Ubuntu users can be found in Quick Tweaks Gmail+Weather+Beauty right on your Ubuntu desktop. It should, however, be easy to use the tweaks on any other distribution.

My earlier post on conky: Conky is a lightweight system monitor for Linux.

WindowMaker Links

I decided to add some of the most useful WindowMaker links to the column on the right side. You'll find them in a separate section dedicated to WindowMaker links.

If you are using Linux on an old computer with limited specifications, you should seriously consider using WindowMaker as the window manager. It is very different from most of the other lightweight alternatives. I especially like the way WM uses corners for icons and dock apps, this way I seem to be able to use the limited 1024x768 resolution of my monitor much more efficiently than with the traditional icons on the desktop where they are always hidden behind application windows.

Earlier post about WindowMaker:

WattOS Beta Relese

WattOS is a lightweight Linux distribution based on Ubuntu 8.04. The project has just announced the beta release of the forthcoming first official release. The beta is released as a live CD which means it probably does not run on the oldest possible hardware.

Two Watt Linux System

This might be old news to some of my readers, but for me it wasn't. published two months ago an article about BeagleBoard that is an ultralight, extra tiny, 2 watt Linux system. Fortunately I don't have at the moment the necessary $$$ to buy a new gadget.

ZevenOS RC1

ZevenOS has RC1 available now (downloads). This distribution is meant for older computers and should be especially interesting for the geeks who once enjoyed BeOS. Unfortunately, I have never seen BeOS in action but this distribution certainly looks interesting enough to be installed in one of my older boxes.

DebianHelp for Backups

Have you a secure system for making automated backups of your personal files? I know I should have, but unfortunately I don't have a really working system. I have just rsynced my /home to an external drive. It works OK for backing up things like digital photos or multimedia files, but is not very useful for keeping different versions of the files I work on daily.

I just found a great collection of tutorials for backing up a Linux system. The site Debianhelp is oriented towards Debian, but of course the information given here can be used with just about any Linux system with some tweaking. The tutorials should work fine with Ubuntu. I just hope I would have time for organizing my files, computers and backups into a coherent system...

LXDE - a Lightweight Desktop Environment

If you have never heard of LXDE, you probably are not alone. It is, however, a very nice lightweight desktop environment and certainly worth trying if you are building a lightweight Linux system. I have already written a positive review of LXDE some time ago, you'll find more information and screenshots in my review.

Those of you who already are using LXDE might be interested in the LXDE blog. It's full of interesting reading for anyone using LXDE.

If you have problems with LXDE, the best place for getting support is the new LXDE Forum. It does not yet have many posts, but that will probably change soon as LXDE becomes more popular.

WindowMaker Themes

WindowMaker is an often forgotten lightweight window manager. Also I tend to forget it when using a modern desktop, but when I have to use an old computer I sooner or later come back to WindowMaker.

Now that I'm using my 1 GHz 'Oikos' desktop I've again installed WindowMaker. It's design is very different from most of the other window managers and desktops, as it does not have a panel or a start menu for starting applications. Right-clicking the root window does, however, open a context menu for running applications, opening XTerm, changing the visual appearance of WindowMaker and so on. More functionality can be added by installing and running WindowMaker applets.

1) Default look

WindowMaker's default desktop is probably not the prettiest of all desktops. There are, however, hundreds of different themes that can be used for modifying the simple desktop to become simple, strong and sharp. Freshmeat has an excellent collection of themes for WindowMaker.

2) Aay: A light grey theme

3) WMCrystal

4) One

5) PureWM is another light theme.

These light themes are the most usable ones with my old recycled 17" monitor. Your hardware might like some other combinations of colors better, remember to experiment also with themes that are not provided by your distribution. Many more beautiful themes and icon sets can be found in Freshmeat!

Installing a theme is not difficult. They are distributed as .tar.gz packages. Gunzip and tar xvf them in the directory ~/GNUstep/Library/WindowMaker/Themes and you will find the just installed theme by right-clicking the root window (wallpaper), and selecting Appearance, Themes, Theme.

Busy Weekend: Localizing OpenSUSE 11.1

Last weekend was pretty busy for me, and I had no time for any of my lightweight Linux systems as I spent my free time with translating openSUSE's setup tool YaST. It seems there is more and more to be translated every release, and unfortunately some of the original English texts are not very easy to understand.

Last time we missed a few important bugs in the translations. I hope this time more people would install the last betas and actively try to inform the respective localization teams for mistakes found. See the Road map for more information about the timetable.

Linux Distributions for Really Old Computers

Sometimes, you might want to install Linux on a really old computer. If this is the case, you will most probably not succeed in installing the latest and greatest desktop oriented distributions with all the bells and whistles, desktop cubes and shadows. Your old 486 or P100 with limited RAM just is not enough for all the modern eyecandy and probably unnecessary services running in the background.

If you are willing to try some less known distribution with less functionality, you certainly will be able to install Linux in just about any old computer you have in your garage or basement. You just have to be ready to learn something new and not expect to get everything running without user intervention.

In Ubuntu discussion forum, the user darreljon has collected an extensive list of lightweight Linux distributions that can be used even with very old computers. Some of the distros are not very current, some of them are still active. Check out the list and you might find a distribution that satisfies your needs.

Vector Linux 5.9.1 Just Installed - First Impressions

I decided to use a spare partition of 5 MB to test the latest release of Vector Linux (5.9.1) as I have not used Vector Linux during the last few years. Installation went without problems and I now have to working systems installed on my 1 GHz desktop. I am pretty impressed by the system, it has a nice look, boots fast and does not use a lot of resources.

Unfortunately, at least the desktop with Fluxbox is slightly misconfigured after installation. It provides some eyecandy offered by the OS X like dock wbar that can be used for starting different applications. Some of the applications, however, are not even installed in system. In addition, I don't fully understand the point of using a lightweight desktop environment or a window manager with KDE applications as default applications for e.g. email.

Anyway, Vector Linux provides an easy way to get a fully usable system running on an old computer. I'll return to Vector Linux after I have gathered some more experience with this release.

Puppy Linux 4.1 Released

Puppy Linux 4.1 is released. See the release notes that end with information about projects new organization after Barry Kauler's "retirement".

OpenBox on My Lightweight Linux Desktop

After a week of XFCE, I decided to change my desktop to something lighter. My new computer is equipped with a 1 GHz CPU and 256 MB RAM. It seems to be more than enough to run Xubuntu 8.04 but I wanted to have even faster desktop that I was able to get with XFCE.

So I turned of some more unnecessary services and installed OpenBox. As OpenBox does not provide a panel I installed also pypanel. It is pretty useful and customizable enough. As the desktop seemed fast enough for me, I installed Launchy that provides a fast way to start applications without need to use a mouse. Even after these additions, OpenBox is a joy to use.

How to Print PostScript Calendars from Linux Console

There are so many command line tools for printing calendars and calculating dates, weekdays, lunar cycles, easter dates and lot more that it is difficult to remember all the possibilities these tools have to offer. I suppose everyone knows that the commad date prints the current time and date, and some probably most of my readers know how to print the calendar of current month using cal, gcal or ccal.

These tools are capable of lot more than simply outputting the current calendar to the standard output. Just see info gcal and you certainly will learn a lot more about gcal you can remember! I wanted, however, simply get a postscript or pdf calendar to be able to print it and have it on my wall. It took me some time before I realized, that gcal was not, after all, the right tool for the job.

What I needed was pcal. Simple command pcal > did exactly what I wanted: it produced a file with postscript code needed for printing this month's calendar. pcal is of course capable of doing a lot more, man pcal for more information.

Documentation for CLI Newbies

This time I would like to recommend a great source of information for all my readers who like to use CLI applications on their lightweight Linux installations. As I have pointed out earlier, if you try to use Linux on a very old computer, you have to use some of your own brain power to compensate for the lack of a fast CPU and lots of RAM.

Gareth Anderson has written an useful summary of command line GNU/Linux applications. It is organized thematically, so that you can easily find the most useful tools for e.g. controlling processes and services, manipulating text files or working with the file system.

Michael Stutz's The Linux Cookbook: Tips and Techniques for Everyday Use is another good source of information with similar topics. It is a bit old (written in 2001), but the CLI tools don't change as fast as KDE and GNOME applications!

Both of the ebooks are highly recommended reading for all Linux newbies who are not afraid of command line!

Org-Mode for Emacs

For some time, I've been thinking about learning to use the org mode for Emacs. Now that I found a 45 minutes long presentation of it, I'm even more convinced about it. If I only had time, and if only my school was more tolerant of using other software than MS Office...

Review: Xubuntu 8.04.1 on HP eVectra

Some weeks ago, I got a "new" eVectra produced by HP around seven, eight years ago. It's specs are nothing special, it has a 1 GHz CPU and 256 MB RAM. The previous owner had, however, changed the original disk drive to something more useful. Now this old computer has a hard drive with about 280 GB disk space! These specs make the computer unusable with modern versions of Windows, but it is very well usable with even the latest Linux distributions. In the recycling room of my dorm, I was able to find an old 17" CRT monitor and a PS/2 keyboard that were exactly what I needed to be able use this computer!

Unfortunately I don't yet have Internet connection in the dorm where I live during the weekdays, so I had to bring the computer to my home town for installing a usable system and updating it. I had previously tried to install Slacware on this computer using the set of three CDs, but I could not get xorg configured as I had no idea about the exact specs (especially the graphics card) of this old computer. Without a working Internet connection, it seemed to be too much of trouble to try to configure Slackware's xorg.conf.

This time, I decided to try the latest stable version of Xubuntu. Installation went without problems, even though it took some time as the hard drive is not especially fast. And Xorg was correctly configured, as one would expect with a distro based on Ubuntu. Next I installed 88 updates (122.6 MB download size). Fortunately my broadband at home is pretty fast, and the download took only a few minutes.

After the updates, the CPU is idling between 95% and 97%. After some simplification of the default desktop, CPU is idle 97-98% of time. Most of the CPU usage seems to be caused by Xorg. Pretty good performance by XFCE and an old computer like this.

In my opinion there is no need for a lightweight distribution to use this kind of computer, any modern distribution should run fine, as long as one does not want to all kinds of useless 3d desktop effects. A usable desktop for normal office and scientific tasks does not need any wobbling windows in fire! Instead, I added to the default installation these applications:

* LyX, Emacs
* Remind, irssi, bum
* Octave, Scilab
* build-essential

Next I decided to invoke the boot-up-manager bum in order to turn some unnecessary system services off. This way I can further reduce the demands my system sets on the hardware.

Bum is a runlevel configuration editor which allows to configure init services when the system boots up or reboots. It displays a list of every service which can be started at boot. With the help of bum, user can enable or disable services after her wish. I decided to turn off bluetooth services, avahi and CUPS. You might want to keep them, but I don't have any bluetooth devices, no other computers in my LAN, and I don't have a printer in my dorm. So I could well get rid of these unnecessary services. I also turned off everything that is useful only with laptops. Now the computer is idling between 97% and 99%. Not bad.

Next I had to make some changes in Grub. I changed some default Grub options:
# defoptions=quiet nosplash

And ran the update-grub.

If your computer is older than mine, you might want to check out K. Mandla's great collection of tweaks for Ubuntu Hardy for making your Xubuntu even faster.

I'm pretty happy with the performance I got out of the box. It is true, that 8.10 will be released soon, but I'll stay with the released that will be supported for an extended period. I don't need the latest software, as long as the system is useful for my daily computing needs.

Absolutely New Release

Absolute Linux is a lightweight modification of Slackware. The project has just released a new release, 12.1.07 that is compatible with Slackware current (not with 12.1!). Download it, if you are interested in testing this distro that comes with IceWM!

VectorLinux SOHO 5.9.1 released

The latest release of VectorLinux SOHO 5.9.1 has been released for downloads. See the
release notes for more information regarding the release.

VectorLinux is one of the more popular distributions that are suitable for installing Linux on an old computer. It is based on Slackware, the granddaddy of other distributions.

Remind is a lightweight tool for reminders

I like to use lightweight tools whenever possible as there is no point in running IceWM if one uses KDE or GNOME applications for everyday tasks. Because my memory is far from perfect, I like my computer to remind me about the projects I have to work on and about classes I have to attend.

There are some obvious choices for this kind of task if one uses KDE or GNOME. For exapmle, Korganizer would be great tool for keeping your calendar and to do lists. I decided to use a command line tool, remind, for storing all the information about my meetings, classes, and deadlines.

Remind uses a plain text file for storing information. The syntax for ordinary reminders is pretty simple and evident, as you can see from a few lines of my .reminders:

REM 22 September AT 16:00 YLY Mercatori
REM Tue AT 08:30 YLY/MENY1
REM Tue AT 11:15 TKMY1_ls17
REM Tue AT 14:15 RuIb1

These are reminders for a meeting on the 22nd of September at 16:00 and three reminders for my classes on tuesdays. It is possible to use much more sophisticated reminders that have rules for deciding the date of some action. You can also set the remind to warn you in advance, before the actual date of the reminder, but I like to keep my reminders simple.

I like to use remind for printing a schedule for the next week every sunday. As I have stored my reminders in the file .reminders this can be done easily with a simple command: rem -c+1

If a weekly calendar is not enough for you, you might consider printing out a PostScript calendar of your reminders for the next twelve months with remind -p12 .reminders |rem2ps >

There are many good sites about using remind in an efficient way. Let your computer remind you of your meetings, classes and deadlines. It will help you to get things done!

[1] Manage your time with Remind
[2] Remind: The Ultimate Personal Calendar
[3] 43 Folders' wiki

TinyME release

TinyME has released the first alpha of release 2008.1. It's specs are still very light, and consequently it can be installed in just about any hardware built during the last decade.

  • Pentium processor
  • 64MB of RAM
  • Usable at 640×480, but 800×600 is much better resolution.

HOWTO Create a Readable PostScript or Pdf File out of a Man Page

I find myself often reading man pages of unix programs to be able to use the installed software more efficiently. That is one of the reasons I prefer to use a lightweight installation of "real" distribution instead of some tiny distributions that leave all the unncessary files like documentation out of the system to save some megabytes.

The standard output of man is unfortunately not very pleasant to read. But as man pages are written in a typesetting language called groff and processed through the groff engine, the same source can be used to produce a highly readable PostScript file. All you need to do is to use man with the following options instead of the ordinary man command:

man -Tps man >

This produces a PostScript file out of the man page for man. You can either use your favourite viewer for viewing the PostScript file, print it out to a printer, or convert it with ps2pdf to a pdf file, if you prefer a pdf.


The following screenshot shows man page man as a pdf file, viewed with xpdf.

Using Keyboard Shortcuts with IceWM

Some time ago I wrote a short IceWM tutorial. As you might remember, IceWM is one of my preferred lightweight window managers. It's not too demanding for the system resources and can thus run very well on my rather old computers.

IceWM has so many hidden features that it is not possible to deal with all of them in a single tutorial. One of the features I left out from my tutorial was using keyboard shortcuts for more efficient use of the desktop.

The keyboard shortcuts are configured by the file ~/.icewm/keys. Your distribution might have added some definitions already, or you could copy the default shortcuts from the file /etc/icewm/keys. The syntax used for configuration is pretty evident, just follow the example of the default file.

My settings are rather simple:

key "Alt+Ctrl+t" xterm
key "Alt+Ctrl+e" emacs
key "Alt+Ctrl+f" firefox

Now I can start xterm by pressing Alt+Ctrl+t and Emacs by pressing Alt+Ctrl+e. You should define your own keyboard shortcuts, too

HOWTO Read rtf Files in Linux Console

Today I continue where I finished yesterday. I have so far written about reading doc and pdf files in Linux command line. Today I turn to rich text format, that is the files with extension rtf. Rtf is a very common format used by those who are at least slightly familiar with the compatibility problems caused by using Word's binary file format. Also rtf can be viewed using lightweight tools, it is not necessary to use to read the file.

I was reminded by my reader Reidar about catdoc, yet another Linux tool for reading windows file formats. As I don't have MS Word installed on any of my computers, I used Abiword for writing a short text (in fact this blog posting!) and saved it as a rich text file. And I was not disappointed by catdoc. It printed the content of my file on screen just like cat would do with an ordinary plain text file. You might be able to find it in the repositories of your distribution.

Catdoc is a tool that doesn't attempt to analyze and reproduce file formatting. It just extracts readable text from the file. What it can do, is to handle all versions of Word and convert character encodings. It can also read RTF files and convert Excel and PowerPoint files. You should install it in any system running on an old computer.

I thought that there are no console editors that can edit rich text files. I was not even sure whether it such editors would make any sense. But as I knew that Emacs can do everything one might some day need to do with her computer, I decided to google for "Emacs rtf". Surprisingly, or maybe not, there actually is an Emacs extension for editing rich text files and VIM should be able to edit rtf files out of the box. We are living in a strange world, aren't we?

HOWTO Read PDF Files in Console

I wrote about using Antiword for reading .doc files on the commandline yesterday. I think I get at least as oft pdf (portable document format) files attached to emails as I get .doc files. There are, of course, several alternatives for viewing pdf files when one is using X windows. You can, for example, use Evince, Kpdf or Xpdf for viewing the omnipresent pdf files.

I happen to read my email through a ssh connection on an Unix or sometimes a Linux system of my university. In order to view a pdf file, I have to save the attached file and use sftp to download the file to my desktop if I want to read it using a graphical pdf viewer.

Fortunately, there is a command line alternative even for reading pdf files! These can of course be used not only in a remote system over a ssh connection, but in any lightweight Linux system, even with a system with no X installed.

Ps2ascii uses Ghostscript for the conversion. It can convert both PostScript and PDF to ASCII text. It does not produce perfectly formatted output, but is certainly good enough for a quick & dirty conversion to have a glance at the textual content of a pdf file as the screenshot of Debian Reference shows.

HOWTO Read .doc Files in Console

We all receive .doc files attached to our emails. Sometimes we just have to read them, no matter how much we despise documents written with MS Word, or people who use MS Word.

There are several alternative solutions for the task. One, and probably the easiest solution, is to use Writer for reading documents produced with MS Word. A lighter solution would be to use Abiword. If you are using KDE, you could try Kword for opening the file. All of the mentioned word processors can pretty well import documents in .doc format.

Very often, all I need from a document is its textual information. It does not matter for me what is the used font and how well or poorly the document has been formatted. In this case, I usually do not bother to open a word processor just to read a document. All I need is a command line application, antiword. Antiword has been ported to a wide selection of operating systems ranging from DOS to Amiga. So it does not surprise at all, that it is available also for Linux. Use your distributions package management application for installing it.

Antiword is able to convert Word documents to plain text, to PostScript, to PDF and to XML/DocBook. My needs are more modest, plain text is all I need.

Antiword is a command line tool. Thus, all I need to convert this text from antiword.doc to plain text and read it through a pager is:

antiword antiword.doc | less

I can't imagine a simpler solution to this problem caused by the widespread use of proprietary binary file formats. Unfortunately the latest version of Antiword dates from 2005. It does not yet convert files written in the latest 2007 incarnation of the binary bloat.

Htop Is Better Than Top

Most users of Linux are familiar with top, a process viewer that displays Linux tasks in console providing a real-time view of the running system. It shows a lot of information that can be useful when trying to build a lightweight system using some standard distribution instead of a lightweight distribution. Unfortunately, top is not very pleasant to look at, and it lacks some useful functionalities.

This is where htop shines. As you can see, it uses colors and thus provides a lot nicer view than top. Htop also shows CPU and memory usages as bars rather than percentages. In addition, its keyboard shortcuts are clearly shown in the bottom line. There are keyboard shortcuts for e.g. searching, organizing the view as a tree, changing the niceness of processes and even killing them.

Htop is certainly available for your distribution, be it Debian, Ubuntu, openSUSE or any other distribution. Give it a try, you won't look back to top!

Vector Linux 6.0 alpha 2 released

Vector Linux released the second alpha of its forthcoming release 6.0. In the first alpha, GNOME was the default desktop environment. It was, however, too bloated in the opinion of most of the alpha testers. Now lighter XFCE is installed as the default desktop environment. For people using old computers, LXDE is offered as a secondary alternative.

If you are willing to invest your time in trying new distributions, you could do worse than to try and install this alpha release. Linux distributions rely on the users for testing alpha releases, and the more people install and use these prereleases and file bug reports, the better the final version will be.

Change of Layout

I'm sorry for the problems during the last few days. This new layout should have no bandwith limits.

I'm in a new town having just started studying economics and business administration. I hope I'll get a broadband connection soon in order to be able to update this blog more often.

In addition, I need some new (or rather some old) hardware as my iBook thinks we are living in 1904. It is an old computer, but not that old.

My school has, unfortunately, a strict MS only policy. It means I have to learn to use MS Office and use Outlook for my email.

Zenwalk 5.2 Gnome released

GNOME is not considered especially lightweight desktop environment. In my experience, however, any computer with at least 1GHz Pentium and 256 MB RAM can be used to run GNOME desktop. You might consider it unusable, but I have noticed it is better to install GNOME to be used by my non-geek wife than to force her use some lightweight window manager that does not pop up icons for memory sticks on the desktop...

If you are looking for a lightweight Linux distribution with GNOME, you should seriously consider Zenwalk 5.2 with GNOME. Zenwalk has for years been a nice lightweight distribution that is based on Slackware. Thus it has been a delight to hack and tweak.

Read the release notes before deciding. The Zenwalk Gnome 5.2 iso weighs 597.7MB and can be downloaded from the following locations: ... me-5.2.iso ... me-5.2.iso ... me-5.2.iso ... me-5.2.iso ... me-5.2.iso ... me-5.2.iso

Mepis Antix 7.5 Released

AntiX is a lightweight remaster of Mepis tailored for old computers. AntiX should work on computers with at least 64 MB RAM (128 MB is the recommended amount) and Pentium II or equivalent AMD processors. You can download and burn the iso image (393 MB) needed for installation of this lightweight distribution.

Conky is a lightweight system monitor for Linux

Many Linux users want to have an application monitoring the system usage on their desktop. Conky is a solution that is suitable for lightweight Linux installations on old computers.

Latest version of Conky was released last week, but most probably the older version available from the package repositories of your favourite distribution will work just fine.

In the official home page for Conky, you find nice screenshots of the application with respective configuration files. They are certainly worth having a look if you want to have a lightweight system monitor on your desktop.

A Short IceWM Tutorial

If you want to use a lightweight Linux system on your old computer, you have to use a lightweight window manager. IceWM is one of my favourite lightweight window managers. It does not reserve a lot of system resources and it can be used even with very old computers. It depends only on the X window system and libXpm. It should run even on an 386 or any other imaginable box that can run X. It is included in the repositories of every major distribution, so you should encounter no problems in installing it through the default package manager, either apt-get, yum, zypper or any other imaginable tool.

In addition to Linux, it can be used on several other flavours of Unix including commercial systems like Tru64 and AIX and open source operating systems like FreeBSD and NetBSD. It has even been reported to compile and run under Windows!

IceWM uses themes to change the look and feeling of the window manager. Themes consist of things like fonts, colours, borders and button pixmaps put together under a name to form a theme. The theme can be changed from IceWM's menu under the item Settings. The theme will be stored in the file ~/.icewm/theme. Changing the theme from the Themes menu overwrites the content of the file with the new theme automatically

Find a theme to install

Your IceWM probably came with some themes. Usually even more of themes can be installed through the package management as a separate package.

I prefer to choose myself the themes to be installed. There are two especially good web sites to go hunting for a ready theme to spice up your desktop:

* Freshmeat
* Box-look

It can even be configured to look like Windows XP if you try to build a desktop for those who are afraid of Linux.

Unzip the package

The themes are compressed packages and they must be uncompressed before use.

First check the package is OK:

tar -tzvf win31theme-default.tar.gz

This allows you to check the contents of the package before really unzipping it. If everything seems to be OK unzip the file with:

tar -xvf win31theme-default.tar.gz

This unzips the package in a directory called win31.

Put it somewhere where IceWM finds it
If you want to use the theme only for yourself (or if there are no other users), you should move the theme to the directory ~/.icewm/themes/themename. After this, you should find the just installed theme under the menu item Settings -> Themes

Themes usable by everyone are stored (at least in my system) in /usr/share/icewm/themes/

Tweak the menu
I don't like the default menu offered by the distribution I use. Probably you won't be perfectly happy with your menu either. This is where the going gets tough, as we will actually edit a text file to configure IceWM's menu.

Fortunately, it uses syntax that is simple to understand. First copy the default menu from /etc/icewm/menu to ~/.icewm/menu. If you absolutely do not want to configure any text files, you can try the programs IceMC or MenuMaker to edit the menu. I find it easier to configure the menu with Emacs (or some other editor).

The items in menu file start with a keyword, either prog or separator. Programs are defined using the syntax:

prog Program Icon app -and -options

We can, for example, add Firefox by adding the following line to menu:

prog Firefox firefox firefox

The first Firefox is the entry added to the menu, the second firefox is the name of the icon and the third firefox is the name of the binary.

If you want to insert a sub menu, it can be done by adding:

menu SubMenu folder _icon {
prog ...
prog ...

It is a good idea to think twice about programs one adds to the start menu and toolbar as the choice of lightweight software is as important for the user experience as the chosen window manager. I usually try to use lightweight alternatives to better known applications, for example, Abiword instead of OpenOffice.Org and PCManFM instead of Nautlilus, Konqueror or Dolphin. But you are of course free to do whatever you want!

You can add start buttons to toolbar using the same syntax as for adding applications to start menu. Use ~/.icewm/toolbar for your personal toolbar.

The preferences are read from file preferences. Copy the default preferences from /etc/icewm/preferences to ~/.icewem/preferences. Use this copy of preferences file for storing your personal preferences.

The preference file is well documented. Just browse through the options presented in the file.

Icons on the Desktop
I am not sure whether having icons on the desktop is a good habit or if they just make the desktop more cumbersome to use. Most people, however, seem to want icons on their desktop where they are hidden behind windows and difficult to find.

IceWM does not support icons out of the box but there are several applications that can provide the desired result. One of them is idesk. I decided to use PCManFM for icons and wallpaper (Edit, Preferences, Manage the desktop and show file icons).

Startup script

It is not especially practical to set the wallpaper by hand using the command line every time one starts IceWM. If you want to execute certain applications every time you start IceWM, you can write a startup script (~/.icewm/startup). Here is a simple sample script:

---------------- ---------------- ----------------
xterm -geometry 100x20+10+600 & # start a terminal
pcmanfm & # start the file manager
---------------- ---------------- ----------------

Remember to make your startup script executable with:
chmod a+x startup

As the result of these steps, you have a simple and strong lightweight desktop that is tailored to your needs. Later you can add even more lightweight functionality to your customised desktop and make it truly unique. If you already now have some ideas just drop a line in the comment box!