Alpine is a great text mode email application

I have used pine as my main email application since 1993 and I'm not even considering to replace pine with a more modern email application as long as pine is available in the Unix system where I read my email. When I need to read email that has been sent to some of my private email accounts
(like the one I use for this blog) I most often use alpine installed on my Linux box.

Alpine is a rewrite of the original pine. Unlike pine it uses an Apache license that allows redistribution of modified versions of the application which makes it more acceptable for free software enthusiasts.

Alpine uses a simple menu interface for composing and viewing email messges. For writing a mail, it uses the extremely newbie friendly editor pico that can of course be used also as a standalone editor for editing any text files you might like to edit. From the main menu of Alpine one can enter the simple to use setup dialogues, where one can set many options including the signature, printer, non-default address books, rules for automativally filtering the messages in different folders, set the screen colors, and a lot more.

Most probably you receive your email not directly in your box but instead use a mail account provided by your ISP or for example Google. In fact, it is quite simple to configure Alpine to read and send email using a Gmail account like I have done for reading the lwlinux account I use for receiving mail about this blog.

If you want to use Alpine with Gmail, go first to the setup menu. Then select Config. In the next screenshot you will see how the settings for Gmail are done, only a few lines must be configured.

If you have never used a text mode email application you should at least give alpine a chance. It is easy to use and configure and a lot easier to use than most of the graphical email applications. You will soon realize how easy it is to read and write emails when you don't have to move your hand all the time between the keyboard and the mouse.

See also my previous articles about text mode Linux applications:
Burn CDs and DVDs with cdw | Remind is a lightweight tool for reminders | Lightest WWW browsers for Linux | Manage your contacts with abook

Manage your contacts with abook

I'm constantly looking for applications that can comfortably be used even with an old computer. Some days ago, I posted an article about lightweight personal organizer OSMO. Now I have found something even more lightweight!

My new address book manager is abook. It is a simple text mode organizer for storing contact information. It has a simple to use user interface (using ncurses) and does not force the users to remember obscure CTRL sequences or vi-like keyboard shortcuts. On the contrary, the keyboard shortcuts are few and they can be seen on the top of the screen.

Abook utilizes a simple card view for the contacts. The contact information is divided on five tabs where address, phone, other information and custom information have been dedicated a tab. Abook can be used as a standalone application or it can be used as the addressbook for mutt email application.

It is possible to import and export contact information using the command line option --convert. Abook can convert the the contact information from the following formats:
  • ldif
  • mutt
  • pine
  • csv
  • palmcsv

The following output formats are supported:
  • abook
  • ldif
  • mutt
  • html
  • pine
  • gcrd
  • csv
  • palmcsv
  • elm
  • text
  • spruce
  • wl
All the contacts are of course stored in a plain text file (default: ~/.abook/addressbook) that has an easy to understand format.

Manage your files with mc (Midnight Commander)

Once upon a time, there was a operating system called MS-DOS. It was a pretty limited system and awkard to use, but at the same time, it was a lot more useful than the graphical systems built on the DOS. To help the users, many companies created proprietary software that was sold to the end-users.

One of the most popular applications was Norton Commander or simply nc. The first version 1.0 was released as early as in 1986 [1]. This application set the standards for file managers for a long time. In fact, many file managers even today follow the concept of showing files simultaneously in two panels.

In addition to GUI file managers, the command line junkies can use the Midnight Commander, mc. It is available for probably every possible distribution in use. If you like to use Linux on an old computer, you might well try this application that does not steal all the resources of your old computer.

Midnight Commander provides all the usual functionality one expects from a file manager. With it, it is possible to copy, delete, archive, view and edit files or, for example, view man pages, It might not handle everything konqueror handles, but it does well what it is intended to do.

See also: Burn CDs and DVDs with cdw | Remind is a lightweight tool for reminders | Lightest WWW browsers for Linux

Finally on top of the search

After more than six months of blogging, Lightweight Linux is finally the first site in Google search results for "Lightweight Linux".

Champagne for everyone!

Edited: now down to the second place :-(

Burn CDs and DVDs with cdw

There are several useful applications available for burning CDs and DVDs on a Linux system. The geekiest users are probably happy with command line tools while most users are happy with k3b or gnomebaker.

Cdw is a ncurses based alternative to more famous tools. As a ncurses application it can be used on system with no X installed but as it has a menu based user interface it might be easier to use than the command line tools. In fact, cdw is just a frontend for cdrecord/wodim (for blanking CD-RW discs, writing data to single- or multi-session CD disc and single-session DVD discs) and mkisofs/genisoimage (for creating ISO images from selected files).

If you -- like me -- have difficulties in remembering the options of different CLI tools, you might like to try this small application. It is available at least in the repositories of Ubuntu and Debian testing (but not yet in the stable release).

If it is not included in your distribution's repositories, you can always get the source from the Sourceforge.

See also previous articles on text mode applications!

Use xosd for on-screen messages

The package xosd-bin provides Linux hackers a way to show messages on X screen. In itself this might not be very useful but the functionality can easily be included in scripts.

After installing xosd-bin the you can use osd_cat to show text on-screen. This is done by sending text over a pipe to osd_cat.

The simplest way to use osd_cat would be:

echo "Hello World!" | osd_cat

If you try this you might not even notice the small output on the top left corner of your screen. But the following gives an output that can barely stay unnoticed:

echo "Testing xosd using different fonts" | osd_cat -p middle -A center -d 5 -s 3 -c blue -f "-adobe-helvetica-*-*-*-*-34-240-*-*-p-*-*-*"

As you see, osd_cat understands many options. In the example, the output is shown at the middle of the screen centered for a period of five seconds with a shadow of three pixels. The color is blue and the font is defined by the rest of the line (use xfontsel for selecting the font).

Now that I have installed xosd I have to think about some cool use for it! Maybe it could be used in a script that checks my email account or to show on-screen reminders.

Any other ideas?

Still using antiX

I've been too lazy to blog during the last week or maybe just too busy with my studies. Either way, I'm still using antiX as my desktop system and I've been completely happy with this prerelease version.

I have not installed a lot of extra packages as I have mostly been able to get things done with the default installation and some extras like Emacs. As I've used both Debian and Ubuntu earlier, I am very much at home with antiX.

Two weeks ago I thought I would just test antiX and then install something more useful. At the moment I think I'll continue to use this distro installed much longer than I would have imagined. I see no technical reasons for installing yet another distro.

But in order to have something to write about in this blog, I'll tomorrow install DeLi on an even older computer. It will be interesting to see how much the distro has developed with the latest release.

OSMO - a lightweight PIM

There are few good lightweight personal information managers available unless one is willing to use Emacs for everything. For some time I used remind as a console solution for my time management problems but at the moment I mostly use my mobile phones calendar function. Now I have to reconsider using a computer for time management as antiX provides a nice lightweight organizer application OSMO.

OSMO is very simple to use as all the main functions can be found in one window on six tabs. There are tabs for calendar, tasks, contacts, notes, options and information about the application. OSMO is included in the package repository of Ubuntu, so it is only a simple sudo apt-get install away from your desktop if you use Ubuntu!

AntiX 8 test release reviewed

antiX has been around for some time but I have never installed or even used it. The goal of antiX is to provide a light, but fully functional desktop system for both newbies and experienced users of Linux. It does not require much from the hardware and it should run on most computers, ranging from 64MB old PII 266 systems with 128MB RAM to the latest hardware. At least 128MB RAM is recommended for antiX and 1.2GB is required for a hard disk installation.

Having already used several lightweight Linux distributions, I wanted to see how antiX would perform on my secondary desktop. This computer is an old e-Vectra (1 GHz, 256 Mb) that should be a perfectly good computer to be used with antiX. Some years ago, it was a popular corporate desktop and it was used a lot as Internet kiosks and desktops for examples in universities and libraries.

AntiX must be installed using a live CD which makes it cumbersome to be installed in the oldest computers. With my e-Vectra the installation took about 25 minutes. Quite acceptable, but I wonder how the GUI installer would succeed when used on an even older box with less memory.

Edit: I forgot to mention that antiX did not correctly recognize the graphic chip of my computer which means that the screen resolution offered was completely unusable. I copied the xorg.conf from another system.

AntiX uses IceWM as the default window manager which was of course a pleasant surprise for me. Nowadays, more and more lightweight distributions use either JWM or LXDE but IceWM can look just as nice as any other window manager. In fact, AntiX provides the user with a nice selection of installed themes.

The first test I usually do with any distro is to see how it handles the most common web site for multimedia, that is the YouTube. In fact, AntiX has no problems in showing any of the YouTube videos I wanted to see. This is certainly a something a newbie expects even from a lightweight distribution as flash animations, Java games and YouTube videos are an important part of web experience for most users. These of course demand a lot from the hardware and the experience might not be exactly great with the oldest computers, but it was good enough for me.

Second test: what happens when I insert an audio cd in the cd drive? - Nothing.

In fact, that is exactly what I was hoping for. I started xmms and clicked Play directory, then chose the directory /media/cdrom to be played. For a total newbie this might not be the most obvious way to play a music cd but I have no problems with this.

A third test: what happens when I try to use an USB memory stick? - As far as I see, nothing. At least nothing appears in the directory /media.

First I thought I should just mount the pendrive by hand, but I finally found the solution. Start the Control center, select the tab Peripherals, click Mount connected Devices and give the root password. Now the memory is mounted as /media/sda1. But I still don't know how to umount the memory except as root on the command line with umount /media/sda1. Rox filer cannot handle it as the ordinary user is of course not allowed to umount a device that was mounted by the root.

AntiX is based on MEPIS that in turn is based on Debian. This means that the system beneath the desktop is (or should be) familiar to any user of Ubuntu or Debian. This in itself is a strong point in favor of antiX for anyone coming from the Ubuntu land. I can warmly recommend AntiX for anyone who is looking for a lightweight alternative to Ubuntu. AntiX provides a good selection of lightweight applications and an even wider selection of applications is available in the Debian stable repositories. The default installation provides the applications that most people need: a media player, web browsers, a word processor (Abiword), a spreadsheet application (Gnumeric), DVD player and even some games.

AntiX 8 is still a release under development. I have, however, not encountered any problems with the system during these two days I have used antiX. I can recommend antiX to anyone who is looking for a lightweight distribution to be used on an old computer.

  1. antiX discussion forum
  2. download antiX test release from Mepisimo or

Ubuntu 8.10 - first impressions

It must be a year or two since I last used Ubuntu on a regular basis. Today I decided to install the Intrepid Ibex on my high end desktop (CPU 2.8 GHz, 512 Mb RAM, Asus P4PE mother board, Geforce 7600GS) as the openSUSE 11.0 would anyway soon be replaced by 11.1. Now I'm not so sure about installing openSUSE even if DHL should deliver the box sometime next Monday.

The installation went without problems as is usual with all mainstream distros today. In fact I have not encountered any big problems since 2001 when I had a brand new desktop at the university. My own desktops are always old and cheap hardware so usually there is no problem with hardware drivers. Even the sound device is nowadays not usually muted by default. Seven years ago it took me some weeks or months of reading about Linux before I learned how to turn the sound on.

After reboot I installed the driver for the graphic card I just added to the computer. Some old card made by Ati was replaced by an almost modern Geforce 7600GS that can even cope with Compiz desktop effects. I am not a great fan of desktop effects but I must admit that the effect for changing the virtual desktop is cool! Furthermore, Ubuntu does not overdo the effects: transparency and shadows are kept to the minimum and they are not disturbing. I only needed to turn on the subpixel smoothing to get nicer fonts on my LCD monitor (System -> Preferences -> Appearance -> Fonts tab).

One small thing was missing from the GNOME menu, namely Firefox web browser. I tried to add an application starter for FF in the panel, but even then the system seems not to find an icon for Firefox.

I encountered one more small annoyance when I tried to add a second user to the system. Ubuntu did not accept a user name that already had a home directory under /home (created by the old openSUSE system). There was no problem in continuing to use the old home directory for the first user created - the problem seems to exist only for further users. I could of course have tried to add the second user with command line but I decided just to use another username for the second user and consequently also another home directory. Then I copied the files and changed the owner, group and permissions to match the new user name.

There should be a more obvious solution but this quick and dirty solution is always available regardless of the distribution. It is quite possible that all the problems I encountered are caused by the fact that I wanted to continue using the old /home partition and the old configuration files for each user. Usually there are no problems when one just upgrades the distribution but there are always some slight hiccups when one changes the distribution as well.

Next I installed the ubuntu-restricted-extras and some other packages like Emacs to be able to edit text files comfortably. It is true that Emacs is not the lightest editor available, but I like the way it can be configured for editing text files with longlines-mode. It is almost like writing with a word processor I've been looking for Linux console for many years with no luck. It seems I'm the only person on this planet who would like to write with a text mode word processor with Linux...

One thing I like in Ubuntu is that the default applications are pretty well chosen for an ordinary desktop system. My non-geek partner has no difficulties in using either GNOME or KDE as long as she can easily find the icons for Firefox and She needs terminal only for a ssh session to the university's Unix system where she receives her email. So Ubuntu seems to be a rather good system for someone who just needs the ordinary office applications. I myself prefer to use some more lightweight applications even with this pretty fast computer. Usually Abiword is good enough for my needs, sometimes I stay with Emacs or use LyX if I want to get a decent printout that is typeset with LaTeX.

I've been quite happy with the latest incarnation of the most famous and popular distribution today. Of course, it should have come as no surprise to me or most of my readers! It remains to be seen whether there will be any problems later or not. But I like what I've seen now and I will certainly be able to recommend Ubuntu 8.10 to any newbie who is looking for a distribution to be used with a computer that has at least 512 Mb RAM, a decent processor and a good graphics card.

On the other hand, I am not going to install either Ubuntu or openSUSE on my 1 GHz desktop. I just think that the amount of time needed for tweaking and optimizing either distro to be run with a computer that has a 1 GHz CPU and 256 Mb RAM can be better spent doing something else. I might, for example, write another blog posting or study some economics.

I will, however, try to have time for testing some lightweight distribution on that old box during the next week. Just for fun.

But I would like to read about your experiences with Ubuntu on old computers. Is it worth the trouble?

Absolute Linux 12.2.1

Absolute Linux 12.2.1 has been released. It is primarily a security update. See the release notes for more information.

VectorLinux 6.0 RC2

For some months, I've been using Vector Linux 5.9 on my second desktop machine that I in fact use more than my better desktop. I've been very happy with the performance it provides and I'm looking forward to the next release. It should become soon available, as the project has just released the second release candidate version of the distribution.

See the release notes for more information.

How old is an old computer?

Once in a while I wonder what people understand with an old computer. It seems some people think everything build or bought two years ago and not fast enough for the latest 3d games is an old computer that needs a lightweight Linux distribution to be useful.

Some people in different Linux discussion forums seem to think that every 32bit computer is an old computer and severely low in specifications. According to some the hardware is not fast enough if it cannot be used with every possible useless Compiz effect turned on.

I myself tend to think that an old computer is something that was build and sold at least seven to eight years ago. At the moment I have four such computers and two of them are actively used. For example, just now I write this post with an HP e-Vectra that has a 1 GHz Pentium processor and full 256 Mb of RAM. I bought it a few months ago for 50 euros that I considered an acceptable price as the computer had been upgraded with a hard disk of 250 Gb. I have been quite happy to use Vector Linux with this nice small desktop computer. Runs fast enoug for me.

On the other hand, the monitor I use is not very good. It is a 17" CRT monitor likewise by HP. I got it for free from a recycling center just like I got this nice HP keyboard. Unfortunately, the monitor must be used with maximal 100 % contrast that is the only contrast that can acceptably be read, at least when the text is black on white background.

The laptop I use for my studies is an old Macintosh iBook with 600 MHz processor and 384 Mb RAM. I got the laptop free from my father who had already two newer Macintosh laptops. I just reformatted the hard disk and installed Debian on it. Works like a charm!

I still have one Toshiba laptop with 100 MHz CPU and 40 MB RAM. I think I have Slackware 11 installed on it. For some time, I've been thinking about starting to use it again on a daily basis. I like the keyboard better than the one in iBook. And nobody would steal the laptop if I would leave it on a library desk and go to drink a cup of coffee in the café.

What is the oldest computer You still use on a daily basis? Are You happy with its performance?

Tiny Core Linux 1.0

Tiny Core Linux 1.0 was released yesterday. The 10 Mb ISO image can be found here.

WindowMaker Dockapps

WindowMaker is one of my favorite window managers as my regular readers might remember. WindowMaker is simple, strong, and lightweight. Just the right combination for my old hardware.

WindowMaker in itself is pretty simple and does not provide any widgets or gadgets out of the box. But its functionality can greatly be enhanced by different dockapps that exist for just about every possible use. I rarely need anything special but if I would ever want to have a fractal graphics program running in a dockapp I would have no difficulties in finding, installing and running one.

The screenshot shows several dockapps in action. From left to right there is wmcalclock, wmmixer, wmrecord, wmload, wmtop, wmmand, and wmcube. If these dockapps cannot be installed with the help of the package management of the distro you use, you can of course install them from the sources. All the dockapps can be browsed in

If you have never used WindowMaker, it is certainly worth a try.

See also:
[1] WindowMaker links in the column to the right.
[2] WindowMaker Themes
[3] More WindowMaker Themes

Feed changes

I've done some changes in my feed settings. Please report any problems!

Twelve Online Linux Magazines

Linux Magazines are a good source of information for those who want to know more about Linux and open source software in general. Many of the better magazines are rather expensive - they have been printed on expensive paper and come with DVDs that I have no use for. Thus, I have lately started to read more and more online magazines that I do not have to pay for.

Fortunately, there are some very interesting online magazines that are free to read. The following are online versions of printed magazines:
These are published only online:
And of course, there are some news sites for geeky news:
Anything else?

Spreadsheets for Linux

There are three modern and usable spreadsheet applications for Linux. OpenOffice.Org, KSpread for KDE users and Gnumeric for the users of GNOME.

If you are looking for a lightweight alternative for OpenOffice.Org you probably should try KSpread and Gnumeric. Both of them are lightweight enough if your hardware can reasonably be used with KDE or GNOME.

In addition, there are some older spreadsheets like Siag and Oleo that might satisfy your needs. I would, however, recommend either Gnumeric and KSpread to be used as a lightweight alternative to OpenOffice if you are using the spreadsheet for any half-way serious calculations.

Abiword is a lightweight word processor

The choice of a lightweight distribution is not enough to ensure that a system can comfortably be run on an old computer. It is equally important to select lightweight applications that do not demand too much from the limited hardware. For example, is a great office suite but it can be too heavy for the old boxes with low memory.

I do most of my word processing with other applications. Sometimes I just use Emacs for simple text documents or LyX if I want to have a nice and well balanced printout that is typeset with LaTeX. But usually when I have to write a paper for the school I use Abiword.

Abiword does a reasonable job in importing from and exporting to RTF and DOC. It is not perfect but usually good enough for my simple text documents that don't have any graphics. If I need to edit documents that include graphics I usually edit the documents with OpenOffice and finish them using MS Word at school where I can ensure that the document is formatted using the official template of the school.

I like also the good selection of import and export plugins available for Abiword. There are plugins for all kinds of applications ranging from nroff and LaTeX to WordPerfect. The plugins are not perfect but usually good enough.

Abiword has been localized in many languages. Try Abiword, it might well be good enough for you.