Unlike computers, books have lasting value

I suppose most of my readers know that it is pretty easy to get usable computer hardware for free. If the hardware is not fast enough for the latest incarnation of MS Windows, OS X or the some of the recent shoot-em-ups most people are willing to update their hardware to something more recent. If their old hardware happens to be more than, for example, five to seven years old, it is probably impossible to sell at any reasonable price. For people like me, those computers are still more than usable.

Unfortunately, I've not been able to find any real use for hardware that is about 20 years old. Of course, I still could write my text files using WordPerfect 5.1 if I just could find somewhere installation floppies still functioning. Or I could use the computer for playing some classic MS DOS games. Just being geekier than the people around me might be a reason for doing that instead of playing the games using a DOS emulator running under Linux. Or I could use a 386 as a terminal for ssh sessions on some of my more recent computers.

Books, on the other hand, do not lose their value as fast as the computers do. I still enjoy reading books printed decades ago. I enjoy reading Roman and Greek classics in translation and sometimes even in the original language -- if I have some extra time to spend with Latin grammar and old dictionaries.

Even computer books can be useful for decades. I found in the local university library a few old books about AWK, Perl and Emacs that are still very helpful for a semi-computer-illiterate like me. Unfortunately, it is a lot more difficult to find classic O'Reilly books for free than it is to get free hardware. But I'll continue my search for them...

Of course, there are some interesting books that can be downloaded for free, for example the Unix Text Processing by Dale Dougherty and Tim O'Reilly. The book was originally published in 1987 but you can still learn a lot from it if you are just learning to use the GNU command line tools.

A confession

I have something to confess.

During the last weeks and months I have alarmingly often thought about buying a new computer. That in itself should not be too worrying, but the fact that I have in fact enjoyed using the Windows 7 at school causes me some headache.

Furthermore, I have started to think about the advantages of having a MS Office license for my small business. Being able to check the compatibility of my text files using the globally most popular word processor might make my life a bit easier.

Unfortunately, the license for MS Office would be more expensive than a new desktop computer. I could, of course, buy a student license for the office package but then I wouldn't be able to use the software legally for my small business. At the moment, the about 50 euros per month needed for a new PC and MS Office are too much for my budget.

Life is full of choices and sometimes it is difficult to make the right decision. Everything seemed to be much simpler when I didn't need to work with clients...

Back in business

During the last months, I've been busy creating my own start-up business as web copywriter. Starting a business and studying at the same time has demanded a lot of my time which means I have had few moments available for non-profitable blogging.

Today I found something I wanted to share with you: fvwm-crystal. For years I've wanted to use fvwm but I have never had the time to tweak the settings in order to have a good-looking desktop. Today I noticed the Debian package fvwm-crystal which immediately gave me a usable and nice-looking desktop. Unfortunately, the package came with quite a few dependencies.

Anyway, fvwm seems to function very nicely on my 600 MHz iBook. After a few months jumping between framebuffer and openbox, fvwm is a very refreshing window manager.

Looking for new challenges...

Having just finished my B.Sc. thesis the short Eastern vacation was more than welcome for me. At the end of the day, I was able to do all the writing and typesetting needed using a text only Debian system. LaTeX, Koma Script and Emacs were fully adequate tools for all of my needs.

As usual, the BibTeX caused some headache but most of the problems were solved by Shiro Takeda's econ.bst. Martin J. Osborne's te.bst was another good candidate for building the bibliography. After this experience I'm pretty confident I can use the same combination of software for even bigger writing projects. If my supervisor accepts the slight differences between the final version and the official Word template of the school I will no doubt continue using this system for all the homework I have to write during my final year at the business school.

Today, I've been building a Linux box for my wife to be used mainly for serious writing (she's a humanities PhD) and Impress presentations. The hardware is probably old enough to be considered old hardware by most of my readers: 1.7 GHz processor and 256 MB RAM. Unfortunately, none of the distro's tried seem to be able to connect to the internet using the network card built on the motherboard. At the moment I don't have any extra network cards so I cannot build the system using only the spare parts I have. I just hope the motherboard stays alive for a year or two as at the moment we are living on a rather tight budget.

This time I decided to install Zenwalk 6.2 on the box. It is pretty lightweight, easy to configure and provides everything my wife needs out of the box and not too much software she would never need. Furthermore, Xfce provides all the desktop functionality she expects to find in her desktop system and she should be able to use the system confortably without my help.

B.Sc. Thesis Almost Finished!

During the last couple of weeks, I've been busy working on my B.Sc. thesis in economics. After some initial hesitation I wrote the thesis using a text only Debian system on my iBook. I first planned to write the thesis using Google Docs which I could have used in the several locations I divided my time during the working week.

After some experimentation with Google Docs I finally took the bull by the horns and decided to write the paper using the tools installed in my Debian laptop. For writing the paper, I used Emacs with AUCTeX using the longlines-mode. I typeset it using LaTeX and KOMA script. Unfortunately, I still have some problems with the bibliography style defined by my school. I just can't figure out e.g. how to remove the full stop after year in the bibliography provided by chicago.bst.

I just hope I'll get the bibliography style fixed as soon as possible. If I succeed in hacking the .bst file there will be no reason not to write my M.Sc. thesis with this combination of very stable software. Of course, there remains the possibility of exporting the paper to rtf, format it with the official Word style provided by the school and format the bibliography by hand.

But being so close to finishing the thesis I would rather not cheat like that...

Experimenting with bleeding edge using an iBook

Last weekend, after successfully upgrading my 1 GHz PC from Debian stable to unstable, I got the crazy idea that I should upgrade the fully functioning Debian stable on my iBook (600Mhz, 384 Mb) to either Debian testing or unstable. I had already forgotten the udev problems I had encountered and finally solved on this Pentium box.

It was a bad idea. I did not succeed in getting the X configured -- I just had a black screen with a colored horizontal stripe on the bottom half of the screen. Reset, reboot and again. Reset, reconfigure and reboot. Again. And again.

Second try: I burned the CD for Arch Linux. Arch did not give me any more usable X. After some googling around I succeed in getting at least a weird split screen TWM on the screen instead of the now familiar black screen. But still I had no functioning keyboard nor was the touchpad functioning.

After this, I was willing to live on the command line for a while as the Arch at least booted extremely quickly. But then I realized the PPC repositories were not nearly as good and up-to-date as the repositories for 386 Arch.

Ok. After two days of experimenting I decided to go back to the point where I started all this. I had, after all, been quite happy with Debian stable...

Free online BSD Magazine 3/2010 published

Many Linux users have heard about BSD family of Unix operating systems, but few have had the courage to install a BSD to be used on a regular basis.

Nowadays, most users could probably do their everyday computing with some of the more mainstream BSDs just as easily as with Ubuntu or some other desktop oriented Linux distribution. If you are one of those Linux users, you should have a look at the free online BSD Magazine.

But don't stop there! If you have an extra old computer somewhere, you might as well like to install some BSD variant on it. Those of you who are just looking for an easy-to-install-and-use BSD would probably be very happy with PC-BSD 8.0 released last week. Some of the highlights of the latest release are:
* FreeBSD 8.0-RELEASE-P2
* KDE 4.3.5

* Brand new System Installer, allows the install of PC-BSD or FreeBSD
* Run in Live mode directly from DVD
* Updated Software Manager, allows browsing and installing applications directly
* Support for 3D acceleration with NVIDIA drivers on amd64

Are you a luddite?

Since you are reading this blog dedicated to using Linux on older hardware, you might be interested in the techonology luddites:

When it come to technology, newer isn't always better. We head out in search of the people who consider good enough to still be good enough.

Read more about old hardware and retro tech users in the article published in the PCPlus!

Problematic Debian update: udev and kernel

Normally, I try to remember googling for any problems before doing a major update in any of the Linux systems I use for doing something more important than simply surfing on the Internet. I forgot to do this before updating my stable Debian system to Debian unstable last night.

Of course, I ran into problems that were almost too difficult to solve in the early hours of the morning. My system was not able to solve issue caused by the conflicting version of kernel and udev. It took me some time before I found the solution in the Debian forum.

Now I'm a happy user of Debian unstable. It remains to be seen, if the unstable branch of the distribution is too bleeding edge for my taste. I have used both Debian stable and testing for several years, but I can't remember ever having installed or used Debian unstable. I hope my life does not become too unstable after this upgrade...

Minix 3.1.6 Released!

The Minix project has released a new stable version of the operating system. The release 3.1.6 was made public yesterday. Minix Wiki lists the following major features for the release:
  • New drivers: Atheros L2, Intel E1000, Realtek 8169, DEC Tulip
  • VirtualPC Network Support (DEC Tulip)
  • PipeFS - removed pipe handling from filesystem drivers
  • HGFS - support for mounting VMware shared folders as file system
  • FPU support
  • System Event Framework (SEF)
  • Experimental APIC support (disabled by default)
  • More ports: more recent QEMU, BSD utilities, Benchmarks
Download the image from here. If you are interested in Minix, you should also have a look at the Minix section in the Lightweight Linux Bookstore!

Linux documentation in wiki format

I am a huge fan of free documentation, even if I like to read printed books as well. In my opinion, the printed book still has the best available user interface that the computer screen and hypertext can only emulate but not surpass.

But on the other hand, Internet and the different forms of social media have several advantages over the printed book. Among the most obvious advantages are the free availability (if you happen to be living in the developed world with cheap broadband connections), and the possibility to update the information easily and often. Furthermore, there are several licenses that allow reusing the free documentation in different forms. Hence it should not come as a surprise that there are many good sources for free Linux documentation on the Internet.

In addition to the Linux Documentation Project, you should take a look at some of the more interesting documentation sites published in wiki format. For example, the Gentoo Linux Wiki includes a useful article about lightweight install of the Gentoo Linux.

Arch Linux is another favorite distribution used by many enthusiasts who want to keep their old hardware in use. Even if you are not ready to install and use Arch, you should take a look at Arch Linux Wiki. The page dedicated to Lightweight Applications is certainly useful for anyone interested in building a system with lightweight software.

And of course, you should not forget Debian Wiki or Crux Wiki, LQWiki and many other good documentation sites using a wiki platform!

Unity Linux 2010 b2

Unity Linux is a new distribution approaching its first stable release. Last week, the project announced the second beta release the distribution based on Mandriva.

From the release notes:

Currently, Unity Linux offers both 32-bit and 64-bit LiveCDs. Nearly 7,700 packages are available after installation. In an effort to give distribution developers maximum flexibility, the core is kept small and usable, but not too basic. Unity Linux provides developers with the bare minimum– just enough to make use of remaster tools, the smart package manager, a kernel, and rpm5.

You can dowload the beta release from mirrors listed here.

50 Linux Discussion Forums

More than a year ago, I posted three articles listing a few dozen Linux discussion forums. I suppose it is time to republish the list, now in one article. Furthermore, I added a few more discussion forums just in order to have a nice title with exactly 50 discussion forums dedicated to Linux and other free Unix like operating systems.

If your favourite discussion forum is missing from the list, please add it in the comment box!

  1. Absolute
  2. Arch
  3. BSDnexus
  4. CentOS
  5. Clonezilla
  6. Crunchbang
  7. Crux for PPC
  8. Daemonforums.org (BSD)
  9. Damn Small Linux
  10. Debian
  11. DeLi
  12. DesktopBSD
  13. Dreamlinux
  14. Elive
  15. Fedora
  16. Fluxbuntu
  17. Foresight
  18. Frugalware
  19. GeeXboX
  20. Gentoo
  21. gOS
  22. GParted
  23. Knoppix
  24. LinuxConsole
  25. Linuxquestions.org
  26. Mandriva
  27. Mepis
  28. Midnight BSD
  29. Mint
  30. OpenGEU
  31. OpenSolaris
  32. openSUSE
  33. PC-BSD
  34. PCLinuxOS
  35. Puppy Linux
  36. Sabayon
  37. Sidux
  38. Slackware
  39. Slackware (Linuxpackages.net)
  40. Slax
  41. Slitaz
  42. TinyCore
  43. TinyME
  44. Ubuntu
  45. Ultimate Edition
  46. Vector Linux
  47. WattOS
  48. Wolvix
  49. Yoper
  50. Zenwalk