If I was setting up a new, or fairly new, computer with Linux I’d probably go with PCLinuxOS, Kubuntu or Ubuntu (they’re all really nice) and be happy as a lark but my first Linux computer was old and well used. Oh we had a newer machine but after I put PCLinuxOS on it my wife liked it so much that I decided to let her have it and I found another for myself. Through the luck of the draw, the one I found for myself was a 333 MHz Dell, still, I was awfully impressed with how well Debian Sarge worked on the Dell and it occurred to me that Linux might offer a way to give a second life to computers that would otherwise be considered obsolete. Maybe it’s because I’m getting up there in years and I have grandkids, I don’t know, but I kept thinking about what a boon this could be to senior citizens living on fixed incomes who have kids and grandkids they could exchange email with or to grade school students who could derive enormous benefits from early exposure to a computer, even if all they did with it was play games.

So I went searching for the best Linux distribution for computers in the 300 to 600 MHz range and I’ve been relatively obsessed with the search for roughly fifteen months during which time most popular distros have produced two or three new releases. At about two hours per ISO file (from which CDs can be burned) the downloads were becoming awfully tedious and my 40 GB hard drive was getting dangerously close to full so I finally broke down and wiped out my PayPal account to purchase a “stack” of Linux distributions. That gave me some exciting new distros to try and really kicked the adventure into overdrive.

SAM Linux lead me on a merry chase with one little problem after another until I started getting that “it’s always something” feeling and gave up on it. Mandriva Linux was nice but it “entertains” you with advertising for commercial products while the installation is running (does that make it adware?) and following the install you no longer have access to the repository for updates unless you “register” (I didn’t check but I think that means “purchase”), making it “crippleware.” Two weeks after I bought a complete set of CDs for 3.1 (Sarge), Debian stable updated to Debian 4.0 (Etch) leaving me with fifteen shiny little frisbees. Freespire, like Mandriva, felt like adware to me, openSUSE is better suited to newer hardware, gNewSense is a fine idea (containing strictly Open Source applications) but I want to listen to music on Pandora and watch the occasional video at google which can’t be done without proprietary software. meanwhile my Debian machine was chock full of bugs and error messages after updating from 3.1 to 4.0 via Synaptic.

I was not a happy camper.

Then when I made a visit to Chris Pirillo’s live video feed and found that the video wasn’t working (again) but I hung around and yakked on the chat applet for a while. One fellow was bragging about his Debian Etch system. I asked him a few questions and learned that he wasn’t having any of the problems I encountered. There were about eighty people in the chat room and I figured I’d already bored most of them to tears by “going on” about Linux so I shut up and went on my way but spent a couple of days mulling it over. It finally occurred to me that a fresh install might not have the problems I was seeing in my updated install and, once the possibility occurred to me, there was no way I wasn’t going to check it out. I downloaded a current copy of the Net Install ISO file, burned a CD and “gave ‘er a shot.” Bingo, no more problems. Debian Etch rules…

…and the adventure continues.

Don Crowder

[tags]linux, older hardware, debian etch, senior citizens, young students[/tags]