Home » Linux on a Dell Latitude CPx (650MHz) with 184Megs of RAM

Linux on a Dell Latitude CPx (650MHz) with 184Megs of RAM

A few weeks ago my mother managed to utterly destroy her Gateway laptop. It was 1.5GHz and had 1GB or RAM. When I say “destroyed”, I don’t mean she crushed it, it just was dead as a door nail. Nothing worked…. except the HD (once removed from the dead laptop).

My poor mother needs to get online to check her bank account and her cell phone usage. I assume at some point she’ll want get all fancy andt write a document, edit a spreadsheet or read a pdf so I needed to keep this in mind.

The only “spare” laptop I had on hand is a Dell Latitude CPx (650MHz) with 184Megs of RAM. This is quite a step down for her, but, sometimes the “needs” outweigh the “wants”.

I also didn’t mention that this Dell Latitude doesn’t have a CD ROM!

I do have a few options:

  1. Create some bootable floppy disk for a network install (Geeze, I don’t even have a floppy disk in my house).
  2. Use her original hard drive with Debian Linux installed on it.
#2 is the easy winner.
OS:
Sticking with the Debian install, but I take some basic steps to make lighten the load:
  • I boot the CPx with her original hard drive. (Debian)
  • I uninstall her original window manager, which was XFCE, not heavy at all, actually very light, but was very sluggish in this scenario.
  • I uninstall OpenOffice, because noone should have to wait 3 minutes for a document to open.
  • I pour through the installed packages (dpkg-query -l) and uninstall anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.
  • I update /etc/apt/sources and change all instances of “squeeze” to “testing” then run apt-get update followed by apt-get -u upgrade then an apt-get dist-upgrade
Window Manager
Now I need to find a light window manager. That’s easy enough, but there’s a catch. It has to be easy for my mother to use (she’s retired). After some Google searches I opt for IceWM with idesk (for desktop icons).
I install and configure IceWM. Then I install network-manager-gnome and gnome-power-manager so she can have simple configuration of wifi and to monitor her battery use. I add these , as well as idesk to her ~/.icewm/startup file (so they start immediately after IceWM starts).
My mother will need to be able to find her downloaded files and documents. Command line is not an option so I use idesk and create some desktop icons for Documents and Downloads. They icons call “thunar Documents” and “thunar Download” respectively. This tells Thunar file manager to open a new window with the folder named Documents or Download”.
Browser:
I create some desktop icons in idesk and use the Firefox icon for familiarity, but it really loads Epiphany web browser
Office Setup:
I then load Abiword for her word processing needs. I trick out the config so that it defaults to saving files with a doc extension instead of the default *.abi.. I then plop a icon from a mainstream word processor on her desktop, but it’s loads AbiWord and not the other bloated app.
Gnumeric is used for her Spreadsheets (xls files).
Xpdf for pdf files.
Leafpad for simple text editing (think notepad type apps).
Summary
 The system isn’t as slow as I thought it’d be. Most of the time it’s really good and fairly responsive. I surf on this thing all evening while watching TV. The battery is surprisingly good even though I was using the wifi to browse the internet.  This setup isn’t bad at all. It is worth noting that the browser will eat up all the memory at times, but that is to be expected, depending on the website(s) involved.

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