One of the myths that are out there , is that Linux runs on “everything”. Technically, this is true, Linux does “RUN” on even the smallest and most underpowered devices (Appliances like routers, your Tivo and some cellphones) and sure enough, geeks manage to run Linux on lighter computers like a 486, just to prove their point. The question is : What kind of “Linux” are they running on those machines. I mean : Linux is a very broad term when you think about it. It can range from command-line-Linux only, to a full desktop version with tons of apps and cool COMPIZ effects, to even a super cluster rendering the next pixar movie. There are many “variations” and “incarnations” of Linux, and depending on what you work with , they sure don’t run on “everything”. There is a difference between ‘application-like bare minimum Linux versions’ that do one thing and one thing well, there is the “mid range” that lets you do about everything as long as you are happy with the command line. Finally there is the “everyday Linux” that lets us live our life on the web inside a graphical user interface with common applications like Firefox, Flash etc. In the next series of articles I’ll write up some personal experiences on working with these several “incarnations” of Linux. I’ll show you what i used them for, and what my personal “record” is on lowest hardware requirements.
The Bare Minimum Linux Distro called … FREESCO.
Sure , you can run Linux on a 468, if you only install the Kernel (the heart of the operating system) and a VI or Nano editor. What you have then is a glorified typewriter (that is if you add in some network support) and I’ve been known to use “light” versions of Linux like that to get stuff done. Back when I worked for the educational department was in need of some network printers. Most printers they had lying around came with a parallel port connector and where only useful when they where hooked up to a “local” computer. Pretty shitty if you wanted to use them as a network printer, so other students could print to that printer via the network. In those days people would “sneaker net” their files around using Floppy disks from computer to computer. I had to put and end to that and get those printers networked. Sharing out the printers on the local computers ? not done. (Systems would be shut down and printers would be unreachable). Network printers ? no money for that. Network-printing boxes ( Parallel to Lan adapter ) ? No money for that either. The only thing I had lying around in plenty of number where old 486 computers. Time for some Linux Magic : FREESCO A Linux based distribution that allowed you to turn an old computer into a router AND a print server. The only thing you needed was : 8 MEGAbytes of ram, one or more network cards, a parallel port an .. a floppy drive. No harddisk required. This baby booted completely off a floppy drive and had easy (command line) wizards to follow in order to setup your old box as a router, a firewall or a print server. So this meant all the old machines I had could be turned into network print servers ! The devices could be turned on and off at random without damage to the operating system (everything was stored on a floppy) I could easily backup the ENTIRE print server (all i needed to do was ‘copy the floppy’ AND the thing played “money money money” by Abba when it finished booting ! Bare minimum Linux to the rescue.
My lowest hardware record : 486mhz processor, 8 megabytes of Edo Ram, 1 PCI network card, 1 Floppy drive.
Freesco Linux. A router, Firewall and a print server using nothing but a floppy drive.