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Goodbye Woody, Welcome Etch //at 10:54 //by abe

from the old-hardware-never-dies-it-just-gets-new-software dept.

It finally happened. I installed Debian Etch on my last Woody box, a 400 MHz Pentium II with 576 MB RAM named gsa which is my home desktop since I bought it at LinuxTag 2003 in Karlsruhe.

And no I didn’t do a dist-upgrade, neither direct no via Sarge. As already planned I removed some no more necessary operating systems from that box and installed Etch on the freed disk space. Woody is still installed on that box in parallel and was recognized perfectly by Etch’s installer.

I took a few hours but also was big fun to go through Etch package list and to decide what to install. Overall the installation of 5 GB of software took about half a day.

In general everything went fine, the only thing I’m yet missing is sound. Etch didn’t seem to recognize my soundcard at all although it’s a well-known brand and defacto standard for many other soundcards: a Creative Labs Soundblaster. Well, the 16-Bit ISA version, needing the full length of the slot. Worked fine under Woody. Well, I hope I’ll get it working again manually.

What on the other hand is really nice with udev hell —eh— hal and all those new automatic bells and whistles: The desktop (well, at least GNOME Nautilus as well as XFCE, but probably also KDE) recognises when I insert a 3.5” floppy into the drive and shows me a nice floppy icon on the desktop. You think, that’s impossible? Floppy drives don’t inform the rest of the system when a floppy has been inserted without you polling the drive every few seconds? Well, USB floppy drives can. And they do. :-)

I still need time to migrate all the old settings from Woody to Etch. I’ll probably stick with FVWM, but perhaps will use the GNOME enabled version. What’s already done is the migration from tcsh to zsh. On all new or dist-upgraded systems after Etch I’ve chosen zsh so with my last Woody installation retiring I’ve also fully migrated to zsh.

So I’ve got now most of my active private boxes running Etch. Only the noone.org web and mail server “sym” (an amd64 box) as well as my 133 MHz ThinkPad “bijou” are still running Sarge, both with 2.6 kernels.

So with switching to Etch on gsa, I also got no more Debian box running a 2.4 kernel. The only 2.4 kernel I run is on my FreeWRT WLAN router named pluriel, which runs But I expect that 2.6.18 will be as stable and long lasting as the famous and rock-solid 2.4.18 from Woody. 18 seems to be Debian’s favourite kernel minor version recently. ;-)


VCFe talk online / bijou vs Etch //at 00:52 //by abe

from the old-hardware-never-dies dept.

With a few days lag, the slides to my VCFe 8.0 talk Aktuelle, freie Software auf alter Hardware (“Up to date, free software on old hardware”, held in German using Kazehakase and S5) are now online. In comparision to my former talks on that subject (held at some DebianDays), this talk was not Debian focused but focused more on not so well known, but resource-friendly free software as well as focused on an audience which has more knowledge of old hardware than of current software. :-)

Additionally, I updated my old blog post about X on my ThinkPad 760ED named bijou so that now also my current XF86Config-4 for Sarge on that box is linked in there.

Apropos bijou: I couldn’t recommend Debian 4.0 Etch that much for old computers with not so much memory since especially aptitude has grown much in regards of it’s memory and performance needs. Regarding my experiences with Etch, any computer with less than 50 MB of RAM will start to swap if aptitude is only started on such a box. I’ve looked throough the aptitude documentation, but I haven’t found a way to switch of some of the tables it generates internally. E.g. I have no need for the tag database it always generates. I really would be happy, if someone knows a way to turn even only that feature off. Then I may dist-upgrade bijou to Etch, since I found that dselect is no real alternative to aptitude anymore.

Oh yeah, and I of course bought new old hardware at the VCFe: A 386SX Thin Client named Flytech Carry-I 9300 from 1991 with about 200 MB of harddisk and 10 MB of RAM.

X on IBM ThinkPad 760ED //at 00:13 //by abe

from the finally dept.

As many of my friends know, I installed Debian GNU/Linux 3.0 aka Woody on my IBM ThinkPad 760ED (Pentium 1, 133 MHz, 48 MB RAM, 1 GB HD) named bijou at Chemnitzer Linux-Tage this spring. Although many helped me trying to configure X, I didn’t get rid of the LCD “forgetting” more or less pixels each row so that the picture got blurred towards the right rim.

During Berlinux, a not so convinced Linux user (he told me he likes the feeling of Windows, but got stick with Debian because his modem just didn’t work with Windows) told me that he had similar problems with a graphics card with similar chips as the ones in my ThinkPad. Since I never was sure, if my problem is a hardware defect, a driver or a configuration problem (but I tended to hardware defect or a not supported chipset, since I read about several Trident 96xx and 98xx chipsets to be unsupported under Linux), his comment was a ray of hope to me. He told me he found the solution on Werner Heuser’s TuxMobil website, whom I showed my X problem also Berlinux but who hadn’t an idea what it could be. He also told me, that XFree86 4.x doesn’t support this graphics chip, but XFree86 3.3.x does.

But somehow I had forgotten that TuxMobil not only has informations about Linux on laptops but also a big bunch of links to pages which deal with specific models. I can’t remember, if I looked there already back in March, but it felt like I didn’t although my own small text about bijou is linked there, too. I looked through the other 760/770 ED/XD pages and on the second or third I found someone who seems to have had the same problem and also with a 760ED. He wrote, someone else has gone down that path already so he linked directly to the XF86Config he found elsewhere. That sounded like an easy earned money so I followed the link — 404. Shit! For luck a few lines down he linked also his own XF86Config, so I grabbed it, uncommented everything unnecessary and put in the essential parts of his XF86Config of which the most important parts probably were the modelines. The one for 1024×768 was commented as the only one working, those for 800×600 and 640×480 were commented out. Then I downgraded X to XFree86 3.3.6.

It didn’t work as expected. The display stayed black which was less than I had accomplished before. Shit! But giving up is not my style. So first I reduced the color depth. No change. Then I started with reducing the resolution. With 800×600 and 16 bit color depth, it finally worked. No hardware defect, no unsupported graphics chip. Just not the right modelines. That was all. YESSS!

I guess the guy whose XF86Config I used didn’t have a 760ED but a similar model with a LCD with higher resolution. because my 760ED definitely has no 1024×768 resolution because 800×600 fills the screen completely.

Still leaves the problem with the svgalib: The system just freezes with a black screen if I start a svgalib application like e.g. zgv. First I found out, that svgalib indeed has a configuration file which (at least under Woody) can be found at /etc/vga/libvga.conf. Copied the modelines from the now working XF86Config, configured the mouse and tried again. Freeze. Hmmm, in the config there is mentioned that if svgalib doesn’t correctly recognise the graphics card’s chipset, you can hardcode it with a configuration directive, e.g. “chipset VGA” for otherwise unsupported chipsets. And that worked, although only with 640×480 yet. So I tried the only setting for Trident cards found in the list of supported chipsets. And what happend? Right, the system froze again. So svgalib probably recognised the card as Trident and used the only available Trident driver which was obviously the wrong one. So here are my XF86Config and my libvga.config working on the IBM ThinkPad 760ED.

But nevertheless — this 0€ laptop has just proven that it can be even more useful than it already was with text mode only. I also already played Frozen Bubble up to level 25 or so on the train back from Berlin. Old hardware rules.

But I now also have another problem (again): Since X works now, I can run Galeon 1.2 on the ThinkPad, but GTK 2 respective GNOME 2 are much slower than in the 1.x versions and also need much more ressources, which the laptop just does not have. And since I — as most of the people who read my blog or Planet Debian should know ;-) — don’t like Galeon 1.3, I probably won’t dist-upgrade my ThinkPad to Sarge that fast although I already thought about it. XFree86 3.x isn’t in Sarge either IIRC but this should be no problem since the Woody packages are said to work under Sarge, too. Well, still yet another reason for forwardports.org… ;-) Or maybe I can get Kazehakase running on Woody so I can drop at least the whole ballast GNOME 2 comes with. We’ll see…

JFTR (Update on 2nd of May 2007): My current XF86Config-4 for Sarge on my ThinkPad 760ED named bijou.

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This is the blog or weblog of Axel Stefan Beckert (aka abe or XTaran) who thought, he would never start blogging... (He also once thought, that there is no reason to switch to this new ugly Netscape thing because Mosaïc works fine. That was about 1996.) Well, times change...

He was born 1975 at Villingen-Schwenningen, made his Abitur at Schwäbisch Hall, studied Computer Science with minor Biology at University of Saarland at Saarbrücken (Germany) and now lives in Zürich (Switzerland), working at the Network Security Group (NSG) of the Central IT Services (Informatikdienste) at ETH Zurich.

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