Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Trip Back in Time with Linux

Don't let the topic scare you, more than a Tech article, this is more of an expression of shock.  I can't believe that this actually worked!

Way back in the bad old days of the early part of the century, perhaps back around 2001, I was given a computer.  This was so long ago that I can't find a comment as to when it was originally built.  That is my best guess on the date, but I do remember that the machine was at the top of the line when sold, and it held its own for years.

The best review I found was in 2000 at this article, for the little HP Omnibook 900.  It was an ultralight machine sold with an external CD ROM in a caddy that connected to the machine with a weird non-standard cable that was as thick as my little finger.

That machine was the one that cemented my preference for Small and Light machines.  I could always plug a computer into a USB CD Burner, but lightening the machine by removing one from a computer was usually not a reasonable way to go.

This little machine came with Windows 2000 and I had it on there until around 2003 when it became clear that software was getting cranky to run on 2000.  I had gotten a faster desktop computer so this became my walk around the house machine since it was so light.

When I finally upgraded the operating system, I installed a new operating system "Ubuntu Linux" and found it was even faster.  It didn't have the bloat of all that "digital rights management" nonsense that Microsoft feels is necessary to have on it since everything was completely free.

Yes, in the Linux World, Software is free.  You install what you want, and it runs and all is well.  The drawback is that you have to have the right machine to run on it since drivers for network cards and sound cards were notoriously hard to come by in the beginning of the popularity rise for Linux.

I managed to install version 6.04 onto that machine and after a few wrinkles it "just worked".  I used Open Office for any documents I had to create, and found that I could run some Windows programs with something called "Wine", and it suited my needs for a Couch Bound Laptop.  Light multimedia, some surfing, and maybe a chat session or a Word Document here and there.  Think of what you do on your computer while watching TV - that was what I was using this for.

That was around 2003, and Linux lived on that machine for the most part until 2010 until it simply wore out.  I upgraded the Linux install from Ubuntu 6.04 through version 11.04 when it came out.  When the machine finally died, it was like losing an old friend.   It was wildly underpowered for today's standards, running with 1/10 of the memory and processor that most folks consider necessary for daily use, but it did everything with grace and style.

That machine had been cobbled together from parts out of a "recycle pile" by Kevin when he received it with the story that it had been thrown into the back of a cab in NYC and was shattered.  He was uncomfortable with giving it to anyone at work but I made it my own.

Last night I was given some very old laptops.  These were so old that the little rubber bumpers on the bottom of the machine that are there to stop them from scratching the table had melted due to the pollution in the air and age.  Those bumpers literally melted into the fabric of my favorite khaki cargo shorts.

I laughed at myself and said "hey, these machines are the same era as the old Omnibook" so a quest was begun - find the old Linux hard drive.

I have kept that hard drive with the intention to put it into another machine if I can "clone" it onto the right one.

Plugging the 12 year old hard drive with the 8 year old Linux install that had been upgraded back in 2010 into the "new" laptop from 2001, I pressed the power button and waited.

Guess what?  It worked.  Yes, the Frankenstein monster on my lap that was a purple Sony Vaio with another laughably under powered processor started to hum and churn, but within 2 minutes I was staring at the desktop of my old Omnibook install.  Yes, Linux Worked.

Sure, you can take an old hard drive out of an old computer with Windows XP on it and plug it into a new case with new components.  It will go over all of the hardware and put up a message demanding to be re-registered with the mothership that is Microsoft.  It may even work.  I've had some luck doing this sort of thing in an emergency, but it is a random thing.  Sometimes it gets it wrong and I end up with a dead XP install and have to go back to the CDs for a fresh install.  Sometimes it works.  It's rarely a stable install when you try that, it usually gets most of it right but not always.

I'm just shocked that this little hard drive (only 8GB) with the 8 year old Linux install that has been carefully shepherded through the years worked.  In fact it worked well even after I told it to upgrade. 

Yes, it's back from the dead, surprisingly quick, and up to date.  I've got my Linux machine back.  It may be on 12 year old hardware, but it is back. 

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