Ubuntu on P166

Eero Tamminen oak at helsinkinet.fi
Fri Apr 28 20:47:11 UTC 2006


I recently installed Ubuntu on a P166 with 96MB RAM, 2.5GB disk,
ATI 3D Rage+ gfx card and an external modem for internet.  I.e.
pretty low-spec machine...

I started by installing a server version of Ubuntu Breezy, updating
X server to Dapper (because Breezy version was crashing when it tried
probeing my gfx card from ISA *after* finding it from PCI), then
installing Breezy (mainly Universe) packages one by one + localization
+ translating the few apps (leafpad, sylpheed) which were not
translated to Finnish.

Most of the packages I installed were Gtk/Gnome software and SDL/X games.

Some observations...

- Generating the locales takes a lot of time...

Display and window managers:
- I eventually ended up not using display manager and starting X server
  directly from /etc/inittab for runlevel 5
- In /etc/init.d/ I have a script that starts IceWm (for the only user
  of that machine) in correct locale automatically on bootup when
  runlevel 5 is reached
Doing it like this:
- Uses least memory and makes starting the machine to desktop faster
  (I of course removed all the redundant lvm etc stuff from initlevels,
  but especially kernel startup was still taking a *long* time)
- Is easier for the end-use: machine has only one user, login would
  be cumbersome and Xdm package didn't seem to be localized for fi_FI

X applications:
- (u)rxvt is memory-wise much nicer than xterm (or gnome-terminal...)
  if you want to have several terminals open with apps
- Surprisingly starting plain X apps like oclock or xcalc took more(!)
  time than starting Gtk applications.  When I strace'd them, they
  seemed to be spending most of their startup loading X bitmap font
  descriptions.  I would suggest splitting non-latin X misc/bitmap
  fonts in Ubuntu to a separate package that is not installed by
  default.  Nowadays if somebody needs non-latin text, he uses
  something else than bitmap fonts and plain X

Gnome and desktop:
- Avoid Gnome desktop (panel, nautilus, evolution (backend) stuff etc)
  like plague, it brings in a lot of services (gdm, gconf, gnome-vfs etc)
  that eat huge amount of memory all the time with little benefit
  on legacy HW.  And if kernel kills the service because it eats
  too much ram, desktop re-starts it, repeat from beginning...
- On the other hand Gnome dependencies in applications don't matter
  so much as long as they don't require all these additional gnome
  services to be running all the time.  User can always close other
  apps if one of the apps is taking a lot of memory (and memory usage
  can be seen from an applet)

Gtk and browsing:
- Dillo might be fast, but it's lacking so much features that it's
  not really funny or of use.  If I want a low footprint/feature
  browser, I use lynx/w3m/links
- Web page rendering on Firefox and Epiphany is surprisingly fast,
  I think the ~33kbs modem is actually the bottleneck here
- Switching between Firefox or Epiphany menus and opening dialogs
  is surprisingly slow, especially compared to how fast browsing
  itself works

Some nice apps that are not listed on Xubuntu page:
- leafpad  (like notepad, much lighter than gedit)
- zenity   (e.g. for opening calendar from IceWm panelbutton and run dialog)
- gpdf     (deps seemed nicer than xpdf which brings in lesstif)
- sylpheed (*much* faster to open than thunderbird)

And things which unfortunately are not localized:
- xfreecd  (CD-player)
- xpaint
- tuxpaint (for kids)
- lyx-xforms  (nicest document processor there is ;))
- xjed     (programmable text editor)
- xcircuit (somewhat like xfig, not really for computer beginners)

There's also surprising amount of nice games that work quite well even
on a P166 machine, the only problem is that they are not localized:
- ace-of-penguins
  (collection of games like solitaire, *much* faster than pysol)
- circuslinux
- froz (text adventures + I have zenity&dialog menu script for them)
- frozen bubble
- gav
- hatari (Atari ST emulator with ROM which source was GPL'd by Caldera
  for those of you who don't have the original machine on the attic)
- heroes (tron on acid)
- icebreaker
- lmarbles
- ltris
- luola
- mirrormagic
- njam (2 player pacman)
- pente (renju)
- penguin-command
- rockdodger
- rocksandiamonds (implements all boulderdash variants out there)
- scummvm (graphics adventure game emulator)
- slashem-sdl & text-based nethack
- supertux
- toppler (nebulous)
- xbl
- xblast
- xboing
- xdemineur (minesweeper)
- xgalaga
- xjewel (needs >600 high screen)
- xmahjongg
- xoids
- xscavenger
- xsoldier (needs >600 high screen)
Xjig and Xthrust would be nice too, but they work only with 8-bit screen.

It would be nice to have an option in Xubuntu to use IceWm instead of
XFCE and to log directly to it.  On lowend/memory machines it's really
the desktop that is killing the thing[1].

       - Eero

[1] I think on Windows machines it's the background virus checkers.
I believe they are specifically designed to make users to want faster

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