A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real Reasons Why We Need It

An introduction to the RULE project, which aims to bridge the gap between programmers rolling their own and newbies installing everything.

GNU/Linux distributions keep improving at a very fast pace. Every release adds support for new hardware, new features and security improvements, both for server and desktop applications.

Unfortunately, this triumphant march has a pretty big down side. Although excellent software can be obtained freely, hardware never will be. Up-to-date, full-featured Linux applications, especially desktop ones, require almost as much hardware resources as proprietary ones.

Of course, everybody pretending to start serious video editing with a computer more than two years old should really change his mind, regardless of the operating system he happens to run. The problem is that even system administrators and experienced desktop users often find that the same things they were doing yesterday become slower after an upgrade. If your CPU is 20 times faster than ten years ago, why does it often take the same amount of time or even more to get from powering up to reading e-mail? Even, people with only obsolete computers available and who have limited programming knowledge are almost forbidden from entering the "Free" Software world.

Want the real reasons why this is a serious problem? Read on.

Economics

The standard attitude about unnecessarily heavy programs is "why should we care when desktop hardware is as cheap as it is today?". An example is this strategy letter, which, among other things, says, "I don't think anyone will deny that on today's overpowered, under-priced computers, loading a huge program is still faster than loading a small program was even 5 years ago. So what's the problem?"

The problem is that (even when it's true) this is a very limited and egotistic attitude: today's computer's are "under-priced" only for 20% of the world population. The rest still has to work many months or years to buy the stuff that makes KDE or GNOME look fast.

Even those with enough income to throw away a perfectly good, working PC every two years should not be forced to do so if their needs have not changed. Unfortunately, the two most frequent answers that one hears when raising this issue are:

  • "become a programmer and recompile/write from scratch yourself": snob answer, impossible in most cases.

  • "use an old distro": why? Why should anyone use a kernel with limited firewalling capabilities, compiled with obsolete libraries? Why should anyone run the open door that Sendmail was some years ago?

Schools, families, developing countries, public and private offices with almost null budget (pretty big segment nowadays) must save on all costs, no matter how low they already are. Often, the only PCs they can afford are donated and really old, and Free Software can't leave them alone. Besides, homework, word processing and spreadsheets don't need multimedia capabilities.

Long-Term Survival of Free Software

Domination of all table and wireless desktops is crucial in the long run. Whoever controls the majority of clients and unexperienced users eventually enslaves all servers too, regardless of quality.

New Technologies (or, again, long term survival of...)

Don't think that reducing the hardware requirements of Free Software confines it to die in some (big) obsolete hardware graveyard. Actually, the opposite is true.

Think of to all the new, low cost, internet appliances that are restricted to being only that because being able to run a current distribution would double their price. Even more important, think mobile computing. We are all supposed to surf, compute and produce wirelessly "real soon now" with really tiny boxes: watch-sized PDAs, third-generation cell phones, whatever. If mainstream Linux cleans up quickly its many existing desktop applications, it will dominate this market before the others finish saying "Hardware improves rapidly, let's just wait until they make the Pentium IV as small as a StrongArm."

Ecology

Computers are useful, cool and among the most polluting kinds of domestic waste. They should be dumped (separately) only when they physically break, not because Super OS 2002 is free but won't run slower than one gigahertz.

Culture and Freedom

Basic desktop computing is quickly placing itself next to the alphabet in the list of tools necessary to fully express oneself and build one's destiny. As such, it must be free not only from patents and licenses, as free as Free Speech, but it should also cost (hardware included) as close to zero as possible.

Equal opportunities is what Free Software is really about. I feel bad whenever I hear Free Software programmers still saying, "as long as I have the source and can program as I like, learn to compile by yourself and don't bother me"--even to grade school kids without money.

______________________

Articles about Digital Rights and more at http://stop.zona-m.net CV, talks and bio at http://mfioretti.com

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new online home for the RULE project

Marco Fioretti's picture

Greetings, everybody. The RULE project was a great idea, but unfortunately I and the other founders really had no time to implement it well. However, I wanted to tell you that nothing is lost.If anybody is interested in RULE, I have rebuilt the whole site at rule.zona-m.net

Articles about Digital Rights and more at http://stop.zona-m.net

CV, talks and bio at http://mfioretti.com

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

RULE sounds like a great idea. I have some older Penium machines that I wanted to experiment on with Linux. Trouble was that Red Hat, Mandrake, etc... just needed more hard drive or memory then I had. I didn't want to put any more money into these machines for upgrades.

Then I found Peanut Linux (www.peanutlinux.org). It's not perfect but it sure helped me. Installed it takes about 400 meg of hard drive space but it really packs a lot of applications into that size.

DON'T FOLLOW THIS LINK!

Anonymous's picture

The peanutlinux link above is a porn link. search through google.

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

I had exactly these problems several years ago. My solution was to

switch to FreeBSD. I have found it works wonderfully on low end

machines and is very stable on servers. If you are looking for

something leaner give FreeBSD a try.

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

Linux is in war against Microsoft. The problem is that with tiny programs, you will never bit Microsoft. Why? Because, when talking about workstations, UI is all that really metters for user and good user interface weigh megabytes.

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

Not True.

There are 6 billion people in the world. I spent years studying computer use in Africa, where many computer users live on less than 3 dollars a day. I estimate that there are 2 billion people who want to and try to use computers, but nearly all of them are rejected by the myopic linux community that doesn't cater to the needs of 2nd hand computers powering education in Africa.

If a non-fancy but easy-to-use GUI distro were available for the Pentium class PC, it would have a dramatic impact on Linux' market share ten years from now. AS it is, Windows is so easy to use and readily available that people there often don't even know that it is just one option among many.

"Yes. I want to learn the MS Word." some would say, meaning, "I want to learn to use a computer."

That kind of product identification money CAN'T buy. Only the narrowly focused competitors at Linux enable it.
-----

I have tried a dozen distros on a P-166/96MB machine without luck on a GUI. This is pathetic. Full service non-GUIs run off a floppy disk, yet X can't handle anything less than the latest computer. This project is badly needed for Linux' long term market share to remain outside the US.

Good interfaces don't weigh megabytes

Anonymous's picture

Linux is not at war against Microsoft. Some people

use it for that purpose, other just use it.

Said that, today, BOTH Linux and MS mainstream

desktop programs require powerful machines.

What we want to do is to give people without the

money to buy such machines a possibility to study

and run a business without sacrificing any real

functionality.

User interfaces with lots of eye candy weigh megabytes, but are not necessarily good, user

friendly or efficient just by that.

There are window managers and very powerful

applications well under many megabytes, the problem is that newbies should find them already

loaded and configured, as today happens only

to KDE/GNOME

This is what we want to do.

Regards,

Marco Fioretti

RULE project leader

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

I don't really agree with that good programs (good interface) weights much. I've used Amiga, where I developed really complex graphical programs that were only 100kb (same program on windows would take 1 or 2 mb). I work with windows 2000, and I just switched 2 months ago to code-genie (www.code-genie.com), an incredible free expandable editor that's only 800kb, compared to 10-50 mb taken by many others. I also took away my windows desktop cause I didn't like the interface, now I use litestep. It is 2 mb and I get a multidesktop system, winamp control, time & date, advanced commandline, email notification, resource meter (all these are modules) and more.

So I think is more the way the programs are developed than just 'good=big'. Anyways you linux people are much more lucky, cause apps take so much space on windows! I know that one example does not explain anything, but anyways: yahoo messenger: linux=100kb windows=5000kb

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

Anyone looked at ttylinux?

http://www.tzi.de/~pharao90/ttylinux/

It's a console only based linux distro, but it's worth looking at...

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

As someone who has attempted to learn and instal from for instance "Linux for Dummies" and two other free distros from the U.K. mag LinuxFormat and finally succeeded with version 7.1 of SUSE having previously failed with handbook and SuSE 6.3,all I can say is hooray.I have three older machines and as yet the only one where I have had success is my 586 with P75.The other two {C's were not "man enough" using a GUI installation.I still use windows primarily because it is easier to use if you are not a "guru".Until Linux is as transparent as windows to a newbie it will remain an experiment for the majority.

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

Add my vote for an up-to-date lightweight Linux/Unix OS. While the technically adept have allready accomplished this goal, the newbie, as you've said, doesn't have this option. Personally, I'd prefer to see this done on some other distro or even on one of the BSDs, but as Red Hat IS the most popular I suppose it makes sense to use them. Best of luck and look forward to the initial "release"!

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

An idea whose time has long since come! I would add that the person installing a system, especially a new unsophisticated user, needs careful guidance on choosing which packages are needed. The cryptic explanations and maze of dependencies in my RedHat distro was terribly daunting.

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

Great idea. Not aware of TinyX - does it support all XF86 stuff? I support with XFCE, although it resembels old CDE than Windows. Nedit is my choice for text editor in X env. because of its syntax highlighting and ease of use, although not as powerful as emacs. Perhaps a choice of installing http d, telnetd, ftpd etc. could be included - not default.

Ashok

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

Great!

This is one of the things I really don't understand:

I think this 600mhz PIII computer with 192Mb of ram I'm using is not much quicker than the 50mhz Amiga with 16 mb I used years ago. I'm still using Windows 2000, sometimes switching to Linux (I do graphic design and Linux just doesn't have the apps I need). But why does the system ocuppy 1gb!!?? thats crazy! It's crazy that most system elements are duplicated! (i guess it's just in case something fails you have a copy). notepad.exe it's 3 times!

And when you really go crazy is when looking at the apps on memory. How on earth can the keyboard driver take 3.5 mb!!!??? that's why I get low on memory with 192mb!

I'd love to see that low resource system :)

I actually love being able to edit config files (much better than this stupid interface for say... norton internet security. I don't want the buttons to play sounds when I press them or put the mouse over them! I don't want 24 bit backgrounds on all the config windows! It's really silly.

I know your work can be done cause sometimes I do myself, just browse around the hard disk and erase a 100 mb of unuseful stuff the programs installed there.

Of course windows is not linux, but I need the macromedia software to work (flash & fireworks mainly) so I have to wait I guess.

Hope to see results soon :)

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

What if there where an alternative ide for flash perhaps programmed in java?

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

It would be ok if you could do the same and was equally fast, but I doubt it can be done. It's not just flash. It's fireworks, it's photoshop (GIMP is not enough for me)... and fruityloops? or reason?

It's sad, but I finaly dropped linux from my system. It takes too much time trying to mantain both systems. I still look at the linux news most days and get happy when they release new things and governments or businesses switch to linus. But right now I can't do the stuff I do with my 'mutated' w2k.

That's right :) since I'm forced to use Windows, I learnt how to tweak EVERYTHING. I found very cool programas that even let me change things in compiled programs (like menus, shortcuts, dialogs..). I changed it's aspect and funcionality with litestep.. So i've got a very stable and quick 'thing' now :)

Hope someday soon we can all use a free system :)

XFce not BlackBox

Anonymous's picture

I agree with the poster who suggested XFce. It has an excellent suite of lightweight applications, including a very good file manager.

XFce is as fast and light as BlackBox; the main problem with the latter is that it has religious objections to GNOME compliance.

Re: XFce not BlackBox

Anonymous's picture

One question is...

Once you've got X/TinyX running with Blackbox/XFce/etc on top, do you need a desktop environment? I know they're all very configurable but seem to be lacking in some of the functionality. Any suggestions on good sites to learn about this?

Re: XFce not BlackBox

Anonymous's picture

For new users the expecting something vaguely Windoze like, the old KDE 1.** window mangers were quit good and complete and would run on a 486 or so.

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

Don't forget the PS/2! There are literally tons of these machines gathering dust in storage in Europe. They are practically unkillable, I have a model 95 (486dx50, XGA-2 and Future Domain SCSI) that has been running non-stop since 1994. It is currently running SuSE 6.0 with a 2.2.18 kernel as a Hylafax server, Samba Printer server, UUCP relay and a POP3 server. It's also churning out SETI@Home work units at the rate of 1 every 700 hours. Nobody seems to support them anymore, but they make great servers.

It'd be great if RULE would consider MCA support.

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

I installed Debian with X and it took about 50 megs. I think debian would be a good dist to start this project from.

THE PROBLEM IS NOT THE DISTRO!!!!!!!!

Anonymous's picture

Nothing against Debian.

YES, you can do something like RULE with Debian, Slackware, or just about any other distro, in some cases even with less efforts.

We (the project founders) use Red Hat, so we'll do it on Red Hat

The real problem is that, yes you can put the proper applications, and them only on a PC without bloat, but that's just half of the task. If you do that to a newbie (mutt + emacs + lynx + procmail + iptables...) without graphic wizards and such, he'll run away.

THIS PART is missing! Post install configuration, like powerful RC files for each user already set up, so that the first time you use mutt it already has nice printing, address book, html email management, firing your browser on links, gpg, filter generation.... That is the most important part, not placing packages on the drive, and no distro has this yet, and it *CANNOT* be done messing with the global rc files, otherwise experienced users will just run after us with axes....

Marco Fioretti

RULE project leader

Using Sorcerer Linux perhaps?

Anonymous's picture

While I haven't tried this on very old hardware (I've been testing it on a PII), sorcerer Linux seems like a possible solution to me.

I see this because it compiles the source code into binarie instead of providing binaries. The argument being that this increases performance by 20-25%.

Surely this could be a good thing to maximise performance on older hardware.

The only real problem I see for sorcerer Linux at the moment is that it needs to provide source code for important packages (Xfree86, Gnome, Mozilla etc...) directly on the CD since alot of people would probably need to use old hardware with slow connections and therefore can't just d/l the packages off the net.

The other problem I see with Sorcerer is that the instructions indicate that you need at least a 1 Gig Swap partition. Not a problem I suppose when you have at least 3-4 gigs. But an old machine with 1 gig or less will have a real problem there.

Still, if that distro could clear those problems I think it would be close to the best solution to running a basic linux box on old hardware with the best performance.

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

For most of this I will agree.... after all How come I can install a certain proprietory OS in less than 250megs but yet can't install many of the Linux majors in less than 1 gig (oh and the 250 includes an office suite)

The only disagreement would be with Galeon. Lightweight as galleon is by itself, installing Mozilla in addition to Galeon isn't much of a space saver. I've got a 386 and 486 Notebook that would be killer as Word processor/spreadsheat boxes but can't use them with linux because of the hdd space issue (larger HDD won't solve it either.... Bios doesn't handle and upgrade not available)

The only additions I'd like to see is the ability to NFS install such a distro. I've got a 386 notebook running FreeBSD simply because I can install with NFS in a very straight forward manor. In fact I can and have installed this OS in less than 32 megs of disk space. (command line only).

BusyBox would also be a way to "Lighten" the load immensly, as would the ability to "strip" off unused modules. (why do I need 20 sound drivers if I only have one sound card?) The ability to pick and chose modules would be an asset with low resources, as building a kernel on such a box could take days...

Finally to speed up start up.. How about taking advantage of the multi-tasking ability of Linux/*nix. Don't start EVERYthing before the gui/command prompt. If it isn't needed to enable a prompt/desktop why not start up the service later. Start what is needed to get the user working and then start up all the services as the user is working.

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

Are you talking about modern GUI on Lnux, with a lot of power for the user and a very stable operating System.
Of course, Win95 + Office 97 is a best for a P133 16mb ram desktop. But if you Wanna a WinXP with the last office version you'll get no less than 2gb for a fress install.
thanks!

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

Window Manager: icewm. Because it's the most MS Win-like of the lite WM's. You'll save on the retraining needed to operate something like Blackbox.

E-Mail: Mutt. Yes, nothing beats mutt.

Browsing: You forgot links (table-capable text browser) and lynx (the plainest of them all). You might also enjoy browsex (browsex.com).

Text Editing: joe

Small Business Tools: gnucash

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

Yes, Yes and Yes. I will pay for such a version. I still have quite a few "lightweight" PC's around here in perfect condition, but a little light on processing/video card power. While I have configured a fairly snappy system with SuSE and Windowmaker, I would love to have a SuSE, RedHat, Mandrake, Debian light version with some of the options you described. Makes perfect sense. I WANT IT!!!

Karl

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

Yes I'm totally in agreement with whoever mentionned the need to have such Linux. I do have a quite complete SuSE system and would certainly love to be able to offer a stripped down version of it to friends that have only older computers and would love to have access to e-mail and internet and simple text processing. It doesn't justify buying a modern computer just for that and I feel Linux would be a more stable choice than windows 95/98 for this purpose. Therefore I would also pay for a small portable system like this.

Michel

Then come aboard!

Anonymous's picture

Karl

thank you for your compliments!

May I ask you to:

1) Join us, and contribute by testing or as

explained in the web pages, even if you don't

use Red Hat (see faq #5 about this)

2) Lobby these concept and the RULE project

goals on the mailing list of your distribution,

whichever it is. We can all benefit from this.

Regards,

Marco Fioretti

RULE project leader

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

You should take a look at TINY. This distro was designed for exactly the purpose you describe. You may want to start with TINY rather than starting from scratch.Doug Loss

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

i recently installed (from 12 floppies, no less!) TINY on a junked 486. it is a great idea, but it's not current, which seems to be part of the point of the article.

an interesting low-resource window manager is UDE/UWM at http://udeproject.sourceforge.net/.

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

You said "(TINY) it is a great idea, but it's not

current, which seems to be part of the point of the article."

Exactly. Regardless of which distribution one

prefers, the point is just that kids should be

given state of the art apps to learn.

I know UDE, and like the concepts behind it a

lot, not to mention PIE menus. The only problem

is that it seems dead, nothing posted online in

almost two years.

We cannot afford development and maintenance of

every piece, so we must choose only live, actively

developed packages.

Marco Fioretti

RULE project leader

www.freesoftware.fsf.org/rule/

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

Marco wrote, "I know UDE, and like the concepts behind it a

lot, not to mention PIE menus. The only problem

is that it seems dead, nothing posted online in

almost two years."

UDE was still alive as recently as Monday :-)

http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=2246

it was good to see that you mentioned ROX-Filer and the venerable Midnight Commander in your article - both are excellent and easy on resources.

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

OK, if development is going on again, I'll

consider it!

Marco Fioretti

RULE project leader

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

I just looked at the TINY home page. It is a very

good project, and we do share goals and some of

the methods. We can and probably will, help each

other, just compare our proposed application lists...

I have already contacted their project leader

to exchange ideas.

The reasons why we are trying to do it again from

Red Hat 7.2 are explained in our FAQ (see below)

Shortly, we think that one should make available

to newbies with null or very low budgets exactly

the distribution which is more up to date, with a

dependency checker, and with the largest binary

package collection and online documentation.

We think that in principle it is wrong to tell

them "use older, or less known software" until

you can't afford a new computer (please note I

said "older, less known", not "better")

Red Hat fits this description better, or so it

seemed to us, IOHO.

Let's not start another distro holy war, however.

That is just our way to do it

Competition is good, and our FAQ explains why and

how Slackware, Debian, everybody can benefit from such projects.

I look forward to see all of you on the RULE mailing list soon.

Best Regards,

Marco Fioretti

RULE project Leader

http://www.freesoftware.fsf.org/rule/

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

Yep, real fine. I was thinking along in somewhat the same way, and I like to find the RULE project.

For lightweight window managers, however, please have also a look at Window Maker and Xfce.

Other issues :

- a real standard to keep menus consistent across window managers and distribution

- A better layout than the current menu layouts

- Consistent file viewers for the window managers. Xfce scores very good, but Window Maker's Fsviewer is no longer worked on

- A standard set of nice icons for standard desktop concepts (like folders, printer, etc) which do not like like cartoons

Regards,

Jurgen

Re: A Modern, Low Resources Linux Distribution and All the Real

Anonymous's picture

The idea behind rule is nice, and I want to tell my personal experience. I'm a brazillian guy (so, forgive me about my poor english) and I started to use Linux because I want to use my old pentium 100 computer with 32 megs of RAM. Now, after 2 years of use, I find what I want:

- The base distro is conectiva linux 7.0 with the minimum instalation option. Then, I compile the kernel (2.4.17), and use blackbox and ROX filer (both of two are really excellent).

- I use the computer basically for editing and compiling LaTeX code with emacs (fine), and use vim for administrative use.

- About the icon set, I adapted a set of icons of jimmac (who works for ximian) for nautilus in his ximian south theme for use in ROX. It really have consistence and looks great! All the icons are gpl'ed and can be found at jimmac home page.

So, we can have some eyecandiness :)

An inspired article. Linux

Anonymous's picture

An inspired article. Linux has enormous relevance across a number of economic, political and environmental issues, all of which you have rightly outlined. As an evolving newbie, I am beginning to recognise the 'bloat' of my distro, and understanding the practical benefits and elegance of a 'leaner' system. In particular the three generic sub-options for installation should be standard.I myself am by no means rich, and Linux has empowered so much. It would be great to spread that empowerment to as many people as possible-not just to developing economies, but to the disenfranchised in 'developed' countries.

os for p133 32meg

Anonymous's picture

I'm not really 'newbie', been using computers from 1980 on. Just not a PROGRAMMER, et. al. use Application. NetBSD prob. the most compatible, but they admit, not for the newbie; harder than unix! Have been at it, to figure out how to get the laptop going, for two years. It works just fine as a word processor with Win 3.11. I just don't dare take it onto the internet. I have older 386 and 486 that I just gave up on. The current fad of destroying older computers that work in the name of 'Green' is for the criminally minded!

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