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Re: Debian Light Desktop - meta package


> I'm creating a meta package for install a lite desktop for old
> machines with poor hardware.

Hey, that's a really cool idea! Debian is one of the last modern (and
not specialised) Linux distribution feasible for old and slow
hardware, especially old PCs. But Sarge already made a big step away
from old PCs (e.g. by dropping XFree86 3.3 and requiring 32 Megs of
RAM for installation -- Woody needed only 12 Megs) so I'm really happy
to see that others try to take the cudgels for Debian on old hardware

I used the Slackware and kernel 2.2 based Desktop Light (DeLi) Linux
(http://www.delilinux.de/) distribution for a while on old boxes (e.g.
i486 laptops), but its package variety just sucks (the full ISO is 90
MB) and so I had to compile a lot on the boxes itself locally. (Any
Gentoo advocates here? ;-) But the package list of DeLi Linux partly
was quite well chosen (Siag Office as office tools, Dillo and Links as
browsers, etc.) and DeLi can surely give an idea of what is good for
old, low resource hardware and what isn't. (Ok, I strongly disagree in
putting PHP5 on such boxes, even only for developing purposes. ;-)

Since one of the points, why I like Debian, is its huge package
variety (so there's nearly always also a low end software for the
desired purpose) and since Woody runs fine on most of those boxes, I
was perfectly fine with that. Now since Woody runs out of security
support, I installed Sarge on a Pentium 90 with 76 MB of RAM and a 1,5
GB big but bad performing HD. I general it runs fine, but X took a
while (the graphics card is no more supported in XFree 4.x and there
no more supported in Sarge) to get it running.

That is also one of the reasons I stay with Woody as long as I can.
Another reason is GNOME 2.x. It is neither as performant as GNOME 1.x
nor is it (IMHO) as user-friendly as GNOME 1.x was. (Ok, we'll drop
the user-friendly discussion here, it just doesn't matter here. ;-)

> I would like to receive opinions about my packages list:
> - x-window-system-core
> - xfce4 (beautiful!)

That's really fine IMHO. XFCE is not as resource-hungry as GNOME or
KDE are and is easy to use. But if you just want an easy to use WM
instead of a desktop environment, I suggest the FLTK based FLWM or one
of the *box famliy window managers (and ion3 or ratpoison for the

> - gdm

Why gdm and not wdm? gdm depends on a horribly large bunch of
libraries including GNOME. wdm depends on way less libraries, looks
not as bare as xdm by default does and still is fast and easy to use.
(We use it on all our Debian workstations at the Department of Physics
at ETH Zurich.)

> - mozilla-firefox
> - mozilla-thunderbird

Those are resource-whores, too: They render their whole GUI with Gecko
instead of a widget toolkit and cost a lot of performance and memory.
You just don't want them on old hardware, it's really no fun to use
them there.

If you want a slim Gecko based web browser use Galeon, Epiphany (both
GNOME, but still faster than Firefox or Mozilla itself) or the
currently GTK based (and AFAIH planned to be FLTK based) Kazehakase --
a web browser useable for both beginners and power users (the UI and
the configuration dialog has a user level switch). Only drawback:
Kazehakase isn't really stable in Sarge. But it is in Sid (or at least
was the last time I played with it).

And then there are the real low end browsers like Dillo and the Links
family (links, links2, elinks, etc.) as well the pure text browsers as
lynx and w3m. But there you have to lower your sights regarding the
rendering quality respective rendering features (no CSS there, etc.).

> - eog

Isn't xzgv much leaner?

> - abiword
> - gnumeric

Here I would like to see Siag Office, the free low end office package
instead. But unfortunately it fell out of Debian with Sarge. It run
acceptable even on a i486 with 16 Megs of RAM.

In general I would try to not use any GNOME or KDE depended package
(and I don't say that because I like parts of Linus' statement in the
Desktop Environment War a few months ago ;-), GNOME and KDE are both
just a lot of bloat which badly slows down old boxes.

In the future, I see thre main problems for Debian on old PCs and other
old non-x86 hardware:

+ Memory requirements for installation (32 MB RAM AFAIK). The
  requirements for finally running a Sarge box are lower AFAIH.

+ The dropping of XFree86 3.3 as far as Xorg doesn't step in. XFree86
  4.x probably never will.

+ The dropping of the 2.4 kernel line: This will drop AFAIK support
  for e.g. active ISDN cards. On the other hand the new schedulers
  seem to bring better (feelable) performance, if an old box is used
  as desktop.

I'm not sure, if it really is a possibility to still support older
hardware in Debian, but if the Linux kernel 2.6 makes hassles, perhaps
Debian GNU/kFreeBSD can help. I at least plan to give it a try on some
Pentium 1 box.

In general, I think it could help to create some kind of "forward
ports" (e.g. packages from Woody ported to Sarge or Etch), especially
for hardware support of old hardware and of some fallen out low
resource applications like e.g. the above mentioned Siag Office. I
don't think that security support is a main goal in this usage area.

P.S.: Had Sid running well on a Pentium 1, 90 MHz, 64 MB RAM and IIRC
5 GB IDE HD. Used it to test Kazehakase from Sid and it felt faster
than Galeon 1.3 (GNOME 2) from Sarge on a 500 MHz and 256 MB RAM box
and about as fast as Galeon 1.2 (GOME 1.4) from Woody on a 400 MHz and
578 MB RAM box.

P.P.S.: Writing this mail from an ten years old IBM ThinkPad with
Pentium 1, 133 MHz, 48 MB RAM and 1 GB HD running Woody and XFree

Oh, and did I already say "Jehova"? ;-)

		Kind regards, Axel (aka XTaran)
/~\                                   | Axel Beckert
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