I’m in search of a lightweight distro for an ancient 1ghz, 128MB RAM laptop. One of these days, I’ll find a distro that properly supports ACPI and VGA-out. I hope.
Now it’s time for DeLi Linux.
DeLi: the good
DeLi Linux is specifically designed for older hardware, and declares it will only use lightweight software. Good news so far. I actually seem to have working hardware support for both CLI and X session. For most distros, I get proper screen blanking and automatic fan control only during a console session; once an X session is started (and/or HAL, that damned dirty animal) the fan kicks in and can’t be turned off. And neither can the screen. But DeLi succeeds there.
DeLi: the bad
The 0.8 liveCD is actually just an installer; there’s no try-before-you-install desktop environment. And it’s an ugly installer. It’s probably the absolute worst installation experience I’ve ever had, for any operating system.
For starters, though you can partition your hard drive however you like (indeed, the installer assumes you’ve run
fdisk ahead of time), DeLi will use just one partition for everything. Also, it insists on ext3; other filesystems aren’t an option. As if that isn’t bad enough, it forces a complete format of the whole partition. None of the usual 5-seconds-to-mkfs.ext3 quick creation found in every other distro. Oh, no. It went sector-by-sector, bit-by-bit for my entire 60GB disk. Yeah, thanks.
You already have a completely formatted ext3 partition? (Perhaps from a previous DeLi installation attempt?) Too bad. There’s an option to skip this step, but this just ends the installation process immediately. You’re forced to format the partition if you want to proceed.
And it comes with the ancient and user-unfriendly Lilo bootloader. I’m a grub man, and I felt like control was being taken out of my hands. Fortunately, lilo installation to the MBR worked correctly, so it boots properly.
The installer is, surprisingly, even more painful to get through than the old curses-based Ubuntu installers, worse even than Fluxbuntu’s installer. The DeLi installer is an arcane mess. Instead of doing all the initial user-specified configuration up front and then waiting for the automated install process to finish, the DeLi installer treats you to the sit-and-wait game, complete with extremely scattered bits of user input followed by long waits and progress bars that don’t actually move. The user config bits are the worst, as once you select an option, there usually isn’t an obvious way to move on to the next screen. Take the keyboard maps and language selection screens. I picked en_US, and hit enter. Nothing happens. Huh? Scroll back up to the top. Nope, nothing there. K, let’s go the other way. Way down at the bottom, dozens and dozens of language selections later, is a single button for the next step, but get this, it’s pointing backwards, as if to say “go back a step, because you screwed up, genius!” I dunno if this is leftover from some right-to-left version, but it ain’t nice, considering the installer is written in English.
Also, I realize that, as a Gentoo guy, I may not have much room to talk about “sit-and-wait” installation methods, but hey, at least with the CLI-based Gentoo install, it’s a busy activity. You can run much of the install in parallel, on different terminals, excepting a few critical steps. Also, assuming you have a working network for the minimal CD, you can always do stuff online. You’re not forced to babysit the install process. Well, not the same way, at least. Plus the Gentoo install is scriptable. It’s possible to get it started and then walk away.
Not so with DeLi — this thing has to be monitored constantly, so that you can deal with the elusive bits of user input.
DeLi: the ugly
The installer is a chore, but the real work lies ahead. For starters, I had a rough time getting a (semi)working desktop. IceWM was installed, but there’s no X session started by default. Good thing I know how to setup
~/.xinitrc on my own. Also, several services that I take for granted, including net, GPM, and pcmcia, weren’t started by default. Not nice. As a “desktop” distribution, all this should have been setup ahead of time.
I could do it the manual way, or I could use the
delisetup tool. This is a CLI app to configure things like keyboard, language, lilo, network access, X server, WM, mail, package installation, and local services to run at boot.
Unfortunately, it’s buggy as hell. Though it seems to remember the last items selected, it doesn’t actually do anything. No real configuration changes were made, and yes, it’s properly run as root. Also, the “mail” and “services to run at boot” sections crashed the app entirely, with no traceback or error output. “Install additional packages” seems limited only to installing inetd, gpm, coldplug, net, pcmcia, and a few other basic daemons. Basically, the things I thought I’d already dealt with during installation.
Okay, so how about the rest of the desktop/CLI experience? Slow and glitchy. Both console and X are filled with constant, irritating flickering, when entering commands (and especially tab-completion), and during scrolling output. The X session is no exception. I’ve never used a slower IceWM setup, ever. My laptop can run Gnome from a liveCD faster than whatever setup DeLi uses for IceWM. It’s also replete with flickering and excrutiating slowly redrawn windows. Opening up the ROX file manager is an exercise in frustration. Moving it or resizing it is even worse. Same goes for the hideous stock xterms. If you’re going to ship plain ol’ xterm (instead of something like aterm, urxvt, or Sakura), at least give it a different color scheme and something besides its default eye-gouging fonts, okay?
The included webbrowser is NetSurf, and it actually comes up fairly quicky, considering the poor performance of everything else. Same goes for the email client, Sylpheed. Unfortunately, they can’t access the internet, because the
delisetup configuration tool doesn’t work. Also, despite manually starting up the appropriate initscripts and manually configuring my system for DHCP, I still can’t get net access. Chalk up another failure for DeLi where every other distro succeeds here.
While on the subject of daemons, initscripts, and config file locations, DeLi is a bit weird. It feel like it took the most failtastic parts of Slackware and Arch Linux. Which is weird; both those distros on their own do much better.
DeLi does include pacman (from Arch) for software installation, but it’s no good without a working internet connection. Too bad; despite installing everything available on the CD, there’s hardly anything there. Sylpheed, NetSurf, xterm, ROX, Gnumeric, Abiword, ePDFview, and GQview. That’s it. Oh, and an unnamed calculator. That’s a bit too minimal.
But it’s not like I’m able to actually do anything with this system. Time to close down this DeLi.