At my office, we have a pair of old laptops purchased back in 2003 or 2004, which are terribly slow, woefully underpowered and horribly outdated, but which we still use periodically. In other words, they made a perfect target for an OS makeover.
Anyone who has run Windows XP on a P4 with 256MB of RAM should be able to appreciate just how sluggish these machines are. So with my boss’s blessing, I gathered the two machines and tried to breathe some new life into them.
Before I continue, it would probably be worth mentioning what I need these laptops to accomplish. In a nutshell, they need to be able to run a proprietary java-based client, run Firefox and open Excel spreadsheets. The ability to print to networked printers would be a bonus. Finally, they are intended for a non-technical group used to working with Windows. We are not interested in any sort of in-depth training, we need an interface that is intuitive and gets people directly where they need to be.
Did I mention these machines are agonizingly slow? I think that may have been an understatement. Because this is an experiment, I had the luxury of being able to download and test several liveCDs for various distros, and play around with several window managers.
Just as a point of reference, the Fedora 11 LiveCD took approximately 20 minutes to boot into a usable state (!), OpenSuSE took about 15, and Ubuntu around 10. (All of the above had Gnome as the default window manager.)
For me, getting the first laptop done as a functioning proof of concept was a priority. With the help of some of the nifty tutorials located on this site, I ended up installing Xubuntu, then switching to Fluxbox for a window manager with idesk to handle the two desktop icons I really needed (the proprietary client and Firefox.) While Gnome was marginally less slow than Windows XP Pro, and XFCE was tolerable, the Fluxbox solution was downright snappy. There are still some quirks to work through, but I’m pleased with the results, and, more importantly, so is my boss.
Tinkerer that I am, though, all that meant was that I had one “production” machine, so now I have the time to experiment with making things even better, which means I’m free to try different distros and see how they stack up. My first attempt was OpenSuSE. Just to set the stage a bit, I cut my Linux teeth on Slackware back in the late ’90s. After that, I got my hands on a “light” version of SuSE and decided to play with that for a bit, and found I liked it.
But Slack remained my distro of choice. Anyway, since I was given pretty much free rein to experiment, I decided to have a look-see.
Long story short, that didn’t work out so well. Did I mention these laptops were excruciatingly slow? Well, apparently YAST isn’t happy with less than 1 GB of RAM, so I went back to the drawing board. Trent had mentioned to me that he’d heard good things about Mint, so I pulled down Mint 7 and decided to give it a look.