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delirium happy

Just keep on trying till you run out of cake

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Tech advice needed
delirium happy
I have, sitting in my cupboard, an old 500MHz Athlon computer, which is currently doing the princely sum of naff all. It was originally doing vaguely serverish things, and has a 3 or 4 year old version of Debian installed on it. I'm fairly sure it doesn't have any GUI type stuff installed on it, on the grounds that it hasn't had a monitor connected to it since when it had everything on it reinstalled from scratch. Furthermore, it doesn't currently speak to my other computer, since it's networking stuff hasn't been touched since I moved from Canterbury, whereas everything else about the network setup is entirely different.

I am currently thinking I should try to put it into some sort of working form again, not least so that if this computer goes tits up again then I still have a working machine. Since I now actually have a monitor for it (the one that's just been replaced on my main machine), I'm thinking I might put it in my bedroom, though I'm not sure about that yet, as I'd have to figure out where to put it.

I'm thinking I'm going to put some form of Linux on it, for two reasons. Firstly, XP would move along at the pace of a tranquillised sloth on a 500MHz computer, and while I do have discs of older versions of windows somewhere, I haven't the foggiest where. Secondly, my main reason for sticking with windows is games, and that's a non issue for an older machine.

I'm not sure what the current system requirements are for the most recent versions of GNOME and KDE, though I suspect they may be greater than I'll have (I can't remember how much RAM I have in there; I may end up buying some more to throw at it if it turns out to be "not very much"). I do definitely want some sort of GUI if possible though, since while I am just about competent enough to be able to get by otherwise, I'm generally far too lazy to want to use a text interface.

I also need to figure out what flavour of Linux to run on it. I'm inclined towards Ubuntu here, since I've liked what I've seen of it (I have it installed on here; I just don't tend to ever use it) though am willing to entertain other fanatical advocacy suggestions. It's also possible distribution choice may be limited by the power (or otherwise) of the computer.

So this is my first question: what will run adequately on there? And of what will run on there, what would you recommend?

My second problem is one of the data currently on that machine. Given that I've got by without it for several years, I think it's safe to assume there's nothing critical on there, but there are a few bits and piece I'd like to be able to at least look through before trashing.

I'm thinking that my best bet is to get it taking to my other computer, transfer anything across that I want, and then reinstall everything from scratch. Given it's age, I suspect that most of it is out of date, and that just starting over is probably easier (at least for an ignoramus such as myself) than trying to upgrade everything, and install whatever bits I might want on top of it. Especially if I'm wanting a different distribution, which seems likely.

So my next question is, can someone confirm to me that this is a sensible approach? If not, what should I be doing?

And finally, presuming that that is a sensible thing to do, can someone help me figure out what arcane glyphs I need to enter in order to make my computers talk to each other? I suspect that it would be a fairly simple matter, since my router is set to do DHCP type things, but my knowledge of networking is extremely limited, and my knowledge of networking within Linux even more so.

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Debian network settings live in /etc/network/interfaces - using the editor of your choice, jibble it so that it looks something like:

auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

auto eth0
iface eth0 inet dhcp

...or words to that effect ("man interfaces" for more advanced syntax). Then, (as root) it should be a matter of "ifdown eth0" followed by "ifup eth0" to apply the settings, but a reboot will also work. DNS settings live in /etc/resolv.conf, but DHCP ought to do that bit for you.

"ifconfig" will tell you the ip of a running system, in case you need to know.

Hopefully you've already got samba or ftp or ssh/scp running to transfer files with, so I'll leave that as an excercise for the reader.

<advocacy>FWIW I'm currently using Ubuntu on my deasktop with minimal pain, and Debian on the servers. Ubuntu installs from a (hideously slow) live CD, so you can get a good impression of how headachy it's going to be before you start. Also consider Kubuntu (the KDE verient) or Xubuntu (Xfce based, and therefore leaner), which are basically the same thing with a different stock set of packages. It is however possible to "apt-get install kubuntu-desktop from a ubuntu system, for example, and get the best of both worlds. There's a program called automatix which makes most of the non-free-as-in-speech codecs and stuff Just Work under Ubuntu - google it. FWIW, PPC Ubuntu (identical apart from the bootloader) runs nicely on Natalya's G4 Mac (IIRC you have a powerbook or something), which may be a Feature.</advocacy>

Ditto Xubuntu if you aren't sure if your machine is likely to run Gnome or KDE. I run Xfce on my Ubuntu setup - it's a little weird at first when you're used to Gnome/KDE/Windows but once you have it set up it's cool - and much more light-weight than the others.

If it takes PC100 type DIMMS and you need more RAM, I have several spare sticks (128Mb and 64Mb) knocking around that you can have - the stuff is bitch-expensive to buy new these days.

I use older boxes as network storage space. I have two main computers, one of which is only an Athlon 700Mhz, which can do pretty much all the word processing and other work-related software needs (I am not really a gamer). I have a K6 200Mhz that does nothing but provide a RAID for backing up all my important data to across the network periodically. It does the job and that's all the processing power it needs to do that job. Zoë also uses it to keep backups on.

I keep meaning to fiddle with Ubuntu, but all my computers run either Win98 or Win98SE. Networking with them is a doddle by setting each with a different static IP and the subnet mask of and they just see each other fine. Zoë's Ubuntu and Windows XP machines both talk fine with mine, so it can't be too hard setting them up.

I have a…umm…cat cat cat
model name      : Pentium III (Katmai)
cpu MHz         : 499.681
which I'm currently using as an Ubuntu desktop (when not playing Windows games on it) and it's fine, although it works a lot better now that I've stuffed it full of memory (512M).

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