Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Every few years I troll through the offerings of the major Linux distributions and their variants.  When I did that a couple years ago, the outstanding find for me was Puppy Linux, which is a very light-weight distribution that runs well on old, underpowered hardware.  I still use a couple versions of Puppy as it fits my hardware profile, but it is getting difficult to find up-to-date applications for it such as web browsers.  So, back to the hunt.

And the winner is:


HandyLinux is protrayed by its designers as being especially suitable for Linux neophytes.  That's no doubt true, but once past the simplified graphical menu system, the underlying Linux system is as powerful and versatile as any of the more traditional Linux distributions.  In terms of speed of loading, responsiveness and adaptability to a wide range of hardware capabilities, HandyLinux blows everything else out of the water.  As I write this, HandyLinux has arrived a its 2.1 version after several years of development; it provides access to a vast array of applications, and it has an overall  design characterized by supreme elegance with just a trace of arrogance, as one would expect of a product from a French design team.

My first eye-opening experience with HandyLinux came after downloading a copy of the iso file and writing the image to a 2 gig USB stick using the free Universal USB Installer.  I then set my computer to boot from usb, and the program loaded itself into memory and took off like a rocket.  Having just looked at around a dozen other relatively new Linux distributions it was very clear to me that the designers  behind those efforts really need to use HandyLinux as their initial point of reference.

Running the live usb version of the program permits you to do a lot of useful work; a full array of applications is present, including an up-to-date version of FireFox called Iceweasel.  If, however, you want to save work or install additional apps, you probably want to do a full installations of the program.  That is very easily done with a completely automated routine available on the initial splash screen.

I'm not ready to give up my existing Windows system on my desktop machine and I don't particularly like dual-boot solutions.  My strategy for moving forward with a more substantial installation of HandyLinux was to do a full installation within a hypervisor or virtual machine, allowing the full Linux system to run inside of Windows.  For this purpose, I downloaded Oracle's VirtualBox and, thanks to its very easy graphical interface, I had a completely enabled HandyLinux system running in a matter of minutes.  Windows XP and HandyLinux don't seem to mind much when I split my RAM in two to run them simultaneously, and it is very nice to be able to flip easily from one operating system to the other by just a movement of the mouse.

The one serious hitch I encountered in the whole process of running HandyLinux with VirtualBox was that I could not summon up a window for HandyLinux larger than 1024 x 768.  It turns out that to get HandyLinux to occupy your PC's fullscreen capability, you need to install some VirtualBox Guest Additions which enable connections to your hardware including video management.  Try as I might, however, I was initially unable to get the Guest Additions installed in spite of the seeming simplicity of the process as described in the documentation.

Poking around on the Web I could see that a lot of other users of HandyLinux and other modern distributions were encountering the same problem in getting VirtualBox and Linux to cooperate at the hardware level.  There were a lot of solutions offered, but none really seemed to fit the current versions of the the two programs.  What finally got me on the right track was an article entitled How to install Virtualbox Guest Additions for a Linux Guest?.  In order to make that recommended procedure work, I also had to reset the HandyLinux root passward using the "passwd" command within the rescue mode which is accessible from the initial login screen in HandyLinux.  So, now I've got the best of two worlds, and I'm enjoying the exploration of the extraordinary capabilities offered by the elegant and functional HandyLinux environment.

Friday, June 12, 2015

geeky diversion

The 5-dollar price tag on this old Dell laptop caught my eye while I was browsing in the back room of the local thrift shop.  

The computer, a Dell Latitude CSx, had a power supply with it, so I plugged it into a wall outlet and was surprised to see the screen light up with Windows 2000.  At that price I just couldn't pass it up.

A few problems presented when I got my find home.  The first being that there was a log-in screen demanding an unknown password.  I figured I could get by that via the set-up utility accessed by pressing the F-8 function key as the computer is in the bootup stage.  Except that there was a diagonal row of keys that did not work, including the F-8 key.  So, another trip to another thrift store where I picked up a 2-dollar keyboard with a PS2 connector.  That let me get at the setup screen and I was able to set a new Administrator password and get myself into Windows 2000.

So far, so good, but it's awkward to carry around a full-size desktop keyboard along with a laptop.  I opened up the case to get at the keyboard and found that the keys were a very simple mechanical type which did not appear to have anything wrong with them.  In fact, I found that just lifting the keyboard slightly restored the full functioning of all the keys, so it was clear that the problem was with the ribbon cable connecting the keyboard to the main board.  A small paper shim tightened the connector on the keyboard-end of the cable and I was back in business with Windows 2000 running on a Pentium III.  Wow!

Dell's approach was to market a basic machine with peripherals and accessories that attached via external connectors.  Luckily, mine came with a card with a pop-out ethernet connector.  I am also able to attach a wifi adapter with the single usb port on the back.

A Pentium III processor and 256K of RAM is a pretty minimal machine these days for any kind of on-line work.  The current version of Google's Chrome browser will not run on such a set-up, but Firefox works ok and an older version of Opera is even a little quicker.  Looking back fifteen years, however, this was a pretty nice little machine at the time.  The Microsoft Office applications including Word all work fine and would have been perfectly adequate in a transitional business environment in which producing end-user paper copy was still the dominant paradigm. Windows 2000 was a product of Microsoft's NT system which was really a revolutionary step forward, providing the basis for much of what we can do today with personal computers.  I doubt I'll actually get a lot of use from this old laptop, but I got at least five bucks of fun from restoring it, and it provided a good opportunity to look back fifteen years to near the beginnings of the digital revolution.

The Dell Latitude just has one slot for RAM and I believe that the max it could take was 512K.  I'll keep my eyes open for the 512 replacement for my 256K so I can see how much of a difference that would yield in performance.  I have an old Compaq Evo N600c with similar specs and it does very well on the web with a gig of RAM and running Windows XP.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Killer Heels

No one who has met me would mistake me for a fashionista.  However, I really liked the current show at the Albuquerque Museum, Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe.