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experiences with refurbishing

A friend and I spent Monday afternoon putting together a computer for a
non-English speaking background person. Actually part of that afternoon
was spent upgrading his computer so we could have some bits to hand down.

He ended up with a 486DX33 machine with 8MB RAM, 1.2G disk, 8X CDROM,
a VGA card and a 28.8k modem. Since the CPU, RAM and video card are out
of kilter with the HD, CDROM and modem, my advice to him was to upgrade
the MB, memory and video card if he wants to use GUI apps. At the moment
he's using text mode apps like lynx and pine. With this he intends to
get onto the Internet to train himself the trainer.

From the bits left over we have a 386DX40 machine with 8MB, and a
120MB disk.  This will be able to run text mode apps.


I like to cetegorise equipment in generations because it's a rough
indication of the sorts of applications that can be run on them.

1. Pentium and above, >=32MB RAM, SVGA, >400MB disk, more if apps are
to be installed, X, Netscape, office packages, the works.

2. 486, >=16MB RAM, SVGA, >300MB disk, X, some GUI apps, maybe Netscape.

3. 386, >=8MB RAM, VGA, >200MB disk, text mode apps, e.g. lynx, pine.

4. 286, telnet or serial terminals in networks.

It's not my intention to start a debate about the fine lines of
classification.  The point is that an installation is more likely to be
hassle-free if the configuration is balanced. The categories have some
basis in technological waves. You will not find many high end video
cards for the ISA bus, they are PCI or maybe VLB (rare as hens teeth
now). You will often not be able to put more than 16 or 32 MB RAM on
old 386 MBs. You will often not be able to use large disks on old BIOSes.

Here's why the distribution issue is a red herring.  There are far less
differences between the distributions than between the platforms or the
applications that will be run. The chicken pecking work of an install
can in fact be automated to a large extent. What will take up more time
is the training of users.

There is one exception though. RH is not good for small disks. I could not
get a very minimal install under 100MB so I turned to Debian for this.
Before you Slackware users email me, I haven't used it for a while but
I'm sure it could have served as well.

GUI apps are nice but we don't know what percentage of the donations
will be able to run those. There is a sad lack of text mode productivity
apps for Linux/Unix. (Here are the roots of the Wintel domination of
the market, DOS machines could run word processors, spreadsheets, etc.
while Unix users were concentrated at the high end.) Currently I'm
pushing the use of something like pico which has onscreen prompts, line
justficiation and spell checking and would allow small text files to be
created. Besides the fact that it's similar to the editor inside pine.

More to the point and this I think is really a far important point
than the mechanics of Linux distributions and installation: Who are our
users and what do they want to run? How much training will they need?
My friend, who is hardly a computer illiterate person, having used word
processors and such, had difficulty with pico bindings, email conventions
and that sort of thing.  This he will overcome with time. That is why I
have been stressing that we need auxiliaries to train users who may not
had had much contact with computers.  GUIs don't remove the requirement
to explain how an email address is formed, what is a URL, etc.

I think what will happen now is that my friend will take some time to
get acquainted with Linux before he feels capable of training his student.

We did the work on his dining room table because his den was not
available.  It was very messy and time consuming. We need a semi-permanent
space for various reasons: 1. We need some core facilities: power boards,
a network maybe, some working machines as servers maybe. 2. We need
holding space to take up the slack between what is donated and what is
needed. 3. We need a skip to dump the things we cannot use, e.g. faulty
or simply unusable like old terminals. 4. We need a space that can be
documented so that helpers can find their way around easily. I'll try
to persuade him to make some space in his den. He also said he might be
able to find some space at his workplace.