Linux has Largely Abandoned Still-Useful Near-Vintage Computers

5-6-21

Dell Inspiron 5100 I am sure many experienced Linux users who love old hardware will not be surprised to hear that I have been unable to find an up-to-date distribution of Linux that runs well on my near-vintage, nineteen-year-old Dell Inspiron 5100 with 256 MB of RAM. This is the computer I use specifically for testing software designed for old computers.

@TauAs I've got mixed feelings about this. I like that old hardware is supported, but where do the maintainers draw the line? Pentium? 486? 386? 286?
Also, there is a contradiction in wanting software to run on computers with few resources, and also wanting the software to be lean enough to run on that hardware. Do they not update for new hardware, and only maintain the old? Or do they reduce functionality to support both new and (all?) old hardware. Maybe they should fork?

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@murph @TauAs Just make things modular enough so that you can scale down to low end hardware.

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@grainloom @TauAs I'm not a kernel hacker, so I'm not sure how difficult that may be. Perhaps a fork for the retro crowd?

@murph @TauAs I don't think it's a kernel issue for the most part. I can compile a kernel without PAE and run it on my Pentium II machines. The issue becomes RAM and HDD space. Guix for instance uses more of both.
There are certainly kernel modules that you can disable (see OpenWRT's guide for old routers) but the problem seems to be that a lot of userspace software is written with the expectation of gigabytes of RAM and near infinite storage.

@murph @TauAs

eg.: some package managers let you use different version of the same module, which is a useful feature in theory, but then you get dependency trees with 4 versions of the same module. cargo and npm both have this issue AFAIK.

also there is just Electron. like, in general.
or anything that loads an entire file into RAM to run the equivalent of sed on it.

@murph @TauAs btw the dependency thing wouldn't be an issue if it wasn't so widespread.
Guix has the same thing, but packagers try very hard to only ever have a single packaged version of a library. Rust devs don't seem to do that. There are I think 10 different versions of the bindgen crate that we have packaged, because it's too difficult to make cargo use a single version in all crates.

@grainloom @TauAs I sympathize, and not sure what to do. Hardware is going to improve, and increase, Software is going to progress, and take up more of those resources. Eventually the floor for new software is going to obsolete older systems. Perhaps look into things like Gemini and gopher for networks that limit resource usage? I like my old Amigas, but I accept that they will no longer be able to access the modern web.

@murph @TauAs
Write better software and help people write better software.

Also stop writing software for megacorps and target low income users instead.

And don't buy shiny new crap. Don't reward corporations for creating more waste.

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