OS usability matrix
Wednesday, October 24 2007
I'd been using the Kubuntu Linux distribution on a mostly-disembodied 600 MHz Celeron-based laptop that I hope to one day turn into a stand-alone media player, but I'd decided Kubuntu was too slow and ponderous for the laptop's limited capabilities. So then I tried Xubuntu, a Ubuntu Linux distribution that runs the supposedly-lighter Xfce desktop (as opposed to the KDE desktop in Kubuntu), but that actually seemed to run more slowly than Kubuntu. So then I tried a series of other lightweight distributions. Damn Small Linux didn't work at all (I've never gotten that to work!), Deli Linux was very fast, but its desktop was too primitive and it didn't recognize my devices. I also tried ZenWalk 4.8 and MCNLive-VirtualCity without much success. An ideal Linux would run fast, recognize all my devices, boot quickly, and the desktop would offer a bit more than, say, the one offered by Windows For Workgroups 3.11.
During the course of many installs, I finally settled on a Linux that best matched my needs. This was antiX-Spartacus, which is based on Mepis Linux. AntiX runs the Fluxbox Windows manager with the Rox-Filer file manager, which is very fast, though it is a bit primitive for my tastes. Though more advanced than Windows 3.11, it's not much beyond Macintosh System 6. For example, I've yet to be able to figure out how to navigate to an SMB file share across the network. Nevertheless, antiX recognized all my devices (including a USB WiFi dongle attached to a CardBus USB adapter), and it's delightfully fast. On the 600 MHz Celeron with 192 Megs of RAM, it takes about a minute to boot to the login prompt, and then the desktop is ready to go two or three seconds after that. (This laptop is not using a hard drive, by the way; instead I've been using a two gigabyte Compact Flash card through a cheapo interface shipped straight from Hong Kong.) Once I acquaint myself better with Rox-Filer, I think I'll be able to use antiX as my light Linux of choice.
All this experimentation with operating systems (and believe me, I've done this on a lot of computers starting back in 1998) left me craving some sort of usability matrix showing what hardware will produced good results for what software. We all know the basics of such a matrix, but it would be nice if there was a matrix that was constantly-updated with the latest Linux and BSD releases, some of which are nearly as light as Windows 98. Here's a start:
|Base Operating System Usability Matrix|
|1992||i386 16 MHz 4 Megabytes||Windows 3.1||??|
|1994||i486 33 MHz 8 Megabytes||Windows 3.1||TinyLinux|
|1995||Pentium 66 MHz 16 Megabytes||Windows 95||a Linux distro without a windows manager|
|1996||Pentium 120 MHz 32 Megabytes||Windows 98||a Linux distro with a light windows manager|
|1997||Pentium 200 MHz 64 Megabytes||Windows NT 4.0||a Linux distro with a light windows manager|
|1998||Pentium II 300 MHz 128 Megabytes||Windows 2000||a Linux distro with a light windows manager|
|1999||Pentium III 600 MHz 256 Megabytes||Windows XP||a Linux distro with KDE or GNOME|
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