At the beginning of January I decided to try my hand at using a ten year old laptop running Linux Mint MATE as my daily at home machine. While there is certainly some cruft associated with using such an old machine for the most part the experience was perfectly fine. In fact I’m using it right now to write out this article. I wouldn’t recommend running out and buying one solely for the purpose, but the fact remains that Linux Mint MATE, and probably Ubuntu MATE as well, provide a great average user load experience on underpowered hardware.
I’ve been a huge convert to Linux Mint and Ubuntu for several years now. In the last year I went so far as to be running Linux as my bare metal OS on both my work laptop and home desktop. I’ve never had an update for Mint or Ubuntu get so borked up that the UI refused to function properly…until now.
I was away for a week so couldn’t do my Linux craptop experiment. Sorry, but I refuse to be beholden to a ten year old laptop while on travel. So now, today, is the second day that I’m using this as my primary machine for when I’m browsing the Internet and doing things while I’m watching TV on the couch. Yes that seems like a limited subset, but I spend a good amount of time vegging in that state so it’s not as insignificant as it seems. I’ll have a thorough breakdown of my experiment at some point but by far the biggest nuisance I have that is driving me crazy is the lack of trackpad gestures.
When gestures first came out for laptops I thought they were mostly gimmicky, but once I had my first laptop that really had them I was hooked and didn’t know it. Now that I’m trying to use a laptop without them I’m finding it very cumbersome. It’s not a total loss however because this trackpad has the beginning of gestures in the form of scroll bars on the right and bottom sides. I can simulate the scrolling to some extent which is a big part of my gestures, but it really isn’t the same thing. How did we live without gestures all this time? At least Linux Mint Mate 18 supported these limited gestures out of the box for this ancient laptop.
Sometime in 2016 the Linux Action Show podcast on a yarn decided to run both a modern and then a contemporary version of Linux on ten year old equipment. As luck would have it along with my other eccentric hobbies I also have a classic computer collection. One of the computers in my collection that I ran across recently is a Dell XPS M1530 from late-2007 (specs). I bought it as not too crappy but not so great home laptop suitable for browsing the internet, doing my home finances, et cetera. Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess, I have decided to try to use this laptop as a modern browsing computer for a little while. With a 2.6 GHz Intel Core2 Duo and 4 GB of RAM it shouldn’t do too bad, especially with the 4 GB of RAM. I’m going to run Linux Mint MATE18.1 to give it a fighting chance. Ubuntu and Cinnamon require a bit more graphics and CPU horsepower and while the 4GB of memory should allow it to hold its own to some extent, the ten year old processors and graphics cards will suffer. MATE on the other hand is far lighter weight and more streamlined.
Probably the biggest hiccup is going to be the battery. This is the original battery from ten years ago. I doubt that it is going to hold up well to being unplugged. That’s okay though, I’ll be able to leave it plugged in while I’m using it without much inconvenience. I’m not going to make this my primary laptop or anything so if I can only use it while tethered to the couch then so be it.
I’m currently finishing up patching the system, getting printers setup, and doing software installs for things like Chrome. I look forward to playing around with this in the coming weeks and reporting on it. In fact I’m writing this very blog post in FireFox on it right now while the OS patches continue to progress…