Friday, September 27, 2013

A New Life for an Old Dell Dimension Desktop

I recently acquired an old Dell Dimension 4300 desktop from the 2001 era. This old computer was running Windows XP and when it booted up, I was presented with a password protected user log in. Por fin! (Finally!) I ran to my box of computer supplies and found a disc labeled Windows XP password recovery or hacker or something. A friend had given me the disc and I'd never had occasion to use it before now.
Unfortunately, the disc failed. Ahhh...
No worries. Google is my friend and helped me discover that booting into Safe Mode will get you in with administrator privileges sufficient to modify the user accounts as needed. Nice.

I played around with the machine, but ultimately decided that short of a fresh install of Windows XP Home, to which I did not have a handy installation disc. The product key was taped to the side, but I wasn't in the mood to go through all that, especially when I had a Ubuntu 12.04 LiveCD lying around just begging to get installed somewhere.

The LiveCD disc was left to beg a little longer. I read up on the web that the minimum requirements for 12.04 were probably a bit too much for this old heap. Not to be beaten, I ran back to my box of computer supplies and pulled out an even older LiveCD I picked up years ago: Ubuntu 5.10.

I promptly installed Ubuntu 5.10 and then went to work to see if I could install OpenTTD.

This Linux n00b quickly found out that Linux is 'super easy', but only if you're recently updated. I read through numerous forum posts and toyed with the idea of what it might take but retreated to the 12.04 disc instead.

Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that the 12.04 installer was incapable of recognizing the hard drive. Weird. The 5.10 installer had no problem, and while running in trial mode the 12.04 environment could detect and mount the hard drive. However, as soon as the installation process was started in 12.04, the hard drive was not listed as available installation targets. (Only my USB drive was recognized.)

Back to Google.
Turns out, Ubuntu comes in several flavors. Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and Lubuntu to name a few. I quickly settled on Lubuntu. But, again, another road block, I'm running low on blank CD's!
No problem. That's why they built tools like 'unetbootin'. You can use it to put/install/write/make? your .iso files onto a USB flash drive and then you can go to your target computer and tell it to boot from your USB device instead of the optical drive. Hurray! See this HTG post for more details.

Oh, no! This old machine doesn't have the option to boot from USB.
No worries. Turns out they built another tool, called PLoP, to solve this problem as well. See this HTG post for more details.

Success, right? Not so fast. The troubles kept coming. In fact, I almost posted this question to the askUbuntu forums while I was trying yet again to install Lubuntu 12.04 via the alternate installer, for the second or third time.

Linux n00b. I have only used Live CD's in the past for various things. These are my first install attempts.
I have a 2001 era Dell 4300, to which I successfully installed Ubuntu 5.10, as the live CD for 12.04 appeared too sluggish. (These were the two discs on hand.)
I decided that 5.10 was a bit too outdated to be able to do what I wanted (install openTTD).
Hoping to get a lighter desktop I then sought for Lubuntu 12.04. Rather than burn another CD, I used unetbootin and plop for boot from usb support.
However, the installer for Lubuntu 12.04 failed to detect my hard drive, similar to this thread. ( same results from the ubuntu 12.04 disc, too.) During a live session the hard drive is visible. Start up the installer, however, and only the USB drive is listed as available locations.

I then went and downloaded the alternate installer for Lubuntu and tried again. However, now I think I'm getting Bug#658865.   The solution listed there is to start the live session and make the file change and then launch installation. This doesn't work for me since the installer on the desktop version doesn't detect my hard drive.

If someone can illustrate how to upgrade Ubuntu 5.10 to Lubuntu 12.04 - that would be great. However, after spending all day on this, I'd also like to know how to be able to install Lubuntu 12.04.

While composing the question, I also figured out that you'll have much better luck, like I did, if you don't have a USB keyboard attached to the computer you are trying to use PLoP with to boot from USB. It just doesn't support USB peripherals at this time. Ohhh, see, it helps if you read all the instructions first.

Turns out, I was able to try installation again, this time with a ps/2 keyboard and successfully navigate through installer and things worked. So, I never posted the question I composed above. Almost though.

Oh, and Lubuntu 12.04 works great! Many new adventures in Linux are just waiting to be discovered! Well...first things first. I have to go download openTTD now.

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