I’ve taken on a task for the end of summer.

A friend of a friend has been allowed to try to make some use of a cart of laptop computers. He wants to use them with Google Docs. JavaScript capabilities are therefore important in the browser.

The computers are Dell Inspiron 4000 laptops which have 128Mb of RAM in each machine. Windows Millennium Edition. That wasn’t going to cut it. I hope a version of Linux will solve the problem. Floppy drive module. Was able to swap the floppy for a CD drive from a Dell Latitude laptop (hooray for parts compatibility).

First try: Damn Small Linux. 4.4.10 – DSL specs say it works great with low resource hardware.¬† It installed easily and fairly quickly. It recognized the wireless card, attached¬† working driver software and connected to Google Docs, but the browser wasn’t new enough to handle the job. After about an hour, the mouse pointer started to wander and finally got “stuck” in a screen corner. Move on…

Next: Puppy Linux 5.25 – It installed with a bit more work, but didn’t connect with the wireless, even when I used the exact same driver that had worked with DSL. Move on…

Xubuntu 11.04 – SLOW install. Gave up the first time while the screen stayed blank at the networking hardware stage. Tried again and walked away for errands for two hours. When I returned, the wireless card had been detected and the install went forward, though still slowly. Mouse pointer stable, I think. Firefox 5.0 is the current browser with software updates applied. Wow! Modern browser. With 128Mb of RAM an actual Google Word Document almost works. Doubling to 256Mb, grabbing a memory module from another laptop, makes it work pretty well. The issue is the space required for the JavaScript that makes Google Docs work.

I’m now searching for more RAM. Dell’s page says the machine maxes out at 512Mb, two sticks of 256Mb. The first two I found weren’t recognized by the laptop which shut down right after turning on.

Anybody got ideas?

Anybody have compatible memory (PC100, SDRAM CL=2, non parity, 3.3V according to the Crucial Site) who would be willing to donate it? (Couldn’t get a PC133 chip to work. Would a BIOS update matter?)

128Mb memory modules would be enough to make the system workable. As it is now, the 30 laptops will supply enough RAM to have 15 working units. Clearly it would be nice if all 30 could be deployed. Class sizes are big at the school.

I’ll report on progress.