My old netbook has been with me through many years of freelance lecturing and then for four years as a PhD student.
It’s an old Acer Aspire One and it has served well – it gave me problems with its battery and HD, but I was able to solve them pretty easily.
I used to run Linux Mint on it.
Some mishap with my luggage during one of the more recent trips caused the solid-state HD (basically, an USB drive) to finally kick the bucket.
The machine is still working great – but the HD is broken.
Replacing it is beyond my tech skills, and having it replaced by a technician would cost me little less than buying a new netbook.
I can’t afford it at the moment.
And yet, the machine would be pretty damn handy for writing on the road – it was before, it would be great should it be again.
So, I looked around and tried to find a way, at my skill level, to fix it.
Enter Puppy Linux, a lightweight distribution of the Linux operating system that is designed to run – if you are so inclined – from a USB drive.
Basically, you burn the .iso file on a CD, run it like a Live CD, and then instruct it to install itself on a USB.
For an old machine like my old netbook, Puppy is just right – does not require big resources, and allows me to use my old machine despite the broken hard disk.
And the USB option comes with a nice perk – this is not a standard “live CD” set up, in which you load an image on your USB stick, and that’s it – I can actully update and modify it, and the changes will be saved when I exit the system.
Stuff like regional settings, time-zone, keyboard, network connections, need not to be re-typed every time I start my system.
This way, even if my HD is broken, I can replace it with a fully functional one, at the price of a USB stick.
Should I just slip the stick in my pocket, I can use it on any other PC – just plug it in, restart the machine, and I have my system with me.
And because I can modify and then save it, I can add software too – Pidgin for messaging, a Firefox Browser with Flash plugins, for instance.
I could even add a full-fledged OpenOffice package – but right now my netbook is basically a glorified typewriter with some web-capabilities.
The AbiWord software that comes bundled with the system is more than enough for me to write stuff and then mail it to myself. Then I’ll be able to edit it on my desktop PC when I’m back home.
I will do some experiments and try to load Scrivener on the system. It would be nice to have it handy. But it would not be an easy thing – the packages need to be compiled and all that.
It can wait.
As a special bonus, the USB stick I’m using as a new hard disk for my machine is a big, bold, slightly silly “Superman USB” – it looks great, and I will not run the risk of losing or misplacing it.
Nice and smooth – and just a few days before I leave for a short jaunt at the Lucca Comics and Games fair.