Monday, June 18, 2007

Installing Centos 4.4 Linux on ThinkPad T43 Model 2668-4FJ

Installing Centos 4.4 Linux on ThinkPad T43 Model 2668-4FJ

This year I got the four CDs for the Centos installation, burnt the iso images to disk with Nero, and then installed. I downloaded the CDs from a repository in Japan, where I live, to which I was directed by a downloads redirect page provided by

If you want to try this OS, you should get the CDs by taking the same route, using an FTP program such as FileZilla rather than trying to download the iso images with your browser.

To install from CD, you have to tweak the BIOS (Basic Input Output Services), and usually, when you boot a computer, there is a message on screen which tells you how to interrupt the normal boot process by pressing a certain magic key.

In my own case, when I bought my computer second-hand from a computer shop here in Japan, it was already set up to boot from the CD drive, so I left it that way.

I will first tell the story of my final installation, which was short, sweet, simple, and entirely satisfactory, then I will give details of my initial struggle with frustration and failure, a struggle which lasted months.

The machine on which I installed was a second-hand IBM ThinkPad, a T43 with a Japanese keyboard. When purchased, it came with a Japanese version of XP installed.

The machine was capable of reading DVDs and of both reading and writing CDs. It had a 60-gigabyte hard drive, 1,024 megabytes of RAM and 64 megabytes of video RAM. The chip was a Pentium M 750 running at 1.86 GHz. It had a connection for a LAN cable and two USB ports for USB 1.1 and 2.0.

The screen was a 14.1 inch LCD screen, an SXGA+ with a potential resolution of 1400 x 1050 pixels. There was a slot for inserting a PC card (type I or II) but there was no floppy disk drive.

Installation and initial configuration was very quick and took substantially less than two hours. For the installation that I ended up doing, I only needed the first three of the four installation disks.

During installation, for the most part I accepted the defaults and simply clicked NEXT to continue. The decisions that I made during installation were limited to the following:

1. At the stage where you are asked if you want to run a check on the media, I opted for SKIP.

2. I identified the keyboard as a Japanese keyboard.

3. At the point where you choose additional languages, I added support for the Japanese language.

4. When choosing an installation option, I chose CUSTOM. When it came time to choose packages, I chose, in addition to those which were not already preselected, the following:


This amounted to 3,137 megabytes of data.

4. I chose to remove all partitions rather than accept the default, which was just to remove all Linux partitions.

5. When it came time to choose the screen resolution, I went for 800 x 600 pixels. I'm visually impaired, am blind in the right eye and don't see well out of the left, so I need some way to magnify the screen.

If you have an LCD screen you can run the screen at whatever resolution you choose without doing it any damage, and by choosing a lower resolution you can, in effect, magnify the whole screen.

My Linux machine had been installing at 800 x 600, and, during the installation, I found that just fine, so that was what I went with.

My Windows machine is set up similarly, and is set up with the screen displaying at 800 x 600, rather than the theoretically possible 1024 x 768.

(To set the screen resolution under XP, all you have to do is right-click on the desktop, then go to DISPLAY MODES.)

6. In addition to opting for a display of 800 x 600 pixels I chose to go for 256 colors rather than millions of colors. Even 256 would be wasted on me, as my color perception has been trashed, and I no longer see colors very well.

When I logged in with my user account the desktop defaulted to the Gnome desktop with the Blue Curve theme. I customized the system as follows:

I resized the panel at the top from 24 to 54 pixels and removed all OpenOffice icons apart from Writer; I added a file browser to the panel; I adjusted the cursor to LARGE; I changed the theme to high contrast black on white; I changed the global setting for fonts from BEST SHAPES to BEST CONTRAST; I increased the application font from 10 to 12 and increased all other fonts to 14; I set the clock to 24 hour time; I chose ENGINE as my screen saver and reset the time so it would not lock up and demand a password until I had been away from the screen for 30 minutes (rather than the default time of 10 minutes); I choose Earth seen from space as my wallpaper.

I fired up the gedit text editor and changed the font from Monospace to Courier at 36 point.

And that was my installation and initial configuration done.

I found out the following about the system:

It refuses to mount (ie to access) any CD or DVD made by using IBM-supplied software which writes to CD R or DVD R. However, it will mount data written to a CD RW or DVD RW using Nero.

It will not mount any blank media, though perhaps there is a work around for this.

I have a USB floppy disk drive made by IBM and this works find with CentOS 4.4. You can hot plug it and the floppy disk drive shows up when you double-click COMPUTER, and you can use the floppy disk drive to copy data from your Linux box to your Windows box and vice versa.

The system will play ogg files, and you can convert mp3 files to ogg with a piece of software that you can use for free, this being something called Free Mp3 WMA Converter. This installs two separate programs on your computer, but you only need the converter, which has a very clean, simple interface and has demonstrated rock solid reliability while running under XP.

The installation package also offers to install an e-mail program, but doing so is not compulsory.

If you want to play ogg files on your Windows box, then one option is to get MediaMonkey, the standard version of which is free for private use.

My main requirement for a computer is that I should be able to use it for writing, and the combination of gedit and OpenOffice Writer provides me with this capacity. Gedit has a nice tabbed interface allowing you to easily switch between a number of open files, and OpenOffice Writer has a nice spelling checker.

What is described here is just a basic setup, and I have more work to do. I want to modify the machine to suspend when the lid is closed.

I recently realized that my Linux box may allow me to do something that I tried to do with my Windows system and failed. I wanted to take a bunch of files called, for example, ZITEM-FISH.HTML, ZITEM-CAT.HTML and make copies with titles such as POEM-FISH.HTML and POEM-CAT.HTML.

So I made a directory called DOS in my C: drive, went to PROGRAMS -> ACCESSORIES and chose COMMAND PROMPT and got what looked like a DOS prompt.

I then tried my old and loved DOS commands and went

ren zitem* poem*

This produced a set of files which started "poemm" rather than "poem."

Then, when I tried this:

ren zitem* poem-about*

the command line reported complete failure.

With XP, you have something which looks like a DOS prompt and, in part, behaves like a DOS prompt, but it doesn't work properly, and had weird aberrant quirks.

But my hypothesis is that on my Linux box I should be able to open a terminal and make whatever conversions I want without a fuss.

In due course, I'll report back on how my Linux adventure worked out for me.

The above is the short version. The long version lasted for month, and I became depressed and discouraged, and my computer confidence took a big hit.

To start with, when I got my second-hand computer back home and fired it up, XP reported not 60 gigabytes but only 30, and only half the promised RAM. So I presumed I'd been ripped off.

Later, after a couple of Linux installations, removing all partitions and all data, the hard drive mysteriously expanded to 60 gigabytes.

With a cargo cultists optimism, I presumed that the missing RAM might similarly magic itself into existence, but it never did. Then, when I decided it was time to throw away the packaging in which the computer had come, I found what I took to be the box for a 512 megabyte RAM chip. Fortunately, I opened the box and, to my great surprised, discovered the RAM chip still inside.

My Japanese is good enough to read labels on second-hand computers, and this label was not tagged with anything meaning "some assembly required."

By that time, I'd either thrown away or lost the Japanese-language manual, but I had installed RAM chips on a couple of previous occasions, so I thought I might be able to get by without a manual. I turned the computer upside down, undid a single small screw with the sharp point of one of the kitchen knives, and found the compartment for the RAM chip. I added the chip, which a Linux installation later successfully probed and discovered.

The hard part was finding an OS which had a drive for my sound card. The following installed okay but failed to supply a driver for the sound card:

Red Hat Linux 9 (Shrike), Fedora Core 5 and FreeBSD 6.1, which of course is a variant of Unix rather than a flavor of Linux.

I may also have taken a shot, some months back, at installing Red Hat Linux 7.2, a distribution which I downloaded and burnt to disk a few years ago. But at this stage I can't actually remember whether I did or did not try to get those disks work for me. I've quite simply lost track.

I now have a great collection of installation disks, and some rather unhappy memories of initial failure.


Post a Comment

<< Home