This is an articl I wrote in 2003 to introduce RULE to the readers of LinuxForU, an indian Linux Magazine. I am publishing the text here because as far as I know it isn’t readable online anymore (if it ever was!), but I’ll be glad to replace it with a link to the version on the editor website if I’m wrong. A PDF version is also available.
a new solution to the problem of running Linux on older hardware: installing and running the latest Red Hat in much less RAM and disk space than normally needed.
Many Linux distributions require more HW resources at every release to just do the same things as before. The RULE project whose acronym stands for “Run Up to date Linux Everywhere”, was born as a reaction to this problem, and to its most common solutions: have a lot of time and skills, or stick to old software.
The main piece is Slinky, a custom installer for Red Hat, developed by Michael Fratoni, working in as low as 8 MB of RAM, and fitting in two or three floppies. The process is not yet user friendly as a many distributions have come to make it, and probably will never be. However, it is quite similar to a custom, text mode Red Hat installation, optimized to select the smallest possible number of RPM packages. The result is that a minimal Red Hat 9/RULE system with a GUI (the icewm and fluxbox file managers are available) requires an i386 CPU, about 300 MB of disk space, and 16 or 32 MB of RAM. A bootable ISO image with the installer and those few RPMs prepared by the project takes about 60 MB. The main RULE custom package are a kernel (compiled for i386 processors from the official Red Hat sources) and kdrive, a graphic server requiring much less RAM than standard X11.
Of course, things like video editing, 3D games and similar remain off limits. Slim servers and desktops return possible, however, through standard, current Red Hat CD-ROMs (version 9 as of July 2003), which is the most important thing. Users end up with current mainstream software, with a lot of documentation and online support: all patches and upgrades from Red Hat are still useable. This approach also requires much less effort than maintaining a whole new distribution.
The non technical side
RULE is also a program to help people. Bypassing the standard hardware requirements can bring the benefits of modern Free Software to all those users (starting with schools!) which have not enough money to buy a state of the art PC, and cannot use client-server networks like the Linux K-12 project.
RULE has already been unofficially tested in some Greek schools. Next September, VUM (www.vum.at) an Austrian organization, will deliver to four schools in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, recycled computers set up as school desktops (details at www.rule-project.org/en/news/vumbox.php). Other organizations using or evaluating RULE for similar purposes are FAIR, NPO Techs and the JHAI Foundation.
Very often, older computers also have slow and expensive Internet access. For this reason, the web site is very light, and can also be downloaded as one compressed file for offline browsing. RULE is also cooperating with Linux Pakistan to create a multilingual CD with all RULE documentation aboard, and the volunteers of the RULE network will send by normal mail a CD-ROM to users without broadband connections.
The RULE installers are already quite stable.The next steps are more testing and, above all, localization. The installer and desktop must be made available also to non English speaking users, and the same applies to the web pages. To know more about how RULE could help your organization, or to help with translations, please contact email@example.com. To receive feedback on specific technical issues, please subscribe directly to the RULE mailing list.