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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Thu, 17 Feb 2011

A successful (mostly) upgrade from Debian Lenny to Squeeze

It’s by no means a production system, but I still maintain and occasionally use a 1999-era Compaq Armada 7770dmt laptop that I purchased as quasi-surplus when I was just starting to explore Linux and BSD in 2007 or ‘08.

I paid , and hence the machine became known as The Laptop. I spent an additional for a CD drive (and I’d like to spend on an extra hard-drive caddy — the thing’s built like a tank; a plastic tank, but a tank nonetheless).

The Compaq still has its original 3 GB hard drive (I think it’s an IBM drive, but it’s been so long since I’ve had it out of the case, I can’t remember).

The machine came to me with 64 GB of RAM. I boosted it to the maximum, which is a whopping 144 MB. The Pentium II MMX processor running at 233 MHz isn’t as bad as you’d think.

The machine has provided fodder for at least 50 blog entries, including a long series on which OS to run on it. I can’t remember if OpenBSD or Debian won at that time, but over the years it’s spent considerable time running Puppy Linux as well.

For at least a year I’ve had Debian Lenny on it. Since it’s a slow, memory- and disk-space-limited machine, I didn’t install the default GNOME desktop and all that comes along with it. I instead began with the “standard” install, then added X, the Xfce desktop (I could’ve gone with Xfce or Fvwm2, but I prefer Xfce …) and a very few (and select) applications: MtPaint for image editing, Geany for text editing, Opera for web browsing (although I added the much-slower Iceweasel/Firefox at some point), gFTP as the FTP client, and not much else.

I’ve actually installed the “full” Xfce desktop set of packages on it before, and there was enough room for OpenOffice. OO actually ran passably well on this old “kit,” as they say across the Atlantic. Not tolerably enough for regular use, but OK in a pinch as we say over here (and probably over there).

But it’s been a minimal Debian Lenny for a long time. Aside from a relative lightness that enables you to do more with the hardware than many systems (Ubuntu and Xubuntu wouldn’t even boot, let alone install), the length of support that Debian releases enjoy — lately two years as Stable and an additional year as Old Stable — makes it easy to “set it and forget it.”

And that’s what I’ve done.

But now that Squeeze is Stable, I felt it was time to give an in-place upgrade a try. And I wanted it to work, unlike my hasty and non-successful Lenny-to-Squeeze upgrade attempt last year, well before the Release Notes I used earlier this week were there to save me.

(This entry continues months later … June 28, 2011 to be exact)

I meant to finish this entry at the time, and since then I’ve done the upgrade, fiddled with the machine a bit, but have no idea where my notes went (or if I made any). Notes are a great idea when doing upgrades. My Linux guru Carla Schroder swears by them.

The reason this was a (mostly) successful upgrade from Lenny to Squeeze was that I used the Release Notes and did all the required preparation that resulted in apt-get dist-upgrade actually working.

The only problem I’m having with the upgraded laptop is that Grub2 isn’t working. Luckily the way Debian does the upgrade, Grub1 (aka Grub Legacy) chainloads to Grub2, and if Grub2 doesn’t work, you don’t have a dead system.

In the intervening time, I haven’t been able to get Grub2 to find the kernel. I’m not sure what’s wrong, but since I still have Grub1, the system continues to run.

If I haven’t misplaced it in recent weeks, I have a 20 GB hard drive floating around here somewhere that I could swap into the Compaq Armada 7770dmt to do a clean Debian Squeeze install to see if Grub2 works when it’s not an upgrade.