Monday, March 17, 2008

Red Hat on a Crappy Old Compaq

Ok, so in a misguided effort to be less dependent on the monstrosity that is Microsoft (and because we were sick of the damn thing bitching at us that our version of XP Pro *might* not be genuine), we put a Linux partition on Roni's laptop.
Thoroughly unnecessary backstory:
This laptop used to be mine, but the hard drive went bad and I got my desktop. We cannibalized Roni's old laptop that the cat destroyed to give my old laptop new life (larger hard drive, more RAM, etc) so that Roni would have something to use. But the XP Pro install went bad, and eventually the thing just kept BSOD-ing completely at random. We determined it was either a bad stick of RAM or a bad install. So we tried swapping out the RAM but it kept having the same problem, so we tried reinstalling XP. Unfortunately, we had lost the serial number on the XP disk (assuming we ever had one for it, which is an interesting puzzle), so the install didn't go too well.
Back to the main thrust of the post:
So we went to install Fedora 4 on the laptop, which is a Compaq Presario 1600 that I got back in '00. Unfortunately, as it turns out, the video card on this damned thing (Trident CyberBlade i1) is not supported. I got the OS installed by using the text-only installer rather than the GUI, but then I was stuck. If I tried to start up normally, all I got was a big white blank in the middle of the screen. I tried changing display modes, but all that got me was new and different screens full of garbage. I could kind of tell that a command line was supposed to be being displayed, and I could kind of tell when the mouse was moving, but that was about it. I couldn't see what I was telling the machine, and I couldn't see what it was telling me, which knowing my tendency to blaze forward without really knowing what I'm doing could be a recipe for disaster.
This is a known problem, apparently. I found various workarounds online, but could not make any work.
As you may have guessed, I am a complete Linux noob. My knowledge of this particular OS begins yesterday, when I started reading the book. I grew up on DOS, so I am not unfamiliar with the concept of a command line, but I have not learned the language for Linux yet. It does no good to tell me to modify the xorg.conf file, because I have no idea how to get to said file.
I managed to start up without the GUI, but then I was stuck. I had my little command line; I had an instruction to type in gedit etc/X11/xorg.conf; and I did that and got an error message that it could not be displayed. gedit apparently does not work without the GUI, and every time I got anywhere remotely close to the GUI, I got garbage.
So I called up my good friend the Ethergeek, who has been very patient with my sporadic and usually abortive forays into the world of computing since high school. He had me open xorg.conf using vi rather than gedit, which worked much better and reminded me forcibly of good old PCWrite that I used to type reports on back in elementary school. We edited the driver for the video card to be "vesa" instead of "trident"; exited the editor & tried the GUI. This worked. Yay!
It amazes me that he was able to carry on a perfectly coherent tech-support conversation over an XBox Live chat while playing Guitar Hero on hard.
I don't expect this to help anyone; I just wanted to document what I did before I forgot. If anything seems out of place or nonsensical, I don't want to hear about it.
Thank you for your time.

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