After several years of inactivity and a quiet relaunch earlier this year, the Dillo web browser has finally released Dillo 2.0.

The open-source project started in 1999 with the goal of creating a small, fast, highly efficient graphical web browser that could run well even on low-end hardware and software. It’s a UNIX application, and runs on Linux, BSD, Solaris, etc. Things stagnated when it became clear that GTK1 was going to vanish, and GTK2 would not fit the project goals, and eventually the browser was ported to the Fast Light Toolkit (FLTK).

If you’ve used Dillo before, some of the improvements in this release are multiple character set support (the old versions were Latin-1–only), tabbed browsing, HTTP compression, anti-aliasing, improved rendering and UI, and smaller(!) memory usage.

It does have its limitations, and a few major items stand out as missing when compared to other modern browsers:

  • No CSS stylesheet support.
  • No scripting.
  • No plug-ins.
  • Limited SSL support.

That said, it’s useful to keep around on an older system, or for situations where speed is more important than rendering, or to test how a website works without styles, scripts, and plugins.

I started building RPMs of Dillo for my own use back in 2002, and became the official RPM packager for the project the following year. I’ve posted Dillo RPM packages for Fedora 9, RHEL 3, RHEL 4, and RHEL 5. Other distros will have to wait until I get my build system out of storage or figure out how to convince mock to let me build two packages together.

On Friday I reinstalled Red Hat 9 on my computer. On Saturday I figured out why I couldn’t build Dillo on the virtual Conectiva system (the only reason I tried to install the real thing). On Monday I made a remark on the Dillo mailing list that, after trashing the system trying to install Conectiva, “unless/until I can set up a spare system solely for trying things out, anything else… will run under User-Mode Linux.”

And that got me thinking.

A spare system wouldn’t need to be elaborate. I wouldn’t be playing games on it. I wouldn’t be doing graphics work on it. I wouldn’t even be doing web development, word processing, or checking my email. Most of the time it wouldn’t even be running – just when I wanted to try something new, or when a new release of Dillo came out and needed RPMs. And since I have a spare KVM switch, I’d only need to find space for the case, and wouldn’t need to worry about a monitor.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve upgraded my computer piece-by-piece since 1994. Well, when you do that, you end up with a lot of spare parts left over. Sure, they’re older, slower, smaller, etc. than what you’ve got now, but if they worked when you took them out, they probably still work now. I’ve been meaning to go through all the boxes, cards, drives etc. and get rid of things I don’t need anymore, but I’d never gotten around to it. Well, on Monday I finally had motivation.

I went through looking for parts I could use to put together a spare, expendable system – one where it wouldn’t matter if the entire hard disk got wiped. I found three hard drives (two of them too small to be useful), several sticks of RAM, network and video cards, and a motherboard and a CPU that wouldn’t fit together. That left: a case, a CD-ROM, and either a CPU to go with the motherboard, or a motherboard to go with the CPU.

[A picture of Red Shirt] It turned out my boss was getting ready to throw out some old equipment, including a huge mega-tower with a 450 MHz K6-2. The motherboard I have used to hold a K6-2. (Where it is now, I have no idea – I don’t think it’s the one I fried, especially since the motherboard seems to work.) So now I had a processor. My parents had recently replaced an extremely flaky computer, so I got a CD-ROM from that. Then I went to Fry’s and picked up a $30 case and $13 floppy drive.

That’s right: I have just built a $43 computer.

Somewhere in this whole process, Katie came up with the name “Red Shirt Linux.” And while it’s mostly going to be SuSE, Conectiva, and Mandrake, the name fits.

Preliminary tryouts look promising: All the hardware works, I was able to see old data on the hard disk before I repartitioned it, I could boot tomsrtbt off of a floppy and mess around under that. I tried Conectiva first, and it failed, but I think I’ve got a bad install CD. (The UML system I built from it has network problems, and the copy I installed on Ghostwheel is what trashed my partition table, so it doesn’t surprise me that it had problems here.) I’ll run a thorough memory test overnight just to make sure, but it looks like I’ve got a PC I can mess around with without risking any data!

For several months I’ve been providing installable RPM packages for the Dillo web browser. Since many different distributions use RPM packages, I’ve been getting requests to add various Linux distributions. I started out just installing to extra partitions, but then I started building virtual systems with User-Mode Linux.

Well, people have been requesting RPMs for Conectiva, a distribution from Brazil and partner in UnitedLinux. I built a UML virtual system, but was never able to get Dillo to compile or to get the imitation network driver working. So, tonight I decided to install an actual copy.

With most Linux installers, you can choose where to create a new partition, and set it up to add existing ones to the system. This has worked fine with every version of Red Hat, Mandrake, and SuSE I have installed. The installer will create the new partition, leave the others alone, and mark them to be visible in the system you’ve installed.

Conectiva didn’t leave the existing partitions alone. Each partition I had marked was gone: my main OS partition (currently Red Hat 9), my home directory, and all my download and media files. Fortunately I had backups of the most critical files from last Saturday, and I was able to recover my entire home directory with Tomsrtbt and Parted‘s rescue function. And I don’t mind losing my main OS, since it’s not that hard to re-install it – all I need is the configuration, and I’ve got that backed up.

That leaves my entire download and media archive. I always figured, “I can just re-download all of this, right?” And most of it I can. Much of the rest either isn’t important, or hasn’t changed since the last backup (which I’ll admit was a long time ago), or can be recovered from CD, or can be re-scanned. The few photos that hadn’t made it into last week’s backup turned out to still be in a temporary folder on my website. Still, there are things that will be hard to find again, and probably some that will be impossible.

Just in case, I’ve got a recovery tool scanning the lost partitions in hopes that it will come up with something.

I’m not touching Conectiva again – or any other distribution I’m not already familiar with – until I get a spare system set up, or maybe spring for something like VMWare. And I’m seriously considering picking up some sort of backup solution that will hold more than a CD-RW, so I’ll be more inclined to save everything instead of picking and choosing what to put on a few discs.

Update 7:45am: I got the download/media partition back. The tool I ran overnight didn’t seem to find anything, but when I ran parted again this morning (after remembering that it was on PAUD, the Parted And Utilities Disk, not Tomsrtbt) it was able to find the partition.

So now all that’s missing is the primary OS (I’m running off of one of the “extra” installations right now), and I can reinstall that easily.