Handy Linux distro that can be built on the fly

A couple of days back, my friend Stuart and I were trying to configure a device via a serial port. You’re probably thinking that’s not so hard, just hook up a console cable, fire up a terminal emulator, make sure you have the right settings and you’re good to go, hey?

Except that neither of us had a serial port on our laptops… and the only PC we had available with a serial port wasn’t configured with an operating system (at least not one we had the password for).

Thanks to a great Linux distribution called Slax, we were able to build a boot CD that included minicom in just a few seconds and after downloading and burning we could boot the PC from CD. All it took then was to configure Minicom to use /dev/ttyS0 (if we had used a USB to serial connector it would have been /dev/ttyUSB0), with /var/lock for the lockfile, 9600 8N1 Baud/parity, hardware flow control on, software flow control off and we were connecting to the console output (David Sudjiman described something similar to configure his Cisco router from Ubuntu).

I’m sure I could have used an alternative, like Knoppix but the real beauty of Slax was the ability to create a custom build on the fly with just the modules that are required. I could even put it on a USB stick…

Reading around on the ‘net afterwards I came across Van Emery’s Linux Serial Console HowTo which turns things around the other way (using a serial port to get into a Linux machine). I though it might be fun (in a retro sort of way) to hook up some dumb terminals to a Linux PC but I’m not sure what I’d do with them though… web browsing via Lynx? A bit of command line e-mail? Definitely a geek project.

Leave a Reply