Ye, it is possible, and I'm going to tell you why and how. So hold on. First here's why you don't need a hard disk: All you really need to run a computer is an operating system, which can access and use the computer's processor and dynamic memory (RAM). It really doesn't matter where this operating comes from. The Hard drive is just a place to store the operating system, software and other information when it's not being used. In theory you can use any storage media to store all this. Guess what, you can do it in practice too. It's just a simple case of writing software designed to run off your desired storage medium and not the hard disk. No, you don't have to do it yourself. People have done it already.
My latest discovery is a beautiful piece of technical wizardry that goes by the unassuming name of Puppy Linux. it's a Live CD with a difference. Live CD's allow you to run an operating system straight off the CD. Unfortunately most Live CD's take the place of the Hard Drive a bit too closely, i.e. the software remains on the CD and is loaded into the RAM as and when needed. Puppy Linux turns this on it's head. When the CD boots, the whole OS is loaded into RAM. This is possible because the Operating System along with a variety of graphic tools, office software, multimedia programs and a full internet suite has been squeezed into a mere 60MB. So if you have a computer with just 64MB of RAM, you can run Puppy with ease. And the fun just starts there. Once the computer has booted up, you can actually take out the Puppy CD and put in another CD, without so much as missed byte. The Operating System simply doesn't care because it's all free of storage media. So you can listen to a music CD or even watch a DVD. And when you're done working, just pop in the Puppy Linux CD, and before shutdown any new files that you have created and any modfications you have made (including new programs installed) will be written to the free space on the disk. Now you not only have your documents on a portable CD, but your whole Operating System. (Yes, if you have a Hard Drive you can save files to it). And If all this CD swapping isn't your thing, your Puppy can even hitch a ride on a USB stick.
So what you are waiting for? Trash that hard disk and go adopt a Puppy today!
I just put together the computer today in the morning, but apparently the hard drive has developed bad sectors, right at the start of the disk, which is blocking all input/output communication with the disk. So my Massive Multiboot project has come screeching rather loudly to halt. After spending a few hours in extreme depression, I am now ready to embark on my next project: Running a full-fledged Linux machine, without a hard disk. More on that tomorrow.
Multibooting a host of different Operating Systems is a challenge, but first I need to get a machine to multiboot on. Here are the system specs in case you're interested:
- Intel Pentium 4 2.8 GHz
- 512 MB RAM
- Samsung CD-RW/DVD combo drive
- 80 GB Hard disk
- 17 inch CRT monitor, mouse, keyboard, usual assorted cables
Everything is already at home, except for the monitor which is currently at my Uncle's house and which my dad's going to get in the afternoon. So in the evening I should be in a position to start to set up my Massively Multibooting Machine. But that also means that i need to decide exactly how many partitions I want. The simplest would be either eight 10GB partitions or ten 8GB partitions and that would be great if all the partitions had more or less the same function. But they don't.
Referring to the Operating system list in the last post, Ubuntu will be my primary OS, which I will use for the more mundane tasks of emailing, blogging, writing documents etc. Arch will be my Linux experimentation OS, where I can learn about the internals of a Linux system. So that's two partitions, which should have 10 GB each. Third is a partition for PCLinuxOS, which I want because I think that it is the best KDE-based distro currently out there, and I really don't want to install KDE in Ubuntu. That shouldn't need more than 5GB.
Before I start making partitions for my experimental OS's I think I should set apart disk space for my media and documents. My music alone weighs in at around 5GB and is expected to grow. Then there is about a gigabyte of miscellaneous files which are currently in my Home folder. And I should have a good 2 GB spare for keeping ISO images of distros. That brings it to around 8 GB in all. It would be prudent to keep some margin so about 14GB should be more than enough to meet any eventualities. Add to that a gigabyte of swap space.
That brings the total to 25GB for permanent operating systems and 15GB for data and swap, making it 40GB in all. That still leaves about half my drive free. I am tempted to partition it all right now, but it would be a better idea to wait. Most Operating Systems won't need more than 2GB of space and my list of OS's that I want to try is bound to keep changing. So the 40Gb will be hanging around as free space for now.
Getting the host of Linux systems to coexist shouldn't be too much of a hassle, but i am concerned with other systems like the BSD's, Minix3 and other more exotic operating systems that I'm interested in trying. I'm currently looking through the 100-OS forum posts and the GRUB manual. I'll be too busy tomorrow to try anything interesting, so most of the multi-boot action will have to wait till Monday.