After several years of procrastination, and some unsuccessful bids on eBay, I finally got a laptop computer. It's a Dell Latitude, and it came with a 650 mHz processor, a 12 MB hard disk, and 128 MB or memory.
"Only 128 MB of RAM," you say? Hell, I got by for years with a Commodore Amiga that had "only" two MB. I wasn't worried about this because my plan was to install Linux on it, and knew that Linux would work with this configuration.
So, after switching on the power and making sure that I got what I paid for, I proceeded to install RedHat Enterprise Linux Version 4. For a personal-use computer, it might have made more sense to install Xandros or Ubuntu, but I already had a copy of RH Enterprise on hand; somebody gave it to me at the recent LinuxFest in Bellingham. RedHat has another important advantage; it's easy to find RPM's for updated software.
After completing the installation (I had to depart from the RH Enterprise default configuration because I have no intention of ever using this laptop as an Apache host), the first problem I had to address was networking. The laptop came with a Linksys WPC11 wireless card, and RH Enterprise doesn't support it. The first thing I learned (and this is important information for geeks) is that this card uses the rtl8180 chip set. After some more googling, the consensus seemed to be that the best way to get this card working is to use a module called ndiswrapper. Downloading the source (from http://ndiswrapper.sourceforge.net/) and "make install" was half the battle. (Since I didn't have any network connection, I had to use a modern “sneakernet”; burning what I downloaded onto a CD-ROM and moving it to the laptop. Fortunately, I bought a spindle of cheap blank CD-ROMs a few months ago.)
What ndiswrapper actually does is serve as a “wrapper” for Windows drivers. So, I had to get the Windows driver for the Linksys card. This was easy to find, because there's a directory on the ndiswrapper.sourceforge.net site for supported cards. The driver that I ended up using came from http://www.realtek.com.tw/downloads/downloads1-3.aspx?Keyword=8180. Following the directions for ndiswrapper, I unzipped the driver file into /etc/ndiswrapper.
“modprobe ndiswrapper” gave me a “wlan0” device. However, it takes a bit more effort to get a wireless card working than an ethernet card. It's necessary to run “iwconfig”, and this is what worked:
iwconfig wlan0 channel 11 essid default mode managed
The “essid default” parameter is important, but the key thing for getting this working is “channel 11”. The channel has to match the channel of the wireless router that you intend to connect to. The remaining steps to get this working were:
ifconfig wlan0 192.168.1.104 netmask 255.255.255.0 up
route add default gw 192.168.1.1
“192.168.1.1” is the IP address of the router, and “192.168.1.104” is the address I assigned to the laptop.