MeeGo: Zero to VT320 in Seventeen Seconds

MeeGo is a Linux-based operating system designed by Intel and Nokia for netbooks and smart phones. Installing MeeGo on an Eee PC 1000 netbook is quick slick and easy. I found the user interface to be colourful and stylish with many quirky animations. MeeGo’s features are easy to discover and it is fast and responsive.

Underneath it all though there is still just a netbook. That means I’m left facing a display screen that has no significant weight behind it. I am left typing on a undersized keyboard that has no life. All of these undesirable features can however be fixed by adding 9kg (~20lbs) of VT320 video terminal. So that is what I did.

Connecting the video terminal to the netbook was fairly straight forward. Starting from the VT320 video terminal I used a Parallel to Serial Port converter plugged into the RS232 cable from a Lego Mindstorms set. The other end of Lego cable was plugged into a RS232 to USB adapter connected my netbook. (You could go straight for a Parallel to USB adapter cable, but I personally would not want to miss out on some excellent Lego.) The USB adapter uses the USB FTDI sio driver, which is built in to Meego. The serial port for the video terminal appears as /dev/ttyUSB0.

There were two software changes needed before I could reboot onto my video terminal. First I installed all the ncurses packages.

sudo yum install ncurses*

Next I added the following line to the /etc/inittab file, so that the Init process will attempt to start a console login for my video terminal.

vt01:235:respawn:/sbin/agetty -L 19200 ttyUSB0 vt300

Finally I shutdown.

The video above shows the MeeGo VT320 video terminal start up. It takes 17 seconds from pressing the power button to a login prompt on the video terminal. That includes 11 seconds for the BIOS, 1 second for bootloader and a further 5 seconds for MeeGo to get its act together.

The original host system for my VT320 video terminal was a DEC VAX-11 circa 1990. The VAX ran VMS or UNIX/32. VMS is now OpenVMS and it is useless on most hardware including all netbooks. Unix on the other hand has many useful descendants. Few people would be surprised that a cheap modern netbook can boot up faster a mini computer from thirty years ago. The pleasant surprise for me is that it was so simple to set up a thirty year old video terminal on a modern light weight host system. MeeGo has not forgotten its Unix heritage.

Next I need some decent text mode software.

About the author:
I was turned to a Linux user by Metallica ten years ago.
I would like to thank Lightning Terminals for getting me a replacement keyboard so I could finish this article.


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