Enjoying Open Source Software

OpenBSD 7.3 on a twenty year old IBM ThinkPad R31

I used my old IBM ThinkPad R31 for the 2023 edition of the Old Computer Challenge.

Old Computer Challange

The Old Computer Challenge started in 2021 with this post from Solene.

Solene announced the 2023 edition with this post.

You can read more about the Challenge on There are also a Gopher hole and a Gemini capsule on

An IRC channel for the challenge participants was created in 2021. This channel is still active today and is the place to be for people interested in or participating in the challenge. Just join #oldcomputerchallenge on Libera.Chat.

IBM ThinkPad R31

This is a very solid build laptop, that still function fine.

It does have some hardware problems:

  • The backlight of the display is at the end of its life
  • The battery and the CMOS backup battery are both dead
  • The spacebar of the keyboard needs more pressure
  • The fan does run irregular, but perhaps this is just some dust build up

Because of the dead batteries the clock of the machine does not work when the charger is not connected. The first time it boots after connection of the charger, I have to input the date.

The laptop feels much heavier and much more chunky than my ThinkPad X201 and ThinkPad X270.

Unfortunately, OpenBSD does not recognize the TrackPoint. An external USB mouse works, but I have not used that, and went mouseless through the week.

Specs of the IBM ThinkPad R31

  • CPU: Intel Celeron 1133MHz (GenuineIntel 686-class)
  • RAM: 256 Mb
  • Display: 14.1 inch, 1024x768 resolution
  • RJ45 and RJ11 connectors
  • 2 USB ports
  • DVD drive

The machine can not boot from USB, so you have to install an operating system from a CD or DVD, or over PXE.

The keyboard layout is "Dutch", which requires some getting used to. It is QWERTY, but with keys like *, @, [, [, and < and> on strange locations.

Display troubles

The display sometimes gave some trouble.

Several times I had to work with a dim display, and needed to put the screen at about 20 cm from my face, in order to read the screen.

Other times the display was not very bright, but perfectly readable.

One time it kept almost completely dark, and I managed to enter the date and reboot the machine. It kept dark, that session I used the R31 over ssh from another machine.


  • Window manager: ratpoison, the orginal tiling window manager
  • Menu: ratmen
  • Terminal multiplexer: tmux
  • IRC-client: erc (part of emacs)
  • use-net client: gnus (part of emacs)
  • email client: gnus
  • gopher client: elpher (mode for emacs)
  • gemini client: elpher
  • web browser: eww (part of emacs) and links+


RSS-feeds and mailing lists I follow using the very fine service of and They offer a RSS-to-usenet and email-to-usenet service. So, one can use any use-net client to access the content.

Sometimes a RSS item links to a web page that I can not open. Given the limitations of 256 MB RAM, there is no web browser that can work with Javascript.


Some weeks before the Challenge, I switched from Pleroma to Honk as my ActivityPub server. With this server I am part of the Fediverse. Honk is written in Go, uses SQLite as database and is almost Javascript-free.

This means you can use any browser to view the time line.

Honk doesn't support external clients like toot, you use it in your web browser.

This are my experiences:

  • Emacs eww: can log in, but cannot post
  • Links: can log in and can post
  • Lynx: can log in and can post

When staying within a text only mode, it works fine.

One time I saw that there were a lot of posts with pictures in my time line, so I started "links -g", to get some graphics. This was not a good idea, as the machine started to use a lot of swap space and it became very slow.

Gopher and Gemini

Meandering through Gopher space and Gemini space works very well, as was to be expected.

It is nice to see that several participants use Gopher of Gemini as their platform to publish about the Old Computer Challenge experiences.

Guile Scheme

I tried to use Emacs with Guile Scheme, but this again resulted in a lot of swapping and was not a great experience.

Working on a machine with 256 MB RAM has its limitations :)


Before the challenge I was looking forward to use my R31 again, because I was curious how its TrackPoint compares to the TrackPoints of the X201 and the X270.

For me, the TrackPoint of the R31 is more an "original".

It was disappointing that OpenBSD didn't recognize it, so I could not use it.

Perhaps NetBSD still supports it. Because the ThinkPad does not boot from USB, I have to setup a PXE boot environment. This I could not do anymore before the start of the challenge, so this will be a nice project for the coming winter.

Daily experience

Twenty years ago, I used this laptop as my main workstation.

I have worked on it for quite some time, before upgrading the memory from 128 MB to 256 MB. The web browser (probably Netscape or Mozilla, don't remember that) worked fine, I used some self made PHP web service for project management on it.

Times have changed. From the previous editions of the challenge, I knew that a modern web browser like Firefox is not an option, given the limited RAM and the 32-bits operating system.

Booting the machine takes quite some time. Also, changing from an Xterm to Emacs, and back, takes some time.

Using IRC and email is fine. Loading the RSS-feeds is a bit slower, but better than I had expected. Opening items works fine, following links to webpages takes a bit of time, but still workable.

I didn't notice any difference running queries with the GNU recutlis on a small database.

Old Computer Challenge Community

The Old Computer Challenge IRC-channel was opened at the time of the first edition of the challenge. Not everybody left after that first challenge, and over the last two years a small (smol) community formed, and I do enjoy being part of it.

This year there were a lot of new people joining the IRC-channel. I hope that many will stay on the channel so the community will grow a bit.

People come and go. Probably there is some kind of critical size, and the number of people should a least be a bit above that threshold, for the long term of viability of the community.


⇽ Migrate notes in Emacs from Deft to Denote EWW survival guide ⇾