As much of a 'nix advocate as I am, there are a few times when for really old equipment, a dos boot disk just works. All you really need is a dos boot disk, a terminal program, usb to serial adapter, null modem cable. The biggest advantage of this is that you do not need a network to connect to the unit.
You can get dos from all boot disks and then use the dd command to create a bootable disk. My computer did not have a floppy drive, so I found a usb floppy drive that was inexpensive. It is also great for making bios upgrade boot disks.
$ dd if=dosdisk.img of=/dev/sdb
For a terminal there are a variety to use. Started with our old dos terminal program to make sure things worked. Then we installed Hiterm on the boot floppy which takes little room.
$ sudo mkdir /mnt/flop
$ sudo mount /dev/sdb /mnt/flop.
$ sudo cp the hitermfiles /mnt/flop/.
$ sync; sync
$ sudo umount /mnt/flop
There is a default configuration file you need to edit for the serial port parameters. but that is not such a big deal. We included several other files for testing and other projects.
ABELPROG.BAT DRVSPACE.BIN GEN4800.CFG lizzytrm.bas PRG9600.CFG TS.BAT
ABELPROG.CFG GEN1200.CFG GEN9600.CFG MSDOS.SYS qbasic.exe
ABELPROG.CFG~ GEN19200.CFG HITERM.EXE PRG19200.CFG qbasic.hlp
COMMAND.COM GEN300.CFG IO.SYS PRG4800.CFG qbasic.ini
Use ABLEPROG.BAT to start the program.
You will also need to set up your serial connection depending on whether you are using the traditional serial port or the more modern usb to serial adapter. Every distro is a little different on the setup. We used "Arch Working with the serial console - ArchWiki.html" as a guide. Was working in just a few minutes after a host reboot.
When logging in you may have to hit the return or enter key a few times for things to sync. Minimal login might be like this.
TestSystem Login: username
Last login: Sat Dec 6 09:32:54 on ttyUSB0
[username@TestSystem ~$ _
From there you can use the system just like a ethernet connection, but there will be no gui. it is almost like going retro.
If you do have ethernet connected you could use lynx to connect to the net. This is great if you need internet access to fix an issue.
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You can even play games from the terminal such as ninvaders.
Having this terminal setup could also be used to rescuing other linux systems in the rare case you might need it. Last but not least the terminal mode is great for running all those page scraping scripts to get data off the internet, we have shown you. It is not how powerful your machine is, but how you use it!