Thursday, November 26, 2009

OS geekout revisited

A while back I geeked out on several linux distros for the Eee.

I had trouble that day with two of the distros: DSL and Slitaz. I revisited both of them today (two versions of DSL) using the latest recommended release. The pics below are screencaps from the OSes running in a virtual machine on my Ubuntu linux workstation.

Damn Small Linux - Not (DSL-N)
DSL-N is a less minimalist version of DSL. It is not obsessed with keeping to the 50MB limit (see below) so it bloats to a heady 100MB (Windows 7, for comparison purposes, is ~2470MB; DSL-N is 24+ times smaller than Windows 7, and is, you know, free).

DSL-N was a real winner. Loaded like a champ in a virtual machine. I think it was about the same as DSL below, which was the fastest-running OS I've tested in a virtual machine thus far.

Nice, clean desktop, conky info in the upper-right-hand corner, and transparencies in the shell screen. Pretty, and exceptionally fast.

Runs the 2.6.x kernel.

dsl-n-01RC4.iso, ~100MB. Recommended.Link

Damn Small Linux (DSL)
A bit of explanation is in order. DSL was, AFAIK, the first practical micro-Linux distribution. The 50MB limit was to ensure the entire OS fit on one of those bizcard-sized CD-Rs. Remember those? A little smaller than a floppy (remember those?) DSL makes a few sacrifices to keep it in the 50MB range. For example:
  1. DSL currently runs the 2.4 kernel instead of the bigger and more modern 2.6 kernel. Many of the other micro-linuxes choose differently.
  2. Some of the icons are cartooney to save space and cpu time
DSL runs very quickly, as one might expect. The look/feel of the desktop is nowhere as polished as DSL-N. If a non-techie were looking at your screen you might feel like you have to explain DSL's ugly duckling appearance, while they might comment that DSL-N was pretty and impressive. Things like that can matter in the OS advocacy world.

dsl-4.4.10.iso, ~50MB. Recommended, but DSL-N above is probably better for many people.

SliTaz failed to impress.

It stumbled during boot a bit and had to be coaxed along. It's a French distro, so it is understandable that much of the prompts are bilingual. But at a given point you give a language preference and it would be nice if the OS installer respected that.

slitaz-2.0.iso, ~30MB. Not currently recommened.

Tiny Core Linux
I am currently running TCL on my beloved Eee netbook. I like the "frog on a banana leaf" background because it looks like he's stuck on the LCD screen. Doesn't take much to amuse me.

tinycore_2.5.iso, 10MB (247 times smaller than Windows 7!). Not recommend for normal folk, but loads of geeky fun for masochists, hair shirt addicts, and compulsive experimenters.

A word about small linux distros in general

There are a few generalizations we can make about these small distributions:

  1. You can run them as a LiveCD/LiveUSB, which is to say you can test-drive them without affecting your PC in any way. If you ever ran a Knoppix cd you know what I'm talking about.
  2. You can run them in a virtual machine with VMware, Micro$oft Virtual PC, or the freeware QEMU. The nice thing about this is you can keep running your normal OS and not have to reboot off the usb/cd/dvd.
  3. the utilities and shells are a smaller, unified busybox version.
  4. There is generally one user on a micro-linux, and you use sudo to do root-like things
  5. the software is generally limited to a relatively small subset of software specially packaged for the project. Generally a few hundred common apps rather than the thousands usually available for linux.
  6. Very little software comes installed; you installed it using an application browser (you can think of it as an App Store, kinda, only it's all free).
Ok, enough dorkery for one night.

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