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Damn Small Linux Not So Small 222

An anonymous reader writes "According to DistroWatch, Damn Small Linux (DSL) is currently the most popular microLinux distribution. (Also owned by VA) takes a look at why this might be the case, and how you can best take advantage of it. From the article: 'What began as a toy project to stuff the maximum software inside a 50MB ISO file has matured into a refined community project known for its speed and versatility. DSL includes the ultra-lightweight FluxBox window manager, two Web browsers, Slypheed email client and news reader, xpdf PDF viewer, XMMS with MPEG media file support for playing audio and video, BashBurn CD burner, XPaint image editing, VNCViewer and rdesktop to control Windows and Linux desktops remotely, and more. If they could do all this in 50 megs, imagine what they could do in more space. Last month the DSL developers released DSL-Not, a.k.a. DSL-N 0.1 RC1. It's 83.5MB of DSL coated with GTK sugar. Yummy!'"
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Damn Small Linux Not So Small

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  • Thumbdrive (Score:5, Interesting)

    by daranz ( 914716 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @02:43PM (#15601398)
    Personally, I carry it around on a thumbdrive... with qemu-win. It serves no purpose besides lauching it on people's computers and telling them "Look, it's Linux under your Windows!" Best thing is, I still fit plenty of other crap on the same, 1GB drive.
  • by green pizza ( 159161 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @02:44PM (#15601400) Homepage
    I've played with Damn Small Linux, but anymore I pretty much just take the time to roll my own LinuxFromScratch.

    DSL is a nice demo, but the Knoppix structure makes it a real pain to customize.* Say you want a different version of Perl or Xorg, or want to modify the bootloader and kernel to display a full screen banner image/logo, it's a whole heck of a lot of work to rip out the original components and replace them with your own. Rolling your own distro from scratch only requires a bit more work, and you have better control and a better understanding of what's going on.

    * If any DSL experts have advice on how to make these customizations easier, I might give it a try again.
  • why I love linux (Score:4, Interesting)

    by free space ( 13714 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @02:49PM (#15601429)
    I had an old unused Pentium II machine running Windows 95. I reformatted the hard drive, installed DSLinux and used it as a file server/CVS repository. It had some glitches but essentially it's like having a new low end PC for free.

    I wonder if the DSL project can be forked to create a "Damn small server" project, so anyone can set it up on an old machine, enable some services, hide it in a corner, and use SSH/VNC to administer it.
  • Or to save a lot of space? I recall reading an article about making a cheap file server. It basically consisted of 4 x 250GB HDDs in a case with some crappy Sempron. They used a cheap $10 USB stick with DSL to run it, and only connected a borrowed monitor and keyboard to set up Samba and the networking. Otherwise, they'd have had to use space on the disks, or trade one disc out for a CD-ROM to run and boot CD.
  • by Super Dave Osbourne ( 688888 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @02:54PM (#15601445)
    down to 50 or less megs, even if the markets are driving the size of bloatware or there is actually a market for a phat DSL distro. One of the cool things about it is the size, not its functionality (other than it is fully functional for more than say 90% of the user's needs in the world). Its also a really cool little tool to install on used computers that folks are thinking of tossing away, or have tossed away. I have made inroads with folks using Linux as their major OS with DSL (for size) and Knoppix (for its ease of install and wonderful GUI experience). Bottomline, keep it small, fast and wonderful.
  • by Bloke down the pub ( 861787 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @03:20PM (#15601552)
    Is there something significant about the 50 meg limit, such as the capacity of those business-card size CDs? Or is it just a nice round number?
  • by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @03:29PM (#15601582) Homepage
    I managed to get DSL working on a 256MB USB key. Then I installed their package for OpenOffice, which was 75MB all by itself. OK, my USB key is now 50% taken up by DSL+OO, and half empty for my files.

    Then I did nothing more than

    dd if=/dev/sda1 of=DSL_OO.image

    and stuck in other 256MB USB keys and did:

    dd if=DSL_OO.image of=/dev/sda1 copy the memory key, DSL, OO, 128MB free personal disk space, and all.

    and was able to hand out $25 "thank you" tokens to speakers at our local Unix User Group ( that consisted of a bootable USB Linux with full OpenOffice functionality. Ran fine on 256MB PCs with all software loaded into RAM - OO starts faster on these old machines than much faster ones that have to pull OO off the HD.

    In short, you could ALWAYS pump up DSL with a good selection of softare they've made available in packages. It only starts off at 50MB.
  • by fo0bar ( 261207 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @03:44PM (#15601618)
    I just thought I'd do some shameless advertising and mention my distro, Finnix []. It's a 100MB livecd that has no X, desktops, productivity tools, etc... but makes up for it by having a ton of sysadmin utilities, such as LVM detection and cryptsetup. It's basically the CD you carry around to help fix broken systems. There's also a PPC port, obviously can be booted from a thumb drive, as well as within Xen/UML virtualization systems.

    Finnix doesn't really compete with DSL, except for the "damn, this system is hosed, I don't have a recovery CD around, and I don't want to wait to download 700MB for something like Knoppix" crowd.
  • Smoothwall. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by twitter ( 104583 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @04:08PM (#15601679) Homepage Journal
    I had an old unused Pentium II machine running Windows 95. I reformatted the hard drive, installed DSLinux and used it as a file server/CVS repository. It had some glitches but essentially it's like having a new low end PC for free.

    If you have a laptop, you have a computer you want to use for more than a server. DSL is just the right thing if you have low RAM. If you have 128 or more MB of RAM, just run Mepis or Debian Sarge.

    I wonder if the DSL project can be forked to create a "Damn small server" project, so anyone can set it up on an old machine, enable some services, hide it in a corner, and use SSH/VNC to administer it.

    Have you looked at Smoothwall yet?

  • by bytesex ( 112972 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @04:09PM (#15601685) Homepage
    From a usability point-of-view, I don't see the point in having this damn small linux, but maybe that's because I would see the use of this thing only in the perspective of an admin. You see, if I want big, I'll use knoppix, or kororaa; if we're talking about small (and fitted with a floppy drive), then 1.4 MB is the max. And you can still fit a linux kernel (albeit one customized for the hardware), a libc, a shell and some disk-tools on that. That's great for repairs, or bootstrapping your old 386 and using it for vi. From the point-of-view of hardware, I also have a difficulty understanding why this is usefull; the devices in question have to be fitted with CD- or floppy-drives, so we're talking PCs here; if a PC had 50 MB of diskspace (say, a 386 or a 486; they're not using compression, are they ?) then all this fancy-schmansy gtk stuff is just going to kill it. Any PC above that would have a CD drive that I could stick a fully loaded CD in. And any PC that could really play the gtk stuff well, would have to be post-pentium at least. So, other than 'because we can' I see no answers that a project like this provides.
  • by DoninIN ( 115418 ) <> on Sunday June 25, 2006 @04:11PM (#15601698) Homepage
    I was using DSL on a pentium II 350 mhz computer for the last few months and I loved it, that's the beauty of DSL, more so than the "small" in terms of size, the thing part is of huge usefulness! What's the street value of a PII 350? $0.5? Seriously, it's a free computer someone gave me when we installed new hardware at their location, I threw it in my graveyard, and for a while made it a DOS V6.x game box (it's back to that role now, I eventually got bored and bought a modern computer) but during its run of several months I've been web browsing on it from home and haven't had any problem running firefox.
  • by Firehed ( 942385 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @04:13PM (#15601704) Homepage
    There's also stuff out there like FreeNAS, which fits on a 16MB USB key or CF card. Now my experience is that FreeNAS was slow as hell, but I'm inclined to blame that on network drivers. Also, it's technically FreeBSD-based (and derived from m0n0wall, I think). Unfortunately I don't know enough about *nix to do a command-line driver update and even if I did, I don't know whether I'd have enough space to do so - maybe this is easier with DSL. As it is, I'm forced to keep using the horrible Windows filesharing stuff.
  • PuppyLinux with 2.6? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by molarmass192 ( 608071 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @04:18PM (#15601717) Homepage Journal
    DSL is nice, but it's got a 2.4 kernel, PuppyLinux (one bone) fits in 25M and gives you a 2.6 kernel with all the accompanying hardware support goodness. To me that makes DSL very 2003, it's playing catch up in my books.
  • by sketchman ( 964604 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @04:48PM (#15601816) Homepage
    I have it running on the hd of a PII 350mhz machine with a joke of a video card and only 64mb ram, and it will fly. Takes no longer than a minute to boot. Win98SE, on the same PC, took 5-10 minutes just to get to the login screen.
    My only complaint, I repeat, my ONLY complaint with Puppy is that it refuses to detect my PCI card with USB 2.0 ports on it. So, I can't use my thumb drive, but I can live with that if it gets M$ out of my house.
  • Re:Thumbdrive (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25, 2006 @05:03PM (#15601891)
    Yeah, I really like the QEMU option. It is especially comforting to Windows users weary (for good reason, Sony...) about booting or running anything from CD they don't understand.

    Also, when booting from any device is impossible, and you just gotta have your Linux, this makes a great option.

    I've never tried the combo of QEMU and DSL, but I just did, and I'm making this post from within Linux running on top of WinXP. In fact, I'd never used QEMU before. It's the itch I didn't know I wanted to scratch until I tried it.

    It's a bit slow, obviously, but it definately gets the job done and done well. I can't count the number of times I wanted to use a Linux app or CLI while in Windows and didn't want to have to reboot.

    The FOSS community continues to amaze me at least once every month.
  • Doesn't anyone see.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by movienut ( 984943 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @05:12PM (#15601936)
    ...the value of having an extendable utilitarian linux distro in their wallet, credit card sized and 7 grams in weight, that will work pretty much on any tray load CD PC? I've used it to show off linux, test garage sale finds, check email in a pinch at a friends house without changing their system at all, troubleshoot sick systems, etc...
  • by AlgorithMan ( 937244 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @05:26PM (#15601994) Homepage
    Why in the world would they need two web browsers?
    simple - one very basic stripped down browser (dillo) for weak machines and firefox for the ones that can't live without it and have the neccessary hardware to run it...
  • Still DSL (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nazo-San ( 926029 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @05:40PM (#15602041)
    The object of DSL wasn't to be so tiny you are amazed. The object was for it to fit on a business card CDR due to their small size and convenience. Well, business card CDRs are rare if at all made anymore. On the other hand, a mini-CDR still exists and is quite common (you can walk in Walmart and come out with some. Heck, I still have a bunch of mini-CDRW discs lying around for their handy nature.) These 8 cm radius discs can hold 210 MiB, possibly a bit more since, unlike with the DVD standard, back when they made the CD-R standard they actually didn't feel a need to try to cheat and trick the customer. If you think about it, since the smallest flash drive you can buy in a modern store is 128 MB (even if that may only be around 110 MiB or so,) you can't even find the old mini-CDRs that only held 185 MiB anymore, and finally business card discs are rare if at all existant anymore (and nearly no more convenient than a mini-CDR really) it just seems a little silly to be limited to 50 MiB for the sake of discs that if you actually had, you would not want to waste on that.

    What's important is the philosophy. The idea of distros like these is to pack as many useful tools as possible into as little space as possible while maintaining minimalism. They remove a lot of the unnecessary stuff and get quite a surprising amount packed into it.

    Personally, I carry a flash drive around which will boot on any system supporting USB-ZIP (read the readme.USBKEY file in the syslinux archive for how to do this and why you have to -- but, simply put, very few even modern BIOSes support USB-HDD even today.) Ok, it's a 512 MB model, but, I have to squeeze things in there because I have to store a lot of data, a copy of my browser for those systems that force you to use an old version of Firefox (IE is dead to me) and so on. I LOVE having a handy little live linux distro that can boot off of it and be used to repair/diagnose a lot of problems among other things. I can't afford to have some huge 1 GB large image of Ubuntu or something though on my little flash drive, so that's where a linux distro following this philosophy comes in. Honestly though, I am forced to admit I didn't really like DSL that much (remember, with linux distros it's all a matter of opinion and, as they say "to each to his own." I don't like it because it isn't good, I don't like it because it just isn't the type I want.) Personally I used Finnix [] (site's a little slow these past few days or so) which has much more up to date packages. It's one of the many live distros that follow the same sort of philosophy DSL follows. Squeeze handy stuff in there, remove unneeded clutter. It's my hope that we see even MORE distros like this in the future, not less.
  • by zogger ( 617870 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @06:12PM (#15602162) Homepage Journal
    ..I'll plug Austrumi [], similar size at 50 megs, 2.6 kernel, loads right to RAM and ejects the disk (freeing up the optical drive), and now comes with enlightenment 17 as the stock windows manager.
  • Re:16MB with X? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RGRistroph ( 86936 ) <> on Sunday June 25, 2006 @06:24PM (#15602199) Homepage
    You might want to check this out: htm []

    However, I believe your best bet is to avoid X. You need a very minimal hand-built linux that uses the svgalib and links, and maybe seejpeg, to do all graphical stuff. If you put it together consider posting an image of it somewhere.
  • Good for (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kahrytan ( 913147 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @06:53PM (#15602334)
    DSL is only good for those moments when you visit a friend who insists on using Windows but you hate it. Just take out your little 1-4gb flash drive with DSL on it. You won't be stuck with using Windows if you don't have your laptop with you or allows people without a laptop to be more mobile.
  • by solafide ( 845228 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @09:32PM (#15602925) Homepage
    The advantage of being so 50 megs is that it takes only a quarter as many days for a dialup user to download it. Between DSL and Slax being as small as they are, I tried Linux and found it pleasant. Had it taken more than 2 days to download each, I'd have not done it.
  • i dig it (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Danzigism ( 881294 ) on Sunday June 25, 2006 @10:28PM (#15603113)
    after a little messin with, I got DSL to work on my Toshiba Satellite 425CDS, p100 mhz with 16mb of ram.. used the Install To HD feature, and it worked like a charm.. the reason I went with a distro like DSL, is because first of all its a livecd, with tons of bundled drivers for all sorts of hardware, including my 16-bit PCMCIA nic cards, and modem card.. many distros like Mandriva, Fedora, even Slackware and Debian had issues installing on this laptop.. i tried Fbsd, and it installed ok.. however, i didnt have nearly enough HD space to upgrade to a STABLE release.. even once it was installed, I couldn't even get my PCMCIA devices to work.. so i wasn't even going to try netbsd.. NetBSD is great on one of my old desktops, but for this old lappy, DSL was the way to go.. its a perfectly functioning portable computer, with a lightweight and small distro, with all the apps I need for now..
  • by Captain BooBoo ( 614996 ) <> on Sunday June 25, 2006 @10:35PM (#15603137)
    I will google "puppy linux" to find out more about this one bone deal. I am a DSL user and I like it alot. I do have a hard time getting help though. Its the same old story. Linux people are not always the nicest people to get to help you. I say this is IMHO.

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