Hack 84 Damn Small Linux

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figs/beginner.gif figs/hack84.gif

Damn Small Linux is a business-card- sized (50 MB) bootable live CD Linux distribution. Despite its size , it strives to have a functional and easy to use desktop .

8.6.1 The History

Simply put, I'm an efficiency freak, which is why I founded Damn Small Linux (DSL, http://www.damnsmalllinux.org). I am also a big Knoppix fan, but running KDE, OpenOffice.org, Mozilla, etc. from a live CD on my older computers is a real chore. I usually grab the lightest applications to use on my home desktop: for email, I use Sylpheed; for browsing, I use Dillo or Links-Hacked.

I wanted a desktop-oriented live CD that was fast and small, so I checked out LNX-BBC (http://www.lnxbbc.org) and ByzantineOS (http://byzgl. sourceforge .net), the two leading sub-50-MB distributions at the time. They were both very innovative but not really what I was looking for. LNX-BBC is similar to a rescue disk, and ByzantineOS is based on Mozilla (which it uses in very interesting ways). I was on a quest for a Linux distribution that was small enough to fit on a business-card CD, yet had a fully functional desktop.

I read about the reduction efforts to get Knoppix small enough to fit into 80-mm 210-MB CDs. Some of them were quite nice, like Kurumin (http://guiadohardware.net/kurumin/) from Brazil, but I wanted something very portable and under 50 MB, like LNX-BBC. I decided to try my hand at remastering Knoppix [Hack #94] . I actually cheated in the beginning and used an already reduced ISO called Model_K (now defunct ). In later releases, DSL began as a reduction of Knoppix proper.

Getting a fully functional desktop into 50 MB is not a simple process. Fortunately, all the lightweight applications had already been developed; I just had to be very particular about what was included in DSL. For instance, the X from Knoppix is much too big, so I had to hack a system that uses Keith Packard's Kdrive X servers (http://freedesktop.org/Software/xserver).

DSL has evolved a lot over time. Some applications have been dropped and replaced with programs that are a better fit. By the third public release, users started to contribute hacks, which cumulatively improved DSL. In that sense, open source projects are interesting: some people provide a one-time hack, while others continue their involvement and help the project along. For several releases, Peter Sieg (http://www.petersieg.de) made contributions that greatly enhanced DSL's functionality.

From about 0.5 and on, Robert Shingledecker (http://www.shingledecker.org) has been a major contributor to DSL development. With so many improvements and suggestions, he should be recognized as a coauthor. He's a creative genius, and we are implementing his amazing improvements, including a fully automated application-installation process that we are currently calling "MyDSL Click and Load."

DSL has also picked up many of the Knoppix features that you've already been introduced to in this book. DSL can be easily installed on a hard drive so that it runs as an image, which is similar to the bootfrom cheat code [Hack #5] . There is a restoration process that can grab files from any drive and restore them at boot, which is similar to the persistent settings in [Hack #21] . It is even possible to do a net install if the user has an old system that doesn't have a CD drive. All these developments have progressed over time as we have tried to make DSL as usable for as many people as possible.

8.6.2 The Present

I believe DSL is a nearly complete desktop. It includes:

A desktop environment

Containing the FluxBox window manager, and emelFM and Midnight Commander file managers

Office applications

Containing a spreadsheet; a spellchecker (U.S. English); a word processor (Ted-GTK); a calculator; SQLite, which is used to manage an address book; and four text editors (Beaver, Vim, Zile, and Nano)

Graphics editing and viewing

Containing Xpaint, Xzgv, and Xpdf

Multimedia applications

Containing XMMS (MP3, OGG, and MPEG player) and CD-burning capabilities

Internet applications

Containing Dillo and links-hacked web browsers, Sylpheed email, and Naim (AIM, ICQ, and IRC)

Networking clients

Containing PPP, PPPoE (ADSL), DHCP, FTP, SSH/SCP, VNCviwer, and Rdesktop

Networking services

Containing SSH/SCP, web, FTP, and NFS servers

Hardware support

Containing USB, PCMCIA, generic and GhostScript printer support, and wireless networking

The DSL also includes games and a host of command-line utilities. Getting all of these applications in an ISO that is under 50 MB requires quite a bit of planning, because all the programs need to be light, but also useful and functional.

After putting so much effort and time into DSL, I am uncomfortable calling it a "Knoppix hack." I view DSL as a fine- tuned micro distribution that is built on the base of Knoppix, and utilizes Knoppix's superb hardware detection and compatibility and base operation processes. However, in other aspects, DSL works quite differently from Knoppix. I, along with other contributors, keep a keen eye on size and speed in every application choice, and we have an extendable module system so users can easily add only the applications they want. DSL is highly efficient: it has run successfully on a 486DX2 processor and on only 16 MB of RAM. Because it is a solid framework, several projects have been based on Damn Small; at the time of this writing, there are at least 17 custom-made distributions based on DSL that are listed at http://www.damnsmalllinux.org/relatives.html.

8.6.3 See Also

  • The Official DSL home page at http://www.damnsmalllinux.org.

John Andrews

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Knoppix Hacks. 100 Tips and Tricks
Knoppix Hacks. 100 Tips and Tricks
Year: 2004
Pages: 166

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