12 of the most interesting, unusual and useful Linux distros

From digital forensics to open source engineering: We take a look at some strange, cool and niche Linux distributions

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/frenchy/ (Creative Commons)

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/frenchy/ (Creative Commons)

One of the benefits of open source software that many people are most familiar with is that it's free to download. This means you can grab great applications — such as Mozilla's Firefox Web browser, the OpenOffice.org office suite or the GIMP photo editing program — without paying a cent. However, the other major benefit of truly open source software (some "open source" software licences are more restrictive than others) is that you're allowed to modify a program and redistribute your altered version so other people can enjoy it.

Linux is a classic example of this: there are hundreds (at least!) of different Linux-based operating systems. Most people will be familiar with some of the big names — distributions like Ubuntu, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Debian and Mandriva. Most of the well-known Linux distros are designed to be used as general purpose desktop operating systems or installed on servers. But beyond these distros are hundreds of others either designed to appeal to very specific audiences or to fulfil the somewhat niche needs of some users. We rounded up some of the most interesting Linux distros out there that you might not have heard of.

Insecure by design: Damn Vulnerable Linux

Damn Vulnerable Linux is "The most vulnerable and exploitable operating system ever" according to its Web site. It's designed for security training; it includes training material and exercises (as well as a whole bunch of flaws to exploit). As Mayank Sharma notes: "Damn Vulnerable Linux (DVL) is everything a good Linux distribution isn't. Its developers have spent hours stuffing it with broken, ill-configured, outdated, and exploitable software that makes it vulnerable to attacks."

Indulge in paranoia: Tinfoil Hat Linux

Interesting Linux distros

Image: Tinfoilhat.shmoo.com

Tinfoil Hat Linux is pretty much the opposite of Damn Vulnerable Linux: it's designed for the paranoid among us.

"It started as a secure, single floppy, bootable Linux distribution for storing PGP keys and then encrypting, signing and wiping files. At some point it became an exercise in over-engineering." According to its developers, a possible reason for using it is that that "Illuminati are watching your computer, and you need to use morse code to blink out your PGP messages on the numlock key." They're joking. Probably. (In case you want more tinfoil protection, there are some links to a site about aluminium foil deflector beanies and tinfoil suits.)


CAINE (Computer Aided INvestigative Environment) is probably one of the coolest niche Linux distributions around. It's designed for digital forensics (so sadly, no blood spatter analysis) and was developed at the Information Engineering Department of the University of Modena e Reggio Emilia in Italy. It includes software such as TheSleuthKit and Autopsy Forensic Browser for examining file systems, data recovery applications, steganography tools and utilities for securely wiping drives (you know, in case someone else has a copy of CAINE).

Open source engineering: CAELinux

Interesting Linux distros

Image: Caelinux.com

CAELinux is designed for computer-aided engineering (CAE). It's an Ubuntu-based operating system that's packaged with a range of open source applications designed for simulating physics involving "non-linear thermo-mechanics, coupled fluid-structure dynamics, seismic / non-linear explicit dynamics, contacts, visco-plasticity, fluid dynamics, heat exchange, convection heat transfer and radiation, electro-magnetics".

Seeking open source converts: Ubuntu Christian Edition

Image: Ubuntuce.com

Interesting Linux distros

According to the project's FAQ page, Ubuntu Christian Edition is not intended to split the Ubuntu community. Instead, it's "intended to draw a larger Christian base to the already thriving community of Ubuntu users. The Ubuntu Christian Edition simply makes it easier for Christians who are new to Linux to see the power of Ubuntu combined with the added benefit of having the best available Linux Christian software pre-installed". It's a good example of a community constructing a Linux OS to meet their needs. It includes applications such as Xiphos and e-Sword (Bible-study tools), as well as DansGuardian Web filtering software.

Frag-tastic: live.linuX-gamers.net

Image: live.linux-gamers.net

Interesting Linux distros

The live.linuX-gamers.net distro is a great piece of Linux evangelism: it's a live DVD (you don't need to install it on your hard drive) and it does exactly what it says on the box (err, or downloadable ISO file, or something). It's designed to showcase Linux as a gaming environment, and ditches all the standard productivity software included in distros in favour of open source games.

Hard disk wizardry: Parted Magic

Interesting Linux distros

Image: Partedmagic.com

Parted Magic is a one-stop shop for manipulating your PC's hard drive — creating and manipulating partitions (if you want to dual boot operating systems, for example), benchmarking drive speeds and testing for bad sectors.

Get creative: Musix GNU+Linux

Interesting Linux distros

Image: Musix.org.ar

There are a number of Linux-based operating systems designed for multimedia work. Musix is one such distro, and it's a based on Debian. It has the distinction of being on the Free Software Foundations list of fully free (as in speech) Linux distros. Musix GNU+Linux is available for download as a live CD/DVD.

Tags Linuxopen sourceoperating systems

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Rohan Pearce

Rohan Pearce

Good Gear Guide


Bob Jones


The web is awesome because pages like this don't need to be broken across pages.



Why you've mentioned "ubuntuce" and not also "Sabily"
(the ubuntume)


there is many religions in earth



"Why you've mentioned "ubuntuce" and not also "Sabily"
(the ubuntume)" Mohamed

I understand your pain. Why wasn't Ubuntu Satanic Edition
mentioned either? Us religious types should stick together!



Page two seems to be missing.




Wow, did not even know UbuntuCE and UbuntuSE still existed. I thought Canonical forced all three to change their distros' names. Is that not why UbuntuME is now Sabily (also a PPA for normal Ubuntu).

Also, there is supposedly a gaming distro? Going to check to see what I missed over there. I just hope it is not just like Ubuntu + Playdeb.net repository.



I would have added GoboLinux. The only distribution using sane filesystem layout (not obscured /bin, /var, /opt, /etc, etc).



I think Ubuntu Satanic Edition is a pretty odd distribution. :)




I thought Damn Small Linux had been dead for some time now. Tiny Core is DSL's replacement.
ZeroShell looks interesting!

FSM follower


I agree completely. As a follower of the flying spaghetti monster, I am deeply offended by the omission.



Am I the only who miss Linux From Scratch?



@Atropos: LFS is not a distro!



Hey, where's system rescue cd (great for doing disk image backup/restore) and backtrack (wifi security analysis/cracking)?



I was also expecting NixOS and GoboLinux would get a mention. I've been happily using the nix package manager to install recent software on a Debian system for almost a year and am looking forward to switching to a full NixOS system soon.



How did you forgot to mention SliTaz? I kinda consider it a replacement for DSL, cause SliTaz is ~30MB, but with 2.6 series kernel and faster boot times (I know it sounds unbelievable, but it's true).

Also, slax is worth mentioning, because of it's modularity and ability to build custom iso from their website- slax.org.



What about Puppy Linux? Only slightly larger than DSL but just as friendly and complete.

David Smith


I have to agree that SliTaz is a far more interesting and unusual distro than 'the usual suspects' [assorted re-spins]



And Austrumi! It is an interesting distro too.



Interesting list here. Zeroshell is cool but I'd pick ClearOS over it any day. More features, better interface, just as free. :)



You forgot Hannah Montana Linux

(yes, sadly such a thing does exist)




Another one worthy of mention that was missed is R.I.P. Linux, Recovery Is Possible. It's somewhat "dead" as they haven't been developing it for a while, but it's still one of my go to tools. It's a full suite of recovery tools for everything from accidentally formatted drives, to undelete, and accidently formatted camera memory cards. Hell, RIPLinux could do some recovery that most camera stores couldn't pull off.



What about Puppy Linux. Much better and more stable than DSL and can be used to repartitian hdd's rescue Windows data, mount drives for diagnostics. The cool thing is that it can be put on a flash disk in a FAT32 partician so you can still use it for data on a Windows box then boot into Linux if you want. O then mount that flash and pull in the data.

Lots of cool stuff for Puppy. Don't take a walk without it!



What about Puppy Linux? Much better and more stable than DSL and can be used to repartition hdd's rescue Windows data, mount drives for diagnostics. The cool thing is that it can be put on a flash disk in a FAT32 partition so you can still use it for data on a Windows box then boot into Linux if you want. O then mount that flash and pull in the data.

Lots of cool stuff for Puppy. Don't take a walk without it!



@Aitikin, Re: post 21. Recovery Is Possible is a great distro but you are incorrect about its status, it is currently maintained. Ironically, a release was made this very day (9.9): http://freshmeat.net/projects/recoveryispossible/

It was unmodified for about 10 months from 9.3 (July '09) to 9.4 (May '10). The maintainer had stated he was abandoning it but my guess is that he couldn't resist and there have been six updates in the past two months. So, still vital and definitely a very cool go to tool as well.



I think some of you might be missing the point of this article. The tagline was "We rounded up some of the most interesting Linux distros out there that you might not have heard of."

Everyone (well, most everyone in the Linux community) has heard of Puppy, slax, ClearOS, NixOS, etc.

Good article, author, although I agree with the first commenter. Most people have broadband connections and having to load the page twice is annoying and just adds to your hosting environment's data transfer amounts. ...although they can serve twice as many ads. Hmm...



Slackware (.)



Here's a nice overview as well:



tCs and David Smith are right.
I use to love DSL, but it uses an older kernel (which means no Flash above v7) and the distro hasn't been updated in a while.

Slitaz is smaller (30MB) and more users friendly. If you get the Just-X version it's only 15MB, and still has a lot of tools.

TinyCore is good, but not as user friendly and is missing a lot of things that Slitaz has, such as Hard Drive installer, easy ISO remastering, and much more.

Here is where I give myself a little plug :)
I've created a bunch of Videos about Slitaz.
check them out here:



Backtrack Linux is worth a mention:




Whoever put together the "Christian Edition" Ubuntu distro should have taken notice that Jesus was most definitely opposed to any form of censorship. See Matthew 15:11. Of course I guess you can't expect any modern christian to actually adhere to the absurd tenets outlined in their bible given their entirely self-contradictory nature and the degree to which they would have to completely abandon all civil, peaceful society in order to even have a chance of being able to claim they "believe" in it with anyone believing them. Without selling all your possessions and dedicating your life to an extreme ascetic lifestyle, its clear you are ignoring Jesus' teachings. And if you ignore even the most minor rule from the old testament, you're also transgressing since Jesus said, directly and explicitly, that every single rule from the OT was still in full effect and anyone who violates even the most minor of them will burn in hell for eternity (Matthew 5:18-20). Living up to those rules would require opting out of modern society entirely, treating women as property, and adopting all of the weird dietary restrictions (ever eat shellfish? Damned forever. Didn't force your wife to leave town while she was on her period? Infidel.).

The real puzzle is why someone who claims to be dedicated to a bronze age religion would even WANT to violate their own beliefs and use a computer. If their beliefs are dear to them, you would think giving up kitten videos online and electronic bible study applications would be such a tiny sacrifice. I mean, Jesus pleaded with them to seek to be murdered in his name (Luke 9:23). If they need such pampering as a custom Linux distro, the extent to which they must delude themselves with regard to the belief system they freely chose must be great indeed.



Glad to see some mentions of Gobolinux in the comments.
Made up for it not actually being on the list.



I'm surprised no mention of SystemRescueCD - you can even install it on a small HDD partition and always have a rescue Linux distro installed. I use it on every build to create a system partition backup and have the ability to instantly boot up to the rescue partition and restore the system from a zero state.



Coder, nice try, but it is evident how shallow you treat the topic. Read "The Kingdom Of God Is Within You" by Tolstoy to get a better, more mature perspective.



"You forgot ..."

Come on, you can't expect them to list EVERY single interesting distro out there. That's what the comments section is for! :)

Hannah Montana Linux is hilarious.



Coder is somewhat right in that if one truly believed in Christianity, they would not be using a computer, as computers support the destruction of our mother Earth, which we should be protecting over our greedy self-interests.



What about BasicLinux?

You think 6MB TinyCore is small, but what about 2.8MB?

Swift Arrow


This is the first list that I've actually found useful. The CAE Linux is a great distro, I'm so glad to have found it because of you.



Pardus is best dist. for Home users.



As far as unusual and useful go: suicide linux



olso ISABEL distro are missing, great H323 live CD

hlovate melove


explain the shortcoming and limitations of Linux distro to become the most used OS in the computing world?



The Tinfoil Hat linux floppy image is from Feb 2002. A little out of date for a security distribution no?

Surely a clue when reviewing the site for this article that the distribution was dead was the constant references to floppy discs.

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