Specialty Linuxes to the rescue

Six sweet distributions that can boot from a pen drive, run in a sliver of RAM, rejuvenate an old system, or recover data from a dead PC

Damn Small Linux

Damn Small Linux

Though small, antiX comes loaded with all the necessities of life. For a browser, you'll find IceWeasel, Debian's rebranded version of Firefox. (If you want a more lightweight browser, antiX also provides Dillo.) The word processor is AbiWord, or you can use the Geany or Leafpad text editors, if they're more suitable. antiX also includes the Gnumeric spreadsheet application, mtPaint for pixel-graphics editing, and a pair of media players, MPlayer and Xine. Finally, if you want to do some programming, Python 2.5.2 is installed and ready to go.

antiX's creator is paying particular attention to supporting older processors. The goal for the next release is to run on processors as old as AMD's K5, as well as the Pentium I.

SliTaz Linux is a unique Linux breed created from scratch by Christophe Lincoln. Heavy application of gzip and lzma compression, plus removal of everything but "the minimum necessary to make it work" (in the estimation of SliTaz's creator) have reduced its boot image to a remarkable 30MB.

SliTaz can execute in 128MB, though recommended memory for the latest version is 160MB. It can run in as little as 64MB, though performance is likely to be awful, and some larger applications -- particularly media players -- probably will not execute at all.

The window manager is JWM, and the SliTaz desktop is as uncluttered as antiX's. SliTaz includes the "Bon Echo" version of Firefox. The Bon Echo version is Firefox built from source. SliTaz's compilation of Bon Echo is smaller than the official Firefox because SliTaz pared back on Firefox features. On the server side, you can run the lighttpd Web server, which includes support for PHP. And, if you want to put a database behind your PHP applications, SQLite is installed. For multimedia applications, SliTaz supplies AlsaPlayer and mhWaveEdit; the latter can record and edit sound files, as well as play them.

The preceding applications are what you'll find in the SliTaz base install. You can add more applications via Tazpkg, SliTaz's own package-management system. As with many of SliTaz's other components, Tazpkg was built from scratch. It is text based, but the commands are easy to navigate, so installing new packages is elementary. SliTaz's online handbook provides all the guidance that new users will need.

Additional packages include the Xine media player; Pidgin instant messaging; and Gimp, ImageMagick, and Inkscape for editing graphics. If you want to use SliTaz as a development platform, you can install the GCC compiler, Perl, Python, or Ruby. All together, there are about 450 packages that can be installed via Tazpkg.

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