Small Linux Roundup

September 13th, 2007 @

I recently ran across a few 500mhz machines and I took it upon myself to try to make the most out of them. I knew from experience that XP could be shoehorned on but would run like a snail. Anything less then XP is just annoying because of the lack of features. Besides in order to be legit I would have to hunt down or buy a license.

So I brushed off my Linux skills and started to get to work. Nowadays most Linux distributions come on Live CD’s. For those who don’t know, a Live CD actually loads up the entire operating system as the installer. From there you can use the computer with limited resources to run straight off the CD. No harm comes to your pre-installed operating system unless you install to the hard drive. So there really isn’t any reason not to try these out today.

First I tried Ubuntu. I’ve successfully installed this with VMWare on my computer and really loved the user friendliness. But after several long, long, long waits for the Live CD to load I decided Ubuntu was just a bit too much for these machines.

I then started my journey into small Linux distributions, and I thought I’d share my experiences.

After my unsuccessful attempt with Ubuntu I scoured the web and immediately ran into DSL. DSL stands for Damn Small Linux, but don’t let it’s size fool you. It’s a fairly robust system which works out of the box for most older machines and comes loaded with everything you need. Once inside you can install many additional programs provided you are network capable.

There are many interesting projects which rely on DSL’s small size and simplicity. Stay tuned for a discussion using it to power a digital picture frame.

Next I tried out Knoppix. Knoppix is a great system which DSL is actually based in part on. To my knowledge Knoppix was the distribution which popularized the Live CD format. Knoppix is really geared more towards system administration and networking. I was going more towards user friendliness and ease of use.

So finally I tried out one called Puppy Linux.

I was really blown away. Who knew you could fit so much in an old machine? Like DSL it had everything you need. But in addition everything worked out of the box, and what was really neat is SeaMonkey came with Flash9 installed. I could watch YouTube and even DVD’s (although some I tried didn’t work.)

I ended up sticking with Puppy on a laptop install. Before I installed I used Puppy and the mount tool to copy all the existing files off the computer. These I burned onto a DVD and gave back to it’s owner. I then installed to hard drive and after a bit of tweaking it was a brand new computer. I could play music and even Super Nintendo games after I found the .pup file online.

All it takes to try any of these is to burn the CD and stick it in the computer. If no CD drive is available there are USB and network installation instructions available. The software is free. So what are you waiting for?

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