This is a read-only archive. Find the latest Linux articles, documentation, and answers at the new Linux.com!

Linux.com

Feature: Damn Small Linux

DSL 4.0: Damn small improvement

By Susan Linton on November 13, 2007 (9:00:00 AM)

Share    Print    Comments   

Damn Small Linux is tiny Linux distribution that John Andrews originally created in 2002 to see just how many applications could fit into a 50MB system. The project has grown over the years to include many other contributors working on hundreds of packages and applications. Last month's release of DSL 4.0 brought many updates and changes, yet it remains a special-purpose distribution for older hardware because it lacks support for many modern features.

Damn Small Linux offers an amazing array of options for running the distribution. You can boot it as a live CD, from a USB stick, or on a hard drive. You can install it traditionally or run it within a Windows OS. It can run on CPUs as old as a 486DX with 16MB RAM. If you install it on your hard drive, you can upgrade it to a full-blown Debian system.

The distro provides a full desktop experience. Fluxbox is the default window environment. Its menu provides a nice selection of applications and system configuration tools. Also included are a hard drive installer, USB flash drive installer, and Frugal installer, which adds only a bootloader entry to boot the DSL ISO file from a hard drive.

Hardware compatibility

My primary testbed, a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion dv6105, booted DSL 4.0, and with the boot option "sata" I could use my hard drives. The desktop rendered nicely at a resolution of 1024x768. The touchpad and extra USB mouse worked just fine, but neither the wired nor the wireless Ethernet connection would work. My wired chip requires the reverse-engineered Forcedeth module found only in 2.6.x kernels. DSL ships with Linux-2.4.31. My wireless chip requires the use of Windows drivers through Ndiswrapper, but the version included with DSL didn't work with it.

Knowing Damn Small Linux should work on very low-end machines, I dug an old Dell XPiCD laptop out of the closet. It has a 166MHz Pentium processor and 80MB RAM. DSL is one of the rare distributions that still provides boot diskettes for older equipment, available in the same current directory as the ISO. DSL enabled the laptop's PCMCIA Ethernet card during boot using the Hermes and Orinoco modules, but it could not automagically connect to my router because I needed to configure Wi-Fi Protected Access, and I wouldn't get a chance to set up WPA because DSL could no longer support the Neomagic graphics chip in that old laptop. Trying to boot using using the framebuffer cheat code or using "xsetup" to choose a framebuffer would not work. I kept getting the error "Can't locate module fb0" and finding myself at a command prompt.

For my third and final system, I tried a new desktop machine with a Gigabyte GA-M51GM-S2G Micro-ATX motherboard. I knew its Internet connection would be inoperative because its onboard Ethernet chip also uses Forcedeth, so I installed an old Linksys NC100 Ethernet adapter that uses Tulip Ethernet drivers, and I had a working Internet connection upon boot.

Using a 21-inch CRT monitor and the on-board Nvidia GeForce 6100 graphics chip, I issued the boot option "xsetup" to start X configuration during boot. I could then choose from resolutions up to 1600x1200 and also configure my mouse bus and keyboard. Sadly, other hardware on the machine was not supported, including my sound chip, which uses the snd_hda_intel modules, and my Epson R220 printer.

Damn Small Linux comes with an easy but effective hard drive installer. It asks just a few simple configuration questions pertaining to partitions, filesystem, and bootloader, and gives you no package selection or other settings to choose. Upon first boot the user is allowed to set the root password. It takes about 10 minutes to install and retains the default "dsl" user settings as customized in the live CD environment.

System and software

Damn Small Linux uses Fluxbox as its default desktop environment, but Joe's Window Manager is included as well. DFM is the main file manager, and it provides icons on the desktop for /home, other directories, and even applicatons (through links in a directory). It seems primitive at first, but it contains many of the features one expects from a window manager, such as settings for the wallpaper, desktop and DFM fonts, and window and icon background colors. From the DFM right-click menu I could mount my other partitions and removable media as well.

Damn Small Linux comes with many system tools and setup configurations. Many are simple graphical utilities. Some are bash scripts executed in a terminal emulator. All assist users in setting up their systems. Anything you would expect to be able to adjust in an operating system is there, such as screen resolution, printer configuration, various Internet connection options, date and time, system stats and information, software repositories, backup features, server enablers, cron jobs, and more.

Damn Small Linux includes a few small applications to get you started. xzgv, xpaint, and xzoom populate the Graphics menu. Ted Word Processor, Stag Spreadsheet, PDF Viewer, MS Word Viewer, a calendar, a calculator, SQLite, a personal information manager, and a Net dictionary are under the Office menu. XMMS, Dmix, and gPhone are listed in the Sound menu. Some Net applications include Firefox 1.0.6, Dillo, Netrik, Sylpheed, SMBclient, VNCviewer, AxY FTP, Microcom, and Telnet. Tools include Emelfm, MyDSL CD Remaster, a CD burner, and dfmext GUI. Several games are also included.

There are lots of other applications listed for installation in the MyDSL extension, DSL's software installer. Some categories include Multimedia, Net, Games, and even Themes. Though hundreds of applications are available, many are very old versions -- for example, OpenOffice.org 1.1.4, the GIMP 1.2, and GCC 1.95. I noticed that the proprietary graphic drivers haven't been updated for the current kernel either.

In addition, Damn Small Linux offers larger applications in Universal Compressed ISO format. These are ISO 9660 images that can be mounted as filesystems in order to reduce memory usage. Firefox 1.5 and 2.0, OpenOffice.org 2.0, NVU, and Blender are among the applications available.

Interestingly, Debian's Advanced Packaging Tool is included as well. In the menu there is a link to Enable Apt that opens a terminal window to update the local APT repositories database. You can then use apt-get to upgrade your Damn Small Linux OS into a current full Debian install.

It's amazing the all the functionality squeezed into such a small system. There are applications for just about any purpose, and the system tools work well with supported hardware. Damn Small Linux is extremely fast and stable. You won't find any fancy visual effects, just good old-fashioned productivity.

For users requiring a bit of support, there are some Frequently Asked Questions as well as an active user forum.

Conclusion

Damn Small Linux is extraordinary in that it offers so much in such a tiny package. However, as hardware becomes obsolete and new hardware takes its place, Damn Small Linux is falling further behind the curve. It's dropping support for vital parts of extremely old hardware, as I found with my Dell XPiCD, while not supporting newer hardware, so fewer people are going to be able to use this release of Damn Small Linux, and that trend will worsen as time passes if the developers don't widen their hardware support and bring their applications more up-to-date.

I still like Damn Small Linux, but I'm disappointed that I'm able to use it less and less as I'm forced to upgrade my hardware. Since this release brings an updated system, application changes, and some minor cosmetic improvements, those with supported hardware and diehard fans won't be displeased. But those whose hardware depends on newer kernel support will likely be disappointed too.

Share    Print    Comments   

Comments

on DSL 4.0: Damn small improvement

Note: Comments are owned by the poster. We are not responsible for their content.

You call this small?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 198.240.213.26] on November 13, 2007 11:00 AM

It can run on CPUs as old as a 486DX with 16MB RAM.


The first version of Unix I ever ran at home was Microport Unix, which would run (just) in 1MB. (yes, ONE megabyte). To get decent performance I upgraded my RAM to 2.5 MB. (Yes, two and a half megabytes).

#

Re: You call this small?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 196.13.225.150] on November 13, 2007 01:38 PM
Any PC with less than 16 Mb these days still in active use would be considered small, yes.

Currently I'm considering my options for a version of Linux for Celeron 1100 CPU's with 100 Mb of RAM.
That's also small.

I'll try DSL.

#

Re: You call this small?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 211.26.41.105] on November 18, 2007 01:58 AM
Well, the first GUI-based operating system I used was Macintosh System Software (version 1), which ran on an 8 megahertz 68000 processor with 128 kilobytes of RAM. Performance was good, but to run multiple programs you could upgrade the computer to a spacious 512 megabytes of RAM. (Yes, half a megabyte). So there!

#

DSL 4.0: Damn small improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 125.60.189.34] on November 13, 2007 01:37 PM
did it ever cross your mind that andrews et al. lack old hardware resource inorder to support them?

#

DSL 4.0: Damn small improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.210.112.155] on November 13, 2007 02:12 PM
You may have missed that there are 2 versions of DSL. 4.0 contains the 2.4.31 kernel but you can still run the 3.x series with the 2.4.26. Robert is developing and supporting both. You may want to see how the 3.x series performs on some of your hardware. I believe the latest is at 3.4.6.

#

DSL 4.0: Damn small improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 194.154.190.162] on November 13, 2007 02:22 PM
Isn't JWM the default window manager since version 4? Its easy to make a small and fast CLI OS, but a GUI something else, look at OpenGEM and KolibriOS.

#

DSL 4.0: Damn small improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 194.154.190.162] on November 13, 2007 02:57 PM
Isn't the default window manager JWM? KolibriOS and OpenGEM are smaller and faster.

#

DSL 4.0: Damn small improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 205.172.107.75] on November 13, 2007 03:24 PM
I, for one, am very happy that DSL exists as an alternative OS for my ancient (okay, 1999) Twinhead P88TE laptop. I did run into a problem in which DSL would not boot with 256MB of RAM in the laptop while DSL-N would; I'm guessing DSL-N's 2.6 kernel was the reason it could recognize all the available memory whereas DSL's 2.4 kernel could not. I want my Twinhead to access the web, email and perhaps play CDs/mp3s/ogg files and so I don't need all the bells and whistles of the newest distros; if and when I obtain a newer laptop I'll consider a more resource-hungry distro but I say thanks for DSL's/DSL-N's lean applications. I am wishing for updated versions of DSL-N, though.

#

DSL 4.0: Damn small improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 193.166.94.185] on November 13, 2007 06:03 PM
How does Damn Small Linux compare to Puppy Linux? Has anyone tried both? What are the main differences?

#

Re: DSL 4.0: Damn small improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.203.51.230] on November 14, 2007 01:09 PM
I believe Puppy uses a 2.6 series kernel so has more up to date drivers.

#

Re(1): DSL 4.0: Damn small improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.124.76.24] on November 14, 2007 05:55 PM
There's more to it than that. Here are some differences. There are probably more.




1. Puppy doesn't adhere to Unix-like permission rules and runs as root only -- just like Windows 95. Some of us find that very objectionable. DSL, in contrast, has separate user accounts for root and "dsl" (MyDSL packages work for user dsl).

2. Puppy isn't limited to a particular size. DSL is ~50MB with each release.

3. Puppy uses Xorg with Xft and GTK2, DSL uses tinyX and GTK1. Accordingly, Puppy has anti-aliased font rendering while DSL doesn't. (Some people prefer the blurring of anti-aliasing, some don't like it. Some fonts also render better without anti-aliasing -- you'd be unable to tell the difference on a well set-up system. That said, DSL has Xorg packages that require manual configuration.)

4. DSL has a very strong anti-bloat ethos that Puppy doesn't share (accordingly, you'll find Puppy has packages for KDE, etc., that don't fit in with the DSL way of thinking).

5. DSL doesn't drop support for older hardware. Puppy's system requirements are greater than those of DSL.

6. Puppy has fewer installation options (at least last time I looked at it).

7. Puppy uses squashfs, DSL uses isofs.

8. Puppy has fewer boot cheatcodes for running as live CD. DSL can be set to boot how you want it.

9. DSL was based on Knoppix (3.4), which was based on Debian (Woody). DSL has forked pretty far from Knoppix and Woody, but can be installed as a Debian-like (hard drive install) system complete with apt-get; the Woody repositories are no longer supported by Debian and the Woody pools don't work 100% with DSL (but most things should work without any trouble). Puppy is its own animal -- you're stuck with their packaging system.

10. DSL now uses dfm as its desktop file manager. Puppy uses Rox. DSL has a rox (GTK1) package in the repository.

11. Both now use JWM by default, but DSL also has fluxbox and swm. Both have other window managers available as packages.

12. DSL has different versions (isolinux, syslinux) for different-aged machines and an embedded version. IIRC, Puppy is one-size fits all. So if it won't run (and I have one CDROM that absolutely refuses to boot Puppy), you're SOL.

#

Your review is obsolete

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.124.76.24] on November 14, 2007 02:12 PM
A few points. Let me explain why there are so many "outdated" versions in the DSL repositories. Some of us prefer using perfectly functional GTK1 applications that don't bog down our "obsolete" computers. Or we like the smallest possible version to accomplish a task: the Open Office 1.1 verison is 67MB (30% bigger than the base distro!) while the 2.0.4 UCI version is 124 MB. May not seem like much, but some of us use DSL straight off the CD (with a MyDSL folder) where an extra 60MB isn't wanted or justified.

What are we giving up? We still type in data the same way whether it's an older GTK1 verison of Abiword or the GTK2 verison or in either Open Office version -- I don't get that much in the way of functionality, and my typing/entry is going to be in the 46 wpm range regardless. While your solution is probably for us to put our ancient hardware in landfills and use something that can handle PCLOS or Ubuntu with ease, I prefer to use a computer as long as it works -- not just so it can keep up with what are mostly stylistic changes (seriously, how much has the "technology" of editing text changed in the last 10 years?).

Speaking of utility, I've run DSL on machines with as little as 32MB RAM. It'll run on even less, but all my computers have at least that much now. I don't view the improvements Robert Shingledecker has made as "damn small," but rather impressive given the balancing act he's tried to follow to continue to improve a distro that doesn't presume old hardware is obsolete just because it won't run KDE or Gnome while still making concessions for people with "newer" hardware. The fact he's done it with a 50MB limit (those "obsolete" 64MB USB sticks have some life left in them if you're interested in running Linux off USB) is even more impressive.

Most people who use DSL will never use or need GCC either because of the nature of using a live CD, running off USB, or doing a frugal install. Most of these users will rely on the benefits of mountable (UCI/UNC) applications rather than compiling source.

The version in the repository is 3.3.4. There's a 2.95.4 version in Testing, but it's provided to correlate specifically with the earlier (2.4.26) DSL kernel. There's also gcc-3.3.5 in a bigger compile UCI in testing.

I know DSL is counter-intuitive in a world where people insist on having the most bleeding edge hardware and where certain distros focus on keeping up with it at the expense of stability. DSL is a bit of a respite from that mentality. It provides a stable, flexible base that can be extended easily. It can run on "obsolete" hardware -- you don't have to upgrade your hardware to keep up with the demands of the operating system.

At the end of the day, though, what are you accomplishing with fancy-schmancy spinning interfaces requiring a GB of RAM and accelerated video cards that you didn't accomplish before computers had resources to run hyper-intensive GUIs (i.e., when everything was a console app or ran from command lines)? People have tried to <a href="http://hubpages.com/hub/_86_Mac_Plus_Vs_07_AMD_DualCore_You_Wont_Believe_Who_Wins">answer that question</a>, and it doesn't look good for those on the bleeding edge.

Long live DSL and old computers and the choices it gives us that other distros can't.

#

Wireless, use prism chipset

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.113.84.118] on November 14, 2007 08:35 PM
An $11.00 802.11b prism chipset based usb wireless dongle works with DSL. There is even a graphical setup for the prism wireless to get you connected.

#

"Damn" means "to condemn to hell," a prerogative of God that he applies only to persons.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 208.96.42.24] on November 15, 2007 12:19 AM
"Damn" is a verb that means "to condemn to hell," a prerogative of God alone."Damn" alone is the imperative form; "Damn Small Linux" constitutes a command to condemn Small Linux to hell. This use mocks God who condemns only persons to hell, and thus prevents me, and perhaps other Linux users and would-be users, from accepting that distro. John Holland (Ph.D.) BibleKJV.com

#

Re: "Damn" means "to condemn to hell," a prerogative of God that he applies only to persons.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.124.76.24] on November 15, 2007 02:03 PM
You might want to check out a dictionary for more uses of the word DAMN, loosen your collar, and get a life.

#

Re: "Damn" means "to condemn to hell," a prerogative of God that he applies only to persons.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.124.76.24] on November 15, 2007 04:00 PM
"Damn" used in this context is an adjective -- not a verb -- modifying the adjective "small" to describe the particular Linux distro by way of idiom: "damn small." Maybe you shouldn't worry about Linux if you're so grammatically predisposed against it.

#

Re(1): "Damn" means "to condemn to hell," a prerogative of God that he applies only to persons.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.114.71.81] on November 15, 2007 10:02 PM
I always took it to be an adverb, modifying small. Or maybe a past participle, modifying who knows what. But I think the most sensible explanation of this usage is that it is colloquial, as a simple emphasis word. Will some good grammarian write us with the term for this? Some common usage employs scatology for simple emphasis, like careless use of the eff word. (Somebody will write in that this is "vulgar," in both senses of the word--(a) common, and (b) ugly. I always found the name creative, and cute as heck. A damn good name!

Maybe to appease our religious friend, we could call it zeugma--which the online dictionary calls the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words when it is appropriate to only one of them or is appropriate to each but in a different way, as in to wage war and peace or On his fishing trip, he caught three trout and a cold. I'd hate for anybody to be wrong...

#

DSL 4.0: Damn small improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 79.76.56.80] on November 17, 2007 12:11 AM
So, we all like what John's done here, right? Putting in his time and effort to create something special for us, then giving it to us for free. What philanthropy!

I for one thank you.

Peace and goodwill to all

#

Re: DSL 4.0: Damn small improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.25.178.201] on November 20, 2007 09:48 PM
You mean what Robert Shingledecker has done. Robert does nearly all the development with a little input from the DSL community.

#

DSL 4.0: Damn small improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.3.50.42] on December 16, 2007 06:58 PM
First of all.
Get rid of those "anonymous-coward-hijack-me" entries above.
I am running DSL on an old ThinkPad 570.
It has a "NeoMagic chip" for graphics and it works nicely with DSL.
Also I use a 3com pcmcia ethernet card for network and that works well too.
I boot from a USB stick with the help from a boot floppy.
And I use another USB stick to backup/restore the settings.
Altogether runs without a hitch.
Only "problem" is to update FireFox.
:-))

#

DSL 4.0: Damn small improvement

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 218.171.152.44] on January 02, 2008 01:28 PM
I can use DSL - surf the web, play music files, compose text, read email all on a Pentium I in 2008! And it's as fast as Vista is on a new computer! Installs to HD if you desire in under 10 minutes. Boots on almost anything and is a great Linux learning tool. Give it a shot and you've wasted nothing more than 50MB bandwidth and a CD. The people who work on this (mainly Robert, I guess) are to be commended. Another point: we're gonna have to think a lot more about recycling stuff from here on out if there is any chance for our kids. DSL and its philosophy are a step in the right direction.

#

Development

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 216.110.195.123] on January 09, 2008 11:19 PM
They should provide a development platform for kernel pacakges. An VMware or VirtualBox image containting a striped down version of DSL with the linux kernel source, headers, gcc and such things. Then you could fire it up, wget your sources for your hardware, compile your drivers which could then be inserted into a regular DSL system.

#

This story has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.



 
Tableless layout Validate XHTML 1.0 Strict Validate CSS Powered by Xaraya