Elsewhere: Top 5 Tiny Distros

Just found an interesting article: Top 5 Tiny Distros by srlinuxx (05/03/2008 ). It is a short review of CDLinux, SliTaz, Damn Small Linux, Austrumi, and Puppy. The author considers Puppy and CDLinux as winners.

News: WattOS

WattOS is yet another lightweight distro based on Ubuntu. It is designed to be lightweight but fully featured. It should run on low power computers including vintage recycled systems. The project is still in alpha stage (alpha 2 released on July 30th 2008).

News: low end hardware from Asus

The trend of producing new low specs hardware for sustainable and affordable computing seems to continue as new products are coming to market.

Asus has been famous for its hugely popular Eee PC laptops with preinstalled Linux. Now Asus has published a low end desktop computer, Eee Box. These should be energy efficient and have a low carbon footprint. Unfortunately, at the moment Eee Boxes come with a preinstalled Windows XP which is probably the reason for rather high announced price (£199 or €251). Boxes with preinstalled Linux should follow later.[1]

I am not quite sure whether a computer with 1.66 GHz CPU and 1 GB of memory should be regarded as low end hardware. Most of the world seems to think it should - but I'm still using hardware with even lower specs as my main desktop and laptop. And I am not even considering buying new hardware just because of new OS releases.

[1] Not such a little revolution in Desktop Computing " (29.8.2008)

Damn Small Linux: First Impressions

Damn Small Linux (DSL) is one of the minuscule Linux distributions. Its newest version 4.4.2 was released a few weeks ago.

Since the beginning, the DSL has been small enough to be burned on a 50 MB live CD. An nowadays incredible amount of software has been squeezed in this minimal space. It reminds me of the time when I thought I would never be able to fill my new 20 MB hard drive with my texts. Little did I know then...

New DSL is able to play music with XMMS (MP3, CD Music, and MPEG). It can download files using FTP. One can browse the Internet with Dillo, Netrik and FireFox. You can edit rtf files with a a word-processor (Ted), do some calculations with a spreadsheet, use three editors (Beaver, Vim, and Nano) for plain text files. Even pdf files can be viewed with Xpdf.

One great feature of DSL is its ability to download more software from the distributions own repository and install them on the fly. This way the user can add many more programs to the system and enhance its usability.

DSL does not require a lot from your hardware: processor should be at least a 486, and the box should have at least 16 MB to run X-Windows. In text mode only 8 MB are enough. In addition, you should have a CD-ROM-drive. In order to have a usable system, a Pentium 200 MHz and 64 MB RAM are recommended. In 2008, it should be difficult to find a computer that cannot run DSL.

I encountered only small problems while I tested DSL for a few hours. I had to change the screen resolution manually, but it was extremely easy. Likewise, changing the keyboard to correct Finnish keyboard was easy with the system settings panel. I could not, however, get my sound card configured. I'm pretty sure I will anyway get it fixed next time.

Summary: DSL is a damn good distro for 50 megabytes.

News: GoblinX 2.7 and Absolute Linux 12.1.02 released

GoblinX 2.7 was released July 10th 2008. It is a Slackware-based desktop distribution that includes several window managers. Amongst them, Fluxbox and WindowMaker should be usable even with computers built in 1990s. GoblinX uses slapt-get for package management.

Absolute Linux 12.1.02 is another Slackware-based distribution that can be used for lightweight installations. But, please use a non-root account for day-to-day computing unless you prefer danger to security and completely trust in yourself :-)

txt2tags: lightweight markup language

I do not like adding myself HTML tags or LaTeX commands to text while I write. Having to take care about markup while writing is disturbing and I cannot fully concentrate on writing.

Fortunately there are several tools that facilitate writing plain text with minimal markup.At the moment my favourite tool is txt2tags. It allows me to write plain text with simple markup rules even I can remember.

When I want to have a LaTeX source to produce a pdf, I run txt2tags. And if I want to publish the text as a Web page, txt2tags can produce me the necessary HTML.

There are several other lightweight markup languages available for Linux. More about them later.

Emacs for authors

Those of us who earn our living by writing, not coding, might be interested in reading The Woodnotes Guide to Emacs for Writers. Before I read the guide Emacs almost drove me crazy as I had not been able to figure out how to get the word-wrap function like I need it to function.

The solution is easy: longlines-mode. No more pressing Esc q all the time!

Gentoo 2008.0-r1

New stable release of Gentoo was released a few days ago. Even if you dont want to compile all applications yourself you should not forget the Gentoo Wiki.

You can download Gentoo here.

WindowMaker makes my desktop

Every now and then I come back to WindowMaker when looking for a nice lightweight window manager. It is fast and efficient, and usable even on a Pentium 100 MHz with 40 MB. Well, at least I consider it usable. YMMV.

WindowMaker was designed to emulate NeXTSTEP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NeXT). As result of this, WindowMaker looks strikingly different from the more common window managers and desktops as it has no panels on top or bottom of the screen. It supports multiple desktops just like all the other modern window managers.

DockApps are WindowMaker's small applets that can be used, for example, for mounting devices or playing music, showing time and date or monitoring the system. Most distributions install some DockApps by default, and you can find even more of them in dockapps.org.

* windowmaker.info
* dockapps.org
* WindowMaker in Wikipedia
* Screenshots

Linux on Low End Macs

Many people do not realize, that one can install Linux also on older Macintosh computers. I myself have Debian installed on an old iBook (600Mhz, 384 MB RAM). A great way to resurrect a great-looking and really portable laptop that had some old version of Mac OS installed, with no chance of getting modern software. Debian offered me everything I needed, and more.

PenguinPPC.org is on of the best sources for information on running Linux on a PowerPC. More tips can be found in Linux on Power wiki. If you want to try something else, you can always try NetBSD. It is a lot easier to install NetBSD in Macintosh than in a toaster. And even that can be done...

If you can get an older Mac for free, like I did, take it and liberate it!

The Linux Cookbook

The Linux Cookbook has been one of my favourite Linux books since years. Michael Stutz has released the first edition of the book as an HTML edition. Even if it is already several years old, it is very helpful for those willing to work on the command line.

In this book, the reader learns about basic command line operations, process management, text processing, customizing the shell prompt, analyzing text, finding text and files and a lot more.

Looking for CLI apps?

In many cases, it is not easy to find the best application for certain task just. Often, you end up installing and uninstalling several candidates before finally deciding on the application to use on a regular basis, probably for an extended period of time.

CLI-Apps.org is a portal for finding command line applications for Linux. The applications are tagged by type of application and rated by users that makes it a lot easier to find interesting command line applications.

Unfortunately, the site misses many interesting CLI apps. In the group Editors, for example, only Emacs, VIM and Nano are mentioned. Many editors, like Joe, Jed and Qedit, are left out. Many more applications can be found in Free Software Foundation's (FSF) Free Software Directory.

Ubuntu for old computers

I already mentioned Fluxbuntu and Minibuntu. Also Ubuntu can be installed as a minimal system, using alternate CD to install a command-line system.You will find more information about building a custom lightweight system on this page ginving information about installing Ubuntu on low memory systems (Pentium III and earlier machines, with 32-192 MB RAM).

Unfortunately, this information has not been updated for the newest releases.

Cubuntu is one more alternative for those seeking a lightweight alternative for Ubuntu. It is a command-line desktop including email clients, web browsers and a media player.

More tips for less

You can also search for strings in less. If you want to search forward in the file, use /pattern. In order to seach backward, use ?pattern.

These can also be used when reading man pages. Try for example to search for the word search in the man page for less:

man less

As you see, less has many more possibilities for searches in text files. As I already mentioned in an earlier posting, pressing v in less opens the file in a text editor. You can first use / for searching the line to be edited. Then press v to edit the file at the line you just moved to.

Music in the terminal

I like to have some background music when I am not doing anything demanding complete concentration. I practically never use Rhytmbox or Amarok for playing music, as there are some simple text mode applications that fully answer to my needs.

At the moment, my favourite music player is mp3blaster. It uses a nice ncurses interface and is simple enough to use.

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Most probably mp3blaster can be installed from the package repositories of the distribution you use.

Ubuntulite and Fluxbuntu - Ubuntu for old computers

Ubuntu is probably the most popular distribution amongst newbies. It is not, however, especially good for running on old computers without some serious tweaking.

Ubuntulite is a project for those who want to run Ubuntu on old hardware. It combines programs from Ubuntu's repositories with Ubuntulite's own repositories.

Fluxbuntu is a project with similar aims: Fluxbuntu should be lightweight, productive, agile, and efficient. It is based on Ubuntu and uses Fluxbox window manager by default.

Both of the distributions are certainly worth considering, if you want to install an Ubuntu-like system on an old computer.