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Not Your father's Operating System - Damn Small Linux

Damn Small Linux logo
Puppy is a heavyweight compared to Damn Small Linux, the Biz-Card Desktop OS, which weighs in at 50 megabytes, smaller than a Windows virus. Damn Small Linux is a fully-featured live desktop environment complete with the Ted word processor and Siag spreadsheet program, and is the daddy of the small nomadic Linux distributions. Each element has been carefully weighed to fit within the 50 megabyte limit that the DSL developers have set for themselves, and will run happily and speedily in 128 MB of RAM.

Fully installed, DSL claims to be fast and "light enough to run on a 486DX with 16MB of Ram," and is installable from virtually any available device. DSL uses Knoppix technology which is renowned for the breadth of its hardware support. Because DSL is so small and can act as an SSH/FTP/HTTPD server off a live CD, it can be adapted as the perfect tool for copying and retrieving data from older systems, and for bringing older systems back to life as routers, firewalls or servers.

Like Puppy, DSL boots into JWM (Joe's Window Manager), which is a featherweight window manager written and maintained by Joe Wingbermuehle. Unlike Puppy, DSL includes the tools for proper user management. Almost all the good things that can be said about Puppy can also be said about Damn Small Linux, but where Puppy is more immediately attractive and is best suited to experiment and education, DSL is more often put to serious work, purely because it offers greater security and is more extensible.

Damn Small Linux was the first nomadic Linux, and the core DSL developers, John Andrews and Robert Shingledecker, were responsible for many of the innovations that are so useful and unusual to the tiny Linux distributions - the ability to save and restore sessions, the concept of frugal installs, and the ability to boot from Biz-Card CDs or pen drives. The ambition was to create a Linux that could be used on the move, taking work from one computer to another. In his history of Damn Small Linux, "Not Your Father's Operating System", Shingledecker makes the mischievous claim that "installing to hard drive is becoming obsolete."

Damn Small Linux's self-imposed constraint of a 50 megabytes size limit has meant that DSL employs an older 2.4 kernel and the default userland applications are probably less friendly than we might have wished, but the system is relatively easy to expand and maintain, and DSL can, at a stretch, be turned into a full (or partial) Debian install.

Damn Small Linux NOT logo
Although Puppy is more obviously attractive as an introductory learning tool, DSL is a more desirable route for learning how things should be done. For those with space and RAM to spare, the Damn Small Linux team has developed an alternative distro, Damn Small Linux Not (DSL-N), which is NOT to be confused with Damn Small Linux and weighs in at a whopping 90 megabytes. DSL-N is more aesthetically pleasing, and employs a 2.6 kernel and GTK-2 to allow for a greater variety of applications.

Damn Small Linux is the perfect tiny Linux for older hardware and for initiates with serious intentions. Puppy Linux is the perfect Linux for those who want to experiment and explore - but for for those who want to travel further with their minimalist experience there is always Shingledecker's latest adventure into minimalism, Tiny Core Linux.

Next: Tiny Core Linux

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