Linux on a stick
by Richard Hillesley
The compact and flexible nature of the Linux Kernel, plus the fact that it and all its support code is modular open source, means it lends itself very well to stripped down small and efficient distributions. This article explores a few of these distributions and explains just how useful they can be.
Most of the Linux limelight is taken by a handful of desktop and server distributions, but there are more GNU/Linux distributions than you can shake a stick at, and they are built to fill every specialist niche and cranny in the computer universe.
Some of the more interesting distros are the smaller examples which may boot from a USB flash memory stick (LiveUSB), run entirely in small amounts of RAM, or work on older PCs with little disk space and less memory. Some are fully functioning distros with office suites and web browsers; others have a well defined purpose, to act as a repair and data retrieval tool to cut and paste and fix the broken bits of your system.
In the real world these GNU/Linux distributions, stripped of the relative excess that we have come to expect of the modern desktop, have an even more useful function - as a learning tool for discovering how your computer works and how the tools at our disposal can make the computer do what you want it to do.
There are smaller distros, the mobile and embedded distros that power the smart phone in your pocket or the engine of your car, but we are talking here about the tiny Linux distributions you can fire up on any laptop or PC to write your documents or fix a file system, browse the web or check your mail.
Most of us tend towards the latest and greatest, and the fattest and baddest. We are sucked into the upgrade cycle and the relative bloat that goes with it, "Two gigabytes of RAM, and is that really enough?" The nomadic tiny Linux distributions offer a different kind of experience.